AL ASAD, Iraq -- The KC-130J is setting the standard for Marine aerial refuelers. On July 11, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, affectionately known as ‘Otis’ in the states, exceeded the benchmark of delivering 10 million pounds of fuel over the skies of Iraq since they began deployed operations in February. This marks another first for the combat deployed Hercules squadron as it pumped fuel to Hornet jet aircraft conducting operations over the Al Anbar province here.
The unit’s primary mission, aerial refueling, along with assault support, has kept the squadron flying seven days a week since operations began. The unit says that 70 percent of their flights involve refueling and estimates that on more than 1,100 occasions, jet aircraft from the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing have benefited from their presence here.
“The KC-130J is a force multiplier,” said Capt. Daniel R. Winkeler, pilot, from Eugene, Ore. “We are able to extend the fighter aircrafts’ time on station giving them more time to hit their targets. They can continue coming back to us and provide the support needed for the ground fighters engaging the enemy.”
“It’s kind of hard to say [only] we pumped the gas just because we are in the air,” said Staff Sgt. Chris K. Belt, crew chief, from Pensacola, Fla. “This is a team effort. We couldn’t have done this without the Marines who work on the flightline in temperatures over 114 degrees. They keep the aircraft running, this is just as much their accomplishment than anyone else.”
The KC-130J had its skeptics when it was first delivered for testing by the Marines in 2002. There were those who said it wouldn’t perform in combat and that it wouldn’t measure up to other aerial refuelers in the Marine Corps’ inventory. From the aircraft’s propellers and manning requirements to its electronics and reconfigured cockpit, the KC-130J has been a success in its first operational deployment.
“The KC-130Js of VMGR-252 provide aerial refueling and assault support,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Zieleck, squadron commanding officer from Houston Texas. “We are a combat multiplier,” he continued, “We can double on station time for our tactical jet aircraft as well as provide rapid time-critical resupply in the form of Aerial Delivery and cargo transport. Our mission is geared towards supporting the Marine rifleman.”
The Marines of ‘Otis’ say flexibility is key to success of supporting the Marines fighting on the ground. They maintain a regular flight schedule, but know that any minute an aircraft could launch that will shortly need additional fuel to stay in the fight. The squadron is proud of their achievement and looks forward to 20 million pounds over the course of the year. They admit that 10 million pounds of fuel has been achieved by other services, but this milestone is relished by VMGR-252 being a first for the J.
“We have a lot fewer refueler type aircraft deployed than our other [military service] counterparts with refuelers in theater,” said Capt. Ryan P. Ford, aircraft commander, and native of Spokane, Wash. “The Air Force has more aircraft which can carry and deliver a greater volume of gas. We deliver fuel only to Marine aircraft, and we can’t haul as much per mission. So reaching 10 million says a lot about the Marine Corps’ tempo here, it demonstrates we do this multiple times a day, every day, for Marines.”
“It feels good to be a part of a squadron that has accomplished so much,” said Cpl. Eric D. Hilker, the aircraft’s loadmaster, from Ithaca, N.Y. “It’s a huge milestone and shows how capable the aircraft is. Serving in a combat environment and taking part to keep aircraft in the air, which are keeping Marines safe, gives me a better understanding that what I’m doing is making a difference.”
The squadron arrived in Al Asad in mid February and has flown more than 2,500 hours and over 1,300 sorties. The unit is making significant strides and feels it has validated its operational mission. The Marines of ‘Otis’ deployed a new aircraft and proved it can play a vital role; contributing to supporting Marines on ground by providing fuel in the sky.