AL ASAD, Iraq -- Whether dropping precision bombs on enemy targets, jamming enemy equipment or facing combat with the enemy on the ground, all Marines in aviation share one common need, fuel.
The Loadmasters of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 consistently have their KC-130J Hercules ready to provide in-flight refueling, rapid ground refueling and aerial delivery of troops, cargo and emergency supplies for Marines in Iraq.
“We haven’t dropped a mission,” said Cpl. Samuel Santiago, an aircraft electrical systems technician with VMGR-252. “We are on the ball, and we met 110 percent of our maintenance goals. We want our birds up as much as possible, to conduct as many missions as possible. We want to make sure everyone is safe in the air and will come back home.”
The state-of-the-art KC-130J Santiago and his fellow Loadmasters now work on boasts increased speed and range, improved air-to-air refueling systems, night systems and is more maintenance friendly than all of its predecessors.
“The avionics have been completely upgraded,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Powell, the line division chief with VMGR-252, who has been working on C-130s for more than 10 years. “The engines are more powerful, it’s just a more modern aircraft.”
Powell said his Marines’ ability to consistently have their KC-130Js ready to fly gives him a warm feeling. He said he knows the aircraft will be able to continue their support of Marines on the ground and drop bombs on the enemy, because they are provided with fuel while in proximity to the enemy.
“The maintenance Marines get all the credit for our performance,” said Powell, a native of Harrison, Mich. “They are training and learning constantly. It’s phenomenal. Anytime we get anything new, they handle it. The leadership is there, but it’s the Marines who make it happen.”
A squadron under transition to a new aircraft normally stand down from operations for a period of time to give Marines time to focus strictly on conversion for both maintenance and operations. Due to the increased operational tempo of Marine Corps aviation during the Global War on Terrorism, the Loadmasters, since their arrival to Iraq, Aug. 14, have been constantly flying combat missions, with no time to stand down.
Powell stressed that his Loadmasters are working hard in the Iraqi desert. He said that whenever any problems with the C-130J have come up, they have handled it.
“We had a problem with the fuel nozzles,” said Powell. “There are 64 nozzles per aircraft, and we had to replace every single one. There were 3,060 man hours involved in accomplishing that mission, but it’s just one example of the job these Marines are doing.”
However, overall maintenance hours for the C-130J are not near as high as the old aircraft, Powell said.
“It’s like a flying computer,” said Santiago, a Miami native. “There are many technical differences and more electrical components, but the C-130J is a great deal easier to work on. They are simply more reliable.”
Santiago said he enjoys working on the flightline, watching all the aircraft fly by and knowing that he is playing a part in keeping them constantly above the heads of Marines on the ground.
“All the maintenance Marines are working more than 12 hours a day,” said Santiago. “When I’m out here working, I’m not just fixing a plane. I’m working toward the overall accomplishment of our mission in Iraq.”