AL ASAD, Iraq -- Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach. Without supplies, a military unit is combat ineffective. In the War on Terror, the challenge lies in getting supplies to units deployed to isolated bases and outposts. To transport supplies by land not only takes time, but is hazardous. Improvised explosive devices and small arms fire are just a few of the threats that a convoy faces.
This is where the Marines of Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 252 Detachment A shine. Utilizing the C-130J “Hercules,” the Marines of Det. A can quickly, safely and effectively move supplies where Marines need it most with an air delivery.
“(Air delivery) contributes to the overall effectiveness in the Marine Corps in that we are enabling our ground forces to continue their mission by keeping them supplied with the sustainment items, like (Meals, Ready-to-Eat), water and ammunition, they need on a daily basis,” said Maj. Chandler Nelms, the Det A. executive officer.
Nelms and a handful of other Det. A Marines recently completed an air delivery, May 17, dropping approximately 22,250 pounds of supplies into the hands of Marines at Combat Outpost Timberwolf.
Successfully carrying out an air delivery requires more than will power and determination. It requires hours of planning and calculations, according to Capt. Michael Valenti, a pilot with Det. A.
“A lot of math is involved in the planning process,” said Valenti, an Ocean Township, N.J., native.
The crew must take into account the winds, parachute ballistics, weight of the load and the light level.
“All these factors and more are compiled and assessed by the crew to create a sound tactical ingress and deployment of the load,” said Valenti.
The planning ends and the mission begins late in the afternoon, when the crew begins loading cargo delivery system bundles into the belly of aircraft.
“In this mission, the loading evolution goes pretty much the same as any other,” said Cpl. Christopher Perez, a loadmaster with Det. A. “As for rigging it for air drop, we must ensure that the system is rigged in accordance with the manual, the right way, the same way every time. Once in flight, we run checklists, which are basically a way of back-checking the work on the ground.”
“The crew up front is responsible for getting the aircraft to the (Computed Aerial Release Point) on speed, on altitude and properly configured,” said Valenti. “The loadmasters in the back have the most dangerous job. They are walking around the cargo in the back with parachutes on while the cargo ramp and door are open. They are responsible for making sure the load is ready to exit and are our primary safety observers in the back.”
Once the aircraft reaches the drop zone at the desired altitude, the cargo door is opened. The nose of the Hercules is tilted up, and weight of the CDS bundles moves them down the rollers built into the floor of the aircraft. In a matter of seconds, thousands of pounds of cargo have slid out the back and are parachuting down to the ground.
“There are a lot of things going on, a lot of moving parts,” said Perez, a Chicago native. “Even so, ADs are the most fun we get to have as loadmasters. More so than any other mission, success is based on us loadmasters doing our job properly. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in an air drop, but having properly trained loadmasters in the back will ensure that the drop goes safely and cleanly. ADs really give us loadmasters a chance to show our area of expertise.”
Not only does an aerial delivery allow the Marines of Det. A to show their skill and expertise, it gives them a chance to help their fellow Marines on the ground.
“We enjoy doing this mission,” said Nelms, a Jupiter, Fla. native. “Delivering cargo via air delivery is not only challenging, it is a mission that directly supports the Marine and his mission on the ground, and that is why we are here.”
“We do this with pride and honor,” added Valenti. “Because our mission is to support the Marine on the ground, and his call will never go unanswered as long as the Marines of VMGR-252 Det. A are on the scene.”