VMGR-352 Raiders Transport Troops, Cargo for MEB-Afghanistan
For the Marines in Afghanistan, the need for ammunition, fuel, water and other supplies is constant. But unlike in Iraq, most supplies need to be airlifted throughout the country due to fewer secure ground transportation routes.The Marines of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Aircraft Group 40, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan, provide the needed air transportation using KC-130J Hercules aircraft to transport cargo all around Afghanistan to give the troops what they need. But in addition to regular Hercules flights transporting troops or pallets of supplies from one installation to the next, VMGR-352 accomplishes a host of other missions. "We conduct battlefield illumination, rapid ground refueling, command and control missions, obviously transport troops and supplies, and also fixed-wing aerial refueling," said 1st Lt. Jon Baker, a co-pilot with VMGR-352. The commanding officer of Marine Attack Squadron 231 and Marine site commander for Kandahar Airfield, Lt. Col. Robert Forrest, agrees. "With the aerial refueling keeping us in the fight longer, the movement of parts, supplies and logistics, they are indispensible," said Forrest. The establishment of Camp Leatherneck and other built-up operating bases has increased the need for VMGR-352. A two-hour trip by air saves a great deal of time compared to a ground convoy that can take more than a day to complete. "The performance of our Marines has been outstanding - our KC-130J's have to be pretty darn close to setting records for the amounts of flights and cargo they've been transporting, and that is with the bare minimum crew," said Master Sgt. Robert Hull, the staff-noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of the detachment. The Raiders of VMGR-352 are at the forefront of that aviation effort, transporting nearly 8 million pounds of cargo and more than 16,000 troops in less than three months. "We are constantly flying out here at a high-tempo pace and it is challenging," said Baker. "We're landing on small runways, and it's very expeditionary." The number of flights in and out of Kandahar varies every day, but frequent flights require an adequate amount of maintenance. "The maintenance guys are the big piece of the puzzle and they really make it happen," said Baker. Sgt. Caesar Macapagal, an avionics technician, knows firsthand how much work is required to keep the aircraft in the air and takes a lot of pride in coming in to work every day. "Even though we don't see where the supplies go or who we transport, the Marines and I working on the planes know the work we do keeps the planes in the air supporting the Marines who need it," said Macapagal. "That, in itself, is the most rewarding part of being in Afghanistan, and that is why I extended to be here." The Raiders arrived here in April from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and are a split-detachment, with the Sumos of VMGR-152 from MCAS Iwakuni making up the other half of the detachment. Both parent commands continue to send Marines here in a rotation and ultimately will increase the detachment from 80 Marines to approximately 140 over the next few months. Hull said the squadron has been efficient and, like every other unit, deals with the ups and downs of being deployed. "The integration of two units has probably been the biggest challenge, but even that has gone smooth," said Hull.