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22d MEU (SOC) Hercules Flex Their Muscle In South-Central Afghanistan

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/17/2004

Story by Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan (May 16, 2004) -- Located deep in the Oruzgan province of south-central Afghanistan, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ripley, the base of operations for the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), is relying on one of the Marine Corps' most versatile work horses to carry out its operations.

Taking off and landing nearly every day from a remote, and recently improved, desert airstrip, KC-130R Hercules transport planes from Marine Aerial Refueler and Transport Squadron-252 (VMGR-252) are keeping the MEU supplied and capable of conducting combat and civil military operations.

"Since the beginning of the MEU's combat operations, the KC-130 detachment has provided assault support transport of essential supplies, vehicles, and personnel to and from FOB Ripley," said Capt. Pete Munson, of Cleveland, Ohio, a Hercules pilot serving as air planner for the 22d MEU (SOC).

"We are also available for helicopter and fixed-wing aerial refueling, aerial delivery of supplies, equipment, and personnel, airborne radio relay, and rapid ground refueling operations of helicopters."

Located near the town of Tarin Kowt approximately 60 miles north of Kandahar, the airstrip was pitted and unserviceable until Army engineers assigned to the MEU moved in and improved it sufficiently to support KC-130 operations. Normally used for long range transportation, the KC-130R, now nearing its 30th year of operational service, has proved particularly adept at operating under the rough conditions in Afghanistan.

"I believe the operations here have been an excellent demonstration of the KC-130 as a force multiplier," continued Munson, whose call sign is 'Munster.'

The only operation similar to this one for VMGR-252 was its support of Camp Rhino near Kandahar during the initial campaign in Afghanistan, 2001-2002. Unlike the strip at Camp Rhino, though, the airstrip at FOB Ripley is much more challenging for the aircrews.

"The forward landing strip at Camp Rhino was longer and at lower elevation than the one at FOB Ripley," said Munson. "The conditions at Ripley, including the surrounding terrain and the runway size itself, are much more limiting to KC-130 operations than the conditions at Camp Rhino."

Munson went on to say that the primary impact using the airstrip on FOB Ripley is the need for aircrews to exercise extra vigilance in planning their cargo loads to ensure the mission does not exceed the aircraft's capability.

Cpl. Dave Finn is a flight mechanic who routinely makes the flight from the detachment's base outside Afghanistan to Kandahar, and then the short hop to and from FOB Ripley. Despite the difficult challenges posed by flying into a forward landing strip, he is impressed by the aircraft's performance thus far and the aircraft's handling of the harsh conditions.

"This [KC-130R] is a good aircraft," Finn said. "We're not seeing any mechanical problems we don't normally see. For us, it's business as usual."

VMGR-252 is no stranger to supporting deployed MEUs. In recent years, the unit has supported the 24th and 26th MEUs, and also the 22d MEU (SOC) during its most recent deployment in 2002 when it flew during operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa. Munson went on to say that this is the first VMGR-252 detachment to deploy with a full complement of night vision goggle-capable aircraft and aircrew, an asset put to good use during tactical arrivals and departures at FOB Ripley.

"People outside the KC-130 community rarely see the aircraft doing anything except landing on long, paved runways. The versatility of the 130 is a great asset to the MEU and has been crucial to the buildup of supplies and equipment for the FOB."

The 22d MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU is working with Combined Joint Task Force 76 and is designated Task Force Linebacker.

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