MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- Arriving from their now-former home of Okinawa, Japan, the first KC-130J Super Hercules of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, the “Sumos,” touched down aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, today.
The KC-130J Super Hercules transfer is a step forward in consolidating and realigning forces, while also maintaining readiness to effectively respond to any situation in the Pacific region. This represents an important milestone in alleviating some of the U.S. military burden from Okinawa.
The transfer also translates to a more response-ready Marine Aircraft Group of Iwakuni.
“(VMGR-152) helps us integrate more and execute just like we would if we were going to combat,” said Col. Hunter H. Hobson, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12. “Overall, having VMGR-152 here is a great thing for MAG-12. Primarily, because what they do is going to enhance our combat readiness. We are a more combat ready MAG with VMGR-152 here, without a doubt.”
According to an official news release, VMGR-152’s transfer allows for a U.S. Marine Corps force posture in the Asia-Pacific that is operationally ready and more geographically distributed.
“152, I think, is the busiest C-130 squadron in the Marine Corps,” said Hobson. “Them coming here is a big deal because they are a Marine Expeditionary Force asset. Those guys execute missions directly for the MEF (commanding general). VMGR-152 coming here is part of (Defense Policy Review Initiative) and the expansion of Iwakuni as a result of DPRI.”
The plan to move VMGR-152 to MCAS Iwakuni first began as a result of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa in 1996.
VMGR-152’s transfer to Iwakuni highlights steady and consistent bilateral cooperation with the Government of Japan, Okinawa Prefectural Government and the communities surrounding MCAS Futenma, as well as Iwakuni City Government and the communities surrounding MCAS Iwakuni.
The mission of VMGR-152 is to support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force commander by providing air-to-air refueling and assault support, day or night, under all weather conditions and during expeditionary, joint or combined operations.
Upon the KC-130J Super Hercules’ touchdown, administrative control of the squadron effectively changed from Futenma’s MAG-36 to MAG-12 on Iwakuni.
Hobson said that while VMGR-152 is stationed here, they will remain under the operational control of III MEF in Okinawa, but MAG-12 will be in charge of providing the squadron with all the gear and supplies necessary in carrying out their missions.
In 1954, the squadron relocated to Itami Air Force Base, Japan, and later to MCAS Iwakuni. In 1962, they were redesignated to VMGR-152 and in 1965 moved to Okinawa.
“The Sumos have a long and proud heritage,” said Lt. Col. Matthew W. Stover, commanding officer of VMGR-152. “One that includes a direct relationship with Iwakuni during our previous basing here in the 1950s and 60s; in that sense, this is really more of a homecoming than a re-location. I can tell you that my Marines are looking forward to the transition, and to interacting with and coming to know our new friends in the greater Iwakuni community again. We have earned a strong reputation over the years as professional aviators and Marines and I am confident that we will further build upon that reputation in our collective interactions here.”
With multiple fix-winged aircraft squadrons already aboard station, Maj. William F. Smith Jr., operations officer with VMGR-152, said his squadron’s presence will enhance the operational capabilities of the units here.
“Aerial refueling serves as a force multiplier to the MAGTF commander,” said Smith. “The tactical air units aboard MCAS Iwakuni have relied on VMGR-152 for air-to-air refueling for as long as our squadron has existed. Our presence at MCAS Iwakuni will make some missions, both training and operational, with the tactical air units more convenient, but will not change the relationship we have shared with them for many years. Air-to-air refueling, in general, increases the operational reach of tactical air and assault support aircraft, without the need for established forward arming and refueling points.”
Smith said operating out of Iwakuni presents challenges, such as the lack of local auxiliary landing sites to execute tactical training, but also provides benefits, like being in close proximity to northern Japan training areas, i.e., Camp Fuji.
Training is critical in supporting the objectives of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security under the Japan-U.S. defense alliance.
According to Smith, VMGR-152 has completed more than 300,000 mishap free flight hours and is always among the first units called upon by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing when a humanitarian-assistance or disaster-relief mission is brewing.
“VMGR-152 has a reputation as a reliable and hard-working squadron,” said Smith. “In the past four years, VMGR-152 has been awarded the Commandant’s Trophy as Marine Aviation Squadron of the Year, twice. Rarely a year passes without receiving the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award. The Sumos of VMGR-152 are proud of our trophy case, but even more proud of our accomplishments in helping out our friends in the Pacific AOR.”
VMGR-152 has served in every major U.S. conflict since its establishment, March 11, 1942, according to http://www.1stmaw.marines.mil.
First known as Marine Utility Squadron 253, they provided trans-oceanic transport throughout World War II.
During the island-hopping campaign across the Solomon Island chain in 1944, VMJ-253 detached from South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command and became redesignated as Marine Transport Squadron 253.
Now VMGR-152, the squadron has served in the Pacific AOR, continuously, longer than any other Marine aviation unit, which is why the squadron was awarded their nickname, “Sumos,” in 1992.
“Nearly all of those years have been spent right here in Japan,” said Stover. “Thus, our call sign, ‘Sumos,’ a Japanese symbol of strength and courage, is the fitting reflection of both the strong and enduring ties of our alliance, and the courage and commitment of our Marines and their families. I speak for the squadron when I say, ‘Arigato gozaimasu. It’s good to be home.’”