MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
The air was cold, the sky was dark and the time neared 2100 in Iwakuni when one of eight Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 KC-130J aircraft returned here from Sendai, Japan, March 24.
Marines aboard KC-130J aircraft departed here 12 hours prior to continue their mission to support Operation Tomodachi, a joint humanitarian assistance operation implemented by U.S. Armed Forces and Japan to provide aid following the approximately 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami in the Tohoku region in northern Japan March 11.
Since VMGR-152’s initial arrival in Iwakuni March 12, the squadron has logged more than 350 flight hours, 200 sorties, and exceeded 1.1 million pounds of transported cargo toward the humanitarian operation with the support of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and other supporting station personnel.
“We are flying all of our aircraft every single day,” said 2nd Lt. Evan Brown, VMGR-152 intelligence officer. “We are also working 24 hours per day. It’s the only way to keep our jets flying and still accomplish our mission.”
VMGR-152, which is part of Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Air Wing, is headquartered at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan.
Cpl. Jesse Gossett, VMGR-152 powerline technician, and fellow maintenance Marines were winding down for the weekend when they received the response call to the natural disaster.
“We had about eight hours notice beforehand,” said Gossett.
VMGR-152 responded promptly. Marines were informed to gather essential personal and tactical gear for rapid deployment to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni for an indefinite period of time.
The Marines didn’t know how long Operation Tomodachi would require them to remain here, and all participating Marines were encouraged to remain vigilant about the tasks which lay ahead.
VMGR-152’s initial response mission was to provide refueling services to Marine CH-46E Sea Knight and navy CH-60S Knighthawk helicopters deployed to assist search-and-rescue efforts in immediate response to the tsunami.
VMGR-152 quickly continued to carry out its secondary mission: to provide assault air transport to designated affected areas. The squadron’s secondary mission became and remains its most extensive.
MCAS Iwakuni provided VMGR-152 with designated flightline work space for aircraft and personnel, while H&HS provided personnel to load and offload humanitarian cargo.
Since VMGR-152 arrived here, Marines have continued efforts day and night to maintain a seamless flow of operation.
While pilots and aircrew executed demanding flight schedules and long, tedious operations, VMG-152 maintainers stood by for their return.
“About 75 to 80 percent of our operations have been transportation of cargo and supplies up north,” said Capt. Tony Hearrean, VMGR-152 co-pilot.
VMGR-152 also transported more than 1,500 troops from Iwakuni to northern Japan to assist with Operation Tomodachi.
As soon as KC-130J aircraft landed, VMGR-152 refuelers, maintainers and loadmasters quickly went to work.
KC-130J aircraft maintainers spent the past few weeks working throughout the night, enduring cold weather and demanding flight schedules. The squadron coordinated to keep vital specialists on hand to delegate important responsibilities to accomplish the mission.
Marines were tasked with loading and unloading cargo, inspecting rotary functions and aircraft components to sustain peak-level functionality.
Maintenance is vital to ensuring successful flight capability by the next morning, Hearrean said. “Our maintenance has really come through. We have been able to get the job done because of them.”
In spite of the long hours, late nights and tedious demands of the operation, VMGR-152 Marines have not failed to realize the impact their efforts have had on those affected by the disaster.
“All of us just want to do our part and do the best we can to help them,” Hearrean said. “It’s definitely well worth it.”
As long as Operation Tomodachi is in effect, VMGR-152 continues to serve as a vital partner with MCAS Iwkauni during the humanitarian effort.