CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATIONS -- To successfully operate from a remote location such as Forward Operating Base Ripley, deep in the heart of Afghanistan's Oruzgan province, a unit requires a steady flow of supplies and personnel.
For the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), a key provider of this support since it began conducting combat operations in late April has been a small detachment of Marines and aircraft from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 252.
Flying two KC-130R Hercules transport aircraft, the youngest of which came off the assembly line in 1976, the 44-Marine detachment has kept busy pushing supplies and personnel into and out of FOB Ripley.
"We've been flying into Tarin Kowt [home of FOB Ripley] almost nightly," said Capt. Jason Kindred, a KC-130R pilot who served with the 22nd MEU (SOC) as its Hercules air planner during the unit's 2002 deployment. "So far, we've flown almost 250 missions and only cancelled three because of mechanical problems."
With a mission-capable rate of nearly 99 percent, the KC-130Rs have proven their weight in gold to the MEU. In just over a month, the squadron detachment has flown more than 1,500 passengers and more than a million pounds of cargo to and from FOB Ripley.
Much of the detachment's success belongs to the young maintainers who keep the aircraft up and running.
"These guys are doing wonders keeping the planes flying in this environment," said Kindred, commenting on the Marines' efforts working long hours in extreme heat and at the end of supply chain stretched thin by distance and delivery time.
Hercules detachments that normally deploy in support of MEUs rotate aircraft and flight and ground crews every month or six weeks to limit wear on the aircraft and personnel, but this detachment deployed less than two weeks after the 22nd MEU (SOC) set sail and has provided uninterrupted support.
Because the rest of the squadron is transitioning into the newer KC-130J model Hercules, the crews supporting the MEU are flying the older KC-130R model destined for reassignment and eventual retirement. With the squadron's KC-130Js not quite ready for operational deployment, the Marines supporting the MEU will remain doing so for the foreseeable future.
Without relief on the horizon, the detachment has steeled themselves for the long haul, and something they take an odd pride in, calling themselves 'The forgotten children of VMGR-252.'
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 in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker.
For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.