FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan -- Marines in combat still need supplies, so when a company from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) needed it most, help came from a rare place ... 450 feet above their heads.Marine KC-130Rs supporting the 22nd MEU (SOC) recently air-delivered food and water to Alpha Co. Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines in the mountainous area of central Afghanistan.Because the MEU's other aviation assets were needed elsewhere, the MEU decided to perform a rarely done operation to keep the company in the fight - a night containerized delivery.Flying at night has become second nature to the KC-130R detachment. Nearly every night they make fuel and supply runs to Forward Operating Base Ripley, home of the 22nd MEU. In the drops supporting Alpha Co., the KC-130R team dropped a total of sixteen containers, each weighing about 1500 lbs. over two missions. Aerial drops into combat zones have been around since Vietnam."It's something that's been in our tactical manual for quite a long time," said Capt. Peter Munson, of Cleveland, Ohio. Munson is the MEU Command Element's KC-130R liaison officer. However, doing it in the dark is a new twist that has only recently been done in Iraq. This is the first time it's been done in Afghanistan."We just recently started working with night vision goggles in the fleet," said Munson. Munson stressed that they must be able to fly using night vision devices, as sometimes the mission dictates night flying.Marine pilots actively train for such missions, qualifying semi-annually. During an actual drop, the KC-130R descends to approximately 450 feet above the ground. The rear ramp is lowered and the crew chief and his team in the cargo hold release the locks holding the cargo in the bay. The pilots then raise the nose of the aircraft and increase power as the aircraft tilts upwards. This allows gravity to take over, and the cargo rolls out of the bay and eventually to the ground. Parachutes quickly deploy from the cargo, slowing the package down just enough to prevent damage as it hits the ground below. Once all the containers have been dropped, usually in one run, the aircraft levels off and is on to its next mission.The added challenge of doing it at night in mountainous terrain adds to the challenge."Your field of view is reduced when utilizing NVG's so your situational awareness is not as great as it normally would be during the day," said KC-130R pilot Capt. Josh Izenour, of Ashtabula, Ohio, who was in the cockpit during the mission. "Thus, you have to pay particularly close attention to terrain clearance and avoidance during low level flight. This is mitigated through extensive planning by the entire crew."Keeping the Marine on the ground in the fight is what air support is about. For these air delivery missions, the success is defined by dropped gear that is on time and on target while maintaining cargo integrity. Izenour's crew accomplished all three; the cargo hit the drop zone a mere 50 feet from center, on time, and with no significant damage to the goods."It was extremely motivating for the entire detachment to be able to support the Marines in the field," said Izenour. "It was also very rewarding for the crew to be able to conduct a mission we train for, but rarely have the opportunity to execute."In addition to its Command Element and BLT 1/6, the MEU consists of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced) And MEU Service Support Group 22.For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.