CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
"You guys ready to go fast?"
Those are the last words from the pilot before the MV-22 Osprey catapults in midair and in one fluid movement switches from a vertical-lift aircraft into a horizontally-propelled airplane within seconds. You're strapped in with shoulder harnesses and a lap belt, but you can't help but hold on to your seat as the aircraft jettisons out on its next mission.
The Marines of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), here, are used to it now. While other Marines onboard, especially first-timers, are in for a wild ride, the Osprey crew is focused on the mission-at-hand.
"We fly all over Helmand province, and sometimes further, in support of ground operations, taking people to and from the fight, and fast," said Staff Sgt. John Godwin, a Loxley, Ala., native serving as a flight equipment technician and aerial observer for VMM-261.
That's more than 260 knots fast, or nearly 300 mph. The Osprey can move troops and gear much faster than the CH-53E Super Stallion – the Corps' 29-year-old, war-tested veteran for some of the same tasks.
"This aircraft obviously brings the speed and distance that no other assault support aircraft has," explained Godwin. The Osprey's impressive capabilities "shrink the battle space" according to many leaders here – a valuable attribute when dealing with the expanse of the baron and rugged terrain the birds fly over.
It's a mission Godwin and the other VMM-261 Marines take a lot of pride in.
"It feels good to get back off a seven-hour flight knowing that all of our tasking for that day was completed. There are so many moving parts and setbacks that come into play in a day's worth of tasking, but we somehow manage to work through them on a daily basis and get the job done. That's what I like."
It seems almost wrong to call this "hard work" as the Marines enjoy the job so much and have the opportunity to fly on an aerial roller coast of sorts. But the effort the VMM-261 Marines put into getting the Marines, supplies and gear delivered across the region is undeniable. It's just an added workplace benefit when the Marines can give the pilot the thumbs up when he asks "you guys ready to go fast?"