FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan --
A KC-130J Hercules landed on the newly constructed flightline here Nov. 30, which increased the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward)’s ability to support coalition and Afghan forces throughout the western portion of Regional Command (Southwest).
A small detachment of Marines with the Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 “Aces” dedicated an average of 16 hours a day for the past few months to complete the runway. The project was started by Marines with MWSS-274, who passed on the flightline development to the Aces prior to redeploying home to Cherry Point, N.C.
The Marines worked on a deadline to ensure the runway was certified to receive air traffic, such as the KC-130J Hercules with the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 “Raiders,” by the end of November.
“Today we have the first flight coming in,” said 1st Lt. James Maxwell, the MWSS-373 detachment officer in charge here, moments before the aircraft approached for landing. “It feels good, and it’s significant to the junior Marines out here. They have been working day in and day out, sometimes putting in 18 or 19-hour days, just to ensure this project was completed on time.”
The new capability to host the KC-130 will allow much more personnel and cargo to be to be transported to and from the FOB. Furthermore, it will relieve the operational tempo of 3rd MAW (Fwd)’s rotary-wing aircraft, which previously were the only aircraft capable of landing here.
“Flying aircraft to Delaram II was putting a huge drain on assets until now,” said Maj. Angel Hooper, a Hercules pilot serving as the aircraft tasking order officer-in-charge. “We would make three to four 40 minute flights a day with the [CH-53Es and Ds]. Now, we can make one trip with a Hercules in about 15 minutes.”
Additionally, the runway will allow “Harvest Hawk,” a modified KC-130J, exclusive access to the area in the future. The Harvest Hawk carries four Hellfire missiles and 10 Griffin GPS guided missiles, and houses an infrared and television camera, which will provide coalition and Afghan forces in the area with close air support, the detection of improvised explosive devices, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Brig. Gen. Andrew W. O’Donnell Jr., the commanding general for 3rd MAW (Fwd), arrived here aboard a KC-130J Hercules to take part in a small ribbon-cutting ceremony and address the Marines of MWSS-373 and VMGR-352 present.
“I’m so proud of the [support squadrons] that are out here, and obviously being a part of 3rd MAW Forward, we are especially proud of you.” said O’Donnell while addressing the Marines. “Everybody has airplanes, everybody drops bombs, everybody shoots rockets and everybody controls airspace. There is one thing that makes the Marine Corps and Marine Corps aviation different, and that’s you – the support squadrons.
“You bring a capability that no one else has. You can come into a place in the middle of nowhere and build a runway and install fuel pits – no one else is able to do that in an expeditionary environment like the Marine Corps.”
In a total of 66 days, the Marines of MWSS-373 lifted and slammed over 1.2 million square feet of airfield matting, which averaged 2,500 pieces laid per Marine; moved and spread over 225,000 cubic meters of dirt and gravel and reviewed more than 7,800 drafting and surveying points. These are just a few of the vast accomplishments made by the small detachment of Marines and sailors who contributed to the runway project.
These accomplishments were made possible by MWSS-274 “Ironmen,” who set the framework for the project. The Ironmen blasted through six feet of rock and created an environment in which a runway could be constructed.
“The Marine Wing Support Squadrons are another example of the [Marine Air Ground Taskforce multipliers] that 3rd MAW Forward has in its arsenal,” said O’Donnell
Many of the Marines from MWSS-373 will return to Camp Leatherneck, where the main body of their squadron is stationed, while a small detachment of the Aces will remain here and conduct support operations for the newly constructed runway, such as aircraft recovery and firefighting and aircraft refueling procedures.
The Raiders however, will now make several trips a week here. The Hercules will save the CH-53 squadrons many sorties and flight hours, which they can now redirect to other 3rd MAW (Fwd) war-fighting assets and operations in support of the MAGTF within the region.