CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) proved its versatility and flexibility as they stepped up to support the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on its way to Pakistan – without compromising its already-intense combat operations support.
The Marines of 3rd MAW (Fwd) spent about a week preparing before the first helicopter and Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced), 26th MEU, arrived, Aug. 22. The 26th MEU is on its way to relieve the 15th MEU and bring humanitarian aid to the people of Pakistan. When the call came into 3rd MAW (Fwd) for support, there was no hesitation.
“When you receive a task, you don’t say ‘it’s impossible’ or ‘we can’t,’ we say ‘we’ll make it happen,’” said Sgt. Maj. Anthony Spadaro, the 3rd MAW (Fwd) sergeant major. “There is no such thing as the impossible for us. There are only challenges and challenges that are met.”
The Marines rose to the challenge by continuing to give life to the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Charles Krulak’s concept of the “three block war.” This concept involves a unit taking part in full-scale military action, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian aid all within about three city blocks. In the case of 3rd MAW (Fwd), it applies to the expanse of one flight line.
A light attack helicopter squadron is taking the fight to the enemy from one end; medium and heavy helicopters squadrons down the line are transporting cargo and personnel to support counter insurgency operations for Afghanistan; and now the MEU detachment is positioned at the other end preparing for humanitarian assistance missions.
“We’re not just air-centric, we’re three-block-war-centric,” Spadaro said.
Before this joint-effort concept could become reality, Marines here had to build a temporary home for their visitors. Marines from the 3rd MAW (Fwd) logistics section and Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 set to work preparing a work space for the incoming detachment.
“The biggest thing here is the ground where you are going to lay tents and where you will be working,” said Capt. Pollard Ham, the logistics operations officer. “You have to make sure the ground is level. That in itself is its own evolution, then tents and electronics need to go in.”
Logistics Marines constructed four climate-controlled tents and fitted them with flooring. They finished preparing the tents just in time for MWSS-274 to begin running wires for computer and phone access and setting up generators for power.
When a unit comes on deck it’s important to cover all the functions of logistics, Ham explained. The logistics section must account for engineering requirements, food, water ,billeting and other life support logistic requirements.
The planning process took about a week, but the Marines accomplished their set-up mission in about a day and the site was ready for its new inhabitants.
“Anytime you don’t have to set up when you get there it makes everything easier,” said Staff Sgt. Guy Row, the maintenance control staff non-commissioned officer in charge for VMM-266 (Rein). “Having it already prepared just means we had more time to work on our aircraft.”
VMM-266 (Rein) Marines arrived late in the evening, Aug. 22, in an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane with a single CH-53E Super Stallion and approximately 15 Marines. Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, 3rd MAW (Fwd), helped unload the aircraft and other cargo.
“It’s a very tight and time-consuming process to unload a C-17,” Row said. “The plane’s struts have to be raised and lowered so the landing gears adjust and allow room for the plane to be off-loaded. There is only about 1 to 2 inches of clearance from the top of the plane to the ceiling of the C-17.”
The squadrons worked together to successfully unload the aircraft, but not without supervision from higher echelons. The logistics mobility Marines from 3rd MAW (Fwd) oversee the offload of the strategic assets like the C-17, explained Chief Warrant Officer 2 Louis Seals, the 3rd MAW (Fwd) mobility officer.
“Any major evolution where you have multiple agencies that are going to converge into one place, you need someone to [monitor] all the business that happens in that process,” Seals said.
Throughout the first week, VMM-266 (Rein) brought in two more helicopters and is expecting one more, each requires a meticulous off-load.
“Not only are we doing the rotation of 3rd MAW (Fwd) personnel and aircraft in and out of theater, now we are also supporting the reception, arrival and assembly of the [26th MEU’s aircraft],” Seals said. “It’s just an additional task to our combat operations.”
However, the extra work does not bother the Marines.
“It feels good, we all know we’re here to fight this war, but to support another effort for the Marine Corps, we’re all about it,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Singer, the logistics chief for 3rd MAW (Fwd). “That’s why we’re out here today getting it done.”
“We make it happen,” Spadaro said. “The beauty of this is no one ever looks on the ‘I can’t,’ everyone always looks on ‘make it happen.’ I don’t think [I can’t] is in our vocabulary.”
VMM-266 (Rein) will get the aircraft fully assembled in the coming days and will soon be joined by the rest of the 26th MEU in Pakistan. Meanwhile, 3rd MAW (Fwd) has shown the Marine Corps truly is America’s expeditionary fighting force and is just as flexible, adaptable and expeditionary as it has been for the last 234 years.