CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- A six-man air crew with Marine Aerial Refueling Transportation Squadron 352 prepared their KC-130J Hercules for a battlefield illumination mission over Helmand province, July 18.
The squadron conducts various types of missions throughout Helmand province, including battlefield illumination missions that light up areas in support of coalition operations within Regional Command (Southwest).
“Battlefield illumination is where we drop flares to light up the sky and below for ground troops and helicopter inserts,” said Capt. Ronald Rutter, a KC-130J pilot with VMGR-352. “VMGR brings assault support and transports cargo, personnel and fuel. It’s a platform for command and control. We do multi-sensor imagery reconnaissance, close-air support, air-to-air refuels for helicopters, jets and ospreys. We also do aerial delivery and battlefield illumination like we did tonight.”
The illumination mission doubled as a training session for one of the crew members. As the aircraft reached its cruising altitude, the three Marines in the back of the KC-130J donned parachutes as a precautionary measure and lowered the ramp in order to wedge the flare chute between the door and ramp.
“I was learning how to do battlefield illuminations,” said Cpl. Jacob Hall, a KC-130J crew chief with VMGR-352, and a 20-year-old native of Potterville, Michigan. “I learned how to (properly) set the timers on flares, load the flares and then push them out of the plane.”
In order to prep the flares the Marines must set each of the timers to correlate to a distance the flare will fall before igniting in the night sky. The Marines set the timers before take-off, while still steady on the ground, ensuring the only steps they need to take in the air are loading the chute and pushing flares out of the plane.
“If I set the timer to 1,000, the flare will fall 1,000 feet and at that time the timer on the top will unlock, a spring will push the timer off and allow the parachute to deploy. The force of the parachute deployment then ignites the flare,” said Sgt. Christopher Weins, a loadmaster with VMGR-352, and a 25-year-old native of Littleton, Colorado. “Depending on if it is an overt or covert (infrared light) flare, it will be lit for 4 or 7 minutes, respectively. At the end of that time an explosive bolt destroys one of the parachute cables causing the parachute to collapse and clear the airspace for other air traffic.”
Just moments after dropping the last flare and watching it brighten the Afghan night, the pilots turned their KC-130J toward Camp Bastion.
This detachment of Marines from VMGR-352 is at the beginning of its deployment aboard Camp Bastion and is excited to serve in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“So far, we’ve done well,” said Rutter, a 29-year-old native of Lancaster, Ohio. “For Marine Corps aviation, we’re a small community, but we have a lot to offer to the Marine Air Ground Task Force. Our detachment will (continue) to do really well. We have really good senior leadership and good Marines. Overall morale is high. It’s an honor to be able to serve with these Marines, and it’s good to be able to do one more detachment here.”