News: Air Combat Element detachment rotates after successful tour
Story by 1st Lt. Peter Koerner
NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy – Over the past five months, Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 has participated in more than ten engagements, successfully shifting dozens of personnel and many tons of equipment between more than a dozen countries. That success is due in large part to the Marines of Marine Aerial Refueling Transport Squadron 234 (VMGR-234).
Forming the air combat element of Special-Purpose MAGTF Africa 13, the approximately 60 Marines from VMGR-234, a reserve KC-130T squadron based out of Fort Worth, Texas, ensured missions were completed by providing vital transportation to the varied remote locations where the task force conducted training or needed logistical support.
Working from before sunrise to after sunset the Marines spent a great deal of time on the flight-line and in the air. The detachment’s two aircraft flew nearly 670 flight hours in more than 150 sorties in support of not only Special-Purpose MAGTF Africa 13, but also Special-Purpose MAGTF Crisis Response, Black Sea Rotational Force, U.S. Marine Forces Africa and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, carrying more than 1300 personnel and 400 tons of equipment and supplies.
“[The Marines of VMGR-234] worked long hours and took innovative approaches to get the flight missions out regardless of if it was for our security cooperation teams or supporting another special-purpose MAGTF or unit,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Marble, task force commanding officer from Stafford, Va.
For every hour in the air, the Marines spent many more working on the ground, in all, totaling more than 1600 maintenance hours. Because of their hard work around the clock, the detachment never had to delay an assigned mission due to maintenance downtime.
“The success of the ACE throughout this [rotation] is due solely to the performance of the deployed [KC-130T] maintenance Marines,” said Maj. James Biggers, Special-Purpose MAGTF Africa 13 ACE detachment executive officer from Charlotte, N.C. “They have the ability to work for long periods of time, tirelessly, until the job is completed.”
Although Biggers said that all the Marines displayed impressive zeal and positive attitude in dealing with every job, he specifically recognized five Marines who volunteered to extend past the rotation date, continuing their hard work for the task force.
“Cpl. Daniel Farmer, Cpl. Nathaniel Hairell, Cpl. Dylan Sullivan, Sgt. Roberto Uvalle and Sgt. Manuel Vianes are the leaders behind our success,” said Biggers.
The reserve unit was also recognized for the value that their unique skillsets and backgrounds provided to the mission.
“The experience of the Reserve aircrews and maintainers of VMGR-234 have benefited us with understanding the challenges of flying in the various sovereign European and African countries’ airspace as well as problem solving in regards to maintenance issues,” said Marble.
The departing Marines leave an impressive record that the new rotation of Marines are eager to live up to.
“The [air combat element detachment] has had a tremendous impact on the ability of the task force to conduct the security cooperation mission over the vast distances of the African continent,” said Marble. “I cannot be more proud of them.”