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JOINT PACIFIC ALASKA RANGE COMPLEX, Alaska (NNS) — U.S. Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 452 from Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., conducted refueling evolutions with Navy jets in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, June 15.
Flying thousands of feet above snow-capped Alaskan Mountain ranges, Navy fighter pilots connected to the Marines KC-130 Hercules aircraft's refueling drogue basket to receive fuel.
"Refueling is our bread and butter for the VMGR squadron," said U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Griggsby Cowart, VMGR-452 navigator. "It's what we're here to do. It's our primary mission."
The squadron, which includes more than 300 active-duty and reserve personnel and 12 KC-130 Hercules aircraft, routinely performs about 15 to 20 refueling missions a month. The KC-130 can refuel various aircraft using its probe and drogue system; for exercise NE11, they've mainly refueled Navy F/A-18 Hornets, Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers .
"Our main mission objective for Northern Edge is to provide aerial refueling support in any way we can," said Cowart, who has been in the Marines for 15 years. "We brought two aircraft, and our goal is to get both those aircraft in the air every day to pass as much fuel as we possibly can."
Using the probe and drogue system is a difficult task that requires the pilot of the aircraft receiving the fuel to maneuver their aircraft's probe into the C-130s drogue hose.
"They fly into what's called a basket; a big parachute device that goes around the hose and holds it in the air," Cowart said. "Once they fly into it, it couples, we turn on the pumps and they start getting fuel."
The exercise has also provided the squadron the opportunity for other Marines to see what refueling is all about. Marines from U.S. Marine Air Control Squadron 23 based out of Aurora, Colo., were aboard the flight to see what it takes to refuel aircraft mid-air.
"It was really cool to get to see how the Marines operate in the air," said MACS-23 Air Control Electronics Operator Lance Cpl. Titus Mote, who is from Colorado Springs, Colo. "We tend to lose sight of the picture on the ground, as far as what's going on in the air, and how we're important to making that mission happen and getting it accomplished."
For VMGR-452, exercise Northern Edge is an opportunity to sharpen their skill sets.
"Joint exercises not only hone our skills, but they allow us to operate with other forces in real-world type scenarios," said Cowart, a native of Atlanta, Ga. "If we're called on to perform an actual mission, it's not just going to be Marines most of the time. We are going to have to work with other forces and other services to be able to execute those missions. So, for us to come out here and practice that, it's extremely important."
Like many other units, VMGR-452 has been a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and they are currently deployed in support of Black Sea Rotational Force in Romania.