MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- If the area just south of the air station flight line had been a village in Helmand province, Afghanistan, radio communication would have been critical. And if that had been a man with a real rocket-propelled grenade launcher approaching his position, perhaps there would have been a bit more stress in the voice of British Flight Lt. Samuel Mitchell.
What was real was the Harvest HAWK-equipped KC-130J Hercules circling in the sky above Cherry Point. And that was real stress in the voice of Sgt. Maj. Sub Thomas, one of the British team’s senior enlisted members, as he coached Mitchell and other British forces along as they communicated via radio with the Marines above them.
A team of British forces from the United Kingdom’s 1st Armoured Division came to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., Oct. 15 through Oct. 26 to train to effectively coordinate air strikes with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252’s Harvest HAWK team. The forces were training to become joint terminal attack controllers, ground warfighters in a forward position who direct combat aircraft engaged in close-air support.
The Harvest HAWK, or Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit, is an upgrade on the KC-130J Hercules tanker. With a complement of Hellfire and Griffin missiles, the Harvest HAWK-equipped KC-130J Hercules is a lethal asset in the sky above southwestern Afghanistan. The new Harvest HAWK capability on the KC-130J adds a deadly component to one of the Marine Corps’ most storied aviation platforms. For decades, Marine Corps C-130s have been instrumental in aerial warfare, running the gamut from aerial refueling to troop and cargo transport to battlefield illumination.
In Helmand province, Marine Corps Harvest HAWK teams regularly provide close air support to U.S. and Coalition ground forces and can stay in the sky for far longer than attack jets or helicopters in support of counterinsurgency operations in the region. “The mindset of the U.S. Marine Corps is very much focused on supporting the guys on the ground,” said Thomas.
Thomas was deployed to Helmand province in 2011 and said he had at least 10 strikes against mid-to-high level Taliban targets through the Harvest HAWK team there.
“During the first deployment we were able to establish pretty good relations with the Brits on the ground, who really adapted to the way Harvest HAWK was employed,” said Capt. Trenton Pelletier, a KC-130J pilot on VMGR-252’s Harvest HAWK team. “It became their weapon of choice, so they wanted to get their guys familiarized with it for their next deployment.”
Pelletier and the other Marines involved said that the Harvest HAWK team partnered with the British forces to develop out-of-the-box training scenarios. Both groups are slated to deploy to Afghanistan in early 2013, and hope their two weeks together at Cherry Point will pay dividends when lives are on the line.
“I think this will only make us more robust when we go forward,” said Capt. Mark Montgomery, a flight induction team officer-in-charge with VMGR-252. “No matter what accent you hear, we operate on the Joint Terminal Attack Controller doctrine, so the more practice you have, the better you get.”
With combat operations in Afghanistan set to cease in 2014, the Marines and their British partners slated to go forward next year said they know they will be responsible for finishing the job.
“The Harvest HAWK system is very good, but the guys who are flying it, they get where we’re coming from, and they know what we need,” said Flight Lt. Skip Avery, one of the British service members involved in the training. “The key thing is that we’ll be the guys closing the door in Afghanistan. We know that there are going to be U.S. Marines helping us get our first boots off the ground.