World War II
VMJ-253 pioneered Trans-oceanic transport in the Marine Corps during World War II. VMJ-253 also became the parent squadron for the joint air transport organization dubbed the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command (SCAT). Lieutenant Colonel Perry K. Smith, USMC, became the first Commanding Officer of SCAT. By November of 1942, VMJ-253 had supported operations on Guadalcanal and surrounding islands, logging thousands of flight hours.
While on Guadalcanal, VMJ-253 was the first combat transport squadron to land at Henderson Field, bringing Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger and his staff to take command of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Following the Japanese counter attack that forced the Navy to withdraw, VMJ-253 continued to re-supply fuel, ammunition, food, and medical supplies in support of their besieged brethren. The Marines in their R4Ds never wavered in their mission despite being fired upon by Japanese troops lurking near Henderson Field and marauding Zeros in the skies. Until the end of 1942, it was the Marines of VMJ-253 and other SCAT units that solved the logistical problems of Marines and soldiers on Guadalcanal.
Through 1943, VMJ-253 supported operations on Bougainville, New Georgia, Vella Lavella, and numerous islands throughout the Solomon chain. As the island-hopping campaign moved into the Central Pacific in 1944, so did VMJ-253. Detached from SCAT, VMJ-253 officially became a transport squadron and was redesignated VMR-253. VMR-253 was assigned to the Transport Air Group, popularly called TAG, which was the Central Pacific version of SCAT. Continuing the heavy schedule of lifts from Tarawa, VMR-253 sortied to Kwajalein, Roi-Namur, and Eniwetok. In October of 1943, VMR-253 moved to Guam. Working out of Guam, VMR-253 supported actions on Tinian, Saipan, and Peleliu. VMR-253 remained on Guam until the close of the war, and in May 1946, returned to MCAS Miramar.
Post WW II / Korean conflict
From Miramar, VMR-253 moved to MCAS El Toro under Marine Aircraft Group 25 where the aging fleet of R4Ds was replaced with R5Ds. VMR-253 continued its primary mission of moving men and supplies wherever the Marine Corps needed them. After a four-year squadron stand down from 1947 to 1951, VMR-253 reactivated with only six R5C aircraft, 5 officers, and 18 enlisted Marines. By the end of the year it had grown to 58 officers, 184 enlisted, had received 16 new R4Qs, and was ready to go to war once again. From January of 1952 through June of 1953, the squadron logged over 11,000 flight hours, carried 30,170 passengers, and moved 5,213,383 pounds of cargo.
1954 – 1965
In 1954, the squadron relocated to Itami Air Force Base, Japan and then to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. From Japan, VMR-253 conducted the bulk of Marine air transport in the Pacific for nearly ten years. On February 1, 1962, the famous Lockheed KC-130F Hercules joined Marine aviation in the Pacific. With its ability to refuel fighter and attack aircraft, VMR-253 was redesignated Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), and the squadron’s primary mission became aerial refueling.
Less than a year after receiving the Hercules aircraft, the pilots and Marines of VMGR-152 were called upon to support U.S. Army advisors in the latest hot spot, Indo-China. This deployment gave the squadron valuable experience in the employment of the Battle Herc that would soon pay off.
Beginning in 1965, with increasing U.S. involvement in Vietnam, detachments from VMGR-152 were deployed in country with Marine Amphibious Forces (MAF) to support F-4s and A-4s used by Marine tactical squadrons. To better support the detachments in Vietnam, the squadron relocated to Okinawa, Japan. By October, the squadron was flying 900 missions a month and continued this high tempo of operations well into 1967.
From 1967 to 1975, the bulk of VMGR-152’s missions were directly in support of action in Southeast Asia. Concurrently, the squadron was establishing itself as a mainstay in the Western Pacific. VMGR-152 conducted countless trans-Pacific (TRANSPAC) missions, which involved the refueling of entire squadrons of fighter and attack aircraft as they crossed the Pacific on deployment. VMGR-152 also participated in a myriad of exercises and the movement of tons of cargo and thousands of troops, securing VMGR-152’s tenure in WESTPAC.
1980s – 1990s
During the 1980’s, larger U.S. Air Force tankers specifically designated for the strategic movement and refueling of aircraft relieved VMGR-152 of its TRANSPAC mission. This allowed the squadron to explore a more tactical employment of the KC-130 in intra-theater refueling and transport operations, and employ a more effective use of the aircraft and its personnel in a tactical environment. In 1987, VMGR-152 became the first PCS (permanent change of station) aircraft squadron on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Since the early 1990s, VMGR-152 has experienced a steady increase in the number of missions flown. In June 1993, the squadron acquired five KC-130Rs, which provided the squadron with a significant increase in aircraft range and added to its effectiveness in refueling and transport operations.
In January 1995, VMGR-152 joined Special Purpose MAGTF in support of Operation United Shield, the final withdrawal of all UNOSOM forces from Somalia.
In November and December 2004, VMGR-152 participated in Joint Task Force 535, the Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief mission in the Republic of the Philippines after several tropical storms and typhoons struck the island of Luzon. In the wake of the December 26, 2004 earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, and subsequent widespread tsunami in the Indian Ocean region, VMGR-152 deployed aircraft and personnel to Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia in support of Operation Unified Assistance.
The Sumos were again called upon this year to provide Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) to people in need. When mudslides devastated the small village of Southern Leyete, Philippines in February of 2006 and when an earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia killed nearly 6,000 people in May of 2006, the Sumos were among the first to arrive with valuable medical aid and supplies. Due to the Sumos flexibility and readiness, US forces were able to play a significant role in aiding the international community and saving countless lives with their operations.
The Marines of VMGR-152 have consistently employed the KC-130 Hercules in a safe and efficient manner. By invariably demonstrating the ability to balance mission accomplishment with safety, the squadron has earned numerous unit citations and awards. These awards include the CNO Aviation Safety Award for 1992, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005; the MCAA Commandant's Aviation Efficiency Trophy for 1992 and 1993; the National Defense Transportation Unit Award for 1993, 1995, and 2000; and the MCAA Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron of the Year Award for 1994, 2001 and 2006. The most noteworthy achievement occurred in April 2007, when the Sumos exceeded 260,000 mishap-free flight hours. VMGR-152 continues to play an invaluable role within III MEF and the U.S. Marine Corps. Through safety, the Sumos of VMGR-152 perpetually live up to their squadron's reputation as the "Workhorse of the Pacific".
Recent Significant Operations
In May and June of 2008 VMGR-152 was called upon to provide HADR to the country of Burma. The HADR flights were initiated in response to an official request from the country's military government which had, for more than a week, stalled efforts by the U.S. government and a myriad of relief organizations to provide assistance in the wake of devastation left by Cyclone Nargi, a tropical storm that caused a reported 32,000 deaths. During this time the Sumos launched 312 sorties to total 481.8 hours and delivered an impressive 2,808,954 pounds of cargo. Some of the relief supplies delivered include rice, tarps, water, hygiene kits, first aid kits, blankets, ply-wood, various building supplies, cooking utensils, various food items, and tents.
4 June, 2007 was a very exciting day for VMGR-152 as it marked the arrival of the squadrons first KC-130J Super Hercules. 19 June marked another milestone for the Sumos as it marked the first operational flight of our newly acquired KC-130J. 28 September the Sumos sent a fully qualified crew to the Lockheed Martin Plant in Marietta, GA to accept the squadrons second KC-130J, Buno# 167923.
In June, 2008 the squadron participated in Exercise Pitch Black, which is a biennial military exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and based on RAAF Tindal. The aim of the exercise is to practice Offensive Counter Air and Defensive Counter Air combat, in a simulated war environment and consists of a "red team" and a "blue team". As a member of the "red team", the Sumos acted as the force multiplier of the exercise by providing consist and reliable Fixed Wing Aerial Refueling.
In May, 2009 The Sumos sent two KC-130Js as a detachment with VMGR-352 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). It was the Sumo's first combat deployment since 1975 during the Vietnam War. A total of 40 VMGR-152 Marines deployed to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan to provide additional support in the War on Terror. In November VMGR-152 sent a second detachment to OEF.
In July 2010 a 2 plane detachment departed for the country of Bangladesh. The 2 aircraft carried Marines from MWSS-171 and their equipment to support their mission in building schools for the Bangladesh children. VMGR's role in this mission resulted in carrying over 35,000lbs of cargo and 42 passengers to the poverty stricken country.
During October 2010, in the midst of Phiblex, super typhoon Megi hit the Isabella province and continued to sweep across the northern island of Luzon with winds of over 110mph and created disaster in its wake. The VMGR-152 flew 14 sorties, transported 144 passengers and 86,450lbs of cargo to assist the citizens of the Republic of the Philippines and also evacuating Marines and sailors from Clarke Air Base.
In December, 2010 VMGR-152 completed its transition to a squadron consisting entirely of KC-130J model aircraft greatly enhancing strengths and capabilities far into the squadron's future. Not just a systems or avionics upgrade, the "J", as it is referred to, is a completely new airframe with greater range, speed, and mission capability all with a reduction in aircrew to a possible 2 pilots and 1 crewmaster.
On 11 March, 2011 an 8.9 magnitude earthquake occurred off the coast of mainland Japan causing a devastating tsunami that not only caused massive loss of property and life but caused damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plants. The squadron sent eight of their KC-130Js to Iwakuni for disaster relief and support for the Japanese Government and people in what became "Operation Tomodachi". The first crews left with less than a 24 hour notice and were not given an expected return date. In the month of April the squadron continued support for Operation Tomodachi. A three-plane detachment shifted to Atsugi, and most crews were moved back home to the squadron and based out of Futenma for the remaining support.
In July, 2012 the final deployment of three crews, two aircraft and 40 maintenance Marines to Afghanistan returned after 5 weeks in theater because of operational draw downs. Their return marked the end of eight consecutive wartime deployments of VMGR-152 to OEF and the restoration of a 15 plane fleet now available for future operational commitments tasked to the Sumos throughout the Pacific Command.
Since summer of 2012, the "Sumos" of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 have been involved in exercises and operations throughout all of their Area of Responsibility to include Hawaii, Alaska, Australia, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia and Mongolia. They continue to meet the high operational demand placed on them not only by the Marine Corps but also by supporting Joint operations with the Army, Navy, and Air Force. VMGR-152 continued to set the standard for operational readiness and support in the vast and geographically remote Western Pacific Theater. The squadron met and surpassed all challenges with unwavering dedication and commitment resulting in a year of unparalleled successes and accomplishments to include participation in every major III Marine Expeditionary Force exercise throughout the Pacific Command Area of Responsibility and providing support to combat operations in Afghanistan while surpassing 292,000 mishap-free flight hours. Because of this, the "Sumos" were recipients of the 2013 MCAA Commandant's Aviation Trophy. These awards, in such a short time period, truly bring to light the professionalism and dedication to duty the squadron is known for.