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Marine Forces Reserve units contribute to hurricane relief efforts

By Pfc. Samantha Schwoch | Marine Corps Forces Reserves | September 18, 2017

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As states across the southeast began to deal with the blow of Hurricane Irma, which destroyed homes and left millions without power, Americans once again proved their ability to come together in the face of crisis. Government, state and local organizations, as well as individuals, did their part to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their neighbors in need.

U.S. Marines with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve, and Marine Wing Support Squadron 473, 4th MAW, MARFORRES, did their part following the storm conducting refueling and resupply missions to Marathon, Florida, in wake of Hurricane Irma to aid and assist the affected areas of the Florida Keys, beginning on Sept. 10, 2017.

U.S. Marines supported lead federal agencies and worked closely with state and local officials to provide necessary fuel for agencies conducting search and rescue and resupply missions across impacted areas of Florida. With Florida being a coastal state, the Marines’ aerial capabilities allowed them to swiftly deliver fuel to the local airfield in Marathon, Florida.

The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve is remarkable in its ability to quickly respond to any call and to flexibly conduct operations through air, ground and logistical elements. In this case, Marines from VMGR-234 transported fuel via KC-130J Hercules aircraft to a forward arming and refueling point established by Marines with MWSS-473 in the Florida Keys via KC-130J.

VMGR-234 is based in Fort Worth, Texas, but the squadron placed three of their KC-130J’s and aircrews closer to the Florida area in advance of the hurricane.

“We prepositioned to Gulfport, Mississippi, to be closer to the Florida Keys but still out of Hurricane Irma’s path,” said U.S. Marine Sgt. Christopher Jones, a KC-130J crewmaster with VMGR-234, 4th MAW, MARFORRES. “That allowed us to provide more fuel to Marathon, Florida, since we could cut off nearly 4 hours of transit.”

Once in Marathon, the VMGR-234 KC-130J’s delivered fuel to multiple fuel pods at the FARP manned by MWSS-473.

“The KC-130J capabilities make them ideal for missions like this since they are small enough to get in and out of smaller fields while still carrying more fuel and cargo than any other platform can,” said Jones. “We also have the ability to stage further away and fly in to deliver fuel, food, and water which allowed us to protect our aircraft from the hurricane while still being extremely effective.”

VMGR 234 provided a total of 68,030 lbs of fuel (10,154 gallons) in addition to Meals Ready to Eat and pallets of water to the FARP. The FARP provided fuel to vehicles and aircraft including multiple U.S. Army CH-47 Chinooks and rotary wing aircraft belonging to the Florida National Guard, American Red Cross, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and several Florida fire departments and hospitals. Marines with MWSS-473 also assisted in passing out food and water to locals in the area.

“MWSS 473 provides fuel for the aviation assets of the Marine Corps,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Todd Swanson, a fuels officer with MWSS 473, 4th MAW, MARFORRES. “We were brought in here because the Florida National Guard has pushed several of their helicopters down here to provide relief south of where we are at. We are here to provide fuel for those helicopters which allows them to stay in the area longer, providing more support throughout the day. What we brought is called the Helicopter Expedient Refueling System and it has a total capacity of about 18 thousand gallons.”

The Marines of VMGR-234 and MWSS-473 were eager to use their unique capabilities in aid of their fellow Americans.

“Marine Wing Support Squadron 473 is a reserve unit, and all but two of the Marines here are Reserve Marines, meaning that they volunteered to come here.” said Swanson. “They set their school schedule aside, some of them gave up vacation time at work, to come on these orders and support this effort. I am tremendously proud of my Marines here and the very hard work they are doing.”
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