Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry PointYissachar Ruas

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point is the centerpiece of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). Providing key elements to Marines and US Forces in combat, its confines are always bustling with activity.

With the USMC bolstering its F35B fleet in full swing, the Air Station is feeling the wheels in motion of the transition. Having retired the venerable “Prowler” aircraft several years ago, with the end slowly coming into sight for the Harrier fleet, one Squadron that isn’t changing anytime soon is Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 252, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing’s key tactical and logistics Squadron. VMGR-252, affectionately known as “OTIS” is the USMC’s oldest active duty squadron.

Comprised of more than a dozen KC-130J Hercules aircraft, The Squadron’s key duties include Aerial refueling for other USMC/USN assets, tactical support, and can even provide added firepower for US Forces in combat. “Otis” is unique among USMC Squadrons within this regard.

More unique than its platform, as a cargo aircraft that fires missiles in support of Marines on the ground, the Squadron’s most unique trait is its personnel. Having had the privilege of getting a glimpse into the Squadron over the years, it never ceases to amaze me how dedicated the personnel are and how they eventually circle around the fleet and look for ways to return to Otis’s mix.

Lt Col Shane Mann - VMGR 252 Commanding Officer
Lt Col Shane Mann - VMGR 252 Commanding OfficerYissachar Ruas

Around the Squadron, between safety awards and plaques commemorating deployments across the globe, is the 252’s “Operational Approach” statement. This placard, displayed around key locations is meant to showcase the standards 252’s Marines are expected to live up to when it comes to both Operations as well core values. The statement is signed by VMGR-252’s Commanding Officer Lt Col. Shane Mann. Lt Col Mann is a prime example of a Marine whose resume is the textbook for a Marine Aviator’s career in leadership positions, and as such he can be found returning to Otis over and over as he climbed the ranks, showing just how special and embedded Otis’s spirit is embedded in its Marines.
It doesn’t take long talking to Marines in the Squadron to find out how unique they are as individuals. We flew a joint mission with a 252 KC-130J to witness firsthand one of their main objectives – midair refueling of Marine Fighters.

Leading our mission is Capt Carrie Yonge, at 32 years, Capt Yonge is 252’s Mission Planning Officer and a KC-130J pilot. While Capt Yonge’s down to earth relatable personality might not be the first thing you might expect from a Military Aviator, it definitely is something you would hope to find in a teacher, which was the initial career path Capt Yonge had chosen.

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
2nd Marine Aircraft WingYissachar Ruas

Capt Yonge was a late arrival to the Marine Corps. A native of Ocala, Florida, growing up around light aircraft, Yonge had been a Middle School Teacher for several years prior to joining the Marines. Capt Yonge even needed a special age waiver to join and fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. It is easy to see the gleam in her eye when she talks about both teaching 6th graders and both her grandfathers who were pilots.

For Sgt Derrick Wentling, a loadmaster with the 252, it seems like the Marine way of life comes naturally, with his father, uncle, brother and sister all serving or having served in the Marines, Sgt Wentling had a pretty good picture of what he was looking for and going to get from serving in the Corps.

During our planned mission, we witnessed not only the Aerial refueling aspect of the Loadmaster’s mission, but were on hand to view the qualification exams for 2 new 252 Loadmasters. Many of their assignments dealt with in flight emergency situations, while these situations are very rare, the new Loadmasters repeat the various drills over and over – Marines are always ready!

While 2nd MAW might be going through some serious changes over the coming years with new F-35B Lightning II fighter attack aircraft and CH-53K King Stallions, one constant won’t be changing in the foreseeable future, VMGR-252 OTIS and its special spirit are a mainstay within the growing changes.