VMM-261 ‘Raging Bulls’ supports 449th AEG

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Allison Payne
  • 406th Air Expeditionary Wing

The 449th Air Expeditionary Group features a unique, diverse mission set distributed across East Africa, where it provides critical capabilities to support combatant command objectives in the region.

To accomplish this, the 449th AEG relies on the various skills and equipment from its sister services across seven tenant units at Camp Lemonnier. One such unit in particular, the U.S. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, or VMM-261 (REIN), has played a key role in enabling the 449th AEG’s operations.

VMM-261 (REIN), nicknamed “Raging Bulls” for their mascot and call sign, is currently deployed with their MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport aircraft and KC-130J Hercules cargo aircraft to provide aerial and combat support to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, as well as additional support to troops and operations, whether amphibious or ashore. The Marines work closely with the 449th AEG, to include providing the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron a vital training and real-world mission platform within their aircraft.

“From the Guardian Angel perspective, it’s important to be able to work in a joint environment because of our mission set,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Trevor Clark, 82nd ERQS senior enlisted leader and pararescueman. “We need to be ready at all times to execute our missions with any assets available to us. Having experience working with the other services, building trust with them and cultivating a good working relationship makes executing the mission that much more efficient.”

Clark also explained that though they train with Air Force assets in-garrison, they may not have that option in a deployed environment. Both Clark and Marine Capt. Timothy Powell, VMM-261 (REIN) transport second pilot, believe working with different services benefits both teams by broadening their scope of experience.

“The most beneficial aspect of working with the Air Force has been the difference of thought and operating procedures,” Powell said. “In Marine Corps aviation, we have a certain process to plan and execute flight operations, just as the Air Force does. Seeing the difference in our methods and being able to incorporate them into our own has made us all better aviators.”

Joint service operations require consistent communication and cohesion between the services to ensure seamless mission execution.

“Being able to work in a joint environment, in any capacity, is incredibly important to the mission,” said Clark. “The work our squadron has done on this deployment in conjunction with the Marine aircrews, MV-22 crews and other joint assets wouldn’t have been possible if everyone involved wasn’t willing to build relationships, stay willing to learn and remain humble throughout the process.”

Although VMM-261 (REIN)’s primary contribution to the 449th AEG is through providing an aerial training platform for the 82nd ERQS, they also transport passengers and cargo to designated locations across East Africa.

“The greatest takeaway I have after working with all the different units out here in the Horn of Africa is that no matter how much and how well you train, eventually something unexpected comes up,” said Marine Sgt. James Townsend, VMM-261 (REIN) loadmaster. “As long as the Marine Corps and the Air Force continue to train together properly, we can continue to mitigate threats to pursue our mission.”

In one such instance, the 82nd ERQS and VMM-261 (REIN) flew a Search and Recovery mission, in which the Marines supported with flying and search support for a 10-day search operation.

“Our team, along with the Marine crews, led scanning duties from the ramp, troop doors and windows of the aircraft while the crew flew patterns at low levels over the open-ocean search area,” said Clark. “They worked incredibly hard during the effort, which was a huge testament to their work ethic and professionalism.”

Marine Cpl. Dean George, VMM-261 (REIN) loadmaster, also stressed the importance of working in a joint capacity.

“Seeing how the Air Force operates has allowed us to take weapons from their arsenal to strengthen our own,” George said. “There is no one answer to the problems we face, and working together allows for better outcomes and better opportunities, which will ultimately make us more lethal.”

Camp Lemonnier is an operational installation which enables U.S., allied and partner nation forces to be where they are needed to ensure security and protect U.S. interests. The installation provides world-class support for service members, transient U.S. assets and 38 local tenant commands, including VMM-261 (REIN) and the 449th AEG.

“Working with the 449th Air Expeditionary Group and the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron has been a great experience,” said Powell. “We’ve built a very strong relationship and are consistently creating training opportunities for one another. It has been apparent to me their skill and professionalism is a direct result of their continuous desire to train, which is also a great benefit to us as it allows us to produce more proficient and qualified aircrew through training.”