POL Airmen fuel the wing

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Bryan Bouchard
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
“Without fuel, pilots are pedestrians.” This is a phrase uttered by many fuels specialists over the years. At a forward-deployed location, it is no different; except the phrase should be expanded to people who drive vehicles and use air conditioners, generators and anything else not solar-powered.

“Our mission here keeps this base running,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mel French, base fuels manager with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at a forward-deployed location.

Without the fuels operation at the base, there would be no fuel for jets, vehicles, the lights on the flightline or generators.

To perform the daunting task of keeping the base moving, the chief uses the help of more than 80 petroleum, oil and lubricants specialists from throughout the Air Force.

“Working here makes me feel like my job is actually going to affect the bigger picture of the operation,” said Airman 1st Class Angela Raymond, a fuels apprentice from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

The fuels Airmen here handle more than 32 million gallons of aircraft fuel a month. That is enough fuel to power the deployed compound for 22 years, Chief French said. But handling refers to more than just pumping fuel into aircraft.

Once the fuel is delivered, it travels a pipeline, which stretches more than two miles. This pipeline has to be inspected several times a day to ensure there are no leaks. If there is a leak, the pipeline is fitted with shut-off valves every 500 feet so fuels Airmen can isolate the leak, repair it and keep the fuel flowing.

When the fuel reaches the end of the pipeline it is stored in one of many bladders, which are simply “rubber bags,” said Master Sgt. Todd Davis, fuels operations superintendent.

“At bases back home, there are fixed storage units,” he said. “But here, everything is in rubber bags that we have to inspect and maintain every day.”

The fuels shop can store more than 4 million gallons of fuel at a time.

But pilots do not pull up to a fuel bladder, tip their visors at the fuels Airmen and say, “fill ‘er up.”

Every drop of fuel is dispensed by truck because fuel trucks are the sole means of moving fuel here. Each Airman dispenses about 1 million gallons of fuel each month. The fuels Airmen said 1 million gallons of fuel is enough to allow a luxury sedan to circumnavigate the globe 27,000 times.

“There is no comparison anywhere in the world to this operation,” Chief French said.

To ensure the fuel is of the highest quality, fuels Airmen also test and inspect all the fuel stored and dispensed from the base.

“We check the quality of the fuel from the refinery to the skin of the aircraft to make sure it is clean and dry,” Chief French said.

While clean fuel may seem an obvious requirement, dry fuel refers to moisture in the fuel itself. All fuels have some moisture, but having too much will cause the excess to collect in the fuel tanks and cause engine problems.

The fuels flight Airmen also store, test and dispense diesel, aviation gasoline, vehicle gasoline and cryogenics. Cryogenics consists of liquid oxygen, used for aircraft environmental controls, and nitrogen, used in aircraft tires and struts to prevent condensation freezing at high altitudes.

The Airmen fill, store and ship 40 400-gallon “cryo-tanks” every month all over the area of responsibility, Chief French said.

“We are the cryogenics hub of the AOR,” Sergeant Davis said.

As if supplying cryo-products throughout the area was not enough, the Airmen also deliver aviation gasoline to several locations for unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Our workload has doubled since January,” Chief French said.

When asked about the increase, he said “mission needs” dictate the amount of fuel processed through this base.

Mission needs are also the reason Airman Raymond and her co-worker, Airman 1st Class Jason Jablonowski, have deployed here.

With only three years of Air Force experience between the two, they said they realize the gravity and effect their jobs have on the mission of not only the base, but of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

“I don’t think we are unsung heroes,” said Airman Jablonowski, who is also deployed from Luke AFB. “I think the aircrews and commanders realize our importance -- we get our recognition.”

The bottom line for Chief French and the rest of the fuels Airmen here is supplying the fuel that runs this installation. He said there is never a shortage of fuel or work for the POL Airmen.

“People know where we’re at when a generator runs out of gas, that’s for sure,” he said.