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Fuels airmen keep aircraft fighting

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgt. Robert Armentrout takes a fuel sample to check for water particles.  Armentrout is a fuels specialist assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgt. Robert Armentrout takes a fuel sample to check for water particles. Armentrout is a fuels specialist assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgt. Robert Armentrout checks for contamination in a jet fuel sample.  He is a fuels specialist assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgt. Robert Armentrout checks for contamination in a jet fuel sample. He is a fuels specialist assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgts. William Paholak (left) and Christopher Lund prepare to refill a liquid-oxygen cart here.  Nighttime brings a near-total dark to the flightline, which necessitates wearing might-vision goggles to do their jobs.  Both airmen are fuels specialists assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgts. William Paholak (left) and Christopher Lund prepare to refill a liquid-oxygen cart here. Nighttime brings a near-total dark to the flightline, which necessitates wearing might-vision goggles to do their jobs. Both airmen are fuels specialists assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- Working out of a tiny corner of a dilapidated, Soviet-built aircraft hangar here, four airmen work around the clock to do their part in supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They are the Air Force's petroleum, oil and lubricant specialists assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.

The POL team is made up of experts in fuels and cryogenics operations, accounting and quality assurance, and they are responsible for keeping the A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet and other Coalition Joint Task Force 180 aircraft ready to fly.

“(We) get the right quantity and quality of fuel and cryogenics at the right time to deployed units conducting forward combat, deterrence and surveillance operations,” said Master Sgt. Mark Knapp, fuels superintendent who is deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy. “Our primary responsibility is to support the A-10 mission, but the joint environment provides us an opportunity to lend a hand to our sister services and other coalition forces.”

Flightline servicing here offers a unique set of challenges for even the most experienced fuels troop. There is limited ramp space to maneuver refueling trucks, plus the constant cargo, vehicle and aircraft movement requires operators to perform with the highest degree of vigilance.

Nighttime brings a near-total darkness to the flightline, along with a bone-chilling cold. In response, the team dons its night-vision goggles and continues working in a world where everything is represented in shades of green, without peripheral vision or depth perception.

The fuels airmen are also keenly aware they are driving their giant, fuel-laden trucks on an airfield where one misstep could bring very costly results. The surrounding unpaved areas are littered with mine fields, and the primary travel routes are within sight of the base perimeter. Since early November, two contract fuel delivery trucks have been hit by insurgent small-arms fire.

Add to these challenges the 24-hour operations, and some people may expect such a small crew to fold under pressure. But the four specialists have proven their mettle and met or exceeded all of their mission requirements, officials said.

The airmen operate on 12-hour shifts, but visitors to their control center would most likely find them working and training together, regardless of who is supposed to be off.

“Working with such a small shop requires each of us to learn all aspects of the mission,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Lund, a refueling equipment operator and the team’s chief accountant. He is deployed from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. “Duty hours don’t really matter. We’re here to get the job done.”

That job means the airmen deliver about 450,000 gallons, or 3 million pounds, of jet fuel per month; that is more than 100,000 pounds of fuel each day.

“The fuels mission here is seamless and goes relatively unnoticed,” said Lt. Col. Pat Lee, 354th EOG vice commander and an A-10 pilot. “They bust their butts to keep the jets ready to go.”

“It really takes a complete effort from all flightline support teams to get wheels-up, bombs-down,” Knapp said. “No fuel, no flight; no flight, no fight.”

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