By Staff Sgt. Wes Wright, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs
/ Published June 17, 2015
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AFNS) -- The Air Force recently recognized the 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron's Fuels Management Flight as the best in the Air Force after being named the winner of the 2014 American Petroleum Institute Award.
"The award is like winning the Super Bowl, World Series and Stanley Cup all at one time," said Lt. Col. John Harris, the 673rd LRS commander.
The award recognizes the wing for having the best fuels management operation, which includes facility, equipment and vehicle support from outside the fuels management flight.
In order to beat out the some of the best fuels management flights from across the Air Force, the men and women of the fuels management flight knew their work was cut out for them.
The 673rd LRS’s performance during the competition timeline produced no fewer than 40 bullets in their entry form. Air Force officials referred to the unit as "a clear-cut winner" across three judged sections: direct mission support, innovative management and quality of life programs.
Senior Master Sgt. Ron Crowl, the 673rd LRS Fuels Management Flight chief and one of the architects of the award package, said the award of this magnitude is special because, for many Airmen, it can be a one-time opportunity.
"You don't win this type of award every day," Crowl said. "It says a lot. Based on the criteria and grading scale, it is no easy task to try and encapsulate everything this flight does, and does well, in 40 lines on an Air Force Form 1206. These Airmen knock it out of the park every day, and I had plenty of outstanding accomplishments to work with."
The squadron's commander was particularly proud of what the flight did to secure funding for new and improved infrastructure, which was a major bullet in their award package.
"They lobbied for, and got funding for, a truck offload facility, which increases our capability to receive fuel," Harris said. "Most recently, they lobbied for, and got funding for, a new $7 million operations facility that strategically locates this flight closer to its customer base. That improves our mission capability exponentially. I'm so proud of what they have been able to accomplish."
While their accomplishments are too many to list, some of the highlights included: managing the movement of more than 400 million gallons of fuel between home station and deployed locations, saving the Air Force millions of dollars by using innovative practices and procedures and crafting the Air Force's first F-22 Raptor Forward Area Refueling Point plan.
According to Crowl, what makes the flight's achievement even more impressive is that the flight operates out of three geographically separated areas, which is atypical of standard fuels operations. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is larger than any base in the Pacific Air Forces in terms of sheer physical area.
All the other PACAF bases combined would fit within Elmendorf’s fence line, making logistics a high hurdle to clear.
In addition to the geographical size of Elmendorf, the diverse joint base mission sets also provide a scale reference to the volume and pace of work the fuels management flight brings to the installation.
"It is a challenge from a command and control standpoint," Crowl said. "But these guys make it look easy."
Another challenge the fuels management flight regularly overcomes is the sub-arctic conditions.
"It gets very cold on this flightline and it makes it really difficult to do our job," said Airman 1st Class Levi Roark, a 673rd LRS fixed facilities technician. "We face the challenge of not only being cold and wet ourselves, but the elements also affect the fuels infrastructure. We have to keep things from breaking and maintain our response times at the same time. It's difficult, but we've maintained and overcome. We have the best fuels flight in the Air Force to show for it."
However, according to Harris, there's something far more important that sets this flight apart.
"I could tell you about how we support more than 80 aircraft, while ensuring the inventory of more than 12 million gallons of fuel, all while battling arctic conditions," Harris said. "Or, I could tell you about the important missions we support, like (North American Aerospace Defense Command’s) combat-alert cell that ensures our territorial integrity, or the Air National Guard's alert and C-130 (Hercules) mission. Or perhaps the C-17 (Globemaster III) airdrop mission standing by at a moment's notice to deliver (U.S.) Pacific Command's only airborne combat capability anywhere in theater. While all of these are important, what really sets this flight apart is its strategic vision and its heart."
Harris said Elmendorf’s fuels flight is unique in its leaders' ability to look beyond the day-to-day tactical mission of launching jets and develop a strategic vision to make the operation and the flight better for future Airmen.
"But perhaps the true key to success for this flight is it's a family," Harris said. "This flight rallies around its Airmen in an unbelievable way. The level of morale here and the way these Airmen look after each other is breathtaking."
Airmen of the squadron echoed their commander's sentiment.
"When I got to the (Elmendorf) fuels flight, I knew I was part of an awesome team," said Master Sgt. Elizabeth Warren, the 673rd LRS Fuels Environmental Safety Office NCO in charge. "I'm really glad the rest of the Air Force knows it now, too."
Roark said the closeness and "we're a family" spirit that permeates the flight makes the award personal to each member.
"There are really no words to explain how great it feels," Roark said. "As hard as we work, my team, my brothers and sisters, all the sweat, blood and tears ... we are hard workers who love to work, because we work for each other. We work for family. There's a saying I learned here that has always stuck with me. 'Just as metal sharpens metal, so does one man sharpen another,' and that says a lot about this flight."
Harris also pointed out that while the award was given to the fuels management flight, they didn't win it in a vacuum.
"While this fuels flight earned and deserved this award, they didn't do it alone," Harris said. "Our refueler maintenance section in the vehicle management flight makes sure the fuel trucks are up and running 365 days a year.
“Another key component is the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron's water fuels maintenance team,” Harris continued. “They make sure the fuels infrastructure is running top of the line, which is key to making sure we can get fuel from point A to point B. This was a total team effort from all across our squadron and supporting units."
Harris said it's difficult to properly encapsulate the character of the fuels management flight but that one thing was clear -- "At the end of the day, these guys epitomize (Elmendorf’s) motto: Arctic tough and family strong," he said.