OEF Fuelers Keep Helicopters Flying LongerBy Sgt. Frank Magni, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service HERAT, Afghanistan, Jan. 20, 2005 -- For every aircraft used in Operation Enduring Freedom, a myriad of specialists works on the ground to keep every one of them in the air.
Petroleum supply specialists, or ground fuelers, are one group essential to the aviation mission. This group plays an integral role in not only keeping aircraft safe, but also boosting their range to better support the ground forces by manning forward fueling points.
One such refueling team from Troop D, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary Regiment, is temporarily stationed at the Afghan National Army Regional Corps Assistance Group base just outside this western Afghanistan city. Here, they support flights as they arrive from throughout Regional Command West.
While a majority of the squadron is stationed in Herat province, the refueler's isolation is not an unusual situation. In fact, the more they move and the closer they stay to forward operations, the faster the mission moves. Working in small teams ranging from two to five people, the fuelers are constantly on the go.
"Wherever the birds need to be, we are there," said Army Sgt. Robert Pulliam, Troop squad leader. Since being deployed to Afghanistan, Pulliam's squad has set up more than 15 forward arming and refueling points in Regional Commands south and west. "We are at most locations less than 30 days," said Pulliam.
While he and his team are constantly moving, Pulliam said, one of the most important elements to safely providing fuel in remote locations is following all the necessary preventive maintenance checks and services on the fueling equipment following strict fuel testing standards.
"We have to be able to quickly refuel aircraft at a moment's notice," said Army Spc. Joel Williams, Troop D petroleum supply specialist. "To do that, equipment must always be working and delivering safe fuel."
When aircraft aren't coming, the team conducts daily checks on equipment and runs fuel tests, said Williams. "Whether birds are flying or not, we stay prepared, no matter what," he said.
On each petroleum team, much time is devoted to preparation. But safety also is a major concern when it's time to refuel. "Pumping fuel into aircraft is much more dangerous than pumping fuel into trucks," said Pulliam. While the fuel is being pumped into an aircraft, everyone from the aircrew to the fuelers must stay acutely aware of all safety hazards.
One of the biggest hazards during refueling is a "runaway hose," or a hose that slips out of place and spills fuel. Another hazard is the possibility of fire caused by static electricity from the helicopter's rotors. Regardless of the hazard, attentive aircrews and ground fuelers can drastically reduce the risk by following safety procedures. "If we don't follow safety procedures the right way, there is a good chance something bad could happen," said Pulliam.
Although the work can be demanding, there are a lot of rewards, said Pulliam. "We are an essential part of the mission," he said. "It feels real good to keep the birds flying, because they are so necessary to the mission."
(Army Sgt. Frank Magni is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)
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