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3-level fuels specialist pumps 3 million gallons

by Master Sgt. Scott Wagers
Air Force News Agency

10/22/2007 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFPN) -- As an inspiration to the 119 members assigned to the largest fuels flight in U.S. Air Forces in Europe, two plaques are prominently displayed in the hallway just outside the operation superintendent's office at Ramstein Air Base.

One is an ornately designed wooden plate that has accumulated the names of 21 fuels mobile operators since April 1999. In one month's time, these Airmen pumped 1 million gallons of JP-8 fuel into mission-ready aircraft.

Further down the wall, a more elaborate plaque features the names of only two Airmen -- they have surpassed the 2-million gallon mark.

Considering this legacy, it's easy to understand how the mere mention of a 3-million gallon attempt would raise a few eyebrows among those in the petroleum, oil and lubricants profession. And that's how it all reportedly began.

"It actually started as a joke," said Airman 1st Class Hazen Sanders, referring to the friendly banter among some of the younger fuels mobile operators assigned to the 435th Logistics Readiness Squadron here.

"Guys were joking with me saying, 'You should go for 3 million gallons this month.'"

"And I'd joke back, 'You know, I think I will!'"

As the 20-year-old Airman from Dermott, Ark., recounted the sequence of events with a rich Southern drawl, he grinned from ear to ear. And everything was all fun and games, said Airman Sanders, until somebody said it was "impossible."

Airman Sanders said he doesn't consider himself an especially competitive person.

"But if somebody pushes me enough," he paused as though allowing anyone listening to fill in the blank. "Every time I heard somebody say it was impossible, I thought, 'OK. That's one more person I've got to prove wrong.'"

After doing some figuring in his head, the three-skill-level Airman fresh out of technical training with only five months time-on-station, approached fuels distribution supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Jerry Woiton, and asked for permission to work 30 straight days.

"Some of us were initially concerned about his safety," said Sergeant Woiton who conferred with several fellow NCOs about Airman Sanders' request.

In the discussion, someone remarked that 12-hour duty days were the norm in a deployed environment. There was also the advantage of Germany's cooler air temperatures that minimize the threats of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

"We granted his request under the condition that we would closely monitor his well-being to ensure his safety," said Sergeant Woiton, a veteran fuels specialist with 15 years' experience.

Once Airman Sanders received the green light, he began working 12-plus hour shifts Sept. 1. During his first week, he said he recalls skeptical co-workers occasionally bringing up the 10-letter word -- impossible.

Then something interesting began to happen.

Three fellow Airmen came to Airman Sanders' aide by offering to swap planes with him if their aircraft required larger fuel transfers. In another work center, fuel dispatchers who have daily access to incoming flight itineraries began cuing Airman Sanders to the arrival times and locations of the largest aircraft.

By the end of his sixth day, he surpassed 691,000 gallons and suddenly co-workers began whispering, "It's doable."

Also working in Airman Sanders' favor was an underground network of pipes that deliver JP-8 fuel from seven hydrant tanks collectively holding more than 5.6 million gallons. Known as a fuels hydrant system similar to those installed at most commercial airports, it directs a limitless supply of fuel to 28 access ports scattered throughout parking ramps near Ramstein AB's nearly 20,000-foot runway.

When an aircraft pulls in to park, fuels specialists install a pipe system called a "pantograph" that links the fuel port in the ground with the plane's fuel tank. Once installed, any plane in the inventory can be topped off with the flick of a switch.

Flightlines that don't have a fuels hydrant system rely on smaller capacity R11 fuel trucks to transport 6,000-gallon quantities of fuel at a time from round-trips to a local fuel yard. To top off a C-5 Galaxy with fuel trucks may require triple the work hours of one operator using a fuels hydrant system.

But even with an endless supply of fuel, standing next to a thirsty C-17 Globemaster III for up to 2.5 straight hours uploading 42,000 gallons of fuel is no walk in the park.

"The C-17 is my least favorite plane to refuel because as you put the fuel in, the tanks vent air and produce a loud, low tone that becomes very annoying after a while," said Airman Sanders, who reportedly encountered 82 meetings with C-17s over the 29-day span he worked in September. Among other frequent customers were 46 Boeing 747s and a dozen C-5s.

By his 15th consecutive duty day, Airman Sanders had surpassed 1.8 million gallons.

"People were starting to say, 'You can do it!' and they were happy (for me)," he said. 

Not all of Airman Sanders' duty days were 12 hours long.

"I tried to average 100,000 gallons a day," he said. "If I reached that total early in the day, I'd go home."

By his 27th consecutive duty day, Airman Sanders reached his goal of 3 million gallons, but heard a rumor that the same milestone had already been obtained somewhere else in the Air Force. Not to be outdone, he worked an additional day to push his numbers higher and was then informed the rumor was false.

By the end of September 2007, Airman Sanders transferred a total of 3,123,985 gallons of JP-8 into 187 different aircraft, averaging 17,164 gallons per run. His numbers represent one-third of the total output of his entire flight of 87 operators who collectively pumped 9,263,160 gallons during that month.

As word spread of his accomplishments, Airman Sanders appeared humbled by the attention he received and expressed "thanks" to co-workers who helped him during the month.

"He's definitely motivated his peers," said Sergeant Woiton of the 119 members in the fuels flight, "but nobody's talking about trying to break 3 million."

"We're also trying to figure out what to do for his wall plaque," said Senior Master Sgt. Brian Payne, Fuels Flight section chief. "He has to have his own award and it's got to be something special."

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