Sept. 21, 2011

Aircraft fuel handlers keep helicopters flying in Iraq

By Sgt. Deanna M. Shelton    
77th Theater Aviation Brigade

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq -- Soldiers from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 77th Theater Aviation Brigade are doing their part to keep helicopters flying in Iraq by operating the Forward Arming and Refueling Point at Contingency Operating Base Adder.

 

Spc. Antoine Newton, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 77th Theater Aviation Brigade signals to begin fuel pumping for a Black Hawk helicopter at the Forward Arming Refueling Point at Contingency Operating Base Adder. (Photo by Sgt. Deanna M. Shelton, 77th Theater Aviation Brigade)

"We are what people know as 92F or petroleum supply specialist," said Spc. Darnell Conner, Company E, 2-224th. "Our main job here is to refuel any military aircraft that stops at this FARP."

According to Army Training and Support Center, the responsibilities of a petroleum supply specialist, known on an airfield as aircraft fuel handlers, is to make sure that the fuel pumped into an aircraft is clean, bright, and meets specifications. It must be free of water or sediments. They must retrieve samples and perform tests on petroleum products used in aircraft and keep daily and monthly accountability of fuel used and stored.

"One thing that makes the job so important here in Iraq, is that we fuel up the aircraft so that they [aircraft and pilots] can do their assigned mission patrols, medical evacuations and transport goods, equipment, and personnel around theater," explained Conner.

The Virginia Guard's 2nd Battalion, also known as "Task Force Punisher," mobilized more than 390 Soldiers to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn Feb. 25, 2011, with the mission of conducting assault and combat support aviation operations in order to facilitate combat, peacekeeping and sustainment efforts to build a secure and stable environment in conjunction with the Iraqi National Government. The task force consists of the headquarters company, three assault helicopter companies, the aviation maintenance company, the forward support company and one attached aeromedical helicopter company totaling more than 500 assigned Soldiers, 30 UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters and 12 UH-60M medical evacuation helicopters.

"Since prior to our mobilization, the Punisher fuelers have accomplished some amazing things," said Lt. Col. Neal Edmonds, commander of Task Force Punisher. "Upon our arrival at our mobilization station at North Fort Hood, they identified some significant safety issues in the established FARP, took it over and had it up to standards in less than a day. Including our time at Hood and here in Iraq, they have pumped more 700,000 gallons of fuel. Without their dedicated effort, Task Force Punisher could not have possibly flown the 10,000 combat flight hours it has."

 

Spc. Antoine Newton, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 77th Theater Aviation Brigade prepares to fuel a Black Hawk helicopter at the Forward Arming Refueling Point at Contingency Operating Base Adder. (Photo by Sgt. Deanna M. Shelton, 77th Theater Aviation Brigade)

This FARP usually fuels all helicopters. On average, one 12 hour shift can fuel 20 aircraft. "We work long, hard hours with one day off a week, but overall I like my job," said Conner. "Working long hours in the heat is hard for anyone, you just have to adjust to it," he said. "The job is not hard, but it can be demanding."

"There is a lot behind our job that people don't understand and it isn't something to be taken lightly," said Spc. Shervell Stevenson, a petroleum supply specialist from Company E.

"There's more to it than just walking up to an aircraft and hooking up a hose ... the safety of it ... proper personal protective equipment ... that's like one of the biggest things to take seriously. This stuff burns," Stevenson said with his comrades in agreement.

"We have to make sure the safety of the passengers and ourselves are upheld," he said. "We have to make sure we do our part to prevent static electricity and make sure that passengers are removed from the aircraft."

Soldiers working on the FARP see a lot of people come and go in transit from air missions, but according to the Soldiers working out on COB Adder's FARP, not a lot of Soldiers on their own installation know about them.

"Nobody even knows we're out here unless we go outside those gates ... they don't even know there is a FARP out here," said Spc. Antoine L. Newton, also a petroleum supply specialist with Company E.

"The surveillance and safety of the base partially relies on us...without fuel, they [helicopters] don't fly," Newton added for further explanation. "The POL's [petroleum, oil, and lubricants] motto is, 'If aircraft don't get fuel, then they are stranded pedestrians.'"

Being on the FARP can get tense at times, especially with the draw down and the increased indirect fire attacks, Conner, Stevenson and Newton all agreed. Being around and responsible for thousands of gallons of fuel during an attack is very stressful, they are always on full alert.

"On a daily basis, my guys would usually pump 10 to 15 thousand gallons of fuel ... these guys work very, very hard. They know their job and they know it well," said Sgt. 1st Class John P. Childress, a platoon sergeant in Company E.

"I would put my team of refuelers up against any team of refuelers in the United States Army," stated Childress, with the upmost confidence and pride. "They are the best ... they work hard, they know the job and they know the standard."

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