Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar --
Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar
As the C-17 Globemaster III slowly drifts down the taxiway late Friday afternoon, the thunderous rumble of the engine drowns out all other noise. The faint smell of gasoline lingers in the air as fumes seep out of the 2,800 gallon bladders filled with JP8 jet fuel. Fuel technicians are precise and diligent in measuring the vapor levels within the enclosed cargo space of the aircraft, which also serves a dual purpose for passenger travel.
The bladders are on their way to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia to provide support as a result of a fuel shortage. This delivery is the first of its kind in more than a year and a half. The location was unable to receive fuel via ground operations so personnel called in help from the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, Fuels Management Flight.
“It’s a no fail business,” said Capt. Michael Bendient, fuels management flight commander. “This process was created as an alternate way to supply fuel to other bases.”
It took about four days to prepare and inspect all the equipment for this delivery. However, the 379th ELRS has the capability to be ready within 24 hours, depending on aircraft availability.
There is additional instruction required to prepare for these specific missions, due to the hazardous possibility of fuel igniting or vapors being released into the air. The training is about three weeks long and thoroughly prepares the fuel technicians for every possible outcome.
Tech. Sgt. Stuart Burrus, the Aerial Bulk Fuel Delivery System team chief, along with the two fuel technicians on this mission, all require a special experience indicator. A job like this takes extreme attention to detail and strict adherence to regulations, otherwise the outcome could be devastating.
“I'd say the biggest challenge is the unpredictable nature of what we do," said Burrus. "When we get on the ground, we're never quite sure about the offloading situation. I have been doing ABFDS missions since January 2015 and Friday was my 28th mission.”
As a result of the training, practice and preparedness of the crew and fuel technicians, the mission was successfully completed. However, not everyone on the crew was well-seasoned in the process. Staff Sgt. Nicolas Sanabria, a fuels technician, gained “real world” experience for the first time.
“There is no standard on-the-job training for these missions; you have to actually get in and do it,” said Sanabria. “I was more nervous with the setup, but our team chief offered security and calmed my nerves. We knew what we were doing and we made it home safe. I am really proud of what we accomplished today.”
The 379th ELRS was critical to the sustainment of operational support and combat capabilities to their counterparts who needed their assistance.
“We always find a way to get the fuel to where we need it,” said Senior Master Sgt. Robert Elliot, fuels superintendent. “In my 22 years I have never seen us run out of fuel.”
Al Udeid is the largest ABFDS unit in the U.S Central Command area of responsibility. Although the primary mission of the 379th LGRF is to issue jet fuel, they also manage base gas stations, issue diesel to all the generators, as well as sample fuel stored in trucks and underground tanks. It is vital the fuel used in the aircraft and on base remains clean, containing no water or contaminants.
“Everyone brings something to the mission, but we are very visible with what we bring,” said Elliot. “We touch pretty much everything on base from generators, to vehicles on the road and aircraft. My satisfaction is knowing that every day I’m doing something to contribute to the fight and the mission. I know that my job and my squadron makes a difference.”