Aircraft play a vital role in
accomplishing missions in Iraq. They ferry troops and equipment,
provide fire support for embattled Soldiers, and gather priceless
intelligence on enemy activities. But without fuel to keep their
rotor blades spinning, those birds would be little more than
useless lumps of metal dotting the flightlines of military bases
across Iraq. To keep aircraft fueled and running, Soldiers of
Company A, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation
Brigade, keep the pumps at the Forward Armament and Refueling Point
on Contingency Operating Base Speicher primed and ready to go 24
hours a day.
"Our average fuel issue a day is 7,000 to 8,000 gallons," said
Staff Sgt. Kevin Robinson, the FARP petroleum supply day shift
noncommissioned officer in charge.
With dozens of aircraft a day coming in for refueling at all
hours, the deployed Soldiers have to work at a higher pace than
they would if they were in garrison, where the fuel point is only
open for nine hours a day, Robinson said.
Unscheduled refueling stops also keep the Soldiers on their
"We have a radio," Robinson said, "but sometimes they call,
sometimes they don't. So, you just have to be ready to go ahead and
make the mission happen."
The FARP has several fueling points and can perform hot refuels
on multiple aircraft of different types at once.
"Each point is set up for any type of aircraft to come in,"
Robinson said. "We can do Chinooks at the same time, Blackhawks and
Kiowas. Anything that lands here we can take care of." A hot
refuel is when the aircraft's engine is still running while being
refueled. It presents its own challenges and dangers that the FARP
Soldiers must be wary of.
"The danger of hot refueling is static electricity," Robinson
said. "If you don't hook up correctly by bounding and grounding,
you could get shocked by the aircraft."
And if there are fumes in the air, a spark could ignite a fire,
Robinson said. But while they must maintain an acute awareness for
safety, the refueling crews still have to work fast to get aircraft
in and out of the refueling points as quickly as possible.
"I tell my soldiers to think that the longer the aircraft is on
the ground here, it's another life out there that could be in
jeopardy," Robinson said. "The faster you have them out of here,
the faster someone's life could be saved."
Refueling vehicles is not the only job the FARP has, though. It
also restocks aircraft with ammunition and conducts quality tests
on fuel samples. Tucked away in a small corner of the FARP is a
small lab where petroleum fuel samples from all over Northern Iraq
are tested to ensure they meet Army quality standards. The lab
analyzes fuel samples to make sure they don't contain particles
like sand or paint chips, to ensure it will burn at the right
temperature and won't freeze at the wrong temperature, and to make
sure that different types of fuel haven't been mixed together.
"What we do is really important," said Spc. George Belmontes.
"If our fuel has a low flash point, at any hot temperature it could
just ignite, and we have to make sure your fuel won't freeze on you
when you go high in the sky. The last thing an aircraft needs is a
frozen fuel line."
The quality assurance lab at the FARP handles all fuel samples
for Northern Iraq, Belmontes said. They receive samples from every
fuel shipment that comes into the area as well as periodic samples
of existing fuel supplies. Despite the work load, or perhaps even
because of it, Belmontes said he enjoys his work.
"Doing this is quite interesting," Belmontes said. "And then to
top it off, we're it for Northern Iraq as well. This is the third
lab the Army has designed, and it's here in country, here in
The lab itself is a small marvel. Set inside a container that
sits on the back of a humvee, the lab contains a myriad of
high-tech gadgets that allows its operator to quickly perform all
of the necessary tests.
Testing just one sample could easily be a full day's work if the
technician has to perform all the measurements by hand, Belmontes
said. But with the array of tools the lab offers, the full gamut
can be run much more quickly. In addition to being convenient, the
lab is also mobile.
"If something goes on right now, we have to get this lab out of
the way," Belmontes said. "What do we do? Jump up inside the
driver's box, turn it on and drive off."
Though the lab at COB Speicher is only the third, there are
plans to stock the rest of the Army with more just like it in the
future, Belmontes said. As coalition forces continue to battle in
Iraq, Robinson, Belmontes and the other Soldiers at the FARP will
continue to keep the fuel flowing. And while they may not be out on
the front lines, every time an aircraft streams by overhead, these
troops can know that it wouldn't be there without their hard work
and dedication. [ANN Salutes Spc. Daniel Bearl, 25th Combat
Aviation Brigade Public Affairs]