AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Marines from the Heavy Equipment Platoon of Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 are doing it again.
Pushing pedal to the metal, the warfighters are building berms to enclose new fuel bladders near one of the runways here, which will become the new site for hot refueling.
The runway where aircraft are currently being fueled with their engines running, a practice often referred to as ‘hot refueling,’ is scheduled to shut down. The heavy equipment Marines are getting ahead of the game by building fuel berms to help the Marines in Fuels Platoon keep this timesaving method of getting birds back in the fight on an alternate runway.
“We’re actually going to be done before the current runway (used for hot refueling) is closed,” said Chief Warrant Officer Todd L. McAllister, platoon commander. “It’s going to be a smooth transition and there won’t be any downtime on capabilities.”
As site managers for the construction, Sgt. Jonathan D. Gables Sr. and Cpl. C. S. Dennis, heavy equipment operators, oversee the work done at the fuel berms and the stockpiling material compounds.
“This is a sergeants and corporals’ war and we push hard the small unit leadership,” said McAllister. “We also push hard the supervision.”
Taking advantage of as much daylight as they can, the Marines play it safe by wearing their fragmentation protection armored vests. Though this may safeguard them in case of an indirect fire attack, it also raises the mercury a few notches, causing the temperature to almost become unbearable.
All their effort and dedication have paid off and they’ve annihilated the timeline given; the project should be done almost a week ahead of schedule.
“We’re working pretty hard,” said McAllister. “They mostly stay busy and that’s good for the Marines in the platoon, that way they’ll know how things are going to be if we have to work 24 hours a day.”
Building fuel berms is not an easy task and involves several platoons of the Workhorses squadron. Marines from Engineers Platoon survey the area and put stakes on the ground to mark where the inside perimeter of the berm needs to be.
Before Marines from Motor Transport Platoon can truck the stockpiling material, heavy equipment Marines level and compact the surface, then build the berm and add finishing touches that will help prevent dirt from flying around when the helicopters’ rotors are spinning.
According to McAllister, when heavy equipment Marines are not deployed they’re mostly assigned to provide forklift support.
“Whenever we do field training we try to gear it toward earth work because that’s not something you can just hop on a dozer and master right off the bat,” he said.
Lance Cpl. Jacob P. Mills, a heavy equipment operator, rips and dozes stockpiling material for the fuel berms. Though his piece of the puzzle is put together miles away from the finished product, he knows it’s as important as the role of the Marine pumping fuel into the aircraft.
“Every little bit is in support of the needs of the planes,” he said.
“If we don’t get this done the planes don’t get refueled and air support can’t be provided to the Marines on the battle field,” said Lance Cpl. Aaron M. Briggs, the operator who loads the stockpiling material on 7-ton dump trucks.
The dump trucks take an average of 60 to 70 loads of stockpiling material near the flightline every day throughout the construction. Almost 3,000 cubic yards of stockpiling material had to be hauled for the project to be finished.
“It’s a good experience for the Marines,” said McAllister. “A lot of the Marines had never done this before.”
Lance Cpl. Casey J. Lazaruk, is a self-proclaimed ‘master sculptor’ of fuel berms. “It motivates me to see the finished product,” said Lazaruk. “The aftermath of looking back and being able to say ‘I did that and my name is written on the top.’”