AL QAIM, Iraq -- They’re not in the air providing ground support to Marines in contact with the enemy or evacuating the wounded; but they round out the operation and add another piece to the puzzle that accomplishes the mission. The piece is large and little can be accomplished without it.
While the aircraft can be in superb mechanical condition and have the best pilots at the controls they’re not going anywhere without the fuel that keeps them soaring.
The bulk fuel specialists from Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, Detachment Al Qaim are mostly responsible for refueling Marine Corps and Army helicopters based here. They also refuel all generators on base and all transient aircraft.
Each day they refuel an average of 10 to 15 helicopters and dispense close to 5,000 gallons of fuel. Not an easy task for a section of seven Marines.
“Without fuel, all the Marine Corps has are ground troops and their weapons,” said Lance Cpl. Mark A. Moher, a native of Naugatuck, Conn. “The aircraft and the convoys need fuel and without it they’re not going anywhere.”
Most days aboard this remote forward arming refueling point, just a few miles from the Syrian border, are routine with frequent air transports delivering personnel and cargo here. This calm is enjoyed by most, and comes after a recent operation where the size of their detachment was doubled to support the increase of activity. Their workload was tripled.
“During Operation Matador we had to set up six extra refueling points and seven Marines came from Al Asad to help out,” said Moher. “There was a lot of work.”
The system they use here to receive, store and dispense fuel is familiar to every Marine in their section. According to Moher, it’s very similar to one at an auxiliary landing field in eastern North Carolina where their unit conducted several exercises in preparation for the deployment.
Cpl. Jeff Lester, from Grundy, Va., said training exercises like the Weapons and Tactics Instructors Course and Desert Talon, both conducted at Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Ariz., gave the Marines an opportunity to practice their skills in a desert environment with different types of aircraft.
“That helped a lot,” said Moher. “Desert Talon and WTI gave a lot of our people hands-on training with rotary-wing aircraft.”
Taking a great deal of pride in what they do, the bulk fuel specialists know that while they’re away from their loved ones their presence here is important to the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I’m sure everybody here would like to be at home right now, but this isn’t that bad,” said Lester. “We’re helping people here.”