AL ASAD, Iraq --
Throughout Iraq there are two things that keep squadron’s generators burning and their aircraft engines turning, the JP-8 fuel which powers everything from lights to F/A-18s and the Marine refuelers who ensure everyone receives the fuel they need.
The refuelers of Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 man the hot pits and work the mobile fuel trucks to deliver fuel to the fixed and rotary wing aircraft squadrons flying in and out of Al Asad.
“Our mission out here is to make sure aircraft get the fuel they need so they can accomplish their mission,” said Cpl. Fernando Horta, a motor transportation refueler with MWSS-271.
The mobile refuelers top off the squadron’s aircraft before they leave on missions for power support equipment such as generators and lights. The mobile refueling is known as cold fueling because the aircraft are not powered up while receiving fuel.
The mobile refueling trucks carry up to 5,000 gallons of fuel and go through approximately six loads of fuel a day supporting the 12 aircraft squadrons on Al Asad. The refuelers of ‘271 rotate eight drivers per 24 hour shift, with each driver delivering fuel with their own truck during the day. During low light hours the drivers double up on trucks to maximize safety.
“The CH-46 squadron will call in about seven birds at once,” said Horta, a West Newark, NJ native. “We can refuel all of them and still have about half a tank in the truck.”
The other part of the refueling section consists of the bulk fuel specialists who work the hot pits. The hot pits are fueling stations utilized by aircraft in between missions, enabling them to take off again at a moments notice. There are four different stations in the hot pits, each designated for a specific types of aircraft.
The bulk fuel specialists wait for fuel requests before heading out to the fueling stations, once an aircraft pulls into a pit the Marines ground the bird and begin fueling.
“We do hot fuel, which means the engines on the aircraft are running while taking fuel,” said Sgt. David A. Owens Jr., a bulk fuel specialist with ‘271. “If it’s a slow tempo we wait to be dispatched to the birds, but there are times when you’ll be out refueling for five hours at a time. You’ll be fueling the last C-130 and then you can see lights from an A-10 pulling up behind it.”
Combined, the refuelers of ‘271 pump about 150,000 gallons of fuel a day.
“Everyone that flies can go to the pits or request cold fuel,” said Chief Warrant Officer McGill Howard, MWSS-271 fuels officer in charge. “The difference is the wait time for the truck to get out to the aircraft. It’s a first call first serve basis for cold fuel. Also, the trucks go out with only around 4,500 gallons so we encourage large aircraft to go to the pits.”
There are many differences between the mobile refuelers who work with the fuel and mechanical equipment and the bulk fuelers who are exposed to hazards like spinning aircraft rotors and exhaust from the aircraft, but both are dirty jobs and both get taken care of.
“We keep the aircraft in the air so they can support the Marines outside on the ground,” said Cpl. John Ritter, a motor transportation refueler with 271. “If they don’t have any fuel, they don’t have any flight time.”