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News | Aug. 14, 2010

Fuels techs ensure missions move

By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Rojek Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

The helicopters are prepped and ready to go. The gear is all loaded up and ready to go. The medical staff and air crew and strapped in and ready to go.

All in all, the Medical Civic Action Program, which takes place Aug. 9-14 here, is ready to go.

But how, exactly, is it going to go?

It's through the expertise of the Soldiers and Airmen of the petroleum, oil and lubricant shop with the Army Forces Headquarters Support Company at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, that this program, and others like it, can take place.

The ARFOR POL section at Soto Cano Air Base is made up of seven Soldiers and Airmen. They have the same job skills training, but their time in service ranges from decades to three years. When they're out in the field, however, they have a singular mission - making things go.

"The helicopters can't fly without fuel and the Humvees can't drive without it," said Airman 1st Class Jory Rife, a fuels technician with ARFOR HSC and a Grundy, Va., native.

On this particular mission the POL members convoyed more than 180 miles from Soto Cano to Catacamas to set up a forward deployed fuel station for the 1-228th Aviation Brigade. The helicopters used for the medical mission would not be able to fly to their remote village destinations and back to Soto Cano to refuel, said Tech. Sgt. William Mock, the POL section sergeant and platoon sergeant for this mission. The National University of Agriculture in Catacamas was deemed the best place to set up a refueling station for the aircraft so the pilots could drop off the people and supplies needed to accomplish the mission.

Besides the fuel for the aircraft, the POL team also had to think about the convoy vehicles. In order to bring all the necessary supplies and medical equipment for the mission, ground transportation was needed, including three medium tactical vehicles, two Humvees, two vans, one HEMTT wrecker, one five-ton Bobtail with a 5K tanker, and one SUV.

To ensure they have enough fuel for this mission, the POL team brought a 5K tanker carrying approximately 4,500 gallons of Jet A1 fuel and a heavy equipment mobility tactical truck fuel tanker carrying 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel. And, since they expect to use more than 4,000 gallons of fuel for the flight missions, a contract was set up with a local fuel supplier to deliver more fuel as needed.

All of this takes a lot of coordination and teamwork, which is not too hard to accomplish with a career field this small, said Sergeant Mock.

"I've been stationed with a lot of these guys before," said the Valdosta, Ga., native. "No matter where you go, you usually know someone."

Even though most of the team is familiar with each other, they face the added challenge of working in a joint environment in a foreign country. The Air Force and Army sometimes speak two different languages when it comes to missions. Yet that is part of what makes an experience like this great, said Sergeant Mock.

"It's a learning experience," he said. "You get to see the views of the other services, variations on how things are done."

Besides a joint environment, there are also multiple specialties involved in this mission: helicopter pilots and crew chiefs, medical and communications personnel, and fuels technicians. This epitomizes the "one team, one fight" mentality of today's military, said Tech. Sgt. Sherod Thompson, a medic with the Medical Element. Each specialty has their part in the success of the program, but everyone recognizes the fact that they would go nowhere fast without fuel.

"There is no other way to get the supplies and personnel here to meet the mission," said Sergeant Thompson, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native. "No fuel, no flying."

The mission is not over here for the ARFOR HSC POL team. They'll fuel the helicopters and ground vehicles until the entire team returns to Soto Cano on Sunday. And, even though they don't normally do helicopter fueling missions since the 1-228th has their own fuels section, that's just part of what HSC does, said 2nd Lt. Nicholas Kerner, an ARFOR platoon leader.

"We do what needs to be done," said Lieutenant Kerner, a Rochester, N.Y., native. "They're the wheels and we're the grease."

(For more photos and blogs from this MEDCAP, visit the JTF-Bravo page on Facebook.)