JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C., –
Much like the pit crew for a high performance race car ensures their vehicle remains topped off with petroleum, oil and lubricant while navigating the track, Airmen provide the necessary fuel for non-stop Air Force missions around the world.
Last year, more than 50 Airmen from the 628th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels flight provided the base over 36 million gallons of fuel for missions happening throughout Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
Charleston's fleet of C-17 Globemaster IIIs are known for their global reach. Flying equipment, people and supplies around the world at a moment's notice but without fuel, the mission would stall.
Not only are the Airmen charged with fueling the flightline, they also fuel all the government vehicles on base including those on the JB Charleston - Weapons Station. Additionally, they fuel the security boats that patrol the waters of the Cooper River.
"Every mission on base involves fuel," said Senior Airman Desiree Mosher, 628th LRS fuels distribution operator. "That's what I love about this job; we are not only fueling C-17s, we fuel any type of aircraft that lands here. We also work with the Navy, to ensure their equipment, vehicles and boats keep moving."
There are more than 50 Airmen who make-up the fuels flight four sections: fuels laboratory, fuels distribution, fuels service center and fuels fixed facilities.
Airmen start at the distribution section straight out of technical school to learn the job, said Mosher. In distribution they learn how to deliver fuel to the flightline using three types of vehicles: R11, R12 and R300 refuelers.
R11s and R300s have fuel tanks but the R12, which is favored by some Airmen, does not. The R12s use fuel lines which connect to underground fuel pumps on the flightline to distribute fuel to aircraft.
"The operations tempo of the flying units on base directly impacts our fuel runs to the flightline," Mosher added. "I've had days where I delivered fuel 10 times. The average time spent fueling is 30 minutes but can last up to two hours."
All of the action happening in the fuels section begins at the fuels service center, which receives up to 40 calls a day to deliver fuel according to Staff Sgt. Jerry Hullette fuels service center NCO in charge.
While juggling the paperwork and the calls can be difficult, the greatest challenge besides is ensuring the shop has enough fuel to keep the base going, Hullette added.
"The job involves a good deal of numbers," Hullette said.
The fuels fixed facilities section inspects, maintains and operates the service centers, pumps, tanks, lines and fuel dock.
"We do daily, weekly and monthly inspections to ensure everything is in working order and there are no fuel leaks, said Senior Airman Rhea Olson.
Fuel leaks can have negative effects on the environment. Therefore, fuel Airmen remain vigilant and proactive to ensure there are no mishaps, Olson added.
The fuel labs perform daily tests to ensure the fuel is safe and clean.
A $26 million project to upgrade all the fuel lines and tanks on base was completed last year. According to Staff Sgt. Kameron Mills, fuels lab NCO in charge, the project has decreased the bases fuel response time in half.
The base received three new tanks which can hold more than 8 million gallons of fuel, 2 million more than the previous tanks. The fuel lines running under the base were upgraded from four inch to six inch pipes.
"Two inches doesn't seem like a lot but in the world of fuels it makes a huge difference," Mills said. "Our systems receive fuel faster which means we can refuel an aircraft in less time."
Whether the fuel mission leads to a C-17 in the middle of an aeromedical evacuation, a boat patrolling the Cooper River, or a golf cart near the fairway, 'the fuel mission never stops,' added Mosher.
"We are open 24/7, 365 days a year," Mosher said. "Fuels is a great place to work with a rewarding mission and a closely knit group."