Fuelers keep Lancers rolling
November 9, 2011
FORT IRWIN, Calif. -- The dust from the convoy vehicles was thick enough to make visibility difficult in the 6 a.m. low-light conditions through which Pfc. Eric Ramirez was driving.
He was alert and keeping a careful watch on his speed and distance from the vehicle in front of him. Behind him, military police escorts from Fort Bliss' 978th Military Police Company kept their distance as well to avoid rear-ending the tank labeled "Flammable" on Ramirez's truck.
Ramirez and fuel handlers with 2nd Brigade Support Battalion are at the National Training Center filling a key role for the logistical requirements of 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division as it trains in preparation for deployment.
"We stopped at [forward operating base] Marjan and dropped off breakfast and fuel for their generators. The tanks on those can range in size anywhere from 25 to 400 gallons," said Ramirez, a former National Guard Soldier from Madera, Calif. assigned to A Company, 2nd BSB.
With their first mission of the day finished, the convoy moved on to FOB "Seattle," temporary home to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment headquarters during their rotation to the NTC.
"The BSB and our company is based at FOB Denver, but each of the battalions have a small group of us assigned to their FOBs to handle water and fueling operations," said Spc. Carlos Gonzalez, a fuel specialist from Miami, Fla.
The two fuel trucks in the convoy pulled into the site designated at FOB Seattle for refueling vehicles and transferred the contents of their tanks to the station's emplaced ones with the help of Gonzalez.
Environmental safety measures require drip pans at both fuel tanks to prevent accidental spillage of fuel from sinking into the soil. Fuel handlers are required to wear eye protection and gloves when handling the fuel truck machinery.
"I'm offloading 2,000 gallons from my truck to one of their tanks here; at full capacity one can hold 5,000 gallons," said Sgt. Shantelle Belk, a fuel specialist from Great Falls, Montana.
"We don't generally fill beyond 4,400 gallons for safety reasons. Fuel can expand, it responds to changes in atmosphere, temperature and elevation -- and when it does we need to keep in mind any increase in the vapors the fuel generates," Belk said.
Before pumping the fuel, the truck's machinery is grounded with metal rods pounded into the dirt to prevent static electricity from igniting the fuel vapors. Once activated, the transfer pumps fill at a rate of about 100 gallons of fuel per minute.
"Aside from [rocket propelled grenades] RPGs, static electricity is one of the greater threats to our fuel trucks," Belk said.
Unsafe driving is another hazard these fuel specialists face on their missions.
"Aside from speed, you have to be aware of the terrain. When you're pulling a full tank, the truck is less maneuverable. The weight shifts the entire vehicle when going uphill; and downhill makes the stopping the vehicle especially difficult," Ramirez said.
"There's a number of safety hazards associated with this work; I check my Soldiers to make sure they're wearing the required protective gear and rested enough to drive," said Sgt. 1st Class Travis Holiday, a platoon sergeant for A Company, 2nd BSB from Birmingham, Ala.
The fuel handlers' support missions have them on the road almost daily to meet the needs of the battalions scattered throughout the NTC training area known as "the box."
"With this work, you know your [purpose] out here, that what you're doing is important to everyone else's mission. So even though you can't smell bacon after a while because of the fumes, I do like this job," said Ramirez.
As long as each of the brigade units' tactical operation centers have power, with every mission-essential vehicle able to roll, the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Inf. Div. "Lancers" have its fuel specialists to thank.