Fort Lee Soldiers practice 'hot refueling'
February 28, 2013
FORT PICKETT (Feb. 28, 2013) -- Under various circumstances and especially in combat environments, U.S. military helicopters are required to land and refuel without cutting the engine.
The procedure, called "hot refueling," poses dangers to the crew and support personnel due to static electricity and fuel sensitivity.
Soldiers of the 108th Quartermaster Company were exposed to those dangers many times last week when they performed more than 50 hot refuels during the Southbound Trooper exercise held at Fort Pickett Feb. 17-23.
Capt. Milena Williams, commander of the petroleum supply element, said the event allowed unit Soldiers to train on collective tasks, sharpen individual skills and provide exposure to refueling procedures that are sometimes hard to come by.
"The Soldiers performed outstanding because they trained the whole time with the (limited) resources we have at Fort Lee," she said. "We don't have aircraft, so you train with what you've got."
Southbound Trooper, version XIII, is an annual joint exercise involving more than 600 U.S. Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Canadian army forces in an effort to further develop interoperability capabilities and strengthen bonds.
For the exercise, more than 80 108th Soldiers convoyed 50 miles to Fort Pickett to set up a Forward Area Refueling Point, dining facility and other support operations. A large number of its personnel supported the FARP, an operation designed to fulfill petroleum requirements on the battlefield.
Twenty-year-old Pfc. Eric Snider and 21-year-old Pfc. Carl Hayes were among the many Soldiers who took turns refueling aircraft at the FARP located at Fort Pickett's Blackstone Army Airfield.
In one instance, the two, under the watchful eye of senior Soldiers, refueled a Navy UH-60 Seahawk on Feb. 21. Snider said refueling operative aircraft is unlike anything else in the military occupational specialty designated as 92F.
"It's an adrenaline rush," said the hot refuel first-timer Snider, yelling over the whooping sounds of rotor blades in the background.. "You're trying to keep yourself safe and at the same time keep the aircrew safe so that they can perform their mission."
The biggest concerns with hot refueling are fuel stability and static electricity, said Spc. Robert Maddox, a former aircraft crew chief and senior petroleum supply specialist.
"Aircraft are very sensitive," said the eight-year Soldier. "The fuel has to be very clean. These guys have to do a lot of work on keeping the fuel up to standard.
"They have to be careful with what they wear as well," he continued. "A lot of the clothing, especially garments that keep you warm, can't be worn because it produces a lot of static and static, fuel and helicopters are three things that don't go well together. It's a very dangerous procedure.
Hayes, who has participated in a FARP once before but is still an inexperienced Soldier, has a sufficient degree of indoctrination to fully understand the criticality of safety measures during hot refueling.
"One thing a 92-Fox doesn't want is for a bird to go down because it automatically comes back to us," he said.
Safety aside, Southbound Trooper afforded Soldiers an in-depth and sustained opportunity to train. Various rotary wing aircraft provided a good workout for 50 or more Soldiers, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Vaughn Mosley, who headed the FARP operation.
"We had on average five to 10 hot refuels a day," he said.
There were some challenges as well, added Mosely, "primarily because we weren't utilizing the best equipment that we normally utilize on a mission like this. What the Soldiers did was comprise two different systems to make this mission happen. So, it took a little ingenuity as well as time management to fulfill the requirements."
The 108th wrapped up its operations on Friday and headed back to Fort Lee. They are scheduled to return later this week to Fort Pickett to participate in yet another exercise. On top of that, the unit has been busy on a daily basis in preparation for an inactivation planned later this year.
Staff Sgt. Maurice Dockery, a 108th platoon sergeant and noncommissioned officer in charge of battalion operations during the exercise, said despite ongoing activities related to the inactivation, the unit still has an obligation to train Soldiers.
"Inactivation or not, I still have to train and prep these guys for missions," he said. "We have had to multi-task a lot. On some days, we had people who we sent to help with the inactivation as far as turning in equipment then we would flip-flop. What I taught to one group on one day, I would teach on the next day to another. That's how we managed the entire piece."
The exercise was also a refreshing change of pace for the unit, a combat service support company that doesn't have the same training opportunities as similar units at installations like as Fort Campbell, Ky., or Fort Hood, Texas. Maddox said he could tell the training lifted the Soldiers, especially those who have not had field training.
"It means a lot," he said. "Rather than sitting around and wasting time, you're actually doing what you enlisted to do. It's good for everyone to come out and put their hands on something. It's definitely been a big change in morale since we came out here."
The unit first sergeant noticed as well and seemed grateful that his charges benefited from the exercise.
"It has been exciting and totally phenomenal," said 108th 1st Sgt. Jason Johnson. "We don't get this type of opportunity every day at Fort Lee."