In a forward support company (FSC) attached to an assault helicopter battalion (AHB), the Class III petroleum, oils, and lubricants (POL) section’s agile makeup provides unique challenges for company commanders.
AHB FSCs contain a headquarters platoon, maintenance platoon, and distribution platoon. Per the modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE), which outlines the disposition of a unit, the POL section falls under the distribution platoon along with motor transport operators (military occupational specialty (MOS) 88Ms). The POL section comprises petroleum supply specialists (MOS 92Fs). As a 92F in an AHB, fuelers are held to the highest standard of expertise while operating a wide range of equipment to distribute petroleum to multiple aircraft types.
The challenge for commanders is the MTOE design of the 92Fs in the POL section. They are authorized less than 20 Soldiers, including section chiefs, noncommissioned officers, and junior enlisted Soldiers. The 92Fs are required to support an AHB with two assault platoons with ten helicopters assigned to each. The POL section’s primary responsibility is fueling, but there are two types of fueling, one much more taxing than the other.
In terms of aircraft refueling, there are two ways to supply fuel. One is known as cold fuel, and the other is hot fuel. Cold fueling uses a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) tanker to fuel a turned-off aircraft. This process is relatively simple and safe. Hot fueling is operating a forward arming and refueling point (FARP). Refueling an aircraft with a running engine and a spinning rotor is a much more technical operation that requires knowledge, experience, and manning.
The ability to successfully provide FARP operations to an AHB provides pilots and logistical planners much more flexibility while planning missions. A FARP is a mobile gas station that can be set up virtually anywhere, allowing helicopters to refuel quickly and extend their flight time to continue their mission. Imagine having to refuel your car at the same gas station every time you needed fuel. This would limit you on how far you could go and what you could accomplish. Without FARP operations, helicopter crews would have limited options to refuel and decreased capability to complete mission requirements.
The FARP can be set up with two or four points, depending on the pilots’ training requirements. Fuel lines are run from the HEMTT to each point, and when the aircraft lands, the fuelers bring the fuel nozzle to the aircraft refuel point. To successfully operate a FARP, a minimum of five Soldiers must be present to operate a two-point FARP. A four-point FARP requires double the personnel, putting 10 Soldiers in the POL section at the FARP site. The duration of the requested FARP is what creates the challenge for an FSC commander. The POL section cannot organically support a request if 24/7 operations are requested with a four-point FARP.
In addition to these challenges, many fuelers are attached to deploying AHPs. At 100 percent end strength in the POL section, a split section drastically limits the fuelers’ ability to stay proficient in their mission essential task list (METL). As Soldiers get attached to deploying units, maintenance personnel or wheeled vehicle drivers are typically tasked to assist POL with maintaining their refuel requirements. This cross-tasking has second and third-order effects for a command team as they are forced to pull from other sections to accomplish the refuel mission, which, in turn, shorts the maintenance or drivers’ teams’ ability to accomplish their missions. Increasing the MTOE could alleviate this, and each section would have sufficient manning and leadership to maintain its METL.
Expanding the end strength for the POL section and creating their own platoon would allow leadership to train fuelers and remain proficient and provide 24/7 operations whenever requested. This change would allow a 92F40 E-7 platoon sergeant and a quartermaster platoon leader to oversee refueling operations and provide proper troops to task during FARP operations. In addition, the distribution section would become its own platoon with an 88M40 E-7 platoon sergeant and a transportation platoon leader assigned.
Separating the 88Ms and 92Fs into their own distribution platoon and POL platoon would increase the FCS end strength by roughly 30 percent, a manageable number for a command team. This would increase training opportunities and allow leadership to focus on their mission-essential tasks, as they would have the leadership and support to train junior enlisted Soldiers successfully.
This change would allow for increased leadership and training and provide proper career progression for each respective MOS. The current MTOE does not provide an opportunity for an E-7 88M in an aviation FSC, and this hinders a Soldier’s promotion potential within the organization.
From the officer’s perspective, this makeup would allow junior officers to experience each branch of logistics within one company by providing separate platoons. It is a rarity in logistics for junior officers to see quartermaster, ordnance, and transportation branches operating jointly to achieve mission success. This base of knowledge would set officers up for future success as they move on to take command of other organizations that may be limited to only one of the three logistics branches.
The changes outlined throughout the article would give aviation FSC commanders more flexibility when planning for missions, provide the ability for flight companies to run continuous operations, and allow Soldiers to focus on their MOS-specific METLs. In addition, it would provide an unparalleled level of opportunities for both enlisted Soldiers and officers to gain an understanding of a full spectrum of logistical operations.
Capt. Dustin C. Smith serves in the Virginia Army National Guard and is currently the commander of Echo Company 2-224 Assault Helicopter Battalion. He previously served as the 1030th Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment commander in Gate City, Virginia. He has a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master of Business Administration from Liberty University.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.