By Staff Sgt. Mike AllbertsMarch 11, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq - Fuel, oxygen and heat can be a dangerous combination even in laboratory conditions.
In United States Division-North, Soldiers of Company E, "Road Runners," 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Diamondhead, manage that combination in the most uncompromising combat environments all while fueling and arming helicopters 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week.
According to Capt. Craig Buerstatte, commander, Co. E, his distribution company Soldiers handle the company's highest visibility mission.
"We are the task force's forward support company and we have five totally distinct missions; however, our (distribution) section gets a lot of attention," Capt. Buerstatte said.
"Our distribution section Soldiers operate at three locations - COB Speicher, and Forward Operating Bases Bernstein and Normandy.
At Speicher, Soldiers are primarily involved in cold re-fuel, de-fuel and ammunition supply missions. At both FOB Bernstein and FOB Normandy, we're involved in what might be termed 'hot re-fuel' operations where we maintain and operate two Forward Arming and Re-fueling Points, (respectively).
"Hot re-fuel operations involve re-fueling a helicopter that is running, with blades spinning, where the pilots typically remain with the helicopter. Cold re-fuel occurs when a helicopter is shut down and is generally without occupants," Capt. Buerstatte said.
Since the Road Runners rolled into Iraq in early October 2009, its distribution section has issued more than 450,000 gallons of fuel, which includes about 17,000 gallons from FOB McHenry in Kirkuk Province before it transitioned to another unit; 27,000 gallons from Normandy since it opened this month, 61,000 gallons from Bernstein and more than 340,000 gallons from Speicher.
First Lieutenant Chris Westrom is the distribution section platoon leader. The Chicago, Ill., native is the Soldier charged with supervising daily operations at all three fuel and ammunition distribution locations.
"Our mission is to support aircraft with fuel and ammo needs (for each of) the locations we operate," 1st Lt. Westrom said. "The importance of that mission is obvious; helicopters cannot fly without fuel and ammunition. It's rewarding knowing that we are a vital part of the larger Task Force Diamond Head mission.
It is also rewarding to me personally knowing that my Soldiers understand the importance of what they do. They sacrifice for the mission in distant locations and do whatever needs to be done," continued 1st Lt. Westrom. "So far we've had great success, success that I attribute to having great (non-commissioned officers)."
Sergeant First Class Kevin Robinson, and Sgt. Eloyes Ratliff are two of 1st Lt. Westrom's NCOs. Sergeant First Class Robinson, a 19-year veteran on his fifth deployment to Iraq, is the distribution section platoon sergeant. Sergeant Ratliff is one of his petroleum supply specialist team leaders. Both enjoy leading and training their younger Soldiers.
"I'm responsible for making sure our Soldiers are cared for and know their jobs," Sgt. 1st Class Robinson said. "I enjoy seeing them learning and becoming proficient at their jobs. When that happens, I know that they are confident about their work and that (we) have done our jobs."
"I attribute our success so far to the quality of our Soldiers," Sgt. Ratliff added. "They want to learn and excel. Without that eagerness to do their job and to do it well, the mission fails."
Specialist Peter Webster, a truck driver cross-trained as a petroleum and ammunition specialist, is one of Co. E's newest Soldiers. The Daytona Beach, Fla., native has worked both cold re-fuel and hot re-fuel operations during the deployment.
"In Iraq, we do the same thing as we do back home, but - to use a sports analogy - back home it feels like practice. When you get to Iraq, you feel like you are finally in the game," said Spc. Webster.
"Of course, the mission is important wherever we do it, but out here it feels a million times more important," he continued. "At the FARP for instance, I know that I must get that (helicopter) fueled up as quickly and safely as possible to get it back to its mission.
"If I don't get them fueled or armed adequately, I know that there may be someone out there that needs helicopter support that may not get it. I want that responsibility, and I won't let (the mission fail)."