The thing about moments you cherish, they often fly by too quickly. They’re like eating a maximum of two bites of your favorite meal.
Christmas break flew by. I made it home the 23rd of December, then flew back to Virginia on the 2nd of January. I immediately noticed my motivation wane. After having a taste of home, I just wanted more of it. I knew I needed to adjust back into military lifestyle again. One by one, troops made there way back from leave. We were told to provide a UA then prep ourselves for the next day of class.
It was January now in Ft. Lee, and the temperature was noticeably colder. So much that we were unable to do PT. All posts have rules and regulations specific to their station, one regulation states that soldiers will not train outside if the temperature are less than 9 degrees. Ours was. So our PT looked push ups and sit-ups in the barracks.
We returned to class with continued bookwork. The Army utilizes multiple fuel systems, and learning how to operate each one was like putting together a puzzle while walking through a maze. From large scale systems such as fuel farms capable of pushing tens of thousands of gallons, to micro systems on a truck, fuelers needed to understand how to operate such machines. The Army does a satisfactory job pacing the training, however. Their crawl, walk, and run approach give soldiers ample time to conceptualize and perform their mission.
Shifting from the “crawl” phase, to walk, we spent more time in the field actually operating fuel systems. Putting bookwork to literal operation was sluggish and would’ve been difficult to complete without the assistance of SSG Brown. Most of our hands on work was performed on the HEMTT (Pronounced Hemm-it), which was a truck I’d become well acquainted with throughout my enlistment. The HEMTT (Heavy Expandable Mobility Tactical Truck) is a sort of mobile gas station. A massive vehicle boasting 2 gallons per mile on its colossal set of 8 tires. It carries a 2500 gallon tank with a pump on its rear end capable of pumping 300 gallons a minute. This thing was a beast of a vehicle. Additionally we worked on other fuel systems designed for various missions and landscapes.
Hot Fuel – AT 2018
Ultimately it was the opportunity to interact with military aircraft that drew me towards this particular MOS. As such, the two week block on aviation fuel operations was met with enthusiasm.
I spent the entirety of my Enlisted career in an aviation unit. Understandably, I was dialed into the studies. Aviation fuel is known as the most complex, particular, busy, and dangerous field of petroleum operations. Fuelers are responsible for providing fuel and ammunition for all military aircraft. Being assigned to a UH-60 Blackhawk battalion, I spent the majority of the time on this respective “bird”, but dabbled it other military aircraft systems.
Given the vulnerability of flying and the various systems that could fail in flight, fuel accountability is of the upmost priority. In class, we learned about “dirty fuel” causing aircraft to seize midair, causing a crash. Pilots have a mission and don’t have the time to inspect the quality of the fuel in their aircraft. We spent two weeks learning about fuel quality and testing mechanisms. Big items to inspect with fuel are both dirt particulates and water. On ground vehicles, these aren’t necessarily an issue as their engines do an effective job bypassing these imperfections. Aircraft, however, are much more vulnerable. Aircraft operate thousands of feet in the air where water in fuel can freeze, leading to engine malfunction. No one wants to be that fueler responsible for crashing a million dollar-plus machine with it’s occupants.
“The first item on a fuelers agenda is fuel inspection”, lectured SSG Brown. We learned about the “aqua-glow machine”, which determines that amount of water found in a fuel sample taken from the system. As long as the fuel meets a certain threshold, fuelers are good to go that morning. Additionally, fuelers perform visual samples of fuel every morning prior to flight missions. Then there are various machine checks that must be performed before flight. These checks take roughly an hour to perform. One could imagine a flight being scheduled for 0500. The fueler would begin work around 0400, which in Army time means 0300. Sleep is for the weak.
There are various systems capable of fueling aircraft, far often is the HTARS system, which is a system that can run off the back of a HEMTT. Due to the mobility and tactical advantage the HEMTT presents, commanders often opt for fuel missions with this versatile truck. We learned about both “cold fueling” and “hot fueling”. The factor that separates the temperatures? Whether or not the rotors of the aircraft are spinning.
Depending on the scenario, Aircraft may need fuel immediately (think MEDEVAC missions, combat missions, etc.). In the event of an emergency or time-sensitive mission, aircraft may need 100’s of gallons of fuel without shutting down the aircraft. A hot fuel is typically done when aircraft land at the fuel site to receive fuel while the pilots continues operating their aircraft. They can receive a up to 100’s of gallons of fuel in a matter of minutes, allowing them to quickly return to their mission. Cold fuel would add another 45 minutes to the fueling process as it requires complete shut down of the aircraft.
In a training environment at Ft. Lee, we couldn’t simply summon a helicopter to practice fueling. Instead static displays of a decommissioned helicopter and HEMTT were placed in the training field at Ft. Lee. We marched to the field every day after lunch to practical notional testing and fueling from the HEMTT into the Blackhawk. At best, I had become familiar with the systems, but it wasn’t until real application at my unit where I became proficient with aviation fuel operations.
Closing out aviation was met with the all too familiar exam. Again, I passed with relative ease given the excellent lecture paired with the hands on application. I had began to notice how high my scores were, which was meant with the opportunity to earn “honor graduate” at the conclusion of AIT.