By Army Capt. Katherine O. Zyla
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 10, 2009 - A diverse group of soldiers here helps to ensure aviation crews always are ready to conduct show-of-force, reconnaissance and presence patrols throughout Multinational Division Center. Soldiers of the distribution platoon with 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Aviation Regiment, are responsible for the battalion's fuel, water and ammunition. The platoon is made up of petroleum supply and ammunition specialists and truck drivers, all critical to battalion operations.
"We are the unheard giant," platoon leader Army 2nd. Lt. James A. Barnett said. "Our helicopters fly missions every day to help keep guys on the ground safe; we help keep our air crews safe and operational by providing them with fuel and ammunition."
The soldiers have pumped more than 830,000 gallons of fuel worth $1.76 million, have managed 48 Hellfire missiles valued at $16.8 million, and have delivered more than 233 pallets of water, valued at $1.5 million, in the eight months they have been in the combat theater.
"The aircrews do not have the time to think about loading ammunition and fuel, or the effort it takes to arm the helicopter with missiles and get the helicopter where it needs to be, Barnett said. "Our goal is to help them be fully functional."
Aviation operations are constant, and the distribution platoon operates 24 hours a day. Generally, the soldiers work 12-hour shifts, ensuring the AH-64D Apache helicopters have fuel and ammunition and the battalion has water and chow.
The platoon's aviation fuelers pump about 300 gallons of cold gas per aircraft. Cold gas is pumped after pilots have completed a mission and the aircraft is shut down.
The fuelers also are capable of setting up a forward arming and refueling point and conducting hot-refueling missions, in which the helicopter lands while remaining powered up, gets refueled and is back in the air within minutes.
Though they normally have a static set-up to pump cold gas, the fuelers have the capability to be mobile, which offers aviation units flexibility.
"We can set up where the aircraft need us, to reach out and touch them," said Sgt. Michael T. Square, a petroleum supply specialist. "Without fuel, helicopters cannot fly – they turn into expensive paperweights."
The Apache's primary mission is to conduct rear, close and shaping missions as well as distribution operations, precision strikes against relocatable targets and providing armed reconnaissance when required.
"In the eight months we have been here, we have had no failed missions," said Army Sgt. Johnathen D. Morgan, an ammunition specialist. Every helicopter has received its ammunition, and there has been good accountability."
The platoon's soldiers focus on cross-training, because they are called upon to do many different missions.
"We never know when one of our soldiers could be tasked to set up a [forward arming and refueling point], work at a different forward operating base, etc.," Barnett said. "My guys still have to be able to meet mission requirements here, because the battalion cannot conduct operations without fuel and ammunition."
The ammunition specialists and fuelers are not the only ones who have to cross-train; the platoon's truck drivers also have learned how to refuel an aircraft.
"I have enjoyed learning something different," said Army Staff Sgt. Phillip L. Parker, a truck driver who is primarily responsible for picking up and delivering water and chow. "Learning new skills makes my job unique, and it gives us an opportunity for a little friendly competition to see how much fuel we can pump compared to the fuelers."
(Army Capt. Katherine O. Zyla serves with Task Force 449.)