News: Fueling crews keep Calif. ARNG birds in the air
Story by Sgt. Ian Kummer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Unsung heroes of the aviation community swung into action one sunny California afternoon, literally fueling the success of the entire mission. While California Army National Guard (CA ARNG) helicopters roared across the sky with their signature electric salmon-colored paint and “bambi buckets” swaying beneath them, petroleum supply specialists worked tirelessly to keep the powerful machines flying.
Six CA ARNG helicopters participated in the California Department of Fire and Forest Protection's (Cal Fire) annual helicopter fire training at the Cal Fire Academy in Ione, April 5. While news reporters gathered for a glimpse of the helicopters and their pilots in action, the fueling crews worked diligently on the sidelines to ensure each helicopter was properly fueled and ready for the next exercise.
A fueling crew is no place for those with a weak work ethic; in every aviation mission, crew members must be staged and ready before the aircraft take off, and can only go home for the day after the last aircraft has finished. Depending on the mission or operational requirements, a refueling point may be open 24/7.
“We are the first ones up and the last ones down,” said Sgt. Julie Ann Myers, a fueling crew member and Sutter Creek resident with Company F, 2-135th General Support Aviation Battalion.
Every step of refueling a helicopter requires care and diligence. Army helicopters use Jet Propellant 8, a highly combustible jet fuel that, if mishandled, could damage equipment or worse, cause serious injury.
“You have got to be safe, and remember SOP [Standard Operating Procedure],” said Spc. Ateeq Afzal, Myers' team member and Sacramento resident. “Even a small mistake can have a serious impact on operations.”
The mission of a fueling team doesn't begin or end at the refueling point. Their day-to-day routine consists of a dizzying array of Hazmat, logistical and administrative procedures before a mission can take place. Even driving a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) tanker to an operation takes great care since many civilian motorists are unaware of the hazards and drive carelessly around the HEMTT.
“We have air brakes and people don't understand that we are carrying a much heavier load and can't stop as fast,” Myers said. “We have to watch for other cars that approach or cut us off on the road.”
Each model of aircraft is unique and requires knowledge of its own specific needs and safety considerations on the part of the fueling crew. For example the UH-72 Lakota helicopter has an open port nozzle on the fuel tank, which means it needs to be filled more carefully than other aircraft due to the risk of spillage.
The 3-140th Aviation Battalion (Service and Support) owns the state's Lakota fleet, making those Soldiers the most qualified California Guard members to maintain that helicopter.
“No one knows these aircraft like we do,” said Staff Sgt. Nathan Saylor, a fueling crew member from the 3-140th. “They've been with us since [the Calif. ANRG] first got them.”