BAYJI, Iraq —In the distance, the sound of a forklift lingers in the air. You follow the sound and turn to see a Soldier working to fill up what seems like a large crater in the ground. As you get closer, you're met by the smell of fuel and the sight of four young Soldiers whose profession relies on it.
Along with counting every Hesco barrier and consolidating equipment, another major aspect in a base closure is the proper handling of the fuel point.
Since December 2009, the fuelers with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan., have been formulating a plan of how to close down the fuel point at Forward Operating Base Summerall which is scheduled to be returned to the Iraqi government later this month.
"We have to make sure that as we're turning the FOB over that we still have enough fuel on hand to complete the missions that we [still] have," said Staff Sgt. Terry Coffindaffer, non-commissioned officer in charge of the fuel point. "There is a lot of balance as far as fuel [and] how much we have, how much we need and how much we can hold. So, as we draw down, we need to watch our numbers to make sure we don't go down so low that we [cannot complete the mission]."
Before turning over the fuel point, anything that qualifies as hazardous material that isn't mechanical, such as fuel bags, berms and liners; must be burned or destroyed. All fuel must be distributed and disposed of properly and all equipment must be cleaned before it's taken to Contingency Operating Base Speicher for turn in. The land has to also be dozed and cleaned properly before returning it.
"People just don't understand just how much work and knowledge they have," said Coffindaffer about his four Soldiers. "It's not an easy job for them but with their knowledge and their abilities, the work they do is fantastic ... If it wasn't for these Soldiers out here — we'd be lost."
According Cpl. Andrew Bannister, a motor transport operator and fueler with Company F., the breakdown has supplied the fuelers with the equipment needed to create a more efficient retail point.
"As we're closing the FOB down, the convoys are getting bigger and bigger with trying to retrograde all of this equipment," said the Thompson's Station, Tenn., native. "So, we're setting up this point so that we can [better cater] to the time frame of the missions, refuel the [trucks] and get them back on the road instead of sitting [there] in a line of 50 trucks trying to refuel with two or three hoses. Now, we can do it with seven or eight hoses."
Working nonstop to accomplish their mission, the importance of drawing down was not lost among the four Soldiers.
"Seeing how far the momentum of the war has shifted from [always] fighting and getting blown up on a daily basis [to] now, where it's pretty much quiet shows that we've made huge, huge strides in our effort to help the Iraqi people and their nation get back to where they want to be," said Spc. Allen Grebas, a fueler with Company F.
"We're not trying to be heroes; we're not trying to set them free," said Cpl. Bannister. "We're just trying to set a platform for them to be able to govern their own country."
As the date draws closer for the closure of FOB Summerall, the Soldiers said they are proud of what's been accomplished with the base and Spc. Richard E. Meckler of Okanogan, Wash., a motor transport operator who is now helping with the fuel point, said that he has developed a respect for the fuelers and the work they do.
"I have a whole new viewpoint of the fuelers, because they do a whole lot of stuff down here that people don't see," Meckler said. "It's really pretty amazing."
"Everything we did, we just set ourselves up for success in the end," Grebas said. "I mean, with what you see down here, we've gotten a lot accomplished in just the very little time we've been down here, and everything you see up to this point has been just to officially get out of here. It's been very nice to finally see the end product [and] to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, [in getting] everything accomplished."
This work, Four fuelers prepare for FOB closure, by SGT Shantelle Campbell, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.