TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan - The Transit Center at Manas runs on fuel. Without it, service members could not accomplish the missions of air refueling, airlift and onward movement.
The 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron's petroleum, oils and lubricants flight is the unit responsible for fueling those missions.
Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Garner, fuels superintendent deployed from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, oversees a team of more than four dozen POL airmen operating the second largest fuel bladder farm in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility.
The unit's primary mission is to receive, issue and store aviation fuel. Additionally, the unit provides the base with diesel and unleaded fuel, commonly referred to as ground fuel, for vehicles and generators.
The deployed POL flight operates much as they would at home station. Two section chiefs oversee five different elements: control center, fuels lab, training and support, distribution and bulk storage.
"When we deploy, the only thing that is different is the personnel and the location," said Garner. "The processes and organizations are the same so we can go right in and operate without any problems."
The control center is the hub of operations for the POL flight. Every receipt and delivery of fuel is tracked by the service center controllers. This is also where fuel is ordered and drivers are dispatched out for deliveries.
While the control center tracks all the fuel coming in and out of the Transit Center, the fuels lab tests it all.
"We test to make sure it is clean and dry," said Tech. Sgt. Ronald Gaspar, the fuels lab noncommissioned officer in charge. "Clean means it is without contaminants. Dry means it is without water."
The lab is also responsible for determining the amount of additives to be put in the fuel. Additives include a static dissipater, icing inhibitor, corrosion inhibitor and lubritidy inhibitor. To ensure the level and quality of additives are just right, fuel samples are pulled at multiple points in the process.
"If I don't do my job and follow the guidelines just right, we can create issues with the aircraft," said Gaspar, who is deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. "It's a challenge, but I love my job."
The bulk storage element is responsible for the upkeep of two dozen fuel bladders and a steel constructed storage tank, as well as the associated hoses and pumps. Currently, the POL airmen are in the process of replacing valves on the storage tank hoses in order to improve operations.
"We are switching from butterfly valves to gate valves," said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Spatz, noncommissioned officer in charge of bulk storage. "The fuel pressure can actually push open the butterfly valves. The gate valves provide us better isolation of the fuel and are less prone to breakdown."
From the storage area, the distribution element delivers fuel to where it is needed. Because the Transit Center flies tankers, the amount of fuel delivered can quickly add up.
"Since October we've issued about 45 million gallons of aviation fuel," said Garner. Calendar Year 2012 totals included delivery of 117 million gallons of aviation fuel, 1.2 million gallons of diesel fuel and 175,000 gallons of unleaded fuel. "From my experience, if you're pushing more than 100 million gallons in a year, then you're jobbing it."
Behind all the other elements is the training and support element, ensuring every POL airman has the necessary training and tools to do the job.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Blowers, deployed from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the noncommissioned officer in charge of training support. He recently had the opportunity to see fuel operations beyond the POL flight when he flew on a KC-135 Stratotanker.
"I've never seen a boom operator work before," said Blowers. "I've refueled plenty of aircraft before, but never from another aircraft. It was great to talk with the boom operator and compare notes.
"The coolest part was when we refueled a C-17 [Globemaster III] - knowing that aircraft was headed downrange and supporting the fight" he said. "POL directly supports that."
Garner, a 25-year veteran in the career field, knows the impact POL has on the mission.
"To use a football analogy, I compare our job to that of the offensive linemen," said Garner. "We make things happen so that the quarterbacks - the aircraft and aircrew - can make the mission happen. We know we have to get fuel out of the bladders and into aircraft so that the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force units downrange get the fuel and support they need. And we are pretty darn good at it."