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Reservists Fuel Movement In/Out Of Iraq
By Kent Harris
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 22, 2004,

CAMP CEDAR II, Iraq They don't wash windshields, check oil or put air in tires.

But members of the 439th Quartermaster Company put most gas stations to shame when it comes to moving fuel.

The Army reservists from Connecticut and Massachusetts have compiled some huge numbers while providing fuel to virtually every convoy headed from Kuwait to Iraq and, most recently, those headed the other way on their way back home.

Since starting operations in June, the company has supplied gas to more than 170,000 vehicles at a pair of "temporary" stations it set up along a highway a few hours north of the Kuwaiti border. It also established a fueling point to the north where many other vehicles stop, and ran it for four months. And the unit has provided fuel for more than 10,300 helicopter visits at the station it operates at nearby Tallil Air Base.

Capt. Jay Sullivan, the company commander, said simple geography can explain why the unit has been so busy.

"The road to Baghdad, and the rest of Iraq, lies through the middle of our fuel sites," he said.

So, while the 439th hasn't seen as much of the country as many units in the military, it has probably seen more members of the coalition than anyone else in country.

"The soldiers have gotten to see every piece of equipment the Army has," Sullivan said.

As well as all the vehicles the Marines field and various conveyances used by allied countries.

"Everything that rolls through Army, KBR, Marines goes through our sites," said Sgt. Dale Dewitt.

The drivers don't usually stop to talk just get some gasoline and head on their way.

"People going north are just like we were," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Burl, a member of the company's 2nd Platoon. "They're nervous and don't know what to expect. Guys going south are pretty darn happy."

That's because they're heading out of Iraq, into Kuwait on their way home. The 439th should be joining them soon. They've been in country since the last days of May.

Shortly after arriving at Camp Cedar II, about four hours north of the Kuwaiti border, the unit was ordered to set up a pair of temporary fueling stations. Bags, capable of holding thousands of gallons of fuel, were put alongside the road at a former Iraqi rest stop. It was supposed to be a temporary situation, so the whole operation could move quickly wherever it's needed.

The "temporary" station is still there as convoys continue to roll through.

"I think what happened was the guys did such a good job, they didn't want to move it," Sullivan said. "It was working too well."

More than 8 million gallons later, the 439th is giving way to the Air Force at the fuel sites. The Air Force is also taking over helicopter-refueling operations at Tallil.

Staff Sgt. Charles Landry has been on the airport site since the unit took over from the Marines. He was one of about only a dozen members who had any training on fueling helicopters.

Many have learned on the go, though, and the company proudly reports no big problems along the way. "We've never had an incident," Landry said.

At least none of their doing.

There was an unusual emergency in January. An Apache pilot came in quickly after radioing in an emergency. His windshield had a large hole in it after an apparently heavily armored pigeon flew through it. The pilot exited the aircraft after removing the bloody bird from his lap and stayed on for a few days until repairs were made.

The most dangerous part of the job at the airport is the actual fueling. Most of the helicopters come in and get refueled while their motors are still on. Static electricity generated by the rotor blades and the fuel make for a potentially dangerous combination. So everything needs to go by the book in the three to seven minutes it takes to fuel up.

"They come in, get their fuel and they're gone," said Staff Sgt. Erwin Arrededo. "They don't stop for anything."

The same sometimes could be said of the 439th. Some days there's not much traffic. But other times, American, British, Spanish, Ukranian, Polish or other types of helicopters come in similar numbers as the swarms of gnats that swirl around the area. Many provide prior warning. But not all.

"We could get 12 Apaches who come out of nowhere and we have to be ready," Arrededo said.

Sullivan said that's been true of the entire unit at all the operations it's been involved in.

"Everyone's done a great job," he said. "The numbers speak for themselves."

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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