CAMP CEDAR II, Iraq — They don't wash windshields, check oil or put air in
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
"The soldiers have gotten to see every piece of equipment the Army has,"
As well as all the vehicles the Marines field and various conveyances used by
"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
"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
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,"
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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