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Sgt. Carlos I. Castillo (left) and Lance Cpl. Castulo Lopez decompress the fuel lines, gather the information on fuel used and check their equipment after fueling a UH-1N Huey Aug. 9, at Al Asad, Iraq. Castillo, a Bronx, N.Y., native is a bulk fuels specialist crew leader with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Lopez is a bulk fuels specialist with MWSS-274 and a native of Spartanburg, N.C.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon L. Roach

'Ironmen' keep fuel flowing, support flight operations

16 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Brandon L. Roach

As the scorching sun pounds on the tarmac and the blistering winds rip across the desert floor, the Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274's fuels section know that without them, flying in Iraq would not be possible.

Throughout the last six months, these Marines have operated in a secluded section of the base refueling rotary and fixed wing aircraft in support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Our mission is to provide the best fuel possible as fast as possible," said Sgt. Shawn M. Parris, fuels embark specialist, MWSS-274, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "Doing this the best we can ensures that everyone's operations run smoothly."

When an aircraft makes its way to the refueling area, known as the hot pits, the Marines rush out and prepare the hoses and pumps to execute a hot fuel.

"A hot fuel is when the aircraft comes to our re-fueling point and the engines continue to run while we fill their tanks," said Parris. "This is done in case they have to leave quickly."

With roughly 180,000 gallons of fuel in one section of the refueling point, the Marines have their work cut out for them when maintaining the area.

"We have a routine that the Marines have gotten down," said Sgt. Carlos I. Castillo, bulk fuels specialist crew leader, MWSS-274. "We always have things to do, which makes the time pass by quickly."

Each of the two shifts consist of approximately 15 Marines and when they start their 24-hour shift they go over all of the fuel lines and fuel bladders to ensure that there is no cracking or leaking.

"Our biggest enemy is the lines dry rotting," said Parris. "The harsh conditions dry out the lines and the outside of the fuel bladders, which can cause small leaks."

Although always on the move, both inspecting and repairing equipment, testing fuel to maintain quality, or fueling birds, these motivated Marines know that their mission is to support OIF.

"Every person's mission out here is just as important as the next persons," said Parris. "We all have to complete our jobs in order to effectively help Iraq."

Having more and more flights coming in and out of Al Asad, the Marines find themselves working harder to keep the aircraft fueled and in the air.

Some Marines train their whole careers for that moment they may have to face the dangers of combat. The fuels section of MWSS-274 knows that for those Marines outside the perimeter of Al Asad, their support comes from the aircraft refueled here.

"We came over here to make a change," said Parris. "If I have to do that by pumping fuel into these birds, then that is what I will do."
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing