KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
‘Without fuel, pilots are pedestrians,’ is a common refrain in Air Force Reserve Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants career field, whose mission makes them critical for the 403rd Wing to succeed in both training and deployments.
Fuel specialists of the 403rd Mission Support Group at Keesler Air Force Base put their science based training into action every day as they supply petroleum products to the 403rd Wing C-130Js, weapons systems, and ground vehicles.
“Aircraft cannot fly and vehicles cannot be driven without the fuels provided by our POL team,” said Maj. Shawn Baldy, 403rd Logistics Readiness Squadron operations officer.
Fuel specialists use their scientific knowledge to handle petroleum products and they utilize their training in a base testing laboratory.
”We are be able to determine the grade of fuel, cleanliness, and additive levels present,” said Master Sgt. Scott Ferrara, 403rd MSG superintendent of the fuels management branch. “We test samples of jet fuel and liquid oxygen to detect contamination or water in the product.”
Their goal is to ensure quality control of fuels and lubricants including gasoline and diesel for the aircraft and vehicle fleets according to Ferrara. They also provide JP-8 jet fuel, liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen for aircraft which involves cryogenics, the science of gases becoming liquids in controlled conditions.
“Gaseous nitrogen and oxygen must be cooled several Fahrenheit degrees below zero and be under specific pressure in order to become liquid oxygen used for aircraft environmental control systems and liquid nitrogen, which is used for aircraft struts and tires,” said Ferrara.
Ferrara said that while liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen can be dangerous, fuel specialists are extremely aware of maintaining their personal safety throughout their careers and that the training received by Airmen in the POL career field can be useful when exploring civilian employment opportunities.
“The skills you gain in fuels management can be used in civilian aviation such as working at an airport servicing aircraft, or in chemical plant laboratories, oil fields and petroleum businesses,” said Ferrara.
Fuel specialists continue gaining technical knowledge throughout their Reserve careers, which include receiving Special Experience Identifiers. These SEIs designate specific knowledge gained that can be included on an Airman’s resume when they compete for civilian job opportunities or promotions.
“Some of the SEIs we can earn for specialty training, include Laboratory, Forward Area Refueling, and Accounting,” said Ferrara. “With the Air Force Fuels SEI matrix lists the experience and specific skill level requirements with 100 percent certification of proficiency for those tasks to be awarded an SEI.”
Ferrara explained that the experience he’s gained throughout his career has helped him become the superintendent of the fuels management branch. He also described a feeling he gets knowing the integral part he has in getting aircraft to fly missions.
“I find a sense of pride watching these aircraft fly,” said Ferrara. “I did my job well and the lives of those using the fuel products are safe because of what I do.”
“No matter what type of advanced technology we have in our aircraft or ground vehicle fleet,” said Baldy. “We cannot operate without the support that our fuels professionals deliver, which is an integral part of maintaining readiness of the 403rd Wing.”