OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea. -- “It’s a beautiful morning in Korea to pump some gas,” shouts Staff Sgt. Zachary Smith as he smiles and looks at his breath in the 19-degree weather on the flight line.
A call over the radio confirms A-10 aircraft are in-bound as Smith and other fuels Airmen race to their positions to refuel the aircraft so they can immediately take off and continue their mission.
The 51st Logistics Readiness Squadron’s fuel flight, also known as petroleum, oils and lubricants conducts 24-hour year-round operations fueling Osan’s “Fight Tonight” mission for stability and security of the Korean peninsula and greater Indo-Pacific Region.
They distribute, store and test millions of gallons of fuel annually, providing Osan with high-quality fuel to power aircraft, vehicles and equipment across the base.
“If it wasn’t for fuel, pilots would be pedestrians,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Borboa, 51st LRS fuels service center supervisor. “We touch every aircraft that comes in and out of this base, so we understand how critical our job is to the mission.”
To ensure their fuel maintains the highest quality possible, the flight employs a rigorous testing schedule for its Airmen and laboratory.
They conduct daily tests on fuel storage tanks and R-11 refueler trucks for excess water or unwanted contaminants that can cause a safety hazard. Jet fuels, like JP-8, have added corrosion inhibitors and anti-icing additives with strict Air Force regulations and demanding purity requirements.
Contaminated fuel can damage aircraft and if it contains too much water, it can freeze at high elevations risking the lives of pilots and aircrew.
“We test, re-test and then double check our work to make sure we are providing clean and clear fuel to every aircraft,” said Airman 1st Class Gabriel Neloms, 51st LRS fuels laboratory technician. “We are the last line of defense before that product hits the jets and pilots go out on their mission.”
To support Osan’s high mission tempo and flying schedule, the fuels service center remains open 24 hours with someone always on-call for emergency refueling or to support maintainers doing late night repairs.
“We are open 24/7, rain or shine,” said Borboa. “Nothing on this base flies or drives without us, so someone must always be here.”
Although the POL flight specializes in fuel quality and distribution, their cryogenics section is tasked with receiving, storing and distributing all oxygen and nitrogen used on base. Liquid oxygen is used for aircraft environmental control systems, while liquid nitrogen is used for aircraft struts and tires.
“When our F-16s climb above ten thousand feet, this is the oxygen that allows our pilots to breathe,” said Staff Sgt. Kajuan Green, 51st LRS cryogenic storage supervisor.
The fuel flight’s mission is no simple task. Whether it is blistering hot or freezing cold, their Airmen work to ensure that Osan’s mission doesn’t skip a beat. When they are not servicing aircraft and keeping units gassed up for their day-to-day operations, they’re documenting fuel usage to maintain Osan’s fuel supply so operations can continue uninterrupted.
“I am proud that we impact almost everything on this base,” said Senior Airman Austin Phelps, 51st LRS equipment maintenance technician. “When I see construction on base, a forklift loading ammo or a jet take off, I know we had a part in that and it’s really rewarding.”