MIDDLE EAST -- There are many factors that go into keeping Marine aircraft flying high.
Meticulous maintenance, careful control of airspace and skillful piloting all play into Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced) being able to accomplish missions for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
But, without fuel in the tank, all aerial operations shudder to a halt.
As the MEU conducted sustainment and bilateral training here, April 7-15, the squadron's Bulk Fuel Detachment was always ready to give the squadron's aircraft the petrol life-blood they require to keep the engines humming and rotors thumping.
During the exercise, the Bulk Fuel Det. operated out of a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) near the MEU's camp, pumping more than 7,000 gallons of fuel per day to the Aviation Combat Element's (ACE) CH-46E Sea Knight, CH-53E Super Stallion, AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters, said Sgt. Pedro P. Peraza, the Bulk Fuels Det. Maintenance chief and a Bronx, N.Y., native.
Hard work was the order of the day for these Marines from the moment they set-up shop, as they first had to hand-maneuver their 300-pound fuel bladders into position to support operations.
Their average working day typically stretched past 18 hours, and the Marines continually faced challenges from the rugged desert environment with its unwavering sun and swirling sandstorms, said Peraza.
"You've got to be physically and mentally prepared to work," he explained. "Otherwise, you're going to be hurting."
In contrast to the majority of the squadron's personnel, who typically operate from the ships of the Bataan Strike Group, the fuel specialists often find themselves working in the dirt as they did here, said Maj. Don A. Barnett, the ACE's logistics officer and a CH-46E pilot.
"Even though they work from a stationary location, they have a very demanding job," explained the Columbus, Ind., native. "They are outside and exposed to the elements as much as any infantryman."
Although their stated mission is to fuel aircraft, the squadron's fuelers are capable of giving gas to everything from humvees to M-1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks.
When Combat Logistics Battalion-26, the MEU's logistics combat element, received a faulty batch of fuel during the exercise, the squadron's Fuel Det. helped test and purify it until the fuel was fit for use.
Ensuring the fuel they dispense is safe for aircraft engines is a serious concern, said Cpl. Noah J. Palmer, a bulk fuel specialist from HMM-264 (Rein) who hails from Nunda, N.Y.
"We're very careful," he said. "We do daily testing and preventive maintenance to ensure nothing can get into our (fuel) system."
While testing and dispensing are part of their daily duties, guiding aircraft safely to and off the ground for refueling is undoubtedly the highlight of a fueler's job, said Palmer.
"You are just one small person," he explained. "You have this huge machine flying above you...and you know you are responsible for guiding it safely to where it needs to be."
The detachment's importance to the squadron accomplishing its missions is best summarized in a traditional bulk fuel specialist motto, said Peraza.
"We supply the flow so the proud can go," he stated.
The 26th MEU is in the fourth month of a routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6 as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.
In addition to HMM-264 (Rein) and CLB-26, the MEU is composed of its Command Element and Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/2.
For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.