MIDDLE EAST --
Fuel runs moderns armies. It is that simple. Without fuel the war machine grinds to a halt, as surely today as it did during the Battle of the Bulge, when Hitler’s attacking tanks and vehicles lay abandoned roadside for lack of gas.
So when logistical difficulties led to a fuel supply problem for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit during its exercise in the Middle East, a solution had to be found.
With a large portion of the MEU deployed ashore at two relatively distant locations and the USS Iwo Jima and USS San Antonio well over the horizon from both camps, helicopter travel was the only viable method to transfer personnel and equipment, but to keep going the thirsty helicopters required fuel. Lots of fuel.
The missions stretched far into the night, and for the pilots to fly back to the ships would have added hours of flight time under night vision conditions, which would have been a safety issue.
“We had an operational challenge, and for the commander, a safety problem,” said Col. Mark J. Desens, 26th MEU commanding officer.
Desens said he was left with two options. One, he could order the exercise to be restructured. Two, the MEU could set up a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP).
The FARP seemed the more logical solution of the two, but even that presented difficulty, according to Desens. There was no ready solution to getting massive amounts of fuel to any proposed FARP.
“We couldn’t get gas to the FARP,” he said. Then again, Desens was a commanding officer who knew his staff could create solutions where there were none. “Get me a FARP,” he told them.
The staff put their heads together and tried to figure out an answer, but nothing was going to work.
“We were running out of solutions,” said Maj. Randall K. Jones, 26th MEU logistics officer.
Cue the ingenuity of one Marine Corps officer coupled with the vast capabilities afforded by the Navy-Marine Corps team.
“We went down and talked to the (Landing Craft Air Cushioned) crew to see about bringing refueling trucks back to the ship to fill them up, when they told us if we could get the proper hoses and attachments they could bring the fuel for us,” said Capt. William S. Ryan, 26th MEU embark officer.
“Once we had exhausted all possible means, the blue-green team definitely came to a single solution to make it happen,” he said.
So the problem was solved. The LCACs from both USS Iwo Jima and San Antonio could bring enough fuel ashore in their own tanks to supply the fuel needs of both Marine camps, including the FARP and fuel needs of vehicles. Marine fuel trucks would fill up from the LCACs' tanks, then transfer that fuel to whatever needed gas.
It was an unorthodox answer to a very serious problem.
“I have never seen LCACs provide fuel to a FARP,” said Desens.
He wasn’t the only one. No one in the MEU had ever previously done this. Ryan said the closest he had ever seen was the use of a Landing Craft Utility, which is a more conventional landing craft, than the high speed LCACs, which are hovercraft designed for fast amphibious assaults.
The significance of the solution towards long term planning for future operations also made a big impact on the planners.
“It definitely opens up our capabilities as to what we are able to provide from ship to shore,” said Ryan. “Understand that we were conducting these operations from over 20 nautical miles away in order to keep the birds in the air and keep the vehicles fueled,” said Ryan.
Throughout the exercise, the system was used to provide more than 20,000 gallons of fuel, according to Jones.
As the exercise came to a close, those same LCACs began returning vehicles and Marines to their respective ships, the vehicles full of fuel taken from the LCAC’s own tanks.