Written by Spc. Tracy Weeden
101st Combat Aviation Brigade
Forward Operating Base Wilson, Afghanistan – In the midst of Operation Enduring Freedom, E Troop, Task Force Saber soldiers are powering the forward arming and refueling point at Forward Operating Base Wilson in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
They are constantly moving to supply aircraft with the necessary resources to defend the coalition troops and local civilians.
The soldiers are available for aircraft around the clock, operating the FARP with quick and precise response techniques.“Our main mission is supporting the troops on the ground who may be in contact,” said Sgt. David Putman, E Troop, TF Saber squad leader.
By sustaining helicopters’ abilities to fly, they contribute to the protection of security forces and civilians in southern Afghanistan.
“It feels good to be behind the scenes of operations, keeping the aircraft in the air to save lives and help people in bad situations,” said Spc. Adam Edwards, E Troop, TF Saber ammunition specialist. Pilots notice the dedication these soldiers show toward their mission here.
“The FARP soldiers at Wilson are always running, I have never seen them walking,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Leung, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, TF Saber aviation safety officer and Kiowa pilot. “Once they hear the rotor blades, they are moving.”
The soldiers do not only prepare the aircraft for the mission ahead, but they also take care of the pilots.
“One of the best things they do for us is bring us water and snacks, which helps keep us focused while we are out there,” said Leung. “It is not something they have to do, but it is truly appreciated by the aircrews.”
Not only do they support U.S. Army aircraft, but they provide fuel and ammunition for any armed forces helicopters.
“We get a lot of business coming through here from U.S. and coalition forces,” Sgt. Mark Miner, D Troop, TF Saber Kiowa Warrior armament, electrical and avionic systems repairer. “We see a lot of Canadian and Australian aircraft.”
They also supply Marine and Air Force attack, cargo and assault aircraft.
“We can arm just about any aircraft that comes in here,” said Putman. “All military aircraft use the same fuel and we have the capabilities to provide that.”
Upon landing, pilots must communicate what they need in the quickest way possible. It is fundamental for the team to understand what is required for them to provide service to the aircraft. Pilots have different ways of communicating with the FARP personnel.
Those who have the capability to interact face to face, such as Kiowa Warrior and Black Hawk pilots, use hand signals to express what they need, said Putman. Hand signals are universal and are shared throughout coalition forces.
It is essential for the pilots to communicate effectively with the FARP team so they can go into their mission fully prepared.
When dealing with larger aircraft, like the Chinook and Apache helicopters, FARP soldiers plug their headsets in to the aircraft internal communication system to speak with the pilots, said Putman.
There are also a few aircraft maintainers who work as fuel and armor technicians, giving the team added knowledge and capabilities.
Every member on the team is trained to do each job necessary at the FARP so they can “cover down on each other,” said Edwards. Because they all have the same mission, it is important for them to be proficient at every duty.
“We trained for this mission before we deployed,” said Spc. Kimberly Brooke Jones, E Troop, TF Saber ammunition specialist. When aircraft land here, FARP technicians immediately react by running to the pad and taking their positions.
Three soldiers are essential in fueling the aircraft, said Putman. There will be a fireguard, pump operator and nozzle operator. The others engage in arming the aircraft.
An armament repairer first loads the Kiowa Warrior’s .50-caliber machine gun and the Apache’s 30mm automatic chain gun, said Miner. Once that is complete, they continue to assist the others in whatever is needed.
But supplying the aircraft is not the only factor to be managed. Their mission also entails maintaining the quality and quantity of fuel and ammunition to stay prepared for ongoing operations.
The fuel is constantly monitored, said Putman. When the levels drop and more fuel is obtained, it is inspected to ensure there is no contamination.
A petroleum specialist extracts two jars of fuel from the truck to inspect it visually and chemically. It is visually checked for debris and processed through the Aqua-Glo test, which detects water in the fuel.
They proactively check fuel lines and nozzles for damages or leaks to guarantee the safety of everyone on the pad, said Putman. Personal protective equipment is always worn, and safety procedures are required to prevent a hazardous situation.
Since March 2010, when TF Saber took over the FARP, these Soldiers pumped over 48,000 gallons of fuel and armed over 600 aircraft.
FARP personnel rotate teams every month. For that rotation, all they have is each other. They spend every waking moment with their teammates.
Working with a small group of people creates a great sense of camaraderie, said Putman. They live, eat, exercise and hang out together while on and off duty.
Camaraderie also enhances teamwork and proficiency.
“When the FARP soldiers work well as a team, it can be like a NASCAR pit crew,” said Leung. “I have been impressed with how fast they come together as a team, even with constant rotations of new soldiers. To me, it shows that their NCOs are training them well.”
The FARP soldiers of TF Saber who are assigned to FOB Wilson work together to enhance the safety of southern Afghanistan by operating behind the scenes to support the aircraft protecting the men and women on the ground.