JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, Jan. 11, 2018 — As a C-17 Globemaster III transport jet gains altitude, the air pressure decreases, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the pilot’s blood. If unprepared, permanent damage to vital organs can happen within minutes. To prevent this, crew members rely on liquid oxygen.
Airmen from the 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels facilities section here maintain this capability and other vital resources.
The fuels facilities section consists of seven airmen and four civilians who execute and document the receipt, storage and transfer of 14 million gallons of jet fuel, ground fuel, liquid oxygen and de-icing fluid each year.
“This section is critical to the JBER mission, as they provide the energy that moves all of our assets,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Hightower, 673rd LRS fuels operations section chief. “Their scope of responsibility is vast as they control all aviator breathing oxygen, vehicle and equipment fuel, aviation fuel and de-icer products. Without the proper management of these products, the JBER mission ceases.”
The team coordinates daily operator maintenance on assets valued at $302 million, consisting of 10 fuel facilities and 109 fuel pits and outlets that encompass 5 miles of pipeline throughout the base. They schedule and coordinate daily fuel deliveries across the base for Air Mobility Command, the Air National Guard, the Army, the transient alert section and the 3rd Wing, as well as tenant components.
“You could say we fuel the mission,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eric Fortenberry, 673rd LRS fuels facilities section noncommissioned officer in charge. “We handle any kind of fuel request, such as jet fuel — that’s our main job.”
Along with providing essential products, fuel facilities airmen are focused on protecting another important asset: people. When they work in cryogenics, the team must adhere to safety guidelines to prevent injury or loss of life.
Handling the liquid oxygen entails risk. The team creates liquid oxygen by placing air under high pressure. As the pressure increases, the air temperature also increases, eventually converting the gas to a liquid that boils off, leaving a pure gas as a result.
“The personal protective equipment we wear is absolutely indispensable and keeps us protected,” said Air Force Senior Airman Brandon Willen-Nelson, 673rd LRS facilities technician. “We’re handling a substance that can reach dangerously low temperatures around minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit. If anything spills, we’re prepared.”
Their protective equipment ensures no part of their skin is exposed to the extremely low temperature. Operating in teams of two is an additional safety measure, ensuring each airmen has a wingman in the event of emergency.
Although serving as a member of the fuels facilities section runs some risk of physical danger, Willen-Nelson said it’s all in a day’s work and executing his part of the JBER mission is rewarding. Thanks to the 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels facilities team, pilots and aircrew can breathe easier as they provide global expeditionary combat support.