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NEWS | May 26, 2016

The special force behind the fuel lab

By Sgt. 1st Class Naurys Marte 451st Expeditionary Sustainment Command

From the perspective of support operations, fuel, like water and ammunition, is one of the most important supplies needed to sustain the force in the battlefield. And, before supplying the fuel to the force, PLSs perform a variety of testing to ensure the fuel meets the prescribed standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials, and the MIL-STD-3004: Quality Assurance/Surveillance for Fuels, Lubricants and Related Products.

The 1st TSC ensures the fuel testing laboratory and the PLSs meet these standards. U.S. Army Spc. Christian M. Valencia and Spc. Terek E. Taylor, both petroleum laboratory specialists with Alpha Company, 640th Aviation Sustainment Battalion, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, are ready for the task. Their enthusiasm about their job shows from the minute they shake your hand to the way they show and explain the process of their work.
“We have to test for many contaminants in the fuel, such as water, rust, dust, and sediments. And also for additives and volatility, as well as thermal properties of the samples we receive,” said Valencia. “Rust and sand are the most common contaminants in the fuel we’ve tested.”

While holding a fuel sample container which he grabbed from a corner of the trailer, Valencia said that they’ve tested an average of 100 sample containers per month since December 2015. “We get fuel for testing from coalition forces, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and many other places,” added Valencia.

Although Valencia speaks about his job with conviction, he ensured his manual was within reach before he started any testing procedure. “We have to go by the book on all we do in this lab,” said Valencia as he references the manual to find specific instructions for testing.

Contaminated fuel poses a high risk to personnel and equipment, as it can cause damage to engines, and inadequate operation, which can result in injury, death and overall failure of combat missions. 

According to the Army’s technical manual on petroleum laboratory operations, the purpose of quality surveillance is to ensure fuel used in military equipment is clean, bright, and suitable for immediate use for its intended purpose. Contaminated or deteriorated fuel can cost lives, especially with aircraft. 

“To ensure the lab and technicians are operating to standards, we have to do this inspection and provide a quarterly report,” said Sgt. 1st Class Luis A. Cotte, petroleum lab certification NCO with the 969th Quartermaster Detachment, 1st TSC, as he watched and took notes of the PLSs’ at work. In order to certify the lab to perform quality surveillance, “we do a thorough inspection once a year,” said Cotte.  Certification of the petroleum lab operations includes inspection of the facilities, equipment, methods, and personnel qualifications review.

The inspection process is essential to ensure the safety of personnel and to avoid damage to aircraft and any other ground vehicle that uses the fuel tested.

 “Aircrafts are very sensitive, and contaminated fuel causes its fuel lines to clog up; which is dangerous during its operation,” said Valencia. “So, we have to test to make sure of the safety of the personnel using it and to avoid damage to the planes. We make sure fuel is not the problem if there is aircraft failure.”

Valencia, who is also a chemical engineering student at Mount San Antonio College in California, expressed his decision to choose to be a PLS was because of his interest in chemistry. “I have two years left to finish my degree and I’m planning on going back [to school] as soon as I return from deployment,” said Valencia. 

PLSs have a critical responsibility in the battlefield, as they also have to decide which tests to perform based on the type of fuel sample and the source of the sample received.  

And although the lab is the commander’s responsibility, it is the PLSs who ensure fuels meet specifications, identify unknown products, detect contamination, verify field tests, and dispose of unacceptable fuel samples, ultimately ensuring the safety of personnel and equipment.

The 1st TSC mission is to execute operational sustainment support, conduct coalition/joint reception, staging, and onward movement (CJRSO), redeployment, retrograde, and re-posture of forces, material, and sustainment infrastructure in order to support ongoing operations through the CENTCOM area of responsibility.