POL: Fueling those who fuel the fight

  • Published
  • By Capt. David Liapis
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"Boom!" That's the sound of a U.S. bomb striking an Islamic State group target, and one step closer to achieving the goal of eradicating violent extremism in the world. But, how did that munition get there?

If all the steps that made that explosion happen were recorded on a video and played backwards, many key functions and the Airmen who support them would make star appearances. Such a playback would show the bomb rising up into the bomber that dropped it, the aerial refueling tanker aircraft boom, like straw, would suck back the fuel provided to keep the fighter and bomber aircraft in the air long enough to reach their targets, the plane would make a backwards landing and taxi back to the maintenance personnel who keep aircraft mission capable, and the story goes on.

When most people think of the U.S. Air Force, they think of pilots, planes and sometimes even maintainers. What many don't consider are all the other organizations and functions that make the Air Force mission happen, and there's a particular group of people who fall under the mission support group who fuel the fight every day - the fuels management flight, more commonly known as POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants).

The POL mission at Fairchild AFB belongs to the 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron. Whenever an aircraft flies off this airfield, which are typically KC-135 Stratotankers and UH-1N Iroquois helicopters, these Airmen had something to do with it.

"We are an air refueling wing, so everything starts with us," said Staff Sgt. Timothy Jennings, a 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels service center operator. "Fuel has to get into the plane in order for it to get up in the air and refuel, so our job is very important to the mission."

The 92nd and 141st Air Refueling Wings along with the 36th Rescue Squadron, northwest Washington's sole search & rescue mission, support homeland defense, training and deployed operations, and the POL Airmen are proud to be a critical part of these operations.

"As I've advanced in my career field ... and seen where these planes go, not only the type of airplanes they fill up for the Air Force, but the types of planes they fill up for foreign governments and just how far the mission reaches, it's opened my eyes to just how important the POL job is," Jennings said.

Every day and night, rain or shine, POL is on the flightline enabling the mission, but pumping aviation fuel, or Jet-A, is not all these Airmen are responsible for. They manage the storage, transportation, distribution and quality of all petroleum-based products, such as oil, gasoline and cryogenics.  Fuels personnel have a chemistry lab where they sample POL products that power everything from jets to snow removal equipment and vehicles to aerospace ground equipment and generators.

"A big thing that isn't really seen is that we take care of all the ground fueling on the base as well," said Jennings. "Of course you've got POL tank trucks out on the flightline, and that's a huge part of our mission, but we take care of fuel key encoding on all the [Government Service Administration] vehicles and the Air Force-owned vehicles you see on base. They have to come to us to get a fuel key in order to get gas at the service stations."

Jennings described the satisfaction he found, and still finds, in his job as a POL Airman.

"I would spend an hour or two on a plane gassing it up and then come back out fifteen minutes later so I could see it taking off on the runway. I knew I distinctly had a hand in getting that plane off the ground."

According to Staff Sgt. Daniel Johnson, a 92nd LRS fuels operation center operator, the POL career field, like many others, has a motto that sums up their role in the Air Force mission - "Without POL, pilots are pedestrians."