By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cameron Edy, U.S. Sixth Fleet Public Affairs
U.S. aircraft often fly to the farthest reaches of the globe. To sustain this, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps created small, specialized teams that move mountains to make that flight possible.
One of those teams, comprised of Sailors from Navy Cargo Handling Battalion (NCHB) 1 and Marines from Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 271, trained to support, refuel, rearm and build infrastructure for military aircraft, is currently supporting the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment (NCR) for exercise Northern Viking 22 onboard Keflavik Air Base, Iceland. To support Northern Viking - a military exercise designed to refine and showcase the benefits of partnership between Iceland, the United States, and other allies in the high north - this team adapted their usual operations and built a Fixed Wing Refueling Point onboard the air base to refuel U.S. P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
In real-world operations, the deployable unit is a force multiplier that increases U.S. and Allied refueling capabilities; in the exercise environment, it was established in response to a simulated attack on Keflavik Air Base’s refueling infrastructure. The simulated attack grounded any aircraft requiring support in the immediate region, and the fuels team quickly established their position as a secondary refueling option. Establishing the refueling point also accomplished a secondary mission; extending the reach of allied aircraft across the Baltic and North Sea and allowing that reach to be sustained indefinitely.
But a mobile, deployable refueling center isn’t manifested – it’s built.
To successfully create a refueling point in the frigid conditions of the high north, the team had to learn what aircraft they would be supporting; what mission they would be supplementing; request the relevant logistical and technical requirements from the U.S,; fly to Norway (which a logistics contact determined to be the closest location to pick up the correct equipment); assess and verify the gear on-site in Norway; load the gear and ship it to Iceland; send an advanced party to Iceland to receive the gear; stage it in the refueling area until the main party arrives; inspect and inventory the gear; recirculate and purify the fuel in the truck; test the pump and verify the flow; check the filters and examine the meter; work the hoses and clean the gear; roll up the gear, stow it in the truck, clear the site and transition to an on-call unit. What feels like weeks of work is reduced to 72 hours - a mobile, deployable and highly versatile refueling site capable of operating throughout Iceland.
But the laundry list of minor evolutions comes with unique challenges when operating in temperatures that average 30 degrees Fahrenheit and often feature high winds with accompanying rain, snow and hail. Steelworker Constructionman Austin Leisure explained how the fuels team overcomes these challenges on a daily basis.
“When you get into colder environments - especially with aircraft flying at higher altitudes - you have to ensure your fuel tests-out proper,” Leisure said. “We check for proper levels of FSII (Fuel System Icing Inhibitor), which prevents the fuel from freezing, as well as ensuring there’s not an excessive amount of water in it. As far as the instrumentation that we use for testing, we may have to calibrate it differently for the cold. For the fuel that we’re using here - all of our equipment is calibrated, it’s good to go - we’re just checking for water, sediment, and FSII to ensure the fuel is good and that at a higher altitude the fuel doesn’t freeze and that the fuel doesn’t freeze in our system either.”
A large component of Northern Viking is taking new lessons from the environment and building new relationships within the U.S. services themselves. The fuels team, comprised of Sailors and Marines from geographically disparate locations working together in Iceland, is a demonstration of the skill and capability of the Blue-Green team. Leaders like Gunnery Sergeant Joshua Layne, a bulk fuel specialist and the Marine Corps advisor to Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Group, ensure that this melting pot of experience pays dividends for the exercise and in real-world applications.
“There’s different terminology, different standards and different aircraft [between the services],” Layne said. “Some of the terminology is different, some of the gear is different - NCHB 1 actually ordered [Marine equipment], so they are very familiar with it now. But then they come out and work alongside the Marines with the same gear, and the Marines with their experience are able to pass down some tricks-of-the-trade. Meanwhile the Navy can jump in and say, ‘Well we have this gear, and this is what we learned,’ so we’re seeing different types of training through two different sets of eyes. Now we can learn from each other.”
However, this is far from the final event for this team during Northern Viking. As the exercise continues to unfold, they will continue to refuel P-8A Poseidon aircraft as they launch and land from Keflavik Air Base, maintain the hot-pad - the launch and land area for allied aircraft - support repairs and improvements for allied infrastructure damage, as well as augmenting any land-based support for other expeditionary events.
“This exercise has already paid dividends for our combined Blue-Green team,” said Cmdr. Austin Rasbach, 22nd NCR’s Operations Officer. “I look forward to this team continuing to build their capacity and capability through a variety of exercise events, with an eye toward improving processes for real world operations.”
Northern Viking 22 strengthens interoperability and force readiness between the U.S., Iceland and Allied nations, enabling multi-domain command and control of joint and coalition forces in the defense of Iceland and Sea Lines of Communication in the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom (GIUK) gap.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with Allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability throughout Europe and Africa.
For imagery and other products related to exercise Northern Viking, please visit www.dvidshub.net/feature/northernviking2022.