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Fuel Safety in Iraq

Soldiers of the 240th Quartermaster Battalion used their ingenuity and construction skills to make a fueling facility at an Iraqi training base a safer place to work.

In June 2005, I deployed to Iraq with the 58th Quartermaster Company, 240th Quartermaster Battalion, 49th Quartermaster Group, at Fort Lee, Virginia. Our mission was to provide fuel to five coalition forward operating bases and two Iraqi training bases.

The coalition sites that we visited routinely were well developed by Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR). The Iraqi bases, however, had only basic fuel tanks with no safeguards. When we first began delivering fuel to the Iraqi bases, we were told that the only way to download fuel was to stick the 4-inch hoses into the tanks and open the valves on the pony pumps. To do this, a Soldier had to climb on top of the tank and hold the hose in the tank opening—a very dangerous method that was definitely not the military standard.

Something had to be done that would provide a long-term fix to this dangerous situation. We brainstormed how to fix these problems and, after several weeks of experimentation, developed a plan to construct steps and platforms for safely traversing the fuel tanks and to fabricate fuel connectors for downloading the fuel into the tanks. This would be difficult because no materials were at the sites, which meant starting from scratch with few supplies. We ordered hoses and connectors and coordinated with KBR to design and construct the steps and platforms.

The first step was to measure the dimensions of all the tanks and their concrete pads. A group of noncommissioned officers and enlisted Soldiers from the company went to the first Iraqi training base to measure all the tanks there. When they arrived, the team encountered a fueler’s nightmare. No ladders or steps provided access to the tops of the tanks, so the Soldiers had to jump to the tops of the tanks from the tops of their fuel trucks. The openings on top of some of the tanks had no lids. Fuel had been exposed to sandstorms, animals, and weather, causing contamination and evaporation loss. All of the tanks had puddles of fuel at their bases, which meant that there was a serious possibility of leaks. The Soldiers spent all day getting the dimensions for each tank in the fuel farm and collecting the data needed to fabricate working systems for safely downloading fuel.

Soldiers, civilians, and KBR employees worked together to develop several courses of action for fixing the fuel problems. The company ordered T and right-angle connectors, hoses, and butterfly valves and had to fabricate the means of attaching the connectors to the tank. KBR built wooden stairs for each tank. While installing the connectors, platforms, and steps, the team made other needed repairs to the tanks.

We completed the improvements to the tanks in 2 months. A pressure test of the fuel tanks confirmed that our efforts were successful. Once we had completed this project, we began improvements on the second Iraqi training base, using the plans we had developed for the first base to expedite the process. Both sites are now safe for Soldiers to download fuel and for the Iraqi Security Forces to refuel their trucks.

Captain Peter A. Caggiano is the Commander of the 58th Quartermaster Company, 240th Quartermaster Battalion, 49th Quartermaster Group, at Fort Lee, Virginia. He has a B.A. degree in psychology from Georgia College and State University and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Total Army Instructor Course.