“So you just go out to the road here, take a left, and about 1/4 of a mile down you should see a turn-off with a gate. Go in there, unlock the pump, and get your fuel. Just make sure that you get diesel and not benzene – they’ve got both down there.”
Simple enough – the fuel point had up and left when the 10th Mountain troops pulled out, but there was a secondary location just down the road. Good thing, too: we were down to our last half-can of fuel for the generators. Because we’re such nice guys, we also grabbed SGT Zoon’s six empty cans.
Loading up the runner truck, SPC Little Dick, SPC Quist and I sallied forth for fuel. Little did we know, it would become…The Quest for Fuel!
First, we drove down to the corner of our building and took a left, down the canyon made by the tall concrete barriers. It looked like a dead end, but he did say take a left…Sure enough, dead end. We turned around and turned past the sign that said “Patrol Staging Area” with a comical backwards N in “staging,” bumping over tree roots and debris, trundling past a trio of M113s parked under the palm trees.
The next likely location was a tiny compound ringed by HESCO barrels and concerntina wire; the local trucks parked inside didn’t exactly scream “fuel point” but we were going to leave no junk pile unturned in our quest. Driving in, it was apparent it was home to only a smattering of local national vehicles in various states of disrepair.
Backing out again, we dead-ended once more near the smiley-face cafe before heading out the internal gate onto the main road. We asked the guards at the gate if they knew where the fuel point was; between the three of them – a sergeant, a corporal, and a private – they had no clue. Actually, from their looks, they seemed like we had asked where we could pick up the Shroud of Turin; undaunted, we rolled onto the main road, heading left again since that was essentially our only piece of navigational data.
A small group of Iraqi Army soldiers, dressed in brown t-shirts and desert camo pants, were running along the road. Afternoon PT? Unsure of the security of the area, I tightened my grip on my SAW a little; I feel plenty secure around Americans but for some reason I feel like hanging around Iraqi Security Forces is like swimming alongside a bleeding seal at shark lunchtime.
Following a white pickup truck, we took the first left we found; the kid in the back eyed us suspiciously, probably thinking we were following them on some kind of fiendish torture mission with a stamped chemlight-sodomy memo from Rumsfeld in the glove compartment. The truck turned off into some kind of Iraqi-only compound, guarded by a single spool of concerntina wire, while we dismounted at a gate straight ahead, trying to determine if it was the place or not. The whole situation seemed dodgy: three (admittedly super-hardcore) Signal troops in a canal of concrete barriers, with a gang of potentially-suspicious Iraqis just a wire away.
Deciding this wasn’t likely, SPC Little Dick executed a three-point turn to get us out of there, while the kid (maybe 15) from the truck eyed us from behind the wire. He stared at us intently the whole time, until it was clear we were leaving.
We took the next left (again), but this turned out to be a prison – no guards or weapons were visible but it certainly didn’t seem likely that they’d store the diesel fuel inside the damn prison camp. Turning around again, we made for the main road, as a pair of Iraqis toting loaded AK’s wandered out into the street behind us to see us off.
At this point, we were feeling a little uneasy about our fuel mission; we drove down the road a little further, but seeing nothing but Iraqi police and army ahead, decided to turn back and seek further guidance.
SGT Zoon said he knew where the place was, so he took my helmet and I took his place in the SEN. Forty-five minutes later he returned, still without fuel – they found the place but the pump was broken and there was no fuel in the tank anyway.
Well, shit…we discussed contingency plans of shutting down the Super RAU, since we didn’t have any subscribers yet anyway; SGT Zoon took the Quest Item: Keys and Clipboard back to LT whoever to tell him the bad news.
Five minutes later, he returned, Quest Item still in hand, but with an added grin on his face. He pointed to the parking lot on the other side of the building. “See the tanker truck over there?” Sure enough, there was a green HEMTT tanker; I could almost envision the soft-focus filter on the lens and the tinkling of silvery chimes indicating the object of our quest. But give me a fucking break – we spent an hour and a half driving around for the Mythical Fuel Point when a truck full of diesel was right there?
OK, fair enough – we hopped in the truck again and drove over, full of anticipation and relief. Delicious fuel at last!
The back of the HEMTT fueler was a nest of hoses, valves and dials, with two dispensing hoses spooled on either side. SPC Little Dick supposedly “worked at a gas station” so I was hoping that expertise would carry the day; my bachelor’s in computer science sure wasn’t going to be of any help.
Sure enough, he rolled up, grabbed some kind of handle with two small hoses running from it, and squeezed it; a hiss of released air spat out and he smiled, saying, “See how it works now.” I grabbed a fuel spout, aimed it into the black void of one of the empty cans, and pulled the trigger. A trickle of fuel streamed out, then stopped.
A few minutes of fiddling with various switches, knobs, valves (one of which sprinkled diesel all over the sacred clipboard) and buttons yielded nothing but strange noises from the HEMTT and a mounting sense of frustration. We even consulted the “instruction” panel on the smashed rear panel of the truck, but it was a hopeless tangle of Army-ese directions like:
1. Attach hose to desired dispensing location.
2. Ensure grounding wires are connected in accordance with TM X-XXXX-XXXXX.
3. Open valves V1 and V7, engage knob K2, and ensure valves V2 and V8 are set properly.
4. Activate fuel dispensing nozzle control for desired rate of output.
Son of a bitch! Without my secret decoder ring it was clear that we weren’t going to get any fuel out of the damn thing. So it was that three super-Signal soldiers – one with a college degree, one who worked at a gas station, and another who didn’t give a fuck – were totally stymied by a fuel truck.
Hear that, Rumsfeld?! I thought this was a war for oil! Why can’t a man get some damn petroleum product around here then?! *shakes fist*
The next morning, a master sergeant from the mayor’s cell came over to assist us. I had great hopes – the guy looked grizzled, spoke with a caricature of a bayou accent, and had dirty, weathered hands that suggested he knew about arcane activities like “dispensing fuel” and “manual labor.”
My hopes were shattered when, after fifteen minutes of repeating our fumbles from the previous night, the truck still yielded no fuel. It was obvious that this MSG was no more knowledgable than we were. We gave the directions another read, and managed to identify most of the valves and levers, but knowing their names did nothing to unlock their mysteries. We did discover “gravity feed,” and SGT Boner found the giant (3″ diameter or larger) “bulk unloading hose;” the printed flow rate was 300 gallons per minute, which seemed a little excessive for 5-gallon fuel cans, so I only opened the valve halfway. Fuel was coming out – finally – but with no nozzle it was pouring out mostly on the ground rather than into the can, and furthermore, it was still barely trickling out. It would take hours to fill all the cans.
Finally, the MSG had the bright idea of calling someone back at Liberty who actually knew how to operate the damn thing; a few minutes later, I was on the phone, getting the over-the-air (OTAR – Over The Air Refueling?) correspondence class from a fuel handler at Liberty. After downloading the relevant information (see The Matrix – “I know HEMTT-fu”), I realized we had it all right – except for turning on the truck.
That crucial step completed, the fuel was flowing freely from both hoses. Victory at last! The 8th Most Important Radio Shot In Iraq would remain operational!