LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA VIPER, Iraq -- More than three decades ago, Pvt. Tom Cierley pumped fuel for trucks and helos heading off to fight enemy forces in Vietnam. Today, the 55-year-old bulk fuel chief warrant officer 4 finds himself engaged in another conflict, far in time and place from the jungles of Southeast Asia.
"The sand here is so fine," said the Bakersfield, Calif., reservist as he surveys the lunar-like terrain surrounding him. Cierley works as the operations officer for Tucson, Ariz.,-based Bulk Fuel Alpha, a 4th Force Service Support Group asset tasked with providing bulk liquids in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He joined the Marines in 1967 and served 12 months in Vietnam in 1969-70 as a bulk fuel specialist before leaving active duty in 1970. Cierley exited the Marine Corps entirely in 1973, but seven years later, he re-entered the Marine Corps Reserves, picked up meritorious sergeant and was selected as a warrant officer in 1983.
The Iraqi landscape is one of the many contrasts Cierley draws as he harkens back to his days on Hill 55 near Da Nang. Back then, Marine bulk fuelers used 350 gal. per minute pumps to draw fuel from 10,000 gal. bladders, the largest in the Corps' inventory. Now, Marines use 600 gpm pumps to draw fuel from 50,000 gal. bladders that, at its largest, composed a 1.8 million gal. fuel farm here. Cierley says he believes the trend toward larger storage units will continue. "We're getting bigger, better and more efficient. We may go to the Army's [210,000 gal.] bags," he says.
The biggest change Cierley sees in the past 34 years is the means of transporting fuel. In Vietnam, trucks transported fuel to outlying areas. In Iraq, Cierley witnessed the first combat application of the Marine Corps' expeditionary "hose reel system," a 6-in. fire hose-like fuel line deployed from large truck-loaded reels like fishing line from a spool.
6th Eengineer Support Battalion assembled nearly 90 miles of hose reel, roughly nine times more than ever deployed by Marine forces. "It's a way of transporting fuel without mechanized support," says Cierley. He adds that a "permanent pipeline" similar to the U.S. Army's Inland Petroleum Distribution System is a preferable asset.
"You'll always have the necessity for trucking but this permanent pipeline is the way to go." Still, he adds, "when you're in a hostile environment, it's not practical."
6th ESB Marines assembled the Corps' expeditionary fuel line in days while the Army's IPDS system was still under construction three weeks into the conflict.
Cierley says he tells his young Marines that while the bulk fuel field may not be glamorous or dynamic, it is essential. "The war effort would not succeed without fuel," he says.