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Every drop counts

Posted 11/1/2013   Updated 11/1/2013 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Bates
Defense Media Activity

11/1/2013 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.  -- Standing atop a giant fuel storage container, Tech. Sgt. Tim Libey surveys the flightline stretching out below him and smiles.

"This is my domain,"he says, sweeping his arm out over the tarmac adorned with C-17 Globemaster IIIs,C-5 Galaxies and KC-10 Extenders.

He's not referring to what's visible - the asphalt, planes and people - but to what's unseen below.

"Under all that pavement are pipes and tubes that take fuel out to hook up spots on the flightline,"Libey said. "That fuel goes into planes so they can go do their missions."

He's responsible for making sure this fuel gets to the planes. As the NCO in charge of the fuels fixed facilities element of the 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron's fuels flight at Travis Air Force Base, Calif, Libey takes this job seriously.

He's been in the fuels community for nearly two decades, and in that time, he's come to understand just how important this form of energy is to the service.

"It's the lifeblood of the Air Force," he said. "And I love working with it."

Other people in the Air Force also spend their days thinking about fuel, but their thoughts differ wildly from those of Libey. These people have different titles - like deputy assistant secretary and chief scientist - and they don't just look at fuel as a fluid, but as a number.

A very large one.

"The Air Force is the largest consumer of fuel in the federal government," said Dr. Kevin Geiss, the Air Force's deputy assistant secretary for energy during an energy panel at the Air and Space Technology Exposition in September. "Currently, the Air Force uses approximately 2.5 billion gallons of fuel each year."

The Air Force alone accounts for 48 percent of the total Department of Defense energy consumption and slightly more than 50 percent of the DoD's total energy costs, with the vast majority of this for aviation fuel. This startling statistic also means a hefty energy bill.

In fiscal year 2011, $8.3 billion of the Air Force's $9.7 billion energy budget went to pay for fuel. Since then, fuel costs have risen, too. In fiscal 2012, for instance, the Air Force projected a gallon of fuel would cost $3.12, but the service ended up paying around $3.85 per gallon.

A recent report by the Defense Logistics Agency further illustrated the impact of rising fuel costs. In 2009, the Air Force spent $5.6 billion for 2.61 billion gallons of fuel, and in 2011, almost the same amount of fuel cost the service nearly $9 billion. That's a $3.2 billion increase, or 57 percent, in energy expenses in just two years.

In light of these alarming numbers, Air Force leaders are looking at ways to keep fuel consumption down and fuel cost-savings up.

"Not just because the budget challenges that we have facing us are there, but because we as an Air Force believe that we need to optimize how we utilize that precious resource which is energy, and how we can become more efficient and effective in that," Geiss said.

This means every drop counts, and every drop saved equals more money the service keeps in its pockets.

These "drops" are adding up already, too. In 2012, the Air Force cut aviation fuel consumption by 12 percent compared to 2006, saving $1.5 billion in fuel costs.

One of the reasons for this turnaround is the service's new Energy Strategic Plan, a four-pronged approach to energy efficiency released by Air Force officials. The plan, which focuses on improving resiliency, reducing demand, assuring supply and fostering a culture of energy awareness, is designed to change how the Air Force looks at and uses energy in its day-to-day operations.

"We need to, and are focusing on the capability we get out of each gallon of energy," Geiss said.

"We are changing how we operate."

At the Air Force level, this change has been widespread. Air frames are being upgraded with more fuel-efficient engines, there are less training flights being performed and the service has even proposed to use biofuels for 50 percent of its domestic aviation by 2016.

On the base level, things are changing, too. Libey is seeing it first-hand.

"Years ago, we didn't really think about fuel the way we do now," he said. "If we spilled it, it was like no big deal. Now, though, we treat every drop like it's precious and are constantly thinking of new ways to conserve fuel."

And while he doesn't spend much time getting all wrapped up in numbers and dollars, Libey does understand this culture shift.

"Everything the Air Force does it wouldn't be able to do without fuel," he said. "It's easy to forget just how important this resource is, but when you think about it, it's what makes the Air Force move."

This is true. From cargo transporting to launching rockets to gathering intelligence, none of this is possible without one common ingredient: fuel.

This fact isn't lost on Air Force leaders, either.

"I think that we have proven as an Air Force that it's a false choice to say that we can either save energy and be more efficient or complete the mission," Geiss said. "Because we have shown time and again that we can complete the mission at the same time we're reducing the amount of energy required for that mission, as well as doing it more efficiently and effectively."

Libey thinks so, too.

"Just because we're doing things to save fuel doesn't mean we can't do our job," he said. "We're still out here every day, fueling planes and letting them go where they're needed."

And, if they happen to be saving energy and money at the same time, all the better, he added.

"I think that's where we need to be," Libey said. "If you can do your job, and do it cheaper while using less, then it doesn't get better than that."

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