52nd LRS Fuels Management Flight wins API, named best in AF

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Maeson L. Elleman
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

On first glance, nothing seems extraordinary or unusual in the 74-person flight.

The same off-white painting on the walls; the desks adorned with coins, plaques, and going-away gifts; the occasional chatter of radios breaking the silence – it looks almost exactly like countless other units around the Air Force.

Sitting and watching the Airmen in the flightline-stationed unit work diligently to train one another, joke around as they grab lunch, and playfully heckle each other reveals much more about the cohesion that drives such a busy shop.

It’s this team dynamic several members of the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron’s Fuels Management Flight, also known as the petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL), credited with earning them the coveted American Petroleum Institute Trophy in March 2021, designating them the best fuels flight in the U.S. Air Force.

“As a flight commander, winning the API award means that not only does everyone within the squadron and base get to see the hard work and commitment to excellence that I see every day from my Airmen, but now the whole Air Force can see what makes our flight special and unique,” said 1st Lt. Branden Ventura-Miller, commander of the 52nd LRS FMF. “It is also a reflection of the amazing squadron leadership that we have within the 52nd LRS. They laid out their expectations for us as a flight and have empowered us to be the best we can be.”

The award was preceded by the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Golden Drum award and culminating in a job trivia-style gauntlet between three finalist units’ subject matter experts and Air Force Headquarters interviewers. Ventura-Miller said the unit winning at the Air Force level is the natural conclusion of the flight’s accomplishments throughout the last year.

One such accomplishment, the Viper Kit, even placed the team center-stage as finalists in the annual AFWERX Spark Tank innovation competition.

“Our success as a flight comes down to our commitment and innovation,” Ventura-Miller said. “2020 was a very unique and interesting year, but every Airman, NCO and SNCO stepped up to the plate and committed themselves to their job and to one another. Not a day went by that the flight did not live up to the expectations that the Air Force placed on them.

“Additionally, this past year was an incredible year for Team Viper in terms of innovation,” Ventura-Miller continued. “Not only did our Viper Kit become a finalist at AFWERX Spark Tank, but each and every day our Airmen found ways to streamline processes and improve the flight, base, and POL community.”

While the development of a mobile aircraft refueling kit has garnered tremendous attention across the Air Force, Master Sgt. Jason Yunker, the POL flight’s Fuels Operations Section chief, said it’s only a small fraction of the flight’s real worth.

A quick glance at the flight’s award nomination reveals a much broader story about the shop, particularly the sheer scope of their responsibilities and the reach of their team.

Millions of gallons of fuel, several training and certification initiatives, revitalized programs and short-notice deployments occupy the 16-line nomination letter. Additionally, the unit executed several no-fail missions like providing support for Air Force One in Switzerland almost at the drop of a hat, truly reinforcing the professionalism of the fuels Airmen.

“We are USAFE’s go-to fuels flight,” Yunker said. “We manage the Air Force’s largest refueling fleet, and it’s not just at our home base of Spangdahlem. It’s across all of the Geographically Separated Units in Europe. It’s a true testament to the hard work and dedication of this flight.”

Contrary to what the unit’s namesake may suggest, it isn’t just gasoline the fuels flight maintains. The Airmen are also responsible for diesel, JP-8 jet fuel, and liquid nitrogen and oxygen, all vital components for completing the Air Force’s many missions across the globe.

“The Air Force is the largest fuel consumer in the world,” Yunker said. “Everything runs on fuel. You find out how important POL is when you don’t have it.”

With such an important role, it’s no surprise fuels management flights like this one exist all around the Air Force, meaning the Spangdahlem Airmen have had some tough competition throughout the years. This particular team claiming the API award for the first time in its history shows a secret additive to the team, and a few Airmen in the shop have a theory as to what that ingredient is.

Airman 1st Class Emiley Edwards, 52nd LRS FMF distribution operator, said the flight has given her a lot of opportunities to grow and excellent experiences with a family-oriented team.

“This shop, hands-down, is amazing,” Edwards said. “We treat each other like family, and we have each other’s backs 100% of the time. I am part of the best POL flight in the entire Air Force. No one else can say that.”

The unit is comprised of multiple different sections tackling a range of different jobs from actively refueling aircraft to testing fuel samples in a laboratory to ensure its quality. As part of their standard practice, one Air Force Specialty Code can cover numerous different responsibilities, and Airmen are cycled throughout the unit to maintain proficiency and fill in gaps in manning as members move or deploy.

Edwards, who said Spangdahlem AB isn’t her first assignment, said it’s a fairly standard protocol for POL Airmen, but working here is an experience like no other.

“I love my job,” Edwards said. “I picked POL as my job going into [Military Entrance Processing Station], and I would not trade a second of it. I’ve been extremely happy and fortunate to have the management that I’ve had.”

Senior Airman Maurice Pugh, also a distribution operator for the flight, echoed the sentiment, adding that this unit’s quality leadership and malleable Airmen make the perfect ingredients for success.

And while it seems cliché, he agreed POL here really has a family chemistry.

“I feel like we have a bunch of young Airmen, and having that strong leadership mixed with young minds, able to learn – that’s one thing that contributes to all of it,” Pugh said.

Whatever the reason, whether it’s well-rounded POL Airmen or a family environment, this unit has garnered recognition all across the Air Force with the API award. 

“I am truly humbled as an officer to be the flight commander for Team Viper,” Ventura-Miller said. “This award is a direct representation of the caliber of Airmen we have here within the flight and it is an honor to work with every member of the flight. They inspire me each and every day to step up as a leader because they deserve the best officer and I am committed to being that for them.”

With the bar set high, Ventura-Miller said he remains hopeful for his team’s continued success as they prepare to compete for the award again later this year.

“Now that we have been named the best in the Air Force, my goal for the unit is to use this as the standard by which we operate from now on and to exceed beyond it,” Ventura-Miller added. “It is hard to get to the top, but it is even harder to stay there. If anyone can, Team Viper will.”