Fueling the Fleet
Meet the men and women who know about fuel, the people for whom fuel is virtually their entire profession: aviation boatswain's mates (fuels), who serve aboard USS Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Wasp (LHD 1), among other ships.
"We are a really small, but tight community," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) 3rd Class Stacey Lark. "When it comes to our rate, we take pride in delivering fuel [that's] nothing short of clean, clear and bright. We live, eat and breathe JP-5."
Affectionately known as "grapes," courtesy of their purple flight deck jerseys, ABFs are a subcategory of the aviation boatswain's mate rating, along with aviation boatswain's mate (equipment) and aviation boatswain's mate (handling).
Even though naval aviation has been in existence for more than a century, the ABF rate is relatively young. In fact, on Sept. 22, 1960, BUPERS Notice 1440 established the ratings of ABE, ABH, and ABF.
"The ABF rating officially came into existence on Jan. 1, 1961 when aviation boatswain's mate (GAS) was converted to ABF," said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) Edric Kidd, Wasp V-4 Division's lead chief petty officer. "Everyone from petty officer to chief petty officer was placed into the appropriate rating."
Grapes can be seen working on the flight deck or in the lower levels of the ship, such as the pump and filter rooms, wearing their signature purple jerseys with the word "FUEL" stenciled across the front.
"Our pump rooms are where the magic happens and the flight deck is where we get down and dirty while dragging fuel hoses across it," said Lark. "But it doesn't matter what we're doing - there's always a lot of pride involved."
The duties carried out by ABFs include operating, maintaining and performing organizational maintenance on aviation fueling and lubricating oil systems. They also observe and enforce safety handling precautions, and maintain fuel quality surveillance and control in aviation fuel systems.
"Safety is of the utmost importance. The mishandling of fuel can lead to injury and possibly the loss of life," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class (Fuels) Andrey Dougherty. "It is our job to make sure that doesn't happen, and you'd best believe we'll make sure it doesn't."