BATON ROUGE, LA (KPLC) – Officials with the Louisiana National Guard say the sandbag sling loading operation in Buras, La., is a vital part of the overall plan to keep the oil from encroaching on Louisiana shores, and to keep those helicopters in the air refuelers at the Forward Area Refueling Point in Fort Jackson play an important role.
Sgt. Gerald J. Hampton, of the 1/244th Assault Helicopter Battalion in Hammond, La., said the refueling crew is pumping from 5,000 to 6,000 gallons of JP-8 fuel a day to service the UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-47 Chinook helicopters involved in the ongoing Buras area sandbag operation.
"We're protecting the Louisiana coast by keeping the helicopters and the sandbags going," said the refueling operation's supervisor, Staff Sgt. Lester Thomas, of the 1/244th, and a resident of Marrero, La.
Keeping the helicopters fueled means paying close attention to the many factors that can affect safety, including proper maintenance, said Hampton. The crew must also track environmental hazards such as lightning or flying rocks kicked up by the helicopters that could puncture fuel hoses.
"You must always maintain your equipment and stay vigilant for anything that can cause a fuel leak or a spark," said Hampton, also from Marrero.
Hampton, who will be attending law school this fall, said that the fact he was born and raised in Louisiana gives him a deep appreciation of the significant work he and his fellow refuelers are performing on behalf of Louisiana's citizens and coastal industries.
Hampton just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq last year, but it is this mission that he feels is the most important.
"I know how important the fishing industry is to the state of Louisiana and how detrimental this oil spill is to the future of the industry," said Hampton. "I think this is one of the most important missions I've been involved with in my military career."