The little base that could
MORÓN AIR BASE, Spain — Airmen at this remote base in southern Spain are having a record year.
The proof is at the pump.
Since December 2002, the air base has pumped 100 million gallons of fuel into planes, most of them heading to or from the Middle East. To put that amount in perspective: If it were gasoline, a typical sport utility vehicle could travel from Boston to Los Angeles and back 300,000 times.
“It’s an accomplishment without a doubt in the world,” said Charles Shepherd, a civilian contractor who serves as the fuels manager for the base.
That amount of fuel would hardly raise an eyebrow at some major military hubs.
For example, Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany has pumped nearly 140 million gallons since January of last year, according to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe command. But at Morón — which has a little more than 100 permanently assigned airmen — the high volume of passengers, planes and pumped fuel illustrates just how busy they have been the past year.
“We’re not a main operating base, so it is a significant milestone for us,” said Capt. Gayle Sledge, the 496 Air Base Squadron Logistical Group flight commander.
The base typically pumps between 10 and 15 million gallons a year. But the last 12 months have not been typical.
From January to March, the base saw 20,000 troops, serviced 1,500 planes, helped transport 17,000 short tons of cargo and served 115,000 meals.
Since the 1970s, Morón — a Spanish air force base shared with U.S. forces – has served primarily as a “standby” base for contingency operations with a small group of military personnel and civilian contractors.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the base emerged as an important pit stop for cargo planes and troops heading east, much like it did in 1990-91 for the Persian Gulf War.
Last month, the Air Force activated the 712th Air Base Group to serve as the host U.S. unit at Morón. Having a colonel in charge of the base is expected to bolster the installation’s clout in Europe.
With tens of thousands of troops deployed in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, Kuwait and Iraq, Morón is expected to remain busy.
That means the fuel team of more than 35 civilian contractors, active-duty Air Force personnel and reservists will keep pumping more fuel than ever.
“We’re staying busy and we don't know how long it’s going to continue,” Shepherd said.