Guard fuels tornado relief effort one gallon at a time

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd MPAD, Kentucky National Guard

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Kentucky National Guardsmen Spc. Gary A. Lucas and Pfc. Lance S. Cox, both assigned to the 299th Chemical Company, prepare to fuel power trucks from the Elliot Electrical Company March 6 in West Liberty, Ky. The fuel was pumped from Kentucky National Guard M978 Oshkosh Refueler to any vehicle or generator in need of diesel fuel so that relief and clean-up efforts could progress days after a deadly F3 tornado ravaged the town March 2. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd MPAD, Kentucky National Guard)

WEST LIBERTY, Ky. — The sound of falling debris, scratching metal and diesel-powered engines filled the demolished streets of West Liberty, Ky., March 6 as contractors erected power lines and telephone poles following the deadly EF3 tornado that tore across 95 miles of Appalachia March 2.

Keeping the efforts going were two Kentucky National Guardsmen assigned to the 299th Chemical Company, 103rd Chemical Battalion. Spc. Gary Lucas and Pfc. Lance Cox were instrumental in supplying diesel fuel to the city – the lifeline for the recovery.

“We got here on Sunday and found a bulk supply of diesel fuel,” Cox, a petroleum supply specialist, said.

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Kentucky National Guard Pfc. Lance S. Cox, a refueler assigned to the Maysville, Ky.-based 299th Chemical Company, fules a Humvee March 6 in West Liberty, Ky., during tornado relief efforts. Elements from the 103rd Chemical Battalion responded hours after a tornado ravaged West Liberty March 2, and continued to provide law enforcement and humanitarian support in the week after the storm. Cox's mission was to refuel anything that needed diesel fuel to include generators at the local hospital and incident command trailers as well as military and power company trucks. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd MPAD, Kentucky National Guard)

“We got electric to the pump and started filling our truck,” he said. “Then we just started helping people,” he said.

The M978 Oshkosh Refueler truck holds 2,500 gallons of fuel, and Cox said in two days he and Lucas pumped 1,709 gallons into generators, power trucks, ambulances, fire trucks and other heavy equipment necessary to the relief and recovery operations.

“Any person who needs the fuel that we are carrying we give it to them,” he said. “The people here have a job. If this is what it takes to do your job, you’ll get the fuel you need.”

Lucas, a chemical operations specialist, said the ability to cross-level into a refueling specialist for this disaster relief operation is something Guardsmen do to support their communities in times of need.

“In the National Guard we are able to fill many different roles, not just our MOS,” he said.

“We were sitting in the truck on the first day and I said to Cox, let’s go fill some trucks,” he said. “It was the first day and we were just feeling out what was going on.

“We found some trucks that couldn’t move. Some were blocked in or holding up new telephone poles and were low on fuel and they weren’t able to just unhook, go get fuel and come back,” he said. “So that spawned everything. From that point on we would go fuel people up.”

More than 100 Kentucky Guardsmen were providing assistance to the citizens of West Liberty, Ky., patrolling the area, manning checkpoints and providing assistance to residents.

“I’m sure if we weren’t here doing it, someone would be,” Lucas said. “But we got chosen and we’ll do [our job].”

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