COLD LAKE, Alberta --
COLD LAKE, Alberta – Under an overcast sky, amid the growing activity on the flightline, the last aircraft taxied to its allotted place among the fleet of F-15 and F-16 jets from around the world. A team of olive-green fuel trucks crept onto the tarmac, where fuel specialists and technicians quickly refueled all the aircraft for the next operation.
These bulk fuel specialists with Marine Wing Support Squadron 471 out of Minneapolis provided flightline support during Exercise Maple Flag 46, May 27 – June 21. Maple Flag is the Canadian Royal Air Force’s multinational air combat training exercise.
According to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Scott Light, the bulk fuels officer in charge for MWSS-471 and a Minnesota native, the Marines’ main effort for Maple Flag was to provide aviation support, primarily fueling assets for the participating aircraft. With 15 different countries and so many aircraft taking part in the exercise, the participants would need all the support they could get from the Marines.
In addition to their fueling duties, the Marines of MWSS-471 at Maple Flag also worked in supply, administration, communications and aircraft-rescue and firefighting with the Canadian RAF for the duration of the month-long exercise.
Each day of the exercise, the Marine fuel specialists loaded up their dark-green fuel tankers and drove them onto the flightline alongside their bright-yellow Canadian counterparts to receive their assigned sectors of operation on the flightline.
Light said that Marines helped staff the flightline and another fueling point, called Four Wing Cold Lake distribution point, helping the Canadian RAF receive, process and distribute fuel supplied to the base.
According to Cpl. Krystine Nicol, a Canadian RAF fuel dispatcher, the Marines’ support was crucial to keeping up with Maple Flag’s operational tempo.
“The other countries have been very patient and diligent with us, because with high operational tempo, it can be very hard,” said Nicol. “For the Marines, I’m ecstatic. They have been awesome and have been doing very good work for us.”
Light described the opportunity as a win-win situation for the Marines and the Canadian RAF. Normally, the Canadian RAF brings in their own fuel trucks from across the country for Maple Flag. This year, they used MWSS-471’s fuel trucks to assist their own in exchange for an international training opportunity for the Marine unit.
The Marines were also able to participate in a forward air-refueling point exercise in conjunction with the RAF. They set up a fueling outpost in a remote area for Canadian helicopters to land and refuel, simulating the fueling points that are used to keep rotary-wing assets fueled and in the air when they travel a long distance from a base.
“As far as joint exercises go, this is by far, in 20 years, the best experience I’ve had,” said Light. “Working with the Canadians is fantastic. They are very polite and very hospitable. Anything we have needed they have accommodated us. I think the Marines have received a good opportunity to work with various nations and to see how things are done internationally. It’s definitely been a good experience.”
The Marines of MWSS-471 also aided the Canadian RAF in supply, communications, administration and aircraft-rescue and firefighting, while building a bond and learning from their Canadian counterparts.