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Base paying more for fuel but mission not compromised

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

If you think your gas bill is getting out of hand due to the daily commute to MacDill, imagine the impact the various squadrons and units on base that have to feed everything from weed eaters to KC-135 Super Tankers.

So far, no MacDill missions, essential services or training have been curtailed as a result of higher fuel prices. But due to greater cost this fiscal year over last, the impact is being felt. The rising fuel prices couldn't come at a worse time for the Air Force, which is facing a lean budget year.

"It's cutting into funds a lot," said John Warhul, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron fire chief, who notes he has asked all personnel to cut back on all but essential driving. "We obviously will respond to calls but other driving is being limited."

Chief Warhul said even with cutbacks in driving he can't compensate for the dramatic rise in fuel costs. He's tapping into funds used for other services and materials for now, but has adjusted next year's budget to allow for higher fuel costs.

The chief said his 18 vehicles, all but two of which are diesel-powered, are spending more time parked. The emergency trucks are being kept topped off and ready, as always. Orienting new members has been consolidated so several can be driven around base at one time and even lunch runs to the Flight Kitchen have been coordinated so one vehicle makes the trip and picks up meals for everyone.

"We're trying to act smarter and conserve," said Chief Warhul.

In addition to the Fire Department, the 6th Security Forces Squadron is one of the Fuels Flight's biggest customers, said Capt. Melody Santo, flight commander. She said her unit has not seen a noticeable change in fuel usage, though she is aware that various base elements are becoming more conscious of the cost of driving. With the exception of a brief period following Hurricane Katrina, there have been no supply problems at MacDill and even then the base was never out of gas, she said.

Security Forces may be paying more for gas, but it will not cut back when the primary mission is security, said Chief Master Sgt. Tom Westermeyer, Security Forces manager.

"The price of fuel will not affect our response to calls or patrols," he said.

Maj. Dana Pelletier, operations officer for the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, said flights and flight training missions have not been cut back due to fuel costs, though obviously the "costs are greater at this time."

He said mission requirements specify a certain amount of flight time and that so far, the rule has been to stay on mission. He added that the higher cost is "an impact" on the 6th LRS and that the squadron is trying to "be good stewards" by being fuel conscious but that with the critical nature of the mission now, the 6th LRS has to stay the course and bite the fuel bullet.

"At this point it is a general awareness of the problem and we are evaluating and trying to formulate a plan," Major Pelletier said.

He added his squadron recommends adhering to suggested guidelines provided by the White House to include cutting down on non essential travel, shutting down equipment immediately after missions and evaluating training and administrative missions for maximum benefit.

He added that official guidance or directives for MacDill may be emerging, but at this point it remains a matter of promoting awareness aimed at getting people to be smart and get creative about saving fuel.

Tips to save fuel

Avoid rapid acceleration.

Minimize use of gas-powered lawn mowers, blowers and edgers.

Do not keep vehicles running for the comfort of air conditioning while parked.

Avoid hard braking and sudden stops. Stay alert and anticipate traffic lights, stop signs and merges. Use turn signals so traffic will move more smoothly, which saves fuel for everyone.

Remove extra weight from the car; 100 extra pounds may cost one mile per gallon as extra weight decreases mileage.

Check tires; an under-inflated tire can decrease fuel economy by two percent.

Replace air and fuel filters regularly as instructed by the vehicle maintenance manual. Clean filters can improve mileage by as much as 10 percent.

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