By Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Mason, SC, USN
When someone hears “Kansas,” the first thoughts they may have are of a flat prairies and tumbleweeds or flyover country. This may be the case in western Kansas, but Lawrence, Kansas is a hidden gem with rolling hills in the eastern portion of the state and home to the Navy fuels 811 program at the University of Kansas (KU), less than one hour from Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Lawrence is very similar to your typical college town with the added bonus of being great for those who have families. The university and the city work hand-in-hand in structuring events for all age groups in the city, with KU basketball probably the biggest event in town.
The experience of going through the 811 program at KU has changed over the years, with one of the biggest changes being that all of the MBA courses are now taken in the recently built Capitol Federal Hall (CAPFED). In addition to the MBA courses at CAPFED, the 811 students also take 16 credit hours of engineering courses, with one engineering course being located at KU’s Edwards Campus located about 30 minutes from the main campus in Overland Park.
Most MBA year groups at KU have just under 30 students who are completely together for all of the first semester classes, but then begin to break apart in the second semester into their preferred track. These tracks include supply chain management, marketing, and finance. The Navy students can choose any of these tracks along with their petroleum management track.
One difference in the curriculum between the 811 students and the civilian students is that during the summer, the civilian students do an internship; and with 811 students being Navy, KU instead had us go to Houston, Texas, for a week to visit oil companies for our internship. The companies we visited were ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. This was a great opportunity to experience corporate headquarters and cultures and to get a feel of how oil companies operate. With ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips, we visited their Houston offices and saw different aspects of their operations to include their oil exchange trading operations and their operation centers. At Shell, we visited one of their refineries outside of Houston.
Through the 811 program at KU, I was able to visit Fortune 500 Corporate Headquarters, something I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else in the Navy outside of Training with Industry. Also, through the KU Business School, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Warren Buffett in Omaha, Nebraska, attend KU’s CEO seminar series that included former Kroger CEO David Dillon, and engage with other regional business and community leaders. Although KU doesn’t teach you how to specifically operate a bulk fuel facility, the program at KU will not only give you valuable insight on how the business community operates, but also insight on how to manage budgets, people, time, projects, and operations, along with receiving baseline knowledge in some core engineering principles.
At KU, your MBA civilian counterparts graduate a semester before you do and during the last semester is when you finish the remaining engineering courses. With a lot of individuals in the Supply Corps not having mathematic or science backgrounds, waivers are occasionally needed for the 811 program, myself included, in order to meet the academic profile code score of 323. This was an easy waiver process laid out in the Supply Corps Post Graduate Education Screening process and the Engineering Department at KU was always more than willing to provide assistance as needed to ensure students could make it through some of the more mathematically challenging courses.
Once you graduate, you will then be known as a “Fuelie’’ within the Supply Corps and you will be off to your follow on tour. In terms of follow on tours, everyone’s experience will be a little different even if you end up going to a FLC. Even though there are several Regional Fuel Officer Jobs at different fleet logistics centers, each fleet logistics center’s situation usually has its own unique differences. For instance, as NAVSUP FLC Sigonella Regional Fuel Officer, unlike the other Regional Fuel jobs, the position does not have direct responsibility for the fuel sites, however the position provides oversight and acts as the principal advisor for five fuel sites in Europe and Africa, providing fuel expertise to the NAVSUP FLC Sigonella Commanding Officer and Site Directors.
Coming to NAVSUP FLC Sigonella to become the Region Fuels Officer was an extension of the learning process of becoming a “Fuelie” that began at KU. Except the need to learn about a specific course was replaced by the need to learn about specific sites and projects. The sites in this region vary from operating out of 210K Fuel Bladders to an entire fuel farm in Rota with 48 tanks, or projects that are as small as a sensor replacement at a service station to new fuel bulk storage tanks.
Being the Regional Fuels Officer overseas requires interaction with various partners, including NATO, host nation services and employees, Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Energy Europe and Africa, and coordination with multiple Combatant Commands. These interactions are in addition to the common interactions that one would have with the Navy Petroleum Office, DLA Energy, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, and various other entities and partners that are required to ensure that NAVSUP FLCs are Ready, Resourceful, and Responsive!
At NAVSUP FLC Sigonella our current Commanding Officer, Capt. Alsandro Turner, is also a former KU grad and a “Fuelie” himself. This gives NAVSUP FLC Sigonella an added benefit, with a large portion of the total workforce in the region related to fuels, of getting extra emphasis and focus on fuels within the organization. Much like supply in the Navy, the essentiality of fuels is sometimes missed in the bigger picture within the Supply Corps and the Navy. No Navy platform can perform and execute their mission without fuel support, with maybe the exception of submarines, yet they also have diesel generators. Having a CO with a fuels background at NAVSUP FLC Sigonella has dramatically increased the advocacy for fuels in a region where piers, pipelines, and facilities approaching 60 years in age can cause an “all stop” to operations and dramatically impact war plan execution. As NAVSUP FLC Sigonella Regional Fuels Officer, there are a lot of long-term decisions that are made at the region level before and during one’s time there that may not come to fruition for many years after one leaves, like a major military construction project. However, these decisions are vital in ensuring that the Navy is able to win the next war whenever or wherever it may be. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!