Camp Justice, Indian Ocean
The son of a Los Lunas man serves his country on a watery edge in the war on terror.
His new, albeit temporary, home is a narrow tropical jungle reef in the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 miles south of the southern India coast.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Clinton S. Bell, son of Jerry J. Bell of Los Lunas, says, despite the tropical feel to the reef, this is no Margaritaville. It’s more of a stationary aircraft carrier for the coalition aircraft which have dropped more ordnance on Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan than any other unit during the war on terror.
“We have pumped record numbers of gallons of fuel here — roughly 16 million a month,” said the 1995 graduate of Bloomfield High School. “For that reason, I believe we make a difference in the war on terror.”
The mission of putting bombs on target almost 4,000 miles away in Afghanistan is comparable to flying from Chicago to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Success falls on the backs of bomber and aerial refueling aircraft that commute together from the tropics to Afghanistan. But it takes more than flyers to pull these missions off, said Bell, a fuels specialist with the strike force.
“The targets we reach every day are thousands of miles from us,” Bell said. “If I don’t put fuel in the aircraft out here, the pilots are just pedestrians. Nobody breaks down the door in Afghanistan without our fuel.”
All-in-all, job satisfaction can be high for the people sending the aircraft on their long journeys.
“I like seeing people start their day off with every gas tank gauge in the plane on full,” Bell said. “When they come back near empty, we know we’ve done our jobs somewhere in the world — then it’s time to fill them up again.
“We do about three times the fuel volume of a normal base, almost what a good-sized airport does — with about one-tenth the people,” Bell said.
“This is the most intense work I have done so far. It only took me 45 days to pump what it took me eight months to do at home.”
Bell said the challenges of this war started long before he assumed his duties on the reef. Just getting to the site was a challenge in itself — the sandy ridge has no other land within 1,000 miles, with India to the north, Madagascar to the west, Indonesia to the east and nothing but Antarctica way to the south. The only way in and out is through government ships or planes.
“The flight here was so cramped and long, I didn’t keep track of the hours,” he said. “After we arrived here, we took 12 hours to rest and started working that same day. This is a perfect location for people who have my skills. Every tanker aircraft I fill here can refuel four bombers in the air.”
And the challenges continue during off duty time. Force members live in tents, which cyclones occasionally threaten to throw into the sea — or on a merchant ship that leaves residents with sea legs once they get back on shore.
Still, this spectacular location east of equatorial Africa — where a 30-minute bus tour can show you the entire location — holds elements of an adventure vacationer’s dream. There’s tropical windsurfing and fishing for 200-pound marlin. While it’s no Pebble Beach, playing the 9-hole golf course is free — and a hoot to do with no shoes on. And the sea is so warm, snorklers can wade in and play tourist with thousands of brilliantly colored tropical fish.
There’s a bittersweet feeling among many people about enjoying good times on a pristine tropical beach without their families and in a time of uncertainty in America.
It doesn’t feel right to some, so they turn to the churches, or call home, for support.
“My family is what I miss the most. I’d die to take my wife out for the evening,” he said.
“I get phone cards issued for free, but the time is too short for me and my wife.
“It’s easier to chat with her on the internet — the service is free and fast.”
Even though there may be better and also worse places to serve in the war on terrorism, Bell knows none of them pack quite the punch of a Margarita-ville with bombs.