Do you know what a capitalized fuel facility is? It is a fuel facility owned and maintained by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). At DOD bases around the world, DLA supplies fuel and maintains fueling infrastructures. Depending on the criticality of the systems and the annual fuel use, either the base/post or DLA owns and operates the systems. Following a DLA matrix for fuel consumption and criticality, DLA takes over when certain trigger points are reached.
You probably didn’t know any of that, but that’s what people like Jim Hanks are for. Hanks is an Army cathodic protection program manager working with DLA for the Charleston District. Hanks is part of a unique group of personnel that are organized in a centrally managed program by DLA and do work for all branches of the military whereas most of DLA’s programs are separate and work individually for different branches. Since Hanks’ program works with every branch, it is responsible for Cathodic Protection Systems at more than 350 bases worldwide.
Cathodic protection (CP) helps slow down corrosion in metals using two slightly different methods. One type of system is the galvanic system, which takes a piece of metal (the anode), that is more electro-negative than the metal to be protected (the cathode), and attaches them together so that the anode can be “sacrificed” and give off electrons to the metal being protected. The other system, called an impressed current system, uses the same principal to protect larger structures such as piers in seawater, larger tank farms, and increased length and diameter pipelines. With impressed current systems, a rectifier takes AC current, converts it to DC current, and then attaches to the anodes and cathodes. The electrons are then “driven” from the anode to the cathode to protect the structures.
“Pretty much everything we work with is steel and it corrodes easily,” said Hanks. “We can’t prevent it from corroding, but we can slow it way down.”
Hanks’ group is made up of eight engineers, but he is the only one with ties to the Army. The interagency group also has seven engineers from the Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center, which is under the Navy. Hanks is stationed in Charleston with two others (including the program manager for the entire CP program), while four of the team members are in Port Hueneme, CA and one in Hawaii. When it is time for an inspection at one of the 350+ bases around the world, Hanks and/or others suit up and travel to the site.
“Having an Army guy in the group gives us advantages to do work with Army bases,” said Hanks. “The Army has choices in who they want to do the work and we are able to more easily sell them the idea to bring us in as we work towards a common goal of protecting essential assets.”
Hanks has travelled to bases everywhere from Bulgaria, Romania, Japan, South Korea, Guam, Italy and Germany to bases in Hawaii, and all over the continental United States. His travels take him away for a week or two to a month, but even though he is doing work for military bases, he doesn’t always have the luxury of travelling with full plans.
“When you’re with a military group, you have everything planned for you and don’t have to worry about the logistics as much, but with us, it might just be a couple of guys and we might end up on the back roads of Romania in a rental car and have to figure it out,” Hanks recalls. “Roads get closed, GPS doesn’t work, we need currency exchanged, donkey carts are in the way and we have to figure out how to get to some remote bases.”
The military bases don’t always know how to do the work that needs to be done, just that it needs to get accomplished. Hanks and his team get an annual report from every base worldwide either done by themselves or contractors. They can’t see what has happened in the past; only if the metal is corroding at the present time. If there are deficiencies in the CP systems, then they must figure out what repairs are needed to correct those deficiencies.
Hanks’ team is always trying to expand their capabilities. They are getting more connected with the Corps of Engineers office in Europe and are working with the Navy Research Lab Marine Corrosion facility in Key West which handles CP for ships. This is more difficult because ships are mobile and located in very corrosive, ever-changing environments. For them, they may take an aircraft carrier from the Arctic Circle across the equator and on to the Persian Gulf. All these regions have different salinity, micro-organisms and other agents that corrode the metal in different ways, so they are trying to model their systems for better protection.
“We’re always trying to get better at what we do in our field,” said Hanks. “We’re such a small, tight-knit group and we don’t have many people in our field to fall back on and get help from. Outside of the government, we trade knowledge with contractors to continuously learn and keep abreast of ever-changing regulations.”
No one knows where in the world Jim Hanks and his DLA team are headed next, but you can rest assured that they’ll know what to do when they get there.