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News > MAFFS units prepare for wildfire season
MAFFS units prepare for wildfire season

Posted 6/21/2010   Updated 6/21/2010 Email story   Print story


by SPC Darron Salzer
National Guard Bureau

6/21/2010 - ARLINGTON, Va.,  -- Wildfires in the western United States are an all too common occurrence during the dry months of summer.

The battle against the flames is not only waged on the ground, but also from the air.

Three Air guard units-the 145th Air Wing (145 AW) of the North Carolina Air Guard, the 146 AW of the California Air Guard, and the 153 AW of the Wyoming Air Guard-proudly serve alongside their civilian counterparts to protect our nation's forests.

On April 26, these aircrews partnered with their civilian counterparts to begin a week long airborne training exercise to become better prepared for the dry season that is quickly approaching out West.

"It's a great partnership between the federal land management agencies and the Air Guard and Air Reserve," said Lynn Ballard, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service. "We hope that this continued partnership remains viable and that it helps us to manage our national resources.

"I know military folks like this mission. They like to be involved with it and the people on the agency side also look forward to [it] when the opportunity comes."

"We have one opportunity a year to come together," said Air Force Lt Col Bryan Allen, deputy commander of the 146th Air Expeditionary Group, which is a combination of all four massed units, "with our partners the National Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior and the state forests.

Allen said that it's really a very rewarding and beneficial program.

"We...come together to hone our skills so that we can use our airdrop, low-level military flying training in the firefighting low-level environment and apply aerial retardant to put out fires."

The once a year training exercise isn't the only time these units practice their skills as pilots, he said. They maintain a rigorous training schedule to ensure that they are prepared for whatever may come their way.

"The airlift wings that are a part of this program maintain a war level stance," said Allen. "So our normal training [throughout the year] is C-130 airdrop training, formation flying and air-land tactical flying-so we do quite a bit of flying."

"Our stance is that we want to protect America either way," he said. "We have always maintained the ability to go fight the war, and we maintain that continuously."

The aerial firefighting program is a special program, he said.

The program isn't for everyone though, and only the top one percent of C-130 aircrew members are recruited for the mission.

"Not everybody goes into the program," he said, "and of that [percentage] of personnel, we do ask them prepared to fight."

The Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFFS) Program was established in the early 1970's after a major fire in California destroyed hundreds of homes and overwhelmed the civilian tanker fleet's ability to respond.

"Over the last 29 years that we've been working together, I have never seen a program like this that joins two very different organizations to execute a mission that is so important...and to do it so well," said Allen.

"All of the lives that we've been able to save and the property that we've been able to protect is a testament to the quality of what we've been able to accomplish."

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