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Air Force Reservists Fight Insect Infestation in Wake of Hurricanes

By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2008 – An Air Force Reserve C-130 crew recently sprayed insecticide in southern Louisiana to combat insect infestation, the squadron’s commander said yesterday.

The 757th Airlift Squadron responded to a request from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to spray and control the growing mosquito and fly population in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Air Force Lt. Col. John Williams said during a teleconference with bloggers.

“It’s no secret that controlling the mosquito populations is very important, especially in the South, in the aftermath of the hurricanes,” Williams explained. “They are disease carriers that can transmit diseases like the West Nile virus and various forms of encephalitis.”

Aerial spray operations started in World War II, when more soldiers were dying of malaria and other insect-transmitted diseases than were being killed in combat, said Air Force Maj. Karl Haagsma, an entomologist attached to the 757th Airlift Squadron. Since then, state governments have called for aerial spraying to deal with insects after tropical storms and hurricanes.

“The largest-scale one that we did was after [hurricanes] Katrina and Rita three years ago, and we … sprayed 2.88 million acres, and that was in Louisiana and Texas,” Haagsma said.

While the Modular Aerial Spray System, or MASS, is capable of various missions, it is predominantly used for mosquitoes, said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. John Daniels with the 910th Aerial Spray Maintenance Flight.

“We’re spraying at a half ounce per acre, and sometimes when you get heavier populations of mosquitoes, we will increase to almost three quarters of an ounce per acre,” Daniels said.

“With one aircraft, we can apply approximately 930 acres per minute, so you can see that we can cover a lot of an area in a very short period of time,” Williams said.

Even though the squadron’s primary mission is for troop protection against insects, Haagsma said, the unit also can apply herbicide, spray oil dispersants and perform decontamination missions.

“You hate to see any kind of disaster hit anyone,” Williams said. “But we do maintain the capability, and we’re ready to deploy as soon as needed to provide relief to those particular areas.”

(Navy Seaman William Selby works for New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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