Air Force Reserve, Air Guard Maintain Aerial Firefighting Certification
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 7, 2009 Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard crews and aerial firefighters are participating in a week-long annual certification hosted by the U.S. Forest Service to be qualified and prepared to fight forest fires at a moment’s notice.
About 40 military air crews and aerial firefighters are participating in the training.
“The event is done using military C-130 aircraft and U.S. Forest Service lead planes,” Air Force Lt. Col. David Condit, 302nd Airlift Wing chief of safety at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., told online journalists and bloggers at a “DoD Live” bloggers roundtable yesterday. “We have four different airlift wings that will deploy -- one from the Air Force Reserve and three from the Air National Guard.”
In addition to the military crews receiving the certification, representatives from several countries are observing the training to take away lessons learned from the training.
“We usually get two to three countries that will come in and observe our certification, and then a couple times a year, we’ll be asked to go help train or qualify folks on similar types of aircraft systems,” Condit said.
The training uses the Air Force's Military Airborne Firefighting System II, which deploys fire retardant from a C-130 Hercules transport. Based on previous short-notice MAFFS activations for U.S. wildland fires, the importance of the annual certification week underscores the need for airlift wings to remain vigilant to answer the call at any time, Condit said.
The airlift wings come from as far as North Carolina to participate in the training. The wings participating in the certification are the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing; the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing; the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard; and the Air Force Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing from Colorado.
The units involved in the certification have done so through interagency agreements that prove beneficial not only during the firefighting season, but also during the hurricane season, Condit said. Ongoing interagency relationships, he explained, promote sharing of valuable lessons learned.
“We have conferences twice a year where we get together with our interagency partners and kind of examine how we did business over the last year and see if there are any other takeaways from that,” Condit said. “We attend the national aerial firefighting academy each year, and we have a [working relationship] between civilian air firefighters and the military, and that helps us.”
Working hand in hand with civilian firefighting agencies, military air reserve component members provide critical support to contain wildland fires and help save citizens and their property. Condit said that this type of interagency support is ideal, because constant sharing of best practices allows them to “pick up things from them and they pick up things from us, and I think it helps us share knowledge.”
The support network comes in handy when coordination is necessary to put out a rampaging fire, such as last year’s fires in California.
“Last year, we had a contingent of helicopters, 16 federal military helicopters and 18 C-130s that were all put on task in California,” Condit said, “and to be able to use that large of a tool effectively, we’re able to stand up an organization up at the fire center and help manage that resource, and I think that was a good example of how we were beneficial on an interagency format.”
He added that this relationship enabled organizing a lot of different resources quickly when civil resources were tapped out.
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)