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Airmen in Greenville to Practice Fire Fighting

Greenville, S.C. -- Hundreds from the Air National Guard's 146th Air Expeditionary Group are converging on the Pisgah National Forest this week for wild fire fighting certification.

Airmen of the 146th Air Expeditionary Group, comprised of North Carolina's 145th AW, the 146th AW from Channel Islands, Calif., the 153rd AW hailing from Cheyenne, Wyo., and the Air Force Reserve's 302nd AW out of Colorado Springs, Colo., will join with USDA Forest Service officials in Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems training during annual re-certification exercises here.

Every year, thousands of wildfires burn across the nation, set off by lightning strikes, careless campers and a variety of miscellaneous incidents. Unwanted wildfires often burn out of control, destroying thousands of acres of land and dizzying amounts of facilities, homes, property and livestock.

In recent years, the National Interagency Fire Center, headquartered in Boise, Idaho, has combined military units with state and federal forestry and fire protection services as a last resort to supplement commercial efforts in the annual struggle to contain large unwanted wildfires. C-130 aircraft are used as states request assistance and the size of the fire requires wide retardant dispersion the aircraft can provide to prevent expansion of affected areas.

NIFC coordinates the week-long exercise to ensure C-130 and lead plane pilots, ground crewmembers, and USDA Forest Service officials review standards and procedures, and apprised of newer equipment and procedural modifications implemented since last fire season.

Although the Air National Guard has been a much-needed and reliable participant in the fire-fighting operation since the mid-seventies, the program has received increasing coordination of military assets through U.S. Northern Command's operation of the 146th Air Expeditionary Group, based in Channel Islands, Calif.

Contour flying from levels at or below 200 feet, air crews face some of the most challenging skill tests they'll see in their careers to drop 3,000 gallons of retardant in places you'd think twice about taking a helicopter in order to help preserve lives, livelihoods, ecosystems and habitats.

MAFFS trainers intend to run a total of 40 sorties per day, divided evenly among the four MAFFS Wings to qualify this week.

NIFC officials will coordinate airfield traffic operations, monitor activities for safe practices and coordinate efforts with local authorities.

Airmen will adjust what they already know about their jobs in air traffic control, flight operations and airfield management, aircraft maintenance, refueling, navigation, monitoring loads and flying the C-130 to comply with regulations and guidelines relating to delivery of 3,000 gallons of fire retardant over large stretches of oft-times heavily forested land.