Annual Spring Training
By Tech. Sgt. Stephen Wilkins , 145th Airlift Wing
/ Published July 21, 2009
Tuscon, AZ -- Several members of the North Carolina National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing are undergoing Modular Aerial Fire Fighting System training for the first time, during annual re-certification exercises at the Arizona National Guard Base on the Tucson International Airport in Tucson, Arizona May 3 through 9.
The event is held each year for members of the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group, comprised of the 145th AW, 146th AW from Channel Islands, CA, 153rd AW hailing from Cheyenne, Wyoming and the Air Force Reserve' s 302nd AW out of Colorado Springs.
The week-long exercise ensures veteran and novice C-130 pilots, lead plane pilots, ground crew members, U.S. Forest Service officials, with state and local liaison officers performing a variety of functions, are brought up to speed on standards and procedures, and apprised of newer equipment and operational modifications implemented since last season, through initial and recurrent training sorties.
Airmen new to their units or who have not been utilized by their Guard units in the past for the federal fire fighting mission undergo rigorous training that instills a sense of critical urgency and promotes an attitude of safety, comradery and responsibility in each one as they learn various aspects of the operation. They'll be tested by a frenetic pace that challenges them to perform at their best, safely during extended hours on consecutive days.
In recent years the National Interagency Fire Center operation, headquartered in Boise, ID, has combined military units with the USFS and state forestry and fire protection services to supplement commercial efforts in the annual struggle to contain fires.
Wild fires this year have already spiked by 30% over last year, according to Neal Hitchcock, USFS Assistant Director of Fire and Aviation Operations.
The program has received increasing coordination of military assets through U.S. Northern Command's operation of the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group, based in Colorado Springs.
Contour flying from levels at or below 200 feet, air crews face some of the most daunting skill tests they'll see in their careers, maneuvering through valleys and ridges, ravines and thermals to drop 9,000 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 48 sorties per day, divided evenly among the four MAFFS Wings to qualify this week.
They are supported by maintenance teams of 8-9 people per aircraft turning the aircraft around with precision, ready for the next flight. Average time to receive an aircraft after it has flown a mission to check, prep and refuel, ready to go again is about 25-40 minutes.
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 Hercules aircraft to comply with regulations and guidelines relating to loading, storage and delivery of 9,000 gallons of Phoscheck retardant per load over large stretches of oft-times forested land in efforts to contain and control wildfires that can be ignited by lightning strikes or the drop of a match throughout the nation.
The MAFFS mission has been part of the 145th AW commitment as a National Guard unit to state and federal needs including emergency response and federal defense since 1985.
Troops from the 145th AW as well as other units in the North Carolina National Guard are currently deployed in the Global War on Terror and continue to stand ready to meet future catastrophes within North Carolina.