USA — Air Guard Units Prepare for Wildfire Season

WASHINGTON — Wild­fires in the west­ern Unit­ed States are an all too com­mon occur­rence dur­ing the dry months of sum­mer.
The bat­tle against the flames is waged from both the ground and air.
Three Air Nation­al Guard units—the 145th Air Wing from North Car­oli­na, the 146th Air Wing from Cal­i­for­nia, and the 153rd Air Wing from Wyoming are ready­ing for the wild­fire sea­son. Last week the crews part­nered with their civil­ian coun­ter­parts for a week-long air­borne train­ing exer­cise to pre­pare for the dry sea­son.

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

“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,” he said.

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

“The air­lift wings that are a part of this pro­gram main­tain a war-lev­el stance,” Allen said. “So our nor­mal train­ing 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.” Only the top one per­cent of C‑130 air­crew mem­bers are recruit­ed for the mis­sion. The pro­gram began 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,” Allen said.

“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,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)