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)