July 11, 2008 —
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Inside an inconspicuous trailer alongside the flight line at McClellan Airfield, the “hub” of the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group is full of activity to make sure all aspects of the aerial firefighting mission run smoothly.
Without this hub of activity, the modular airborne fire fighting system equipped-C-130s of the 302nd AEG would not be able to efficiently deliver the fire retardant needed to assist in battling California’s wildfires.
The 302nd AEG operations section is “in the know” about everything happening during the MAFFS flight operation, according to Master Sgt. Jamie Conrad of the153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard.
“At MAFFS [operations] we keep track of all the personnel data, all of the aircraft [statistics], as far as sorties flown, hours, drops, and the fires they fight,” Conrad said. “We also help direct the aircraft out of the pits [and] make sure they have all of the information they need to fight the fires.”
At the start of a MAFFS flying day, the 302nd AEG operations Airmen provide all of the aircrew the necessary data to ensure each aerial firefighting sortie is flown efficiently and safely.
“In the morning we get the [flight] information ready for the aircrews, as far as the aircrew orders, their training sheet, weather and anything [else] they need to fly,” Conrad said. “The mission commander then briefs the aircrew on the current conditions and anything that has changed [since the day before].”
The operations section is in constant communication with air and ground crews to get the C-130s off the ground to where they are needed the most.
“Once we start launching the aircraft, we start [communicating] with the aircraft, getting them in and out of pits, making sure they get the launch orders,” Conrad said. “And sometimes in the middle of launch the [aircrew] get a new order so we do a lot of running back and forth to the aircraft.”
Conrad said there are some procedural differences between the different federal and state organizations involved in the fire fighting operations; however, all of the organizations have worked very well together through the differences to accomplish the MAFFS mission successfully.
“It’s been great. [The other organizations] have been hospitable and receptive," Conrad said. "They are taking really good care of us. The interaction between the people right here has been great. [California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection], the U.S. Forest Service along with the military has been really great."
One day at the base exchange at McClellan Air Park, Conrad was reminded just how important her role in fighting the California wildfires is.
“The second day I was here, I was at the BX, and three little girls came up with a cell phone and took some pictures of me and said, 'Thank you for saving our land',” Conrad said. “Those are the kind of things that make the mission worth the while.”
The 302nd AEG is a part of a unified military effort of U.S. Northern Command to provide assistance to the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center.
USNORTHCOM continues to closely monitor the California wildfires to anticipate additional requests for Department of Defense assistance to local, federal and state authorities, and will launch as many missions as officials battling the wildfires require.