BOISE, Idaho, April 24, 2017 — Pride, spirit of cooperation, camaraderie, loyalty and courage; all of these virtues are found in the men and women who support the Modular Airborne Firefighting System mission, a U.S. Forest Service aerial firefighting program comprised of Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and wildland firefighting agencies from across the country.
These qualities develop and flourish at the annual training and certification for the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, which took place this year in Boise, Idaho. Nearly 400 people to include U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, Bureau of Land Management, National Guard and Air Force Reserve aircrews and support personnel came together to train at the same location for the second year in a row, as opposed to training separately as individual wings. There are many contributing factors which led the program’s leadership to this decision.
“Training together is the key to our continued success with this mission,” said Air Force Col. Bryan Allen, Modular Airborne Firefighting System, Air Expeditionary Group commander for the 2017 fire season. “I like the standardization, the camaraderie and the fact that we get to know each other, before we have to know each other.”
Train as a Team
The annual training program had been held collectively during much of the program’s 44-year history; but in recent years the Modular Airborne Firefighting System leaders were forced to look for ways to reduce spending. Guard and reserves wings often trained at their home stations to save money and met less frequently — every four to five years — as one big group.
Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing personnel are heading into their second annual Modular Airborne Firefighting System training, having inherited the mission from the North Carolina Air National Guard last year.
The 152nd Operations Group commander, Air Force Col. Tony Machabee, explained the significance for members of his wing to train alongside all of the other wings as one. “It’s so important for us to all be together. With Nevada being new to this, we are really relying on the other units’ experience to get us up to speed,” he said.
“Having the opportunity to train the Reno crews helps us keep our own skill level,” said Air Force Maj. Neil Harlow, the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing Modular Airborne Firefighting System program manager and instructor pilot. “Things that are commonplace with the people who are veteran MAFFS aircrew are not known to the Reno crews. By starting from ground zero to help them, we refresh every procedure for ourselves, as well.”
“It’s always a worthwhile endeavor to have joint training,” said Robert Wheatley, assistant military liaison officer from Cal Fire. “We have four forest agencies represented here this week and it gives us a chance to meet each other and/or refresh our relationships. If there is an activation in response to a fire, we already have an established working relationship.”
Critical Role in Firefighting
“MAFFS have played a critical role in wildfire suppression for more than 40 years by providing surge capacity when commercial air tankers are fully committed or not readily available as they frequently are during periods of high wildfire activity,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for operations for the U.S. Forest Service. “Bringing all of the military and civilian personnel that perform this mission together for annual training helps ensure that MAFFS fly safely and effectively, and that they can be seamlessly integrated into wildfire management operations.”
Training continues to go smoothly and all personnel are receiving the quality preparation they need.
“I think the difference in this joint training can be seen on people’s faces, a comfort factor, a willingness to work together, a common endeavor and shared responsibility,” Allen said. “You can see the commitment from these patriots, wanting to save lives and property on the homefront.”