GOWEN FIELD, Idaho – Less than two years after the nation’s most devastating firefighting season, the National Guard participated in Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System spring training with state and federal partners.
Since 1974, the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense have operated under the joint program, more commonly known as MAFFS, which is employed by rolling into the back of a military C-130 aircraft.
The Forest Service activates MAFFS to bolster wildfire suppression efforts when all commercial air tankers are committed or unavailable. MAFFS can also be activated for use on state fires by the governors of the states where the Air National Guard flight crews are based.
“Spring training is where we knock off the cobwebs,” said Chief Master Sgt. Cameron Pieters, flight engineer assigned to the 152nd Operations Group. “We haven’t flown any aerial firefighting since last season, and this is to prepare us and get us ready for the upcoming fire season.”
During this year’s spring training April 25-29, MAFFS-equipped military C-130s flew 149 sorties and 184.52 hours, disbursing 433,065 gallons of water in 902 drops around Boise and Gowen Field.
“We are grateful for the community support provided by the people near Gowen Field, Idaho, as our flight and aircraft ground crew members accomplished intense and vital wildfire training to be ready for the nation’s needs,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, First Air Force, Air Forces Northern. “I’m also proud of the dedication and teamwork of the military joint force and interagency team.”
The four military MAFFS units are the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard; the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Each MAFFS unit has two C-130s identified by a large orange number on the tail and every side of the aircraft. The Nevada Air National Guard has tails 8 and 9; Wyoming Air National Guard has tails 1 and 3; California Air National Guard has tails 4 and 6; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve has numbers 2 and 5.
“This is a huge joint operation, and in order for us to be successful, it takes a lot of relationship building,” said Maj. Alex Kassebaum, 192nd Airlift Squadron director of operations.
Agencies involved with the training included the Department of Defense, the Agriculture Department, the Forest Service, the National Interagency Fire Center, the Bureau of Land Management and CAL FIRE.
The training is an opportunity for the air and ground crews to refine and sharpen their skills to operate as an effective team and to train and certify new members.
“It’s about getting into the right mindset,” said Pieters. “As a flight engineer, it’s our responsibility to support the pilots. We go through the checklists. We monitor all the systems. Having good communication with the other crew members ensures we have a safe flight.”
“Last season was a big firefighting season for us,” said Pieters. “We were deployed for 96 days, and as a MAFFS community, we dropped nearly 23 million pounds of fire retardant.”
Approximately 70,000 wildfires burn about 6.5 million acres of land in the United States each year. Airtankers drop fire retardant to reduce the intensity and slow the growth of wildfires so firefighters on the ground can build containment lines around them. Airtankers are not typically used to drop fire retardant to suppress wildfires directly.
In the event of activation during the fire year, First Air Force, U.S. Northern Command’s Air Component Command, is the DOD’s operational lead for the aerial military efforts to support USDA Forest Service-National Interagency Fire Center requests for fire suppression support.