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Military

Teamwork helps Airmen fight fires

by Army Sgt. 1st Class Lori A. Simmons
302nd Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

7/8/2008 - SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AFPN) -- Airmen of the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group continued to work with national agencies July 5 to support firefighting efforts in California.

Launching from McClellan Airfield, eight Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft flew a total of 40 sorties July 5 and dropped a total of 103,600 gallons of retardant over fires as far south as Point Mugu and as far north as the Motion Fire, near Redding.

"This was the culmination of a lot of hard work (and) coordination," said Lt. Col. Tom Brown, the 302nd AEG's mission commander. "The guys dragged in at the end of the day, but they were satisfied. They don't like sitting on the ground. They want to be up there flying,"

Various federal, state and local organizations are a part of the joint effort to fight the wildfires.

"This job challenges your abilities to work with all the different participating agencies that are out here," said Darlene Mullins, a MAFFS liaison officer from the U.S. Forest Service. Ms. Mullins has more than 10 years of experience as an MAFFS liaison officer, but this is only the second time she's worked a deployment with eight aircraft.

"The complexities grow with each additional aircraft you get, including logistics and dispatch procedures," she said.

One way the different agencies learn to work together is by training together. The training gives the members of the civilian and military organizations a chance to get to know one another.

"I think it's kind of nice that we do develop that working relationship over a period of years," she said.

Because members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve tend to have longevity and don't rotate out of their units very often, Ms. Mullins said she tends to operate with the same people for multiple MAFFS operations.

"You repeatedly see each other," she said. "You build a level of trust and I think you learn to do some problem solving together."

Another factor Mullins contributes to the unity seen among the civilian and military agencies is the training they receive in firefighting operations.

"As the military [relationship] has grown with (the U.S. Forest Service), they know a lot more about the (incident command system)," Ms. Mullins said. "Several folks on the military side have attended (ICS) training. They learn some of the firefighting strategies and what we teach our lead plane pilots and commercial air tankers. Everybody knows what job everybody else does. The minute you get here, you fall into that role."

The 302nd AEG is part of a unified support effort of U.S. Northern Command to provide assistance to the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center.

NORTHCOM continues to closely monitor the California wildfires to anticipate any requests for Department of Defense assistance to local, federal and state civil authorities, and will launch as many missions as officials battling the wildfires require.



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