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Fire retardant reload operations moved to Channel Islands

by Staff Sgt. Luke Johnson
302nd Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

7/11/2008 - SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AFPN) -- The 302nd Air Expeditionary Group moved some critical fire retardant reloading equipment to the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station July 8 to increase the efficiency of modular airborne firefighting systems-equipped C-130 Hercules in battling wildfires in California.

The purpose for setting up a reload operation at Channel Islands ANGS is to get MAFFS-equipped C-130s to the fires more rapidly and decrease flight time between reloading trips to southern California fires, according to Tom Hoffman, a MAFFS liaison officer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"I made the decision yesterday to set up a reload base at Channel Islands so when the planes leave Sacramento, they will go down and drop their first load," said Mr. Hoffman. "[After they drop their first load] they will be able to go on to Channel Island to get fuel or more fire retardant, and I will be able to get twice as much retardant on the ground to the people who need it."

Originally, the C-130 operations were set up at McClellan Airfield here to assist in fighting fires in northern California.

"When we first got going, [the C-130s] were fighting fires north of here. Then fires started breaking out down south, and we have been eating up a lot of flying time getting airplanes from Sacramento to southern California," said Mr. Hoffman.

Mr. Hoffman stated the flight time from Sacramento to southern California is about an hour and 15 minutes. By moving the reloading operations to Channel Islands, the flight time to get to the fires will be about 15 to 20 minutes. At the end of the day, all C-130s will return to McClellan Airfield for maintenance and upkeep.

"At the end of the day, every airplane will recover at McClellan," said Mr. Hoffman. "We have all of our maintenance operations set up here. I want to be prepared for the eventuality that we will be asked to fight fires in northern California again before this is all said and done."

Mr. Hoffman also stated that it is easier to set up a remote reload station at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station than it is to move the entire MAFFS operations out of McClellan.

"It's not as difficult to set up a reload base," he said. "Yet we will be bringing in about 25 to 30 people into the reload base. They are all going to need cars, food and lodging. We are all geared up with that and the Guard has given us fabulous support for this."

The 302nd AEG comprises eight U.S. Air Force MAFFS-capable C-130 aircraft operating out of McClellan Airfield, and Navy and Marine Corps helicopter units operating out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif.

The 302nd AEG aircraft units include three Air National Guard units -- the 145th Airlift Wing from Charlotte, N.C.; the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands ANGS; and the 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyo. -- and one Air Force Reserve unit -- the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

Three Marine helicopter units -- Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164 and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego -- fly CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters equipped with 2,000-gallon specialized fire fighting buckets.

U.S. Navy Reserve helicopters flying from NAS Lemoore are assigned to the Helicopter Sea Combat Support Squadron 85 based out of Naval Air Station North Island, Calif. The squadron is flying MH-60 Knighthawk helicopters with 420- and 360-gallon specialized fire fighting buckets.

The 302nd AEG provides unique capabilities and is part of a unified military support effort of U.S. Northern Command to provide assistance to the U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and the National Interagency Fire Center.

NORTHCOM continues to closely monitor the California wildfires to anticipate additional 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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