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Homeland Security

Aircraft stage from Kirtland to fight fires

by Stefan Bocchino
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

6/24/2011 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) -- Two C-130J Hercules equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems arrived here June 15, 2011, to conduct firefighting missions in support of wildfire suppression efforts in the Southwestern United States.

The aircraft are from the 115th Air Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. Kurt Holden. The unit is part of the California Air National Guard 146th Airlift Wing. The squadron will stage from Kirtland Air Force Base during the mission here.

Two more MAFFS-equipped aircraft from the North Carolina Air National Guard 145th Airlift Wing arrived here June 19 to join efforts to control these wildfires.

The aircraft and equipment were deployed here at the request of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Requests are sent to the Secretary of Defense for approval. Once approved, DOD can provide unique firefighting assets to the requesting agencies.

"These aircraft have great performance," Colonel Holden said. "They carry within them a 3,000-gallon tank that can drop any combination of water and/or fire retardant. They are extremely maneuverable and work well in mountainous regions and in the hard-to-reach areas in the fires."

The MAFFS-equipped aircraft units will work under the operational control of U.S. Northern Command through Air Forces Northern, and missions will be assigned by NIFC or the respective wildland fire manager. The U.S. Northern Command mission includes mitigating the effects of disasters by providing timely, effective support to civil authorities. Firefighting is part of that overall mission.

The 115th AEAS will be tasked by the Forest Service to battle fires in the Southwest region. They will be dispatched through the control center here. Their base of operations will be here, however they may go to other bases to reload the aircraft as needed and then return here.

"We have a tradition of assisting firefighting efforts in our community," said Col. Robert L. Maness, the 377th Air Base Wing commander. "We have sent units from Kirtland (AFB) on a number of occasions to help fight wildfires in this region. Now we are providing beddown capabilities and support to Air National Guard air assets who are helping fight the wildfires in the Southwest region."

The 115 AEAS was dispatched on its first mission June 16 to the wildfires near Raton, N.M.

"We'll be here as long as we're needed," Colonel Holden said. "We're very flexible in our operations. We try and keep our footprint small, and our operations are extremely flexible, so we can move wherever we need to. I would like to thank Kirtland AFB for their outstanding support. We're just happy to be here and hope we can help."

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