SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Four C-130 aircraft from the California and Nevada Air National Guard worked alongside the U.S. Forest Service during annual refresher and certification training with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) May 4-7, 2021. During the training, these aircraft equipped with MAFFS units practice dispersing water in rugged, mountainous terrain, as they are guided by lead planes flown by members of the U.S. Forest Service.
The MAFFS system is a self-contained unit that is loaded into the belly of the C-130 Hercules aircraft, allowing for 3,000 gallons of fire retardant to be strategically placed ahead of fire lines to stop wildfires from progressing. The 146th Airlift Wing, based out of Port Hueneme, California, and the 152nd Airlift Wing, based out of Reno, Nevada, worked to hone their skills in this specialized flying mission.

Command Chief Master Sgt. Mikael “Mack” Sundin, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Command Region, 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) visited Southern California to observe this training firsthand. According to Sundin, the importance of sustaining a robust aerial firefighting force is not lost among the top brass in Washington, D.C.

“The C-130 fleet is an invaluable asset to the protection of life and property that we should all be proud of. From an AFNORTH perspective, Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) is a top priority,” said Sundin.

“While it’s hard to predict such things as pandemics, wildfires remain a constant. A year-round discussion on activating MAFFS when called upon sits high on the list; we never want another fire season like we had last year,” Sundin said.

MAFFS operations involve constant, ever-changing logistics and communications between Air National Guard and Reserve members and supporting agencies because of the unpredictable nature of fires and the weather conditions caused by the fires themselves.

According to Sundin, the National Defense Strategy, as dictated by the President of the United States, stresses its number one priority, Homeland Defense. This comes with many different layers, and DSCA is certainly one of those layers.

“The prevention of loss of life and damage to property is one of the Guard’s main focuses. Without this aerial fire-fighting capability and our partnerships with all the fire-fighting agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, we wouldn’t be properly defending the homeland,” said Chief Sundin. “Swiftly helping our fellow citizens when disaster strikes is key for a more resilient nation.”

“I assure you that MAFFS will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. We remain committed to our military members and our neighbors.”
Impressed with the professionalism and strict adherence to safety measures between the Airmen and U.S. Forest Service members training during the week-long certification, Sundin reiterated his admiration for the aerial fire-fighting agencies that the Air National Guard and Reserve units work to support, and for the dedication of the Airmen themselves.

“This is the perfect mission for the Air National Guard and all of the fire-fighting agencies involved with this mission. They define the way it should be done. MAFFS doesn’t come with just one specific wing or agency; we all work together well as one team.”
The 153rd Airlift Wing from Cheyenne, Wyoming and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, are also part of the Air Expeditionary Group MAFFS program and will be participating in certification training next week in Colorado.

Story by Lt. Col. Chris Lowe
146th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs California Air National Guard