Saturday, January 15, 2011

Air Force Reserve Command Units Perform Critical Missions

By Jian DeLeon, Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON - Three Air Force Reserve Command units with very different capabilities dedicated to special missions were the subject of a "DOD Live" bloggers roundtable yesterday.

Maj. Gen. James T. Rubeor, commander of 22nd Air Force at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., discussed those capabilities along with three officers whose work turns capabilities into action.

Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Talbot, chief meteorologist with the 53rd Weather Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., explained how the squadron's Hurricane Hunters' mission benefits both civilians and the military.

"We're the guys that fly through the hurricanes collecting information for the National Hurricane Center during the summer months, and we collect information also for the National Weather Service during the winter months," he said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Dave Condit of the 302nd Airlift Wing in Colorado Springs, Colo., runs the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Program.

"Our primary task is to work with the National Interagency Fire Center to help augment the commercial tanker force in times of need and natural disaster," he explained. "Really, our primary objective is to lay lines of fire retardant down in front of advancing wildfire to protect lives and property."

Of the three special-missions capabilities, the Modular Airborne Spray System is the most versatile, and also the one with the most loosely defined mission, said Air Force Capt. Travis Adams of the 757th Airlift Squadron in Youngstown, Ohio. Adams, a pilot, also works as one of the coordinators of the aerial spray shop. The squadron's primary mission, he said, is to protect troops on the ground in a variety of ways.

"We are the only fixed-wing aerial spray asset within the Department of Defense," he said. "I think that has a lot to do with why we are maybe a little less known."

One of the squadron's missions is to protect troops from airborne diseases caused by flying insects, especially mosquitoes.

"Before battling the airborne insects, we [also] have the opportunity to do so while they're still in the larvae stage," he explained. We have quite a few missions that will support that as well." His team also helps to protect explosive ordnance disposal personnel, he added, by using chemicals to defoliate areas where EOD personnel need to take care of unexploded ordnance so they can do so safely.

During the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the spray mission was used to spread dispersant in the ocean, and since the unit trains on some missions with the Coast Guard, Adams said, that facilitated the process.

A recent Air Force Reserve Command conference to assess training and look toward the future of its missions was the first of its kind, Rubeor said. He added that he's satisfied with the current state of the command, but knows it must keep looking ahead.

"We looked to the future and we tried to predict what the future will bring," he said. "We talked about some potential future upgrades."

"This is a mission in which we fly and collect data for the National Weather Service or the National Center for Environmental Prediction," Talbot said. "The idea here is to be able to give emergency managers and folks that are worried about flooding or heavy snowfall events a little more time to potentially prepare or a little more heads-up that possibly a societal impact may occur during the winter months."

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Program will see better, more efficient equipment that it plans to test in the coming seasons.

"We've been delivered some new systems by the U.S. Forest Service, ... so we're going to begin training with those this spring to ensure that our crews are ready with that increased capability," Condit said. "And that includes the ability to respond a little quicker, with a little bit of a different type of products that we can put on the fire for more flexibility."

Rubeor saluted the people that perform these special missions.

"These three gentlemen represent wings that are manned and staffed with citizen-airmen. ... They have jobs down in their local communities, Monday through Friday, and they come out on the weekends, or they come out when we're called to perform these missions," the general said.