January 15, 2016 (by MSgt. Bob Barko Jr.) - Citizen Airmen from the Air Force Reserve's 910th Airlift Wing’s highly-specialized aerial spray unit facilitated the Department of Defense's (DoD) Aerial Spray Certification Course at the Lee County Mosquito Control District Training Center on January 11-14, 2016.
A modified U.S. C-130 aircraft, assigned to the 910th AW, sprays water simulating a pesticide solution during a field exercise as part of the DoD Aerial Spray Certification Course at the Lee County Mosquito Control District flightline on January 13, 2016. [USAF photo by MSgt. Bob Barko Jr.]
According to course materials, participants are acquainted with aerial application of pesticides, especially as it relates to the U.S. military. Graduates of the course are also certified to be ground supervisors of aerial spray operations, monitor pest control contracts using aerial spray and, if they are command-level pest management professionals, approve DoD aerial spray projects.
Although the idea and practice of protecting troops on the ground by destroying disease-carrying insects from the air has been around for seventy years, the technology and aircraft involved have evolved. The opportunity to see the tools used in aerial spray operations and the requirement for certification or recertification brought nearly a dozen DoD military and civilian personnel pest control professionals to participate in the course.
Course topics included aerial spray theory, mapping and math, C-130 operations, public affairs, aerial spray contracting and more. Participants also viewed static displays of aerial spray aircraft and equipment and took part in a field exercise.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Fink, a pest management supervisor assigned to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, said he has been interested in the aerial spray aspect of pest management since he started his military career.
"I’ve wanted to attend this course since I got in," said Fink. “This is good info to have about this capability.”
The 910th personnel said the Lee County facility, located just outside Ft. Myers, is an outstanding location to conduct the training.
"This is a collaborative effort with Florida Mosquito Control Association, and the goal is continuing education and certification," said course director Lt. Col. Karl Haagsma, one of two full-time entomologists assigned to the 910th. “It’s really about honing skills.”
Haagsma said the course has been hosted at the Lee County facility three times in the last decade. He also said refresher courses are held at the 910th’s home installation during the years between the ones when the Florida course is held.
The 910th, host to DoD's only aerial spray capability, is based at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio.
Personnel assigned to the 910th’s aerial spray unit include spray-qualified pilots, loadmasters who double as Modular Aerial Spray System (MASS) operators and specialized maintenance personnel and, of course, the entomologists, affectionately known as the 'bug docs.’
A quartet of traditional reservist ‘bug docs’ bring a vast skill set and knowledge base from their civilian jobs to their positions as Air Force Reserve entomologists and as course instructors. Lt. Col. Tom Janousek is a pest consultant based in Omaha, Nebraska when he is not working with the 910th. Lt. Col. Don Teig is the Air Force pest management subject matter expert at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Maj. Kirk Mundal brings eight years of Navy active duty experience as a medical entomologist to the team and Maj. Jen Remmers is a disease vector management consultant in her civilian career.
“The goal of aerial spray is to achieve maximum kill of the target pest with minimal impact on the environment,” Remmers said, during her opening presentation at the course.
According to the 910th’s entomologists, the 910th’s capability is used to spray areas larger than 5,000 acres from altitudes above the ground of 100 to 150 feet, depending on the type of spraying being done. Recently, after nearly a decade of careful preparation, the wing has started conducting aerial spray operations after dark using night vision technology at an altitude above the earth of 300 feet. Ground application methods or private enterprise contracted aircraft take care of smaller areas that are not practical or cost-effective for the unit's large planes to handle.
The 910th's unique capability has taken the aerial spray team all over the country to not only eliminate mosquitoes, sand flies, filth flies and other pest insects on DoD installations and, in some cases, nearby communities, but to also eliminate unwanted vegetation on bombing ranges as well as assist during the response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, in 2010.
“Our wartime mission is to protect U.S. troops from insect-carried diseases,” said Maj. Steve Stroney, 910th chief of aerial spray. “Anytime we conduct spray operations around the country, we are training our personnel to carry out that tasking.”
“It is critical for us to know everything we can about the product we are using, how it comes out of our aircraft and what the effects of the products are,” said Lt. Col. Mark Breidenbaugh, 910th chief entomologist. “Ultimately, this course is about the judicious use of aerial spray products in eliminating the targets and protecting troops."