June 29, 2016 (by SSgt. Kat Justen) - They’ve been among us for a century now. They look like any other American citizen, blending with the crowd, living normal lives and working normal jobs.
Thom Patterson, CNN videographer (left), uses a camera to capture footage of 53d WRS “Hurricane Hunter” pilots inside the cockpit of a C-130 Hercules during a flight over Maryland on June 28, 2016. As part of the 100th anniversary of air power in the U.S. military, members of the media were invited to fly with the Hurricane Hunters and learn about their weather surveillance mission. With ten deployable C-130s, the unit has the only routine aerial weather reconnaissance mission in the world. [USAF photo by SSgt. Kat Justen]
These inconspicuous men and women are far from ordinary; inside each one of them beats the heart of a wingman, leader and warrior. They’re Citizen Airmen, and for ten decades they have volunteered time and again to protect and preserve their country in extraordinary ways. This week Air Force Reserve Command recognizes their efforts by highlighting some of their special missions.
To recognize and honor 100 years of Reserve Air Power, AFRC hosted a commemorative event at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, June 28 - 29, 2016, which showcased special missions conducted by C-130 Hercules units to include aerial spraying, weather surveillance and firefighting.
“We are currently celebrating 100 years of reserve air power. One hundred years ago our first reserve, at the time named the Army Air Corps, pilot flew,” said Brigadier Gen. Albert V. Lupenski, Headquarters U.S. Air Force Reserve Plans, Programs and Requirements director. “Today, we look at our special missions which we call earth, wind and fire: aerial spray, Hurricane Hunters and firefighting.”
During the special event, Citizen Airmen with the 910th Airlift Wing, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, illustrated their mission of protecting the earth from disease carrying insects, pest insects, undesirable vegetation and oil spills in large bodies of water.
“We have several types of aerial spray missions we do,” said Captain Jonathan Blackann, 757th Airlift Wing pilot. “There’s the insecticide, larvicide and herbicide. We also spray oil dispersant like we did at Deep Water Horizon - the big BP oil spill in the Gulf [of Mexico] several years ago.”
They manage these nuisances by maintaining the only fixed-wing aerial spray capability, which covers areas of 5,000 acres or more with six, low-flying C-130H aircraft fitted with 2,000 gallon spray tanks.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, dangers such as disease spread by insects can further escalate problems for the people affected. The 910th AW utilizes their insecticide and larvicide aerial spray capabilities to reduce the spread of disease and alleviate further suffering.
“We are ready to deploy anywhere in the country should a natural disaster strike like Hurricane Katrina – any time there is any sort of natural disaster with lots of standing water afterwards,” said Blackann. “The nuisance bugs flourish and we help get those guys out of the way.”
Similarly, should the 910th be called upon to fight the growing threat of the Zika virus, they are prepared.
“Zika is a great example of just how dangerous small pests can be,” said Blackann. “If Zika and other diseases can spread, well, there needs to be somebody to combat that threat, and we are the ones to do it.”
“I spent my entire [flying] career avoiding thunderstorms, these guys spend their entire career looking to fly into them,” said Lupenski of the Hurricane Hunters with the 403rd Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.
The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, or Hurricane Hunters, is the only Department of Defense unit to conduct aerial weather reconnaissance in support of the National Hurricane Center and Department of Commerce. They utilize ten WC-130J Super Hercules to monitor tropical storms on a 24-hour basis.
“We take off, fly to the hurricane at about 5,000 feet, drop our weather instruments, and from a series of computers we send that data to the National Hurricane Center and they use it to narrow down their cone of probability,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Jordan, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster.
The Hurricane Hunters deploy a dropsonde into storm systems to collect temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction of weather systems, which is critical in determining the likelihood of a hurricane developing.
“The reason this mission is important is the data that we provide to the National Hurricane Center helps narrow down the cone of probability by about 30 percent,” said Jordan. “That helps us determine how many people we need to evacuate and how soon we need to evacuate them. In some cases it will save lives, but in almost all cases it saves a lot of money.”
Last, but certainly not least among the Air Force Reserve C-130 special missions triad is fire.
The 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, is the only Air Force Reserve C-130 wing with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System mission. They maintain eight C-130H3 aircraft, which can be equipped with U.S. Forest Service-owned MAFFS to drop fire retardant to control wildland fires.
“Once we get a notification we have 72 hours to respond and be ready to go wherever needed,” said Master Sgt. Rocky Ramirez, 302nd Airlift Wing crew chief. “You have a 3,000 gallon tank with compressed air that will shoot a slurry fire retardant when they tell it to.”
With fire fighting missions all over country, the 302nd AW has a significant impact on the safety and livelihood of their fellow citizens.
“This mission is important because you’re saving lives, your own country’s homes, land and all the assets we have on the home front,” said Ramirez.
Whether by earth, wind or fire ringing in the 100th year of Reserve Air Power with C-130 special missions was an impressive way to pay homage to the Citizen Airmen of past and present. They may not be easily spotted in a crowd, but the impact of Citizen Airmen is ever-present.
“We in the Reserve are over 69,000 strong,” said Lupenski. “We like to say, ‘we live locally but serve globally.’ Any given day you have 5,000 or so Airmen on active duty serving in all of the areas of responsibility around the world side-by-side with active duty. We are interchangeable. We are integrated.”