The role of the National Guard continues to be tested in a year where they have been called up to support the nation at a record level. Now, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard has been activated to California to support the firefighters. Air Guard members are serving as imagery experts by providing live aerial video streaming to fire leaders working on the front lines of the California wildfires.
National Guard Fight Fires
The National Interagency Fire Center requested support and the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) Specialist of the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron was active to fulfill the request. This is the first time the Pennsylvania ANG has used this asset to fight fires.
The mission Airmen have been tasked with is similar to the role they play during a war effort. TCAP teams are normally embedded with an Army or Marine unit and call-in airstrikes. In both combat and fighting fires, MSgt Brent Hill and his team observe terrain and provide information to commanders. When it comes to fighting fires, they are using imagery known as Distributed Real-Time Infrared (DRTI), from an RC-26 fixed-wing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft operated by Air National Guard Pilots. They take the information collected provide it to first responders to help them make decisions as they fight fires.
“The smoke makes visibility impossible, but using IR [infrared] allows the plane to ‘see’ through the smoke,” said Hill. Explaining why this technology is so important for firefighters and leaders. “We meet with each of them and determine what their needs are. Sometimes they are looking for us to spot fires ahead of the fire line, and sometimes it’s providing oversight during back burning. Regardless, we provide additional incident awareness and assessment,” Hill explained.
Mission Objective: Saving Lives
George Violante, the National Interagency Fire Center’s distributed real time infrared (DRTI) liaison said, “Being able to utilize TACPs and the ISR aircraft during fire suppression efforts is filling a large gap that we, in civilian government lack. The expertise TACPs bring truly makes our jobs much easier, safer, and can translate into our mission objectives.
The Air Guard airmen see their skills being used as a great opportunity to help save lives and property while using the skill set, they were trained for. “I’m fortunate to have the support and training from both my civilian job and the military,” Hill said.
The National Interagency Fire Center has been grateful for the support provided by the Air National Guard airmen. “They required limited training and can engage right into providing real-time critical decision-making information for the incident management personnel,” said Violante. He also thanked the members for the time they are spending away from family to support the firefighting effort.
The PA National Guard is one of the largest and most deployed National Guards in the nation and headquartered at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. In addition to its federal mission, the PA National Guard responds to domestic emergencies, working with the PA Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, US NORTHCOM, and dozens of federal, state and local agencies.