163d Attack Wing activates for fire support

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Gregory Solman
  • 163d Attack Wing
Airmen of the California Air National Guard’s 163d Attack Wing entered into their fifth day in support of civil authorities battling deadly wildfires across California.

The California Military Department activated several wing assets, including two MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft, Oct. 10, having received the necessary approval from the Secretary of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration to operate the Reapers in the domestic airspace. Since then, the Reapers’ infrared sensors yielded mission-critical thermal imagery on the afflicted area in real-time to CAL FIRE and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Airmen have mapped vast perimeters of six fires across four counties, compassing some 77,000 acres and identifying some 1,500 burned structures.

Liaison officers deployed to link the wing with the California National Guard and outside agencies at the Joint Operations Center in Sacramento. In addition, Airmen who staff the cutting-edge Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC) deployed to an evacuation center at Napa Valley College, Napa, Calif. and are among 67 wing members called to fulfill the wing’s domestic mission. With critical local infrastructure destroyed or damaged, the MEOC has served the immediate needs of evacuees, who were provided cell phone service and internet in order to communicate their status to family and friends.

So far, the Reapers have been deployed over the Cascade Fire in Yuba County; Cherokee Fire in Butte County; Nuns Fire in Sonoma County; Tubbs and Partrick Fires in Napa County; and the Atlas Fire, stretching from Napa to Sonoma counties.

The wing’s new Hap Arnold Center has been tapped to provide data fusion between agencies and offers disaster response officials with a live and customizable common operating picture to use for incident planning and coordination.

The activation of the California National Guard immediately followed an emergency proclamation by Governor Jerry Brown, Oct. 10. More than 2,000 Guardsmen are actively supporting the disaster response and relief effort. Currently, 18 fires are burning in the state forcing over 20,000 evacuations.

Supporting California fire missions in 2013, the (then) 163d Reconnaissance Wing pioneered the use of remotely-piloted aircraft for use in fighting wildfires.

The 163d Attack Wing, California Air National Guard, is one of five California Air National Guard units and is headquartered at March Air Reserve Base, Calif. Known as the ‘Grizzlies,’ the 950-member unit conducts flight operations with the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft. The wing has both a federal and state mission. A provision of the U. S. Constitution, the wing’s dual mission results in each guardsman holding membership in the California National Guard and in the National Guard of the United States.