A day after the Montana congressional delegation sent letters expressing their disappointment in the relocation of Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System units from North Carolina to Nevada, the National Guard Bureau confirmed the decision and the move.
The MAFFS that were located with the 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard will now move to the 152nd Airlift Wing of the Nevada National Guard.
MAFFS are specialized equipment owned by the U.S. Forest Service that can be installed in C-130 cargo plans to drop retardant on wildfires.
The North Carolina unit is converting from C-130s to C-17s and that prompted the National Guard to evaluate existing C-130 Air National Guard units for a suitable replacement for the MAFFS mission, according to the National Guard.
Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke both questioned the criteria used to make the relocation decision. The National Guard Bureau said Thursday that they used the Air Force Objective Basing Model to rank all Air National Guard units under consideration for the MAFFS. A Guard spokesman said all Air National Guard C-130 units were considered, including the 120th Airlift Wing of the Montana Air National Guard.
Guard analysis, informed by the Forest Service, determined that "due to aircrew experience and geographic area response capability, the 152nd Airlift Wing in Nevada was the best fit to meet DOD and U.S. Forest Service requirements," a Guard spokesman wrote in an email to the Tribune.
Basing the firefighting systems out of Montana would provide quicker access to all western states, critical when it comes to saving lives and money during wildfire battles, Montana's federal lawmakers argued.
The 120th Airlift Wing on Gore Hill has four MAFFS qualified aircrew, consisting of a pilot, navigator, loadmaster and a flight engineer.
That means they can be sent to augment other MAFFS crews if MAFFS missions are activated.
Other airmen at the 120th could become qualified by 2017, if they are selected to attend MAFFS training, according to the 120th.
The four airmen came to the wing already qualified, according to the 120th, and the wing has chosen to maintain their MAFFS qualifications by allowing them to attend annual training events so that they can augment other MAFFS units during the fire season if needed.