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Citizen Airmen deliver aerial spray briefing on Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON DC -- Air Force Reserve Maj. Mark Briedenbaugh, an entomologist assigned to the 910th Airlift Wing, based at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, speaks to a group of Congressional staffers here, June 7. Major Briedenbaugh and a small team of Citizen Airmen from the 910th spoke to the group about the unit's aerial spray mission and the wing's recent operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The airlift wing's 757th Airlift Squadron is home to the Department of Defense's only large area, fixed wing aerial spray squadron. The 757th was part of the ongoing multi-agency effort to combat the massive oil spill resulting from the April 20th sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. The airlift squadron completed their work as part of the initial repsonse force for the oil spill as civilian aerial spray assets became available to continue the oil dispersing mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.)
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Reservists talk to Congress about aerial spray mission

Posted 6/8/2010   Updated 6/9/2010 Email story   Print story


by Col. Bob Thompson and Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.
Office of Air Force Reserve and 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Offices

6/8/2010 - WASHINGTON -- Six Air Force reservists fresh from the fight to save the Gulf coast from one of the worst oil spills in American history briefed congressional members and staffers from the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate June 7 and 8.

As part of the U.S. military's only fixed-wing aerial spray team, the Airmen flew specially configured C-130 aircraft only 100 feet above the water and sprayed an oil dispersant to break the oil slick into smaller droplets. Then, the detergent-like dispersant pushed the droplets down into the depths to the microorganisms that eat the oil.

"On April 28 at 10:30 p.m., we got the call," said Maj. Drew Tancer, a pilot and the operations officer who led the first-responders from Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio. "Fourteen to 15 hours later, we were on-scene."

Major Tancer led a team of about 60 reservists and two C-130 aircraft from the 910th Airlift Wing. Working in careful coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Reserve aerial spray team covered more than 30,000 acres with oil dispersant in the six weeks they were engaged.

The congressional staffers from the Senate and House listened to the reservists brief and then asked questions about the oil dispersant and the aerial spraying equipment.

"An oil dispersant is used to mitigate the environmental disaster," said Maj. Mark Breidenbaugh, entomologist from the 910th AW. "It is like a detergent soap that breaks the oil up and moves it under the water so it stays in the water column. This speeds up the natural process that breaks down the oil."

From May 1 until the reservists left Mississippi on June 4, they flew 92 missions and sprayed nearly 150,000 gallons of oil dispersant on the Gulf's spill area.

"It comes down to: Do you want to fight it on the beach or fight it on the water?" said Col. Fritz Linsenmeyer, 910th AW commander. "The products we use are pre-approved by the EPA and Coast Guard. And, although this spray is like a soap, you wouldn't put it in the water unless you had to. We want to do anything we can to protect the coast as much as possible from this disaster."

For nearly two decades, the 910th AW has participated in oil-spill cleanup exercises with the Coast Guard in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Aerial spray is a unique mission conducted by the Air Force Reserve and the Youngstown Airmen have developed close partnerships with other first-responders and insight into disaster response operations.

"After providing the first response, our military aerial spray operators have now returned to home station," Colonel Linsenmeyer said. "This is normal for these situations."

Rear Adm. Mary Landry, federal on-scene coordinator for the BP oil spill response, signed a memo releasing the Air Force Reserve planes and people from the spray mission.

Under a transition plan, civilian planes are taking over delivering oil dispersant in the gulf waters. The plan complies with the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of September 2005. Under the law, the United States should "avoid competing commercially with the private sector" and should "rely on commercial sources to supply the goods and services needed by the department."

"The military gets things started and now civilian contractors are flying the continuing operations," said Colonel Linsenmeyer. "But, if we're needed to go back, our team is ready at a moment's notice."

Besides oil-spill cleanup, the wing has flown spray missions to fight mosquito-borne diseases throughout the United States as well as Guam, the Azores and Panama since 1973.

"We've sprayed more than nine million acres during 11 humanitarian emergencies," said Major Breidenbaugh. "During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we sprayed more than 2.88 million acres."

The flooding that occurs after these big storms creates a perfect habitat and breeding ground for mosquitoes. Vector-borne illnesses can be deadly, more than a million people die from malaria every year, he said.

"We're proud of what we have contributed to our nation and our communities," Major Breidenbaugh said.

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