By William K. Alcorn
The Air Force Reserve Command has reversed its policy banning the use of the 910th Airlift Wing’s aerial spray mission on nonfederal land.
Since July 2012, the 910th at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna has been permitted to use its aerial spray capability only on federal land.
However, after a recent letter to Air Force Lt. Gen. James Jackson, commander of the AFRC, sent by U.S. Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and John Hoeven of North Dakota, urging that existing applications for spraying on civilian land be approved under the Civil-Military Inno- vative Readiness Training program, the ban was at least partially lifted.
According to Portman’s staff, the AFRC has approved spraying on nonfederal lands for mosquitoes on two sites in North Dakota — Williston and Minot, and two sites in Virginia — Poquoson and York County — have been approved under the Innovative Readiness Training program.
The non-Department of Defense areas were approved for aerial spraying to control adult mosquito populations only. The approvals came in time to spray the four locations this year over July, August and September, a 910th spokesman said.
“The ultimate goal is to keep our air-crew members trained and qualified to respond to any mission where the Department of Defense would require aerial spray.
“The secondary benefit is that we’re able to reduce the threat of disease by aerial spraying areas in the United States that are prone to mosquito problems. Training is the primary reason the Air Force Reserve is involved. The threat of mosquito-carried diseases is reduced as a byproduct,” said Col. William D. Phillips Jr., commander of the 910th Operation Group.
“This announcement is great news for the servicemen and women at the 910th Airlift Wing and the communities in North Dakota and Virginia who rely on this important mission to keep them safe and healthy,” Portman said.
“I am hopeful that more communities will receive approval to participate in the Innovative Readiness Training program so that the 910th may continue to reduce the likelihood of disease around the country, all while gaining invaluable training,” Portman added.
The 910th, housed at the Vienna airbase, has the Defense Department’s only large area fixed-wing aerial spray capability to control disease-carrying insects, pests and undesirable vegetation and to disperse oil spills in large bodies of water.
Missions may be executed by 910th C-130 Hercules aircraft equipped with the Modular Aerial Spray System in combat areas, on defense installations or in response to disasters/emergencies as declared by the president. Also, the Vienna airbase houses one of four EPA-approved training centers for DOD Pesticide Applicator Certification serving both the continental United States and overseas DOD pest-management facilities.
However, after a review of operational processes and oversight, particularly in the areas of the Air Reserve Component-unique special missions of aerial spray and weather reconnaissance, AFRC determined that adequate authority to perform aerial spraying outside federally owned property was not clearly defined, explained Col. Robert P. Palmer, director of public affairs for AFRC at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.
While AFRC was considering reversing the decision to serve local communities willing to pay for the chemicals in exchange for the 910th’s participation, the airlift wing was restricted to training missions on federally owned property, Palmer said.
To be an approved IRT program, the aerial spray activity must meet a valid unit training requirement, not result in a significant increase in the cost of training, and not be reasonably available from a commercial entity, Palmer said.
In the past, the 910th Aerial Spray Mission has successfully controlled mosquito populations in many states including North Dakota, Florida and Virginia, while also providing the 910th Airlift Wing the ability to train with chemical agents in a manner that provides valuable readiness training, the senators wrote.
Portman and Hoeven said several communities, including Williston and Minot, had submitted IRT packages for aerial bug spray by the 910th this year, and requested Jackson’s “prompt consideration in this matter.”