USA — he 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base announced airmen and aircraft are on the chopping block under proposed 2015 federal budget.
A 200 member squadron will be shutdown. Those airmen will be reassigned or without a job if Congress passes the budget.
The ripple effect could go far beyond the base as the 302nd Airlift Wing’s fleet of C-130H3 aircraft will be reduced by one-third.
A spokesperson 302nd Airlift Wing said airmen are preparing for the 2014 wildfire season but wouldn’t answer directly when asked if she thought the cuts would hinder the group’s ability to fight fires.
During the Black Forest Fire, aircraft was in short supply. Three minutes after dispatch announced there was a fire in the Black Forest last June, calls for aircraft started coming in.
“Can you check with pueblo the availability of air resources,” said Scott Ridings with Donald Wescott Fire Department over dispatch.
“Put an order in for two heavy airtankers to pueblo on my order. I need help,” said El Paso County Assistant Fire Marshal Scott Campbell over dispatch a few minutes later.
Capt. Justin White is part of Colorado Springs Fire Department’s team that specializes in wildland fires. He said aircraft are critical in assisting his firefighters on the ground.
“It allows us to do some more things and protect some more structures then by just having that aircraft available and contain that fire sooner than (would be) possible just on our own,” said White.
The 302nd Airlift Wing has 12 C-130H3 aircraft that can be hooked up to tankers to fight fires. Under proposed budget cuts, four of those C-130H3s will go away.
The U.S. Forest Service also has its own supply of aircraft. However, during fire season, aircraft are in short supply.
“On a national level, those ships move all over the country so its going to impact where the fire is happening at the time,” said White. “In a busy fire year, all the Forest Service contracted aircraft are taken up so the military aircraft supplements what we can do.”
Neighbors affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire questioned the decision.
“I’m all about the government cutting spending but there are certainly other things that are a lot less important,” said fire evacuee Bill Pomeroy.
The airlift wing’s C-130H3s dropped more than 1 million gallons of retardants on fires in eight states last year.
All this is part of a move to reduce Pentagon spending by $900 billion over the next decade.