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New AEG commander readies for wildfire season

  • Published
  • By Mary McHale
  • AFNORTH Public Affairs
A six-year veteran of the C-130 modular aerial firefighting system platform, Col. Geoffrey Scott Sanders, is the new MAFFS air expeditionary group commander for the 2015 wildfire season June 1 - Nov. 30.

Sanders, a Wyoming State Joint Force Headquarters Air Liaison Officer, was selected following a nomination and vetting process that included commanders from the four MAFFS wings, the National Guard Bureau, Air Forces Northern, and U.S. Northern Command.

A command pilot with more than 5,300 hours, Sanders joined the Wyoming Air National Guard in 2006 following a four-year tour in the Air Force Reserve. Prior to his Reserve assignment, the 1992 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate served on active duty at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina, as a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft commander and at McChord AFB, Washington, as a C-17 evaluator pilot.

To gain a better understanding of his new role, Sanders visited AFNORTH and met with both senior leadership and directors. As the AEG commander, Sanders said his primary responsibility is to accomplish the Combined Forces Air Component Commander's intent - accomplishing the mission while ensuring safety of flight.

"I'm grateful for this opportunity to actively lead a mission that's so vital to saving lives and infrastructure during wildfires, and I look forward to getting to know the people who make it happen," he said.  "My job is to provide aircrews the ability to execute the mission safely and free of distraction. I'm the link between the aircrews, command structure and federal agencies involved and as such, responsible for eliminating distractions, such as logistical concerns or scheduling conflicts."

He explained there are four units in the United States who share a rotating schedule once wildfire season begins.  These units are the 146th Airlift Wing in California, the 302nd AW in Colorado, the 153rd AW in Wyoming and the 145th AW in North Carolina.

Sanders said each unit undergoes extensive training with National Interagency Fire Center representatives -- a part of the U.S. Forest Service, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- in the months immediately preceding June. Training happens both on the ground and in the air.

"The crews are well prepared but our biggest challenge remains the unpredictability of the season," Sanders said. "Every fire season is different, you never know when it will begin, how long it will last, and how many units will be needed at any given time."

But even with the challenges, it's a mission Sanders said he finds rewarding.

"You get immediate feedback on mission success and it's such a rewarding experience anytime you get to make a difference for our citizens in the homeland," he said.