The Charlotte-based N.C. Air National Guards 145th Airlift Wing is leaving on Monday to help fight wildfires in western states its first trip since four members of the unit were killed in a crash during a similar mission last month.
The first deployment will include 16 airmen and two C-130 planes. Theyll travel to Boise, Idaho, where the airmen will receive their assignments, officials say.
Two additional teams from the 145th will rotate with that unit during the mission, which is expected to last through early September.
Our folks from Charlotte are ready to rejoin our brothers and sisters, said Col. Roger Williams, the 145ths operations group commander. We all feel its extremely important for our people to get back to its critical mission, and we will carry the memory of (the fallen crew) in our hearts as the wild land fire fighting continues.
The 145th is among four military units that fly C-130s specially equipped to discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in a matter of seconds. In the upcoming mission, theyll offer relief to a California-based unit whose plane is undergoing routine maintenance.
The Charlotte unit was last deployed in late June to help fight wildfires in Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming. During an evening mission on July 1, one of the 145ths planes crashed near Edgemont, S.D.
Killed were Lt. Col. Paul Mikeal of Mooresville, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cannon of Charlotte, Maj. Joe McCormick of Belmont and Maj. Ryan Scott David of Boone.
Two airmen in the rear of the C-130, Chief Master Sgt. Andy Huneycutt and Master Sgt. Josh Marlowe, survived and were hospitalized.
Both men have since been released from the hospital, said Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap.
The crash, the first major incident in the 40-year history of the missions, remains under investigation.
Immediately after the crash, the Air National Guard grounded all of the fire-fighting C-130s, but they were resumed within a few days.
Dunlap said the U.S. Forest Service recently requested assistance from the Charlotte-based unit.
She said officials are providing resources to help the airmen cope during the mission, including a behavioral health discussion during Mondays deployment briefing and having a chaplain who is on call 24-7.
This is an emotional time for our people, Dunlap said. But were ready to get back to supporting this essential mission.