Earlier this month, a team from the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing deployed to the Midwest to help contain forest fires that had spread across that region. Two C-130 aircraft equipped to battle the sweeping fires, and a third providing support, left Charlotte for Colorado and South Dakota.
On July 1, we received word that one of the planes had crashed in South Dakota with a crew of six on board, killing four airmen and leaving two survivors hospitalized. These airmen answered a call they’d answered before, to leave their families and go out and help their fellow citizens during a time of crisis. I was honored to attend a memorial service in Charlotte for these heroes last week. Words cannot describe the sorrow and loss that the families and the entire North Carolina Air National Guard community have faced these last three weeks.
Whether assisting in Afghanistan or as part of the response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the men and women of the 145th have worked to protect us from a wide array of threats. From all of the family members who spoke, a theme rang through: These heroes loved what they did, and they did it well. They’d perfected their roles in flight and firefighting, one of only four units nationwide to administer and manage the system they used, and the only one that calls the East coast home. Their story is a story of service and sacrifice.
The story behind the equipment these heroic airmen used and mastered also provides us with some insight into the roadblocks faced in rebuilding our economy. To combat the fires, these planes were equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems, or MAFFS. The MAFFS systems that are loaded onto these planes are nearly 2-ton pieces of equipment, about the size of a school bus, that spray water or flame retardant from a C-130 at a rate of 3,000 gallons in less than five seconds.
A California-based company, Aero Union, had served as the lone manufacturer of these units for years, until the company shut down and the facility and remaining equipment were reportedly sold at auction months ago. With this closure of yet another U.S. manufacturer, we’re now left to rely on a stockpile of spare parts saved by the U.S. Forest Service over the years. These men and women rely on equipment like this in order to answer our nation’s call and protect our citizens, and our citizens should have a fair shot at making the machinery and equipment they use. People who risk their lives to keep us safe should be able to do so with the knowledge and security that the tools they use are the best in the world, and were manufactured by the people who they fight to protect.
As we make less and less in America, we tie our hands and find a growing list of goods that are vitally important to our safety and security being manufactured overseas. In the face of bad trade policies and additional burdens on businesses, we need to mend our ways and support companies that make things here — especially companies that make the things our military and first responders rely on. This is a matter of national security.
To add insult to injury, this week brought news that the U.S. Olympic team is being outfitted in apparel that is made in China. The Red, White and Blue that makes us all so proud is helping to make China rich. Patriotism is a pride in and love for one’s country. We should provide those who fight to protect our freedom, keep our families and homes safe, or represent our nation on the world stage with equipment made by their fellow Americans. The making of a key military or public safety component or an Olympic uniform can be just as prideful and rewarding as the using or wearing of them. And we owe our people a fair chance to feel that pride, in themselves and in our nation.
There is some good news this week, the House Agriculture Committee conducted the mark-up of the 2012 Farm Bill. In this bill, we were able to advance numerous measures to help combat the ongoing fires, such as clearing dead timber and brush that so often helps to fuel the flames. Government should provide to the U.S. Forest Service the funding required to combat these fires and contract with American companies for the machinery used in the effort. We’ve seen fires in North Carolina require an outpouring of assistance from elsewhere, and I’m glad we were able to take steps to help our Forest Service respond to these threats and keep our people safe while battling these fires.
To the families of the brave airmen of the 145th we lost in South Dakota, I offer my prayers during this time of unimaginable loss, and my thanks for the service to our nation their loved ones and so many others have given. We offer our prayers not only to them but to our folks still recovering. I intend to honor their sacrifice by redoubling my efforts to see that the nation they sacrificed to protect is as strong as it can be. One thing I can do in that effort is to fight for American companies and American jobs, and the right for American workers to compete to manufacture the tools used by those whose service we value so dearly.
Congressman Larry Kissell (D-N.C. -8) offices include Rockingham: 230 East Franklin St., Rockingham, N.C. 28379, Phone: 997-2070; Concord number (704) 786-1612; Fayetteville number (910) 920-2070; Washington office: 1632 Longworth HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515; phone (202) 225-3715. Web site, kissell.house.gov.