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MAFFS Loadmaster: 15 years, two systems, still going

Master Sgt. Jason Harvey, a 731st Airlift Squadron Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System instructor loadmaster, checks over the MAFFS checklist, May 9, 2019, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Master Sgt. Jason Harvey, a 731st Airlift Squadron Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System instructor loadmaster, checks over the MAFFS checklist, May 9, 2019, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Harvey was one of the loadmasters selected in 2008 to test and write the checklists and procedures on the MAFFS II unit to replace the legacy system used by the Air Force MAFFS wings since 1973. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System II after its use on California wildfire as part of the final phase of validation for its operational use before replacing the legacy MAFFS, July 18, 2008.

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System II after its use on California wildfire as part of the final phase of validation for its operational use before replacing the legacy MAFFS, July 18, 2008. The first aircrew to use the system were Air Force reservists assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

It can feel intense using the MAFFS when flying 150 feet off the ground near a wildfire stretching over thousands of acres. When the co-pilot presses the button to release the 3,000 gallons of retardant Jason is sitting next to, it’s his job to make sure it goes off without a hitch. Thankfully, he helped write the book on it.

Master Sgt. Jason Harvey, a 731st Airlift Squadron Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System instructor loadmaster, has been answering the U.S. Forest Service’s calls for 15 years supporting wildland fires suppression, testing a new system and bringing new loadmasters into the program.

The U.S. Forest Service’s MAFFS mission is one of the 302nd Airlift Wing’s special missions providing an aerial firefighting surge capability with the MAFFS units laying lines of containment on the ground with fire retardant. 

“When I first joined the unit they showed me a video of the crews flying MAFFS and seeing that for the first time was exciting,” said Harvey. “It is one of those special missions that our unit had that I saw aircrew doing and I wanted in.”

Five years later, he joined the MAFFS program and went on his first live fire drop during a MAFFS activation to Arizona.

“I can’t really describe the feeling but I wanted to high five everyone,” he said. “There were a lot of high fives going around. It was an exciting feeling because of all the hard work I put in paid off.”

About a year later, Harvey upgraded to become an instructor loadmaster and three years after that, in 2008, he was selected as one of the testers and writers for the new MAFFS II system. The MAFFS II system was being designed to replace the legacy system used when the Air Force joined the U.S. Forest Service MAFFS mission in 1973.

During the testing of the MAFFS II system, Harvey became a dual-certified instructor loadmaster on the legacy system and MAFFS II system. He spent five months in Chico, California, spending time with crews cycling through, testing the system, flight testing, and writing the checklists and publications.

“I was staying there as the continuity working with the test crews,” he said. “Also, being the continuity made it easier for loadmasters. Since I was certified on the older system, I was able to help bridge the gap between the old and new systems.”

It was in 2008 when Harvey and his crew became the first to put the MAFFS II to use during a MAFFS activation in California.

Since 2004, Harvey has performed about 600 drops using the legacy and MAFFS II units. Today, Harvey still flies and teaches new loadmasters who are selected to become MAFFS certified.

Watching new loadmasters arrive at the squadron, complete the requirements to be selected into the program and molded into MAFFS loadmasters is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.  

“The looks on their faces of ‘Wow. I did it!’ Those moments are meaningful to me. I was in their shoes once and that feeling of accomplishment is one I’ll never forget,” he said. “This is a challenging and unique mission. They know that -- and take that responsibility seriously. We are charged with potentially saving people’s lives and their homes. 

“It is a fun and rewarding mission I’ve been doing for 15 years and I will continue doing it as long as I can. Absolutely.”

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