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Peruvian Air Force seeks aerial spray familiarization at Youngstown Air Reserve Station

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Grossi
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Mosquitos suck, both literally and metaphorically. During the summer months, they buzz and bite their way into our personal spaces, causing us to slap and swat at anything resembling the pest. When rain comes to ease the summer’s heat, it seems to only embolden the nuisance. The real threat of these pests is not just their nagging bites, but their capability of spreading disease. There are ways to guard against them of course: wearing long sleeves, using insect repellent, lighting citronella candles or just staying inside during prime feeding times. If only there was some way to rid ourselves of this mosquito menace. If only there was some way to successfully annihilate about 95 percent of the mosquito population all in one fell swoop or at least via multiple passes at an altitude of 100 feet. That capability does exist. The Reserve Citizen Airmen of Youngstown Air Reserve Station operate the Department of Defense’s only aerial spray capability to eliminate pest insects and invasive or unwanted vegetation and disperse oil spills in large bodies of water. As the DoD’s sole provider of this capability, the 910th Airlift Wing is a resource to others looking to develop similar efforts.

YARS hosted Peruvian Air Force Maj. Gen. Carlos G. Elera Camacho, the Assistant Defense and Air Attaché to the Embassy of Peru in the United States of America, June 17, 2019, here. Elera’s visit focused on potential aerial spray training opportunities conducted by the 910th Airlift Wing and collecting information on developing an aerial spray capability for his home country.

Elera oversees affairs and cooperation matters related to the United States Air Force and assists the Peruvian Defense Attaché and the Ambassador of Peru in matters related to Defense in the United States of America.  He represents the La Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP)Peruvian Air Force–with the DoD, government agencies, military institutions, officers and personnel of the DoD and with other defense and Air Force Attachés accredited to the Department of State and to the Pentagon.

Peru combats insects that transmit diseases like malaria and dengue, which can have effects on large portions of the country. The primary culprit, or vector, in transmitting dengue is the mosquito species Aedes aegypti, which breeds year-round in Peru, using artificial containers that hold water. Combined with irregularly occurring weather events known as El Nino which result in heavy precipitation and flooding, the mosquito population can significantly increase and bolster the spread of malaria and dengue to endemic levels. Until more reliable vaccines are produced and become available, the most effective way of controlling the transmission of these diseases is by reducing mosquito populations.

The El Nino events of 2016 specifically brought the problem to the military’s attention, said Elera. At the time, their response to controlling the pest was regional applications of insecticide using trucks equipped with sprayers and by hand with individual backpack applicators.

During a subject matter exchange with the FAP in 2017, Peru’s growing interest in gaining an aerial spray capability was first discovered by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Héctor Guillén, the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) State Partnership Program (SPP) coordinator and Peru native, and U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Breidenbaugh, the Chief Entomologist of the Air Force Reserve’s aerial spray unit at YARS and international health specialist.

According to the National Guard website, through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres. The program has been alive and well since 1991, and Peru is one out of 76 partnerships with 81 nations around the world.

“Each year the State Partnership Program conducts engagements with Peru,” said Breidenbaugh. “At the request of the Peruvians, one suggested engagement for 2019 or 2020 is that we teach aerial spray.”

The West Virginia SPP has partnered with Peru for more than 20 years and has more than 120 interactions between the forces. This partnership has provided valuable insight into regional challenges: anti-terrorism, counter-insurgency, emergency preparedness and potentially, aerial spray.