Guard aviation crews help fight wildfires
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - As hot dry weather continues to affect the western United States, aviation crews from 1st Battalion, 168th General Support Aviation are prepared for what could be a busy summer firefighting season.
On July 20, Washington Army National Guard members working at the Army Aviation Support Facility on Joint Base Lewis-McChord were asked to help ground crews control a fire that had entered the timber on the edge of the impact area near the Nisqually River.
“Our flight operations received a call from JBLM range control and the US Forest Service requesting water bucket support for a slow-moving fire working across the impact area,” said Maj. Kevin Robillard, executive officer for 1-168th GSAB.
The Guard dispatched a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to the fire location and, two hours later, a CH-47 Chinook. The crews were able to slow the spread of the fire by early evening and deployed again the next morning to drop additional water and help contain the fire.
“We had a number of crews in for training, so we were able to react quickly and provide the requested support,” said Col. Mitch Sieglock, commander of 96th Aviation Troop Command and state aviation officer for the Washington Army National Guard.
While the crews often train in spring for wildfire season, they found it beneficial to have the chance to drop water on a live fire in the impact area.
“Our teams remain trained, qualified and ready to assist for the duration of Washington’s fire season, but it’s always great when we get the opportunity to get some repetitions in,” said Robillard.
The Washington National Guard did not deploy personnel last year during the wildfire season but maintained 10 trained and equipped 20-person hand crews and UH-60 and CH-47 aviation crews.
“We were very fortunate last year, but we have to continue to be ready for the potential threats of massive wildfires in our state,” said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general. “We have shown in the last 10 years the importance of having well-trained and qualified wildland firefighters in the National Guard.”
Since 2013, the Washington National Guard has focused on building resources and training personnel for this mission. More than 3,000 Guard members have deployed to support these efforts, including 1,200 Guard members during the historic 2015 wildland fire season when more than a million acres burned across the state.