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Thousands of Guardsmen Battle Western U.S. Wildfires


WASHINGTON --

Calling up the soldiers and airmen of the National Guard has become an unfortunate ritual of summer.

Wildfires through the Western United States -- especially in California -- started earlier than normal this year and expanded faster than in past years. Thousands of airmen and soldiers of the Guard responded.

These service members are helping firefighters and police save lives and property. National Guardsmen directed traffic, helped evacuate families, provided logistical support, flew helicopters with water buckets, flew C-130s that dropped fire-suppression fluid on blazes and actually were on the ground helping fire crews battle the blazes.

In California, the governor called up first tranche of 800 Guardsmen July 2. The California National Guard is providing nine UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, two CH-47 Chinook helicopters, a LUH-72 Lakota helicopter and a C-12 Huron, as well as an MQ-9 Reaper and two RC-26 Metroliners for fire mapping, an HH-60 rescue/medical evacuation helicopter and four Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems for air support and personnel providing traffic assistance.

Devastating Wildfires

“We live and serve in the communities that have been devastated by these fires. We train year-round to come to the aid of our neighbors when tragedy strikes,” said Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma, spokesman for the California Guard. “We have alerted the entire Cal Guard, and already more than 2,000 Guardsmen have mobilized to support this response.”

The California Guard has been instrumental in using remotely piloted vehicles to map fires and provide crews on the ground the latest information on the blazes they are battling. The images from the National Guard are saving the lives of civilians and firefighters.

Guardsmen from neighboring Nevada are also providing assistance in California.

In Oregon, the governor called up 460 National Guardsmen on July 20. Guard Chinook helicopters have already dropped more than 700,000 gallons of water on blazes in the state so far.

Guardsmen also are serving as medevac personnel, while others are providing transportation, engineer equipment and evacuation help. Three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Texas are supporting the effort.

“The Oregon National Guard has nearly 460 personnel on state active duty conducting fire support,” said Army Capt. Leslie M. Reed, a spokesperson in Oregon.

The state of Washington mobilized Guardsmen Aug. 5. “Washington currently has seven 20-person hand crews mobilized to two fires in Eastern Washington,” said Army Capt. Joseph F. Siemandel, Washington National Guard spokesman. “Two Black Hawk helicopters are mobilized to support the Washington Department of Natural Resources. We just mobilized our Joint Incident Site Communication Capability for a fire in Eastern Washington.”

But wildfires are only part of the mission for the Guardsmen. Both Oregon and Washington Guardsmen responded to the stolen airliner over the weekend. California Guardsmen are assigned in Afghanistan. California Guardsmen are operating on the U.S.-Mexican border.

And Guardsmen all over the United States train to assist civilian authorities help their fellow citizens.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
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