Aviation Soldiers take on Arizona wildfires
July 20, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Soldiers in the 2nd Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment are not trained firefighters, but they took up the job anyway when Fort Huachuca, Ariz., came under threat of wildfire in June.
Arizona experienced three separate wildfires during the month, one of those making its way on post at Fort Huachuca. Fortunately, the installation had made preparations for such an event and any major damage was avoided, partially thanks to the efforts of the 2nd Bn., 13th Avn. Regt., according to Maj. Noah Spataro, the Unmanned Aircraft Commander course manager and lead instructor.
Spataro said some Soldiers involved in helping out had some prior firefighter training, but that it was definitely not the regular job of the unit, which specializes in unmanned aircraft training.
"We had 12 Soldiers designated that got firefighter training so they could assist post firefighters should the post actually experience a fire that was on its way to housing," he said. "Fortunately, it didn't come to that, but we had a plan in place."
The post was preparing for a large wildfire, called the Monument Fire, which broke out on June 12 and burned through early July. The post was under the possible threat of dealing with the fire, so its units took actions to prevent a possible fire outbreak at the installation, Spataro said.
"The effort of clearing certain areas was intended to create a firebreak in the event the fire came on post," he said. "It was to create a defensive position. The unit is based out in almost the middle of nowhere. If the fire were to have come over the canyon, it would have been a worst-case scenario. Thankfully, that didn't happen."
While the Monument Fire never threatened the post, a separate fire, called the Antelope Fire, began June 17 on the installation, Spataro said.
The work of Soldiers in the unit helped to contain the fire and protect the installation from potentially devastating harm, said Sgt. 1st Class Corey Houston, battalion first sergeant.
"There were nearly 1,300 Soldiers in our unit who worked to clear the area of brush and other flammable materials," he said. "We were working them about eight hours a day and it was really hot out there. We kept them hydrated, and we didn't have any heat-related injuries and nobody hurt themselves with the equipment."
The clearing took approximately five days with 47 hours of work time, Houston added. They would stop working about 11 a.m. and begin again after 2 p.m. to avoid the hottest temperatures of the day.
"During that time we'd sharpen axes and chainsaw blades," he said. "Everyone did very well in their assignments."
Spataro said the unit's clearing efforts earned the battalion's area a new nickname, "8-foot."
"Essentially it means that anything under eight feet was chopped down," he said. "It's very easy to see in that area, you don't have to worry about snakes coming out and blindsiding you at all."
Both Houston and Spataro said the Soldiers from the various companies in the unit worked well together and impressed them.
"I told them when they were out there not to think of the fire as a fire, but as the Taliban," Houston said. "I told them we were creating defensive positions as if an enemy were coming to attack the post. I'd go into combat with any one of these guys."
Spataro added that the unit didn't just clear its area, but helped out in other areas of the installation as well to ensure as many operations on post could continue uninterrupted for as long as possible.
"In the end, the success was that we still managed to have graduations despite losing almost a week of flight operations," he said.