By Sgt. Wesley ParrellMay 10, 2016
PHOENIX -- Members of the 2-285th Assault Helicopter Battalion participated in an annual training and certification course for wildfire response at the Papago Park Military Reservation, May 4-5.
At the completion of the 24-hour training course, 16 pilots and crew chiefs were certified to respond and assist with helicopter bucket operations, delivering water for aerial firefighting during future wildfire events. This will solidify one of nearly a dozen capabilities the aviation unit possesses to support first responders during the wildfire season.
"The Arizona National Guard's aviation crews possess a number of skills critical to the wildfire fighting efforts," said Justin Jager, interagency aviation officer for the National Parks Service and U.S. Forest Service. "Developing the interagency operability of these crews to help support the ground crews is invaluable to the state and region in terms of preparedness."
Aside from water drop capabilities, the Arizona National Guard's aviation crews are capable to support lift operations, extraction and insertion of personnel, search and rescue, hoist operations, and sling load equipment transport. There are also specially trained crewmembers who can perform casualty and medical evacuations.
These crew capabilities are augmented by the workhorse capabilities of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter they operate. As the U.S. Army's primary medium lift utility transport and air assault aircraft, the Blackhawk is a twin-engine medium lift utility helicopter designed to perform multiple functions in a variety of terrains and conditions.
"These are very fast and powerful aircrafts," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rick Klauer, instructor Pilot for the Arizona Army National Guard. "The Blackhawk can perform operations anywhere within the state of Arizona from the lower Sonora Desert to the top of Humphrey's Peak."
These capabilities were put to the test last July when the Arizona National Guard was called to support medical evacuation operations on the top of the Four Peaks Mountain Northeast of Phoenix. Due to the extreme winds and high altitudes, the 2-285th possessed the right capabilities and crew to perform this technical rescue successfully.
With fine fuels overabundant in all ecosystems across the state of Arizona, this upcoming wildfire season in predicted to be an active one. Norval Taylor, center manager for the Arizona State Forestry Dispatch Center, expressed the importance of the Arizona National Guard's role during a training briefing at the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Emergency Operations Center, May 3.
"Most organizations are specialized in a certain aspect of a response," Taylor said. "I know that when the National Guard is called to support us we are receiving a top-tier agency with personnel that can handle a wide spectrum of tasks."
The Arizona National Guard is a component of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. With dual mission responsibilities, the National Guard responds to both state and federal requests for support. Under state law, the National Guard provides protection of life and property and preserves peace, order and public safety. The Guard accomplishes these missions through emergency-relief support during natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, forest fires, search and rescue operations, support to civil defense authorities, maintenance of vital public services and counter-drug operations.
"The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs supports whole community preparedness," said Wendy Smith-Reeve, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. "The National Guard and its members are a part of the whole community and exercising their role in fire response facilitates a smoother response to an actual emergency."