By Ms. Christy Barnett (ATEC)June 20, 2017
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (May 4, 2017) -- Piloting a UH-60 Blackhawk MedEvac, scooping up water from nearby ponds and strategically dumping it on the outskirts of a blazing wildfire in the hills of East Tennessee sounds like a scene from a blockbuster movie. But it was a grueling reality for 1st Lt. Promotable Philip Webster and hundreds of other members of the Tennessee Army National Guard this past November. As the fires ravaged the mountains of East Tennessee from Chattanooga to Gatlinburg, Webster and his fellow Guardsmen spent 12 hours a day finding nearby water sources and flying back 700 gallons at a time to try and keep the flames from spreading.
The amazing image of a UH-60 Blackhawk running that November mission was captured on film and featured on the cover of the January 2017 issue of National Guard magazine. Webster, a Flight Test Engineer for the U.S. Army Redstone Test Center, or RTC, said he did pilot that actual aircraft but is modest about the cover picture.
"I can't say with 100 percent certainty that is me flying in the cover photo. I did fly that aircraft, in that location, but there were multiple crews, working 12 hour shifts, so I can't say for sure," Webster said. The fact remains, Webster helped battle this blaze, along with many other Guardsmen, for a total of seven weeks. Webster flew his portion of the mission for five days, leaving on a Thursday, returning on a Tuesday and back to work at RTC on a Wednesday. It's all in a day's (or night's) work for a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard.
Webster has been serving his country in some capacity for the past 10 years, first as an enlisted Apache Crew Chief in the 8-229th Attack Helicopter Battalion, U.S. Army Reserves and as an aircraft mechanic in the 1-230th Air Cavalry Squadron, Tennessee Army National Guard. Now as a Brigade Aviation Liaison Officer in the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment he also served in Afghanistan flying one of the last Kiowa Warrior OH-58D aircraft in combat operations.
For the past year, Webster has been a flight test engineer supporting RTC, working in the Attack/Unmanned Aircraft Systems Division. As an aviator in the Guard, he has the same flight currency requirements as an active duty pilot, which means he trains roughly five days a month and about three weeks a year. That doesn't include deployment or activations he supports as a MedEvac pilot.
Just one month before the Chattanooga fires, Webster was in South Carolina providing search and rescue support for the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Matthew that hit that area. It's hard work, but he's not planning on slowing down anytime soon.
"I like contributing to the work and most of all I like working with such an amazing and talented group of people from all walks of life, who all want to be there doing this work," Webster said.