MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. -- More than 200 Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington worked their first day in the Mendocino Complex Fire today constructing debris barriers, clearing road-side brush and cutting lines to prevent the spread of the wildfires burning in the area.
Soldiers from 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion, an active-duty unit, were tasked to support the National Interagency Fire Center by the Department of Defense to assist the assets already on the ground. Before entering the burn area, every Soldier received personal protective equipment and three days of wildland firefighter training. In addition to the training, each active-duty fire crew is lead by two professional firefighters.
The Soldiers are joining thousands of other active-duty and National Guard personnel who have responded to the fire.
For at least one Lancer Brigade Soldier, wildfires are something of a way of life. Pvt. Antonio Rodriguez grew up in Whittier, California, and has experienced the fear associated with nearby San Bernardino fires.
"I feel very honored to come back home to help, that's why I joined the Army," said Rodriguez, B Company, 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion. "Now that I have the chance to help I'm trying my best with all of my battle buddies. Together, with the experience I have from the Army and the training from the firefighters, I feel like we're going to do a good job ... we're ready to go out there and try our best and see if we can stop this fire."
Soldiers spent today in the Mendocino National Forest working through smoke, falling ash and heat, practicing the skills needed to be safe and successful on a wildland fire. From the medics to the heavy equipment operators, each and every Soldier appeared eager and willing to learn and become a valuable asset to the fire containment efforts.
"Working with the civilian firefighters is great," said 1st Lt. Stanley Pearson. "They're very knowledgeable and have been great teaching us techniques for clearing out fires while remaining safe."
Pearson said the training they received during the previous three days was great preparation for what they are experiencing so far.
The three-day accelerated training program included blocks of instruction on fire behavior, personal safety, tool familiarization and use, reading weather signs and communication.
"I'm excited to get back out there to help the firefighters prevent further property loss," Pearson said.