By Crystal Housman, California National GuardNovember 27, 2018
MATHER, Calif. -- U.S. Army 1st Lt. Vincent Sherrill left his desk job Nov. 10 and headed for the airfield.
He swapped his business suit for a flight suit, and took one of the Army's newest helicopters from Southern California, Sunday, Nov. 11, to help drop water on the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California's Butte County.
Sherrill is a traditional Guardsman who has a civilian job and also serves as a UH-60M Black Hawk pilot in the California Army National Guard's 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos.
By day, he's an insurance underwriter.
"I enjoy my job and I enjoy the people I work with," said Sherrill, 24, after a fire mission to help contain the Camp Fire's northeast edge, Nov. 15. "I also enjoy doing this and serving our communities and being able to come out here to fight fires and help people out."
The California native graduated with a degree in political science from University of California, Irvine, in 2015 and earned his commission as an Army officer after three years in the school's Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps unit.
After graduation, Sherrill started working as a commercial lines underwriter for Liberty Mutual Insurance in Orange County where he still works writing insurance policies for businesses. Just over a year later, he headed to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he learned to fly and earned qualification as a Black Hawk pilot.
Sherrill said his employers didn't blink when he went on orders for flight training.
"They've been very good to me," he said.
This is Sherrill's first year flying wildfire missions in support of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
In late July he deployed to the Carr Fire in Redding and after about a week, headed straight to help state agencies contain the Mendocino Complex Fire which included a pair of separate fires burning in three Northern California counties. During the fires, he logged about 30 hours on fire missions and dropped more than 70 buckets of water on active fire lines.
"It was definitely the most intense mode of flight that I've flown," Sherrill said. When you're in a service mission like this, people's homes are at risk, people's lives are at risk, and you're doing some pretty serious flying in some pretty serious conditions."
He described coming back to the office after battling the blazes.
"When people asked me what I did," Sherrill said, "I was like, 'well, I was putting out fires' and they were like 'oh yeah, we do that here, too,'" he said with a chuckle.
Sherrill said he told a colleague, "No, I was literally putting out fires," and a minute later the puzzled coworker replied, "Wait... really?"
All told, he's spent about three weeks out of the office this year for aerial firefighting efforts throughout the state, but says his civilian employer understands when he is called to serve.
"My employer sees that this is something that I'm passionate about and that other people I serve with are passionate about, and they've been very facilitative of it," he said. "I work a great job with a great company that's really supportive."
Sherrill says he never expected to be a helicopter pilot, but as wildfires rip through California communities he's thankful for the opportunity to help.
"It's really rewarding," said Sherrill, whose family lives in a small town near Yosemite and is no stranger to wildfire evacuations himself. "Most of the time you're a bystander or a victim. To be someone who's actively doing something about it is really rewarding and fulfilling."