SALINA, Kan. - Soldiers and Airmen from the Kansas National Guard partnered with the Kansas Forest Service and fire departments from all over the state in a wildland firefighting exercise.

The Sept. 19 exercise was part of a week of classroom and field training hosted by the Kansas National Guard's Director of Military Support Office.

"As a result of the fires that occurred in 2016 and 2017, we looked at that and determined there were things the National Guard could do," said Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general of Kansas.

Forty-four Soldiers and 15 Airmen from more than 10 units attended the training. Participants came from different civilian careers, as well as some working full-time as Kansas National Guard technicians.

Master Sgt. Michael Baker, assistant fire chief with the 190th Air Refueling Wing, said the training is important because not all fires are the same.

"The biggest difference (between structure fires and wildland fires) is the weather," Baker said. "The weather affects the wildland fires in a different way. Today, it's windy. That creates much different issues out here versus a fire on a structure."

The training included Red Card classroom certification, field training and the final integrated exercise. The Red Card qualification is a 40-hour, nationally recognized course on wildland firefighting.

"The study includes the basics of fire behavior in outdoor environments, operating wildland equipment in direct and indirect fire attacks and survival techniques," said Capt. Hans Stephensen, who helped coordinate the training.

Soldiers and Airmen had to don a fire shelter in the field, attach and hook up hoses to various water trucks and learn basic firefighting techniques.

For the final exercise, participants executed a seamless operation using a controlled burn.

Pilots and crewmembers from 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation, dumped buckets of water on the fire from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters while Soldiers and Airmen on the ground used 200 to 400 gallons of water from a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) to fight the fires in the brush and grass.

"The central focus now is to build up a robust enough capability to enable the Kansas National Guard to support multiple locations" during a wildland fire emergency, Stephensen said.

In 2016, the Anderson Creek fire burned nearly 400,000 acres of forest, 16 homes and 25 other structures to the ground. The training at Salina will enable the Kansas National Guard to help when disaster strikes.

"When you look at wildland fires, we (the Kansas National Guard) do have a lot to offer," said Lt. Col. Larry Leupold, Kansas Army National Guard. "A lot of our local fire departments rely on volunteers. It's getting harder to get those volunteers, but we have a lot of manpower, so we can come in and help them in that way."

The training was a collaboration among the Kansas National Guard, the Kansas Forest Service, Kansas Division of Emergency Management, and the Kansas Fire Marshal's office.

"Anytime you can build a bigger force, especially for wildland fires, it's a great opportunity [for Kansas Guard members]," said Bryce Haverkamp, eastern district fire management officer for the Kansas Forest Service. "They [the participants] want to help people in Kansas, and this is a way that they can help those communities to provide a resource that we sometimes don't have."

"This is who we are as the Kansas National Guard; we build readiness and lethality for the war fight, but we also build readiness and proficiency to protect our families here in Kansas," Leupold said.