JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, – The Alaska Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, dropped water from buckets over rural areas of the installation June 9 as part of annual Red Card certification to fight wildfires.
Alaska National Guardsmen must be certified to help battle fires that are on federal land, are federally managed, or to transport federal agency personnel, according to Lt. Col. Michele Edwards, Alaska National Guard’s state Army aviation officer.
“Because they’re bringing people in from out of state, they need to make sure that they have a common standard operating picture for everyone,” she said. “If we didn’t do this training to get the federal Red Card certification, we wouldn’t be able to support the state in every possible scenario. This gives the state the full flexibility to use resources in the National Guard regardless of who’s managing the fire.”
To prepare for certification, unit members took four online classes on aviation firefighting and one in-person instruction.
The unit certified using both a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with a 550-gallon bucket and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with a 2,000-gallon bucket. Both aircraft may be used for intrastate wildfire emergencies.
The helicopter that is sent to support any wildfire is dependent mostly upon what the manager of that fire needs, and what assets the National Guard has available at the time.
“There are many things to consider, but the primary consideration is the needs based on the fire, and what other civilian assets are available,” said Edwards. “There are no civilian helicopters in the state that provide the high-volume, heavy lifts that our CH-47s provide.”
In addition to supporting wildfire emergencies within the state, being Red Card certified for water bucket drops enables the 1-207th AVN to stay proficient with their federal sling-load mission.
“When we are deployed, when our Ch-47s are deployed, or our Black Hawks are deployed, we are required to do a sling-load mission,” explained Edwards. “So, this allows us to improve our crew’s proficiency in that sling load-mission.”
Edwards said the wildfire support mission is why many people join the Alaska Army National Guard’s aviation unit.
“We have Soldiers in our organization join because they want to help the state,” she said. “This is just another way that we, in the National Guard, support our state, and can also train for our federal mission.”