YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – Just a little over 100 miles southeast of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, nestled in the picturesque shrub-steppe desert northeast of Yakima, one can find the Yakima Training Center.
Spanning more than 327,000 acres, YTC is one of the largest warfighter training areas on the West Coast. Every branch of military service from JBLM and other regional military installations, allied forces from Canada and Japan, local law enforcement and numerous federal agencies utilize YTC to meet training and readiness objectives. Accordingly, the core mission of YTC is to provide versatile training support and services to enable Joint Force readiness.
In addition to its core training support mission, units on YTC also aid and assist the Yakima community through various emergency service partnerships. Over the past year, YTC explosive ordnance disposal, fire and emergency services and air ambulance responded to more than 120 community requests for off-post emergency support. The city of Yakima and YTC were recognized by the Department of the Army in November of last year with the 2020 Army Community Partnership Award for excellence in fire response.
According to the U.S. Army November 2020 release, the award is presented to installations demonstrating partnerships that improve quality of life for service members and their families, enhance Army readiness and modernization capabilities and build stronger community relationships.
Averaging about three to five responses per week, YTC and the city of Yakima Fire Departments partner to perform fire and emergency services, including life-saving rescues, structure fire calls and wildland firefighting, throughout the Yakima Valley.
“Our partnerships and agreements with Yakima County and the City of Yakima Fire Departments are vital to providing professional emergency services for the Army’s mission at YTC, at the same time crucial in supporting the soldiers and civilians which reside in those districts. Here in Yakima, we look at emergency response as a team approach providing the best level of support necessary to minimize fires and other emergency situations. We value our partnerships and the skills they bring to our program,” said Kevin Sullivan, fire chief and acting director of Emergency Services at YTC.
Some of these partnerships involve YTC tenant units that provide Defense in Support of Civil Authorities responses. The 53rd Ordnance Company, 3rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion and the U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment, Detachment, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade are the two primary units that provide critical DSCA support to the Yakima Valley region and beyond.
The 53rd Ordnance Company, which reports to the 71st Ordnance Group (EOD) at Fort Carson, Colorado, is stationed at YTC. The Company partners with Yakima City Police and Yakima County Sheriff offices; several local county police departments; Washington State Patrol Interagency Bomb Squad; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to respond to explosive hazards in an emergency response area that covers much of the Pacific Northwest.
Covering 220,000 square miles, the group’s operational area includes eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, northern Idaho and western Montana. In Fiscal 2021, the 53rd Ordnance Company responded to 16 off-base requests for assistance – which accounted for 30% of its mission.
“The partnerships have been great opportunities for us to work with federal, state, county and local law enforcement entities,” said U.S. Army Capt. Joe Gianino, commander of the 53rd Ordnance Company at YTC. “They have also allowed us to forge trust with the local communities and steward not only the EOD profession, but the U.S. Army profession as well.”
YTC and the Central Washington Mountain Rescue– a volunteer agency – partner to perform search and rescue missions within 60 miles of the Training Center. Based at YTC, the U.S. Army Air Ambulance and CWMR volunteers train together frequently throughout the year on USAAAD aircraft at the YTC airfield to become familiar with each organization’s capabilities, limitations, tactics, and techniques.
“It is a very team-focused mission,” said U.S. Army Maj. Jason West, the Detachment’s Commander. “Not just pilots – it’s a collaboration between our pilots, crew chiefs, medics and operational personnel doing the best they can.”
Determining the ability to assist in community missions depends on availability of resources and weather conditions. The USAAAD’s primary mission is supporting troops at the training ranges. If there are any active high-risk training events in execution at YTC, USAAAD may not be able to assist in community DSCA missions.
One of the most memorable rescues for West, he recalled, was rescuing an injured female hiker who could not evacuate on her own.
From the time the call came in, West and his team were able to complete the rescue in less than 30 minutes with a 50-foot hoist. It would have taken a ground crew about eight hours to complete this same task.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Luke Wittmer, garrison commander of Yakima Training Center emphasized the importance of YTC’s emergency response partnerships with the local community, “Executing our mission of supporting on-post training, while being able to simultaneously assist in off-post emergencies not only strengthens us as a team but strengthens our relationship with the community surrounding YTC as well. YTC cannot achieve its mission of enabling Joint Force readiness without the tremendous support we received from the greater Yakima area. In turn, we are happy that the YTC Team can provide support back in a substantive way through our First Responder and U.S. Army professionals.”