Archangels Brigade assists wildfire response

By Steven WesolowskiApril 6, 2022

By Capt. Steven L. Wesolowski, Division West Public Affairs

FORT HOOD, TX – Soldiers and aviators of the 166th Aviation Brigade, Division West – First Army, actively supported the Fort Hood Fire Department to help significantly reduce a wildfire that consumed 33,000 acres of the installation’s training areas.

Efforts to contain and monitor the massive brush fire from 10 rotary-wing aircraft started Mar. 29 and continued throughout the week with fire officials declaring the blaze as Fort Hood’s biggest fire of all time.

With what started as a series of small fires on the south side of the Crittenburg Complex’s training areas a couple days prior, rise in temperatures and direction of wind gusts caused the fires to quickly merge and scatter between training grounds and areas of Flat, Texas.

Archangels Brigade assists wildfire response
A distant wildfire is seen on military training grounds from a watch tower on Fort Hood, Texas, Mar. 27, 2022.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Randy R. Quintana, Division West Public Affairs)

Pilots and crewmen from the aviation brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 291st Aviation Regiment, the 3rd Battalion, 351st Aviation Regiment, and its international partners of the 302nd Dutch Squadron, received the call from the Fort Hood Fire Department to assist in air operations. Firefighters from surrounding municipalities worked alongside 36th Engineer Brigade’s ground crews and the Texas A&M Forest Service to contain the wildfire’s perimeter.

The units flew and dumped buckets of water over the engulfed training areas, preventing flare-ups from reaching any homes, structures, and infrastructures in the surrounding areas. While UH-60 helicopters are capable of carrying up to 660 gallons of water, CH-47 helicopters capable of carrying 2,000 gallons were used for the operation.

Archangels Brigade assists wildfire response
Aerial view from a CH-47F aircraft dumping 2,000 gallons of water over a section of wildfires found on military training grounds in Fort Hood, Texas, Mar. 29, 2022. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Gilbert J. Richmond, 2-291st Aviation Regiment) VIEW ORIGINAL

Lt. Col. Martin ‘t Jong, commander of the 302nd Dutch Squadron, reflected on the timely support his crews were able to provide.

“We’re always orchestrating permissions from the Netherlands to support local Ft. Hood operations in times of need,” said T’Jong. “Although we have had a busy schedule with transitioning from our old Honeywell Chinook cockpit system to the US Army’s Common Avionics Architecture System, there was little doubt when we were asked to help.”

The cooperation was noted as an example of what the response meant for US allies.

“It took some arranging to get the US fire buckets approved for flight by our Dutch aircraft, but that was swiftly arranged, as our Netherlands’ leadership were able to support the efforts from the beginning,” he added. “We’ve been treated as equals in the past 26 years, so we will give back whenever and however way we can.”

Dutch aviation Sgt. 1st Class Wouter van Bergen, a load master with the 302nd Dutch Squadron, recounted the work process to loading the CH-47s for the operation.

“As a load master on the CH-47F during firefighting support, my duties were to configure, rig, and test each water bucket before take-off, open/close the door when filling it, help spot the fire, line up on the proper track where needed based on the wind directions, and release the water on command,” said van Bergen.

Van Bergen took part in the 302nd Dutch Squadron’s six hours of flight, dropping nearly 30,000 gallons of water over the wildfire.

“Our aircraft specifically used the Bambi HL7600 water bucket capable of carrying and emptying the 2,000 gallons in one or multiple passes. It takes approximately seven seconds to empty the bucket in a single pass,” he added. “When we finished flying on Thursday afternoon, only a few areas were still smoldering. The fire appeared to be contained.”

Archangels Brigade assists wildfire response
View of a Bambi HL7600 bucket carrying 2,000 gallons of water from a CH-47F aircraft prior to being dumped over a section of wildfires found on military training grounds in Fort Hood, Texas, Mar. 30, 2022. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Martin ‘t Jong, 302nd Dutch Squadron) VIEW ORIGINAL

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 James T. Petty, a pilot and Observer - Coach/Trainer (OC/T) from the 3-351st Aviation Regiment, recounted his crew’s measures applied to the effort.

“My role as Pilot in Command was to ensure our air crew safely maneuvered to provide fire suppression and preventative soaking of fire breaks, while in direct coordination with the fire department,” said Petty. “We ended up operating over the entire northern halves of the east and west sides of the fires designated by the installation.”

Petty, alongside his pilot Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher D. Denson, both previously served together in the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade at Fort Hood for four years. He recalled the response effort being their 20th and largest fire suppression operation together. Aircraft OC/T and standardization instructors from 2-291st Aviation Regiment, Master Sgt. Gilbert J. Richmond and Sgt. 1st Class Danny S. O’Neal, also served in Petty's crew throughout the operation.

“Overall, our crew’s effort resulted in conducting 33 aerial drops of 62,000 gallons of water within seven and half hours of flight time,” Petty added. “It was a hasty operation for our crew and the rest of the brigade, but with the active cooperation between airfield managers and the fire chief, the tasking to aid the firefight was a total success.”

Lt. Col. Lindsay A. Ryan, S-3 officer for 166th Avn. Bde., gathered reports from all the aviation teams supporting the ground fire crews.

“In total, our brigade performed 13 hours of flight in support of Fort Hood’s firefighting operation, consisting of 58 aerial drops of 91,000 gallons of water,” said Ryan on Thursday. “We also supported the flight of the III Corps Command Sergeant Major and Installation Fire Chief who assessed the wildfire spread throughout the week.”

166th Avn. Bde. and its installation partners are no strangers to fire emergency response and safety training. The aviation brigade previously supported fire and emergency responses throughout its history at Fort Hood, to include numerous fire training simulations and exercises.

Last year, the unit conducted vehicular and aircraft fire training exercises with the Fort Hood Fire Department and voluntary city fire departments local to the North Fort Hood area. Every measure of safety included inspecting and testing aircraft capabilities used for rapidly responding to fire emergencies.

Archangels Brigade assists wildfire response
Aerial view of wildfire damage to military training grounds seen from a CH-47F aircraft in Fort Hood, Texas, Mar. 30, 2022. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. Martin ‘t Jong, 302nd Dutch Squadron) VIEW ORIGINAL

The bulk of the wildfire was significantly reduced on Thursday, leaving ranges impacted by the wildfire under close monitoring by the Fort Hood Directorate of Emergency Services for the next several weeks.

No firefighters were injured, thanks to combined efforts of the Fort Hood Fire Department, local and state agency partners, Army engineering and aviation crews. Safety remains a top priority for 166th Aviation Brigade, and for all Soldiers, civilians, and neighbors of Fort Hood.