WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawai’i — At U.S. Army Garrison Hawai'i, a small but formidable team of ten, led by Jacob Faber and Justin Turnbo, stands vigilant against the relentless threat of wildfires. As the only full-time National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) wildland firefighters in the Army, their dedication extends far beyond the typical scope of duty, encompassing a vital role in maintaining the Army's training readiness.
Jacob Faber, the crew supervisor, outlines their unique position: "Unlike other installations that rely on external assistance, our team is solely dedicated to wildland firefighting. This isn't just a job for us; it's our life's work."
Distinct from other military bases that depend on collateral duty or external assistance for fire management, the Garrison Hawai'i team is exclusively devoted to wildland firefighting. "Our role is unique in the Army. We are the only NWCG wildland firefighters entirely focused on wildland fire, not as a secondary duty but as our primary responsibility," shares Faber, underscoring the team's specialized expertise and dedication.
The team's role extends beyond fire suppression; they are a pivotal component in ensuring the seamless conduct of Army training exercises. "Our presence is non-negotiable for Army training. Fires can ignite at any moment, and we must always be prepared," explains Turnbo. This level of readiness is particularly remarkable given the vast area they cover and their limited personnel.
This year alone, this dedicated crew battled over 67 wildfires across the Army installations, a testament to their relentless commitment. With responsibilities spanning across vast landscapes from Tripler to Fort Shafter and beyond, they ensure the safety of both military and surrounding civilian lands.
The team's expertise in wildland fire management is unparalleled. "Our training spans decades, covering fire management, budgeting, finance, and command duties," shares Justin Turnbo, the program manager. This depth of knowledge positions them uniquely in the Army's ecosystem, where they often collaborate with Honolulu Fire Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service, especially during significant incidents like the Mililani Mauka fire where the team coordinated water bucket drop locations from assisting Army aviation assets.
A critical part of their duty is maintaining remote automated weather stations across O'ahu and Hawaii Island. These stations provide real-time fire danger information, crucial for both military and civilian forecasting. "Our weather stations are a national asset," Faber adds. "They offer essential data not just for us but for the National Weather Service and other agencies."
Despite their crucial role, the team faces challenges. With a modest budget and a high turnover rate due to the strenuous demands of the job, they often operate under tight constraints. "We do more with less," Turnbo states. "Our team consistently faces the challenge of maintaining our high standards with limited resources."
The team's dedication is unwavering, even during personal sacrifices. "We've missed holidays, family events, all to ensure safety and training continuity," Faber reflects. Their commitment ensures that Army training proceeds uninterrupted, a crucial aspect of their mission.
Yet, this exemplary team seeks no glory. Their motto, "embrace the suck," reflects a deep-seated resilience and a focus on duty. This quiet professionalism, however, often leaves their challenges unseen.
As the Army looks to expand wildland firefighting capabilities across other installations, the U.S. Army Garrison Hawai'i Wildland Fire Team serves as a pioneering model. Their experiences, both in triumphs and challenges, will shape the future of wildland firefighting within the Army.
"We're not just fighting fires; we're safeguarding the future of Army training and the communities around us," says Turnbo. Their story is one of silent heroism, a beacon of dedication and resilience in the face of ever-present danger.
As the sun sets over the lush landscapes of O'ahu, the U.S. Army Garrison Hawai'i Wildland Fire Team remains on guard, a testament to their unwavering commitment to protect and serve.