TAZEWELL, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 12, 2008) - More than 120 Virginia National Guard Soldiers went on state active duty Feb. 11 to join in the commonwealth's battle against wildfires raging throughout the state.

While a Virginia National Guard helicopter dumped 600-gallon buckets of water to help contain fires in the Tazewell area, more than 100 Soldiers trained at Fort Pickett to be prepared for duty Tuesday in Roanoke and Bedford.

"The Virginia National Guard helicopters were amazingly effective today," said Dave Slack, the Virginia Department of Forestry regional forester in Tazewell. "Our objective for the Guard was to protect structures in the area from the fires, and we accomplished that mission."

The target area was a housing development approximately one mile southeast of Center Cross, Va., Slack explained. The terrain in that area would have made it very difficult for Department of Forestry personnel to battle the blaze with their tracked vehicles.

It would have taken a crew of four to six firefighters and Forestry personnel three to five days to accomplish what the Virginia Guard helicopter did in an hour, Slack said.

As the Guard aviators were helping contain fires with their water dumps, approximately 100 Virginia Guard Soldiers conducted firefighting training with the Forestry Department at Fort Pickett.

The Soldiers are scheduled to leave Fort Pickett in the early morning Feb. 12. About 60 Soldiers are scheduled to travel to the Roanoke Armory to establish a command post and begin assisting Forestry Department officials with the firefighting effort in the Carvin's Cove area. About 40 Soldiers are scheduled to travel to the Bedford area and assist with the fight in the Smith Mountain Lake area.

The Soldiers will support Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Forestry Department by providing fire-line construction and clean-up efforts in the affected areas.

The Soldiers are from elements of the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry and come from Lynchburg, Danville, Martinsville, South Boston and other cities throughout Virginia.

The 1st Battalion recently returned from a year-long mission in Kosovo and was celebrating its return at a Freedom Salute Ceremony Sunday. This is the Soldiers' first call to state active duty since their return in November.

(Maj. Cotton Puryear serves with the Virginia National Guard.)