CUSTER STATE PARK, S.D. (June 28, 2012) -- Soldiers from the 340th Engineer Company conducted fire management in the Black Hills of South Dakota for their two-week extended combat training that started June 9, 2012.

"Fires are extremely likely in [the Black Hills] and that is something we are continually cognizant of during the exercise," said Capt. Andy Yount, 340th company commander.

Cutting down excess trees and clearing out dead ones that were victims of the pine beetle not only reduce the risk of fire spreading over a large area, but also help local Native American reservations have timber for the winter.

The mission of the 340th was to load timber onto trucks for a National Guard transportation company to deliver to 15 different reservations.

The Native American reservations use the timber as firewood through the long South Dakota winter and also for ceremonial purposes.

"This humanitarian mission is important because it brings troops together with the Native American nation," said Sgt. 1st Class Naamam Lowry, unit operations noncommissioned officer. "[The mission] produces positive relations and it lessen the fire hazard in the area."

Not far from where the timber was being loaded onto trucks, Soldiers also worked on improving a fire trail here at Custer State Park. They smoothed out a five-mile trail to ensure easy and safe access for emergency vehicles.

"[The mission] helps out the state parks and we get more training on the equipment," said Pfc. Cooper J. Ware, a horizontal construction engineer and on his first ETC.

"If there is ever a fire in this field there would be a fire break because of the trail. The improved trail also allows emergency vehicles to access the road faster that way the fire does not spread as far."

While the fire trail improvement mission was completed on time, the mission faced some challenges because of local wildlife.

"The wildlife in the Black Hills is a treat," said Yount. "But the buffalo herds can completely engulf a project site and you are at a stand still until they decide to move on."

The fire management and humanitarian missions were a part of the Golden Coyote Exercise that ran from June 9 to June 22, 2012.

The 340th Engineer Company, based in New Kensington, Pa., is assigned to the 458th Engineer Battalion, 411th Engineer Brigade, under the 412th Theater Command.