WARRENTON, Ore. -- Fifty seven Airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing out of Kingsley Field, Klamath Falls, Ore. spent two weeks up north preparing to assist wildland fire fighters.
This training event is unique in that it is the first time National Guard members trained prior to being tasked with supporting firefighting in Oregon.
“In the past, we did not train beforehand, and this caused about a two week delay in having Oregon National Guard resources ready to deploy,” says Chief Master Sgt. James Dean, 173rd mission support group chief. “Now we are trained and ready to deploy!”
Colonel Jeff Smith, 173rd FW commander adds, “We should cut the response time more than 50%, enabling our manpower surge to augment the ODF (Oregon Department of Forestry) and other partners sooner, hopefully minimizing impacts of fire damage.”
Last year, nearly 100 Airmen from Kingsley Field were part of the more than 600 Oregon National Guard Soldiers and Airmen that were called to support firefighting efforts across the state. It is anticipated that there may be a similar call this year due to extremely dry conditions across the State.
“As one of the Oregon National Guard's state missions, to protect our state from natural disasters, wildland firefighting has become one of the biggest issues for many of the north western states,” says Dean. “We have some of the best and brightest on our team and they come from all ranks, ethnicities and backgrounds; the ability to work together as one team in such a short amount of time in such a hazardous and dangerous environment is truly amazing to see and to be part of.”
Air National Guard units are tasked with supporting dual missions to both the state and federal governments. Smith says this can be a tricky balancing act at times.
“We are sworn to support the nation and the state in times of need, and sometimes we have to do both,” he adds.
He points out that last year the 173rd FW accomplished just this, supporting all three of their major mission sets simultaneously– supporting global operations with deployed members, training F-15C pilots, and fighting wildfires in Oregon.
Smith says this was accomplished by being able to call up Drill Status Guardsmen to support these missions. “Without them, we could not tackle so many tasks at once.”
Smith notes that this is not only the wing’s mission, it is personal. “We live here; we're raising our kids here. Because we're rooted in the community, we're also vested in it. By training to support wildfire fighting efforts, we prepare to defend and preserve the beautiful landscape we're so lucky to have in Oregon.”