By Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar, 173rd Fighter Wing
WARRENTON, Ore. -- Fifty-seven airmen from the Oregon Air National Guard’s 173rd Fighter Wing based at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, spent two weeks here learning to assist wildland firefighters.
This was the first time National Guardsmen were trained before being tasked to support firefighting efforts 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 Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Dean, chief of the 173rd Mission Support Group . “Now we are trained and ready to deploy!”
Air Force Col. Jeff Smith, commander of the 173rd Fighter Wing adds, “We should cut the response time [by] more than 50 percent, enabling our manpower surge to augment the [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 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 Oregon.
“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,” Dean said. “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.”
Balancing Multiple Responsibilities
National Guard units are tasked with supporting both the state and federal governments. Smith said 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 said.
He points out that last year the 173rd Fighter Wing accomplished just this, supporting all three of its major mission sets simultaneously -- deploying in support of global operations, training F-15C Eagle 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.”