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National Guard Prepares to Respond to Wildfires, Floods

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29, 2005 – While National Guard helicopter crews remain on standby today to respond to wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma, their counterparts in Oregon are preparing to move in, if asked, to provide flood relief.

Wildfires continue to scorch large sections of Oklahoma and Texas, while drenching winter storms threaten to flood northern California and southern Oregon coastal regions.

Members of the Oregon National Guard are poised to provide medical evacuation assistance in the wake of widespread flooding, Air Force Capt. Mike Braibish, an Oregon National Guard public affairs officer, told the American Forces Press Service.

Three UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters and their crews are on standby at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Salem, Ore. State officials are assessing what National Guard equipment can be moved into areas where it is most likely to be needed, he said.

Half of the unit involved, the 1042nd Medical Company (Air Ambulance), is on a deployment in Afghanistan, expected to return home this winter, Braibish said.

Meanwhile, a 1042nd crew spent Dec. 25 conducting a search for a missing person in Oregon, and another crew is on standby to respond to the Texas wildfires, if asked, he said.

The multiple missions have become an accepted part of life for National Guard members, Braibish said. "We're always going to see some kind of action," he said. "It's just a question of when and where."

Meanwhile in Texas, widespread wildfires are considered to be contained, but could flare up again if weather forecasts for windy conditions prove accurate, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada said.

In case they are needed to help douse the flames, four Texas National Guard helicopters remained on standby today. Two CH-47 Chinooks, each capable of carrying 2,000 gallons of water, are on standby in Grand Prairie, near Dallas, and two UH-60 Black Hawks, each able to carry 660 gallons of water, are at the Austin Aviation Support Facility, prepared to respond, Moncada said.

Three additional UH-60 helicopters and their crews arrived in Grand Prairie from Louisiana to support the mission, she said.

In Oklahoma, two CH-47s and a UH-60 and 12 crewmembers also remain on standby, a National Guard Bureau official said.

Pentagon officials point to the National Guard's readiness to respond to both wildfires and flooding while also playing a major role in the war on terror as a testament to the Guard's extensive capabilities.

"Even with more than 80,000 Army and Air National Guard members currently supporting the global war on terrorism, the National Guard continues to display its skill and flexibility in supporting civil authorities at a moment's notice," said Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokesman.

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