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Guard Soldiers Join Virginia Firefighting Mission

By Maj. Cotton Puryear, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

TASWELL, Va., Feb. 12, 2008 – More than 120 Virginia National Guard soldiers went on state active duty yesterday to join in the battle against wildfires raging throughout the state.

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Virginia Army National Guard aviators Warrant Officer Aaron Trombley (left) and Chief Warrant Officer John Anderson (center) check the location of their water drop on a Virginia wildfire Feb. 11, 2008, near Tazewell, Va., with Dave Slack, Virginia Department of Forestry regional forester. Virginia National Guard photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

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 today in Roanoke and Bedford.

“The Virginia National Guard helicopters were amazingly effective today,” Dave Slack, the Virginia Forestry Department’s regional forester in Tazewell, said last night. “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 about a mile southeast of Center Cross, Slack explained. The terrain in that area would have made it very difficult for Forestry Department 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 to contain fires with their water dumps, about 100 Virginia Guard soldiers conducted firefighting training with the Forestry Department at Fort Pickett.

The soldiers were scheduled to leave Fort Pickett early this morning. 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, National Guard officials said.

The soldiers will support the 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 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, and come from Lynchburg, Danville, Martinsville, South Boston and other cities throughout Virginia.

The 1st Battalion recently returned from a yearlong mission in Kosovo and celebrated its return at a Freedom Salute Ceremony on Feb. 10. This is the soldiers’ first call to state active duty since their return in November.

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

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA Virginia National Guard helicopter from 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation, lifts off from the Tazewell, Va., airport to begin firefighting operations near Center Cross, Va. Virginia National Guard photo  
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