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Guard Bureau Chief Praises Efforts in Fighting Fires, Floods

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith and Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., June 27, 2008 – Assessing the National Guard’s California fire and Midwest flood-fighting efforts first-hand yesterday and today, the chief of the National Guard Bureau visited adjutants general and troops in affected states.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum (left), chief the National Guard Bureau, looks over the wildfire response operations of two North Carolina National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from the 145th Airlift Wing with Army Maj. Gen. William Wade, adjutant general of California, at Chico, Calif., June 26, 2008. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith, National Guard Bureau

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

“They’re handling very difficult and complex issues in a very competent and professional manner,” Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said during a stop in Iowa. “The National Guard response has been generally superb, a benchmark case study in cooperation among the states for mutual support and cooperation during an emergency. They’ve achieved the correct balance between local, state and federal response in a coordinated and synchronized manner.”

Blum had been scheduled to talk with officers participating in a Joint Task Force Commanders’ Training Course at U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs today. With more than 280 citizen-soldiers and –airmen and 23 National Guard helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft helping California firefighters, and more than 2,100 troops and an abundance of equipment tackling Midwest floods, Blum adjusted his itinerary to assess both missions.

“It’s important to get eyes-on so that we have a comprehensive operating picture of exactly what is being done and we have a clear understanding of what other personnel or equipment may be necessary to move to the area so that we don’t leave the adjutant general or the governor short of any capability presently required or foreseeable to deal with the emergency in the future,” Blum said. “We like to stay ahead of the emergency.”

Blum’s questions for the California and Iowa adjutants general as he visited their states included whether they have what they need, how efforts could be improved and what results they are achieving.

“In order to save lives, minimize destruction and assist recovery, we need the right capability, in the right quantity, where and when it’s needed,” Blum said. “The adjutants general assess the situation, identify immediate requirements and send the National Guard’s critical capabilities to meet our communities’ needs.”

California faces hundreds of lightning-sparked wildfires. Parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin have been inundated with historic Mississippi River flooding. The National Guard has played vital roles in both domestic disasters.

The Guard’s key contribution to the fires comes from above: OH-58 Kiowa, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters spot fires and drop water to support civilian firefighters. RC-26 aircraft give state fire managers vital reconnaissance that improves their ability to effectively focus firefighting efforts. C-130 Hercules aircraft drop flame-retardant that halts advancing fire dead in its tracks.

In the Midwest, the Guard’s contribution is on the ground – sometimes knee-deep in flood water. The Associated Press reported that one Missouri levee was so tenuous that only Guard members and firefighters in life vests could continue sandbagging efforts.

Blum’s visit to California yesterday included a Sacramento stop for a face-to-face meeting with Maj. Gen. William Wade, the adjutant general. Then, the chief and the adjutant general met with troops and the state firefighters they are assisting at Chico Municipal Airport.

The general thanked and debriefed citizen-soldiers and –airmen and their Cal Fire-Butte County counterparts.

During Blum’s visit, two C-130 Hercules planes were loaded with retardant and took off toward Whiskeytown, Chico’s Enterprise Record newspaper reported. Four of eight firefighting C-130s that exist in the United States are now in the Chico area. More are expected to arrive in the next week, Blum told crews.

“The MAFFS were pre-positioned and ready,” Blum said. “All they need is favorable weather conditions, and they will make a significant impact on the fires. This will not be a case of piecemieling the capabilities – they’ll be able to mass the systems against the fire with good effect.”

MAFFS are Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems. Initially, air crews were grounded by smoke that obscured visibility.

When crises happen, Guard states team up to respond. C-130s from North Carolina and Wyoming have joined California’s own aircraft to suppress the flames, and the adjutant general was delighted to see the planes and their crews ready to roll.

“These planes are as good as gold,” Wade said. “They really earn their money for what they do. The same combat skills these pilots accrue in combat are the same skills they use to suppress wildfires – so their techniques, skills and abilities are absolute gold in an environment like this.”

“There’s a lot of fire out there,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Christian, 156th Airlift Squadron. “We love to get out here and fly every day and fly as much as we can. That’s why we’re here.”

After Chico, it was on to Colorado Springs for Blum, the only stop he had originally planned, where he assessed Joint Incident Site Communications Capability equipment of exactly the kind vital to firefighting and flood responses before addressing officers who are training to command the joint task forces also so critical to domestic disaster responses.

“The National Guard is the first military responder during natural disasters in the homeland,” Blum said. “The National Guard’s unique capabilities enhance the synchronization with Northern Command and the Department of Defense’s partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, ensuring a unity of effort.”

Blum spoke to 80 officers being certified and trained to lead National Guard joint task forces on domestic missions like the California fires and Midwest floods.

He continued to Iowa today, where he planned to ask Maj. Gen. Ron Dardis, the adjutant general, the same sorts of questions as those he raised in California – only this time targeted at containing water rather than fighting fire.

(Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith and Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serve with the National Guard Bureau. Army Lt. Col. Robert Ditchey and Army Master Sgt. Katherine Perez, both of the National Guard Bureau, and the Chico, Calif., Enterprise Record contributed to this report.)

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Army Lt. Gen H Steven Blum

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