200 JBLM soldiers head to California on Friday to help firefighters on fire lines
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.-- Two hundred soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord will head to California on Friday to join the fight to bring the Mendocino Complex Fire, the state’s largest wildfire ever, under control.
The soldiers, who are from Task Force Rugged, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, went through their first day training for the mission on Thursday.
The training and the mission might be different for them.
But the end result for the soldiers is the same: To answer a call to serve.
"I think it’s kind of ironic that when I get deployed, it’s back to where I’m from," said soldier William White.
White, a California native, was one of the soldiers practicing on Thursday how to use a fire shelter before they hit the road on Friday.
The focus of the first day of training was on fire behavior and tactics.
Once they arrive in California, they'll have two days of ground training to learn how to talk on radios, how to navigate through some dangerous conditions, and how to spot hazardous trees.
It's not the kind of work they’re used to as engineers on a battle field.
"I know some of the guys have been asking me ‘What can I look up on YouTube? What movies can I watch?’ But until you actually see it and be there, we can only explain so much," said Frank Guzman, Assistant Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service.
Some of the soldiers will likely work close to flames.
Others will use hand tools and clear brush to make sure portions of the fire already under control don’t flare back up.
"I’ve never seen a group of soldiers more excited to go spend time away from home than I have with this group. They’re motivated. They understand it’s going to be an austere difficult thing to do. But they’re absolutely proud to do it," said Lt. Col. Eric Parthemore, 14th Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander.
"It’s new and different. But it’s also an extension of what a lot of these young men and women signed up to do. They signed up to serve the United States," Parthemore added.
Of course, there are nerves for some about the unknown.
"I’m excited to be able to go home and help," said soldier Sonny Sin. "And at the same time a little nervous not knowing exactly what we’re getting into."
"It’s just fire," White said.
White told KOMO News that the fire doesn’t know what’s coming.
"When we get there, we’ll make some damage on that fire," he said.
The soldiers will work side-by-side with professional firefighters during their mission.
They'll deploy to California until they're assigned to another mission, Parthemore said.