Personnel and assets from US 3rd Fleet, Navy Region Southwest, Marine Corps Installations West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing participated in the 10th annual Wildland Firefighting Exercise with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire) and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department on 4 May. The cohesive, interagency wildfire training exercise was designed to allow military assets to integrate with CAL Fire and local agencies by preparing personnel and equipment to combat wildfires.
“The Wildland Firefighting exercise is great, because we showcase both the capabilities of the Navy and Marine Corps and our ability to integrate with our partners in the civilian world,” said Capt. Jim Cluxton, Navy emergency preparedness liaison officer for Northern California. “This is rewarding because we are training for the opportunity to help our communities.”
Two MH-60S Seahawks from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, along with one CH-53E Sea Stallion from the ‘Flying Tigers’ of Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 361, one MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from the ‘Knightriders’ of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 164, and one UH-1Y Venom helicopter from the 'Gunfighters' of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 369, joined various CAL FIRE assets to establish effective co-ordination and execution of combating wildfire outbreaks in California, said the Navy.
“These aircraft are not normally used in this capacity,” said George Shinrock, programme manager fire and emergency services Marines Corps Installation West. “Because of events like this, when called upon the Navy and Marine Corps can assist in firefighting with well trained personnel on short notice.”
Through these annual exercises, military units train to increase their proficiency in combating wildfires. The most recent example occurred during the 2014 Cocos, Pulgas, and Basilone Complex fires, which ignited on Camp Pendleton, the Navy reflected. Twelve HSC-3 crews dropped 125,114 gallons of water to aid in extinguishing the flames. HSC-14 and HSC-21 also provided aircraft to support the mission.
“We might not always be needed in this capacity, but as a result of this training we are ready to lend help,” said Lt Cmdr Chris Kiesel, MH-60S pilot and operations officer for Southern California Offshore Range. “We are a good insurance policy. Helicopters can get into places where other assets can’t. Sometimes they are the one and only hope to fight fires in remote locations.”
US 3rd Fleet leads naval forces in the Pacific and provides the realistic, relevant training, said the Navy.