News: Kansas soldiers to return Saturday from battling Colorado fires
Story by Steve Larson
By Steve Laron
Kansas Adjutant General's Department Public Affairs Office
TOPEKA, Kan. - One Black Hawk helicopter and nine soldiers from the Kansas National Guard’s 108th Aviation and Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), headquartered in Topeka, will fly home to Kansas, June 23, from their mission of assisting firefighters in Colorado battle wildfires that have raged near Fort Collins since June 9.
Currently, the fire is more than 50 percent contained and Colorado emergency management officials have decided to start releasing assets called in from other states.
"I say "job well done" to these soldiers," said Maj. Gen. [KS] Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general. "They did their job professionally, proudly and with the kind of enthusiasm that’s the hallmark of being a Kansas National guardsmen. I’m sure that if Colorado or any other state needs them, these soldiers would be glad to go again."
The guardsmen used a 660-gallon Bambi bucket slung beneath their helicopter to drop water on the flames as directed by ground personnel.
"Most of what we did was on the flanks of the fire," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steve Hood, safety officer, Army Air Support Facility No. 1, Topeka. "We dropped water to keep the fires contained and prevent them from jumping across firebreaks."
"We also did home protection," he continued, "by wetting down areas around homes where firefighters had started backburns."
The success of the mission was definitely a cooperative effort between military and civilian organizations.
"We often have opportunities to train with other Guard units, so working with the other states and coming together to help out seemed relatively second nature," said Capt. Jacqueline Miller, medevac platoon leader, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th General Aviation Regiment. "The new experiences definitely come from working with the civilian entities. I felt that we worked together well and we received several compliments about how well our crew chiefs were able to line up the aircraft and drop the water right where they needed it."
Despite contending with weather that hindered flying at times, the Kansas soldiers were satisfied with their mission.
"It makes you feel good to know you have helped with a major disaster and saved people’s homes," said Sgt. Ryan Kohlman, standardization instructor, Company G, 2-135th Aviation.
"It’s a good feeling hearing the U.S. Forest Service say you did a bang-up job on that hilltop and that they would fly with us any day," said Sgt. Sheldon Snodgrass, flight instructor, Company G, 2-135th Aviation.
"I know Colorado, before their fires started, were in Nebraska helping them," said Hood. "We’ve come to Colorado. So that’s what it’s all about - the National Guard helping its communities. It’s wonderful to come out here and be able to help and have the community tell us ‘Thank you for being here and helping us out.’"