News: Soldiers show resilience in the heat of California wildfires
Story by Sgt. Ian Kummer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Wildfire season is one of the most challenging and stressful operations California Army National Guard Soldiers may face outside of a combat zone. Air crews fly in chaotic, smoke-filled environments with low visibility. Maintenance crews work tirelessly to keep the aircraft mission ready. Even hundreds of miles away from the fire, Soldiers are tasked with the enormous job of handling every logistical need of the operation.
Fortunately, there is already a system in place for Soldiers to help their teammates and themselves cope with the stress – the Army Resilience Program. Resilience is the ability for an individual to manage adversity and the ability to “bounce back” after experiencing a crisis.
Though there are many principles to applying resilience, the key to success is communication and preparedness. Every helicopter crew participating in a wildfire effort has Soldiers and a Cal Fire military manager trained in their jobs. These crews will likely have differing experience levels and may not have worked together before. They become an effective team through strong standard operating procedures (SOPs) developed from real-world experience in previous fire seasons.
“We all know our roles on the helicopter, so we can work together even if we haven't met before,” said Sgt. Sonny Ward, a UH-72 Lakota crew chief in the Stockton-based Company A, 3-140th Service and Support Aviation Battalion, who lives in Rancho Cordova.
Safety is paramount in every firefighting effort – no water drop is worth losing lives over. Regardless of job or seniority, any crew member on a helicopter can speak up if he feels the mission is exceeding his skill level.
“If just two or more crew members object to the mission at any point, it has to be called off,” Ward said.
This is called the two challenge rule. Keeping every crew member within their comfort zone is crucial to maintaining resilience and safety.
Army Resilience is organized into three tiers. The first tier is an online training course Soldiers complete. The second tier is the Resilience Trainer Assistant (RTA) course, a three day class that teaches the basics of the resilience program and how to practically apply it. The highest tier is the 10-day Master Resilience Trainers (MRT) course, which teaches individuals to train their whole unit in resilience and manage their assigned RTAs.
Wildfire season is a state-wide effort, all coordinated by a task force headquarters. Many experienced Soldiers have discovered that, even while away from the burn area, mission success is dependent on a cool head and sound decision making.
“While working in that environment, everything was in motion with a lot of moving pieces,” said Capt. Cynthia Jones, a pilot from Turlock who is currently the S-1 Administration officer in charge at the 3-140th. “It is easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed.”
After serving in the fire season last year, Jones attended the RTA course and discovered the full value of practices already in place at wildfire operations, and ways to further develop and refine them in her own workplace.
“Every morning we would have little snacks out for everyone,” Jones said. “After having that [RTA] training, I see how valuable starting the day right can be for setting the tone for the whole mission.”
Resilience requires good Soldier care and Soldier care starts with the individual.
“Get sleep and eat properly,” Jones said. If you're not taking care of yourself, you're not fully effective.”
Online resilience training can be found at https://g1arng.army.pentagon.mil/programs/crms/pages/default.aspx. Any Soldier interested in attending RTA or MRT training can request orders from their unit for an upcoming class.