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    Trust the gear: Crew chief hangs life on three feet of webbing

    Cal Guard’s newest helicopters make debut during Camp Fire

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Crystal Housman | U.S. Army Sgt. Anthony Orduno, a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter crew chief with Bravo...... read more read more



    Story by Crystal Housman 

    California National Guard   

    by Senior Airman Crystal Housman
    California National Guard Public Affairs

    FEATHER RIVER CANYON, Calif. – As flames work their way up trees in the Feather River Canyon, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, Anthony Orduno dangles his boots about 30 ft. overhead.

    Orduno, a U.S. Army Sgt. and UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter crew chief with the California Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, sits broadside on the helicopter's cold gray floor as the chopper circles to drop water on the Camp Fire burning below in Butte County.

    One hand holds a control to open and close the valve on the helicopter's water bucket and the other rests easily against a piece of webbing stretched lengthwise across the helicopter’s open doorway. Orduno scans the smoky horizon for wires and other firefighting aircraft. He looks below to ensure the bucket doesn’t snag a tree. All the while, his feet hang outside dangling in the wind and rotor wash.

    An arm's length of olive drab webbing and a pair of locking carabiners attach his survival vest to a ring that hangs down in the cabin ceiling.

    The webbing-carabiner combo is called a ‘monkey tail,’ and it’s the only thing keeping Orduno from falling out.

    “People I trust tell me it works, so I trust it,” Orduno says with a curious smile.

    He recalls crew chief training, and the first time he wore the monkey tail.

    “My flight instructor told me to just stand at the edge and lean out,” he remembers. “I did it and it held me, so I’ve trusted it ever since.”

    Orduno, who is in his eighth year as a Black Hawk crew chief, is at home in the helicopter and moves about the cabin with comfort.

    It's a testament to his crew, his faith in the bird and in the gear that keeps him inside of it.

    As crew chief, he is one of the aircraft's senior mechanics and caretakers. Orduno oversees a staff of soldiers who service the helicopter after every mission. He ensures the helicopter’s maintenance is done and makes sure all the equipment in the aircraft is secure.

    He says he trusts the pilots won’t exceed the limitations of the aircraft and that his team of mechanics will do the right things to keep the Black Hawk flying.

    “We’ve just got to trust in what we do and how we do it,” Orduno says.

    As Orduno and his crew fly through the Camp Fire's heavy smoke and ash, flames work their way through brush and up the trunks of years-old trees.

    An embedded aircrew member from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE) coordinates what part of the fire the crew will work to contain.

    The pilots position the aircraft and in the back, Orduno’s monkey tail is clipped and he prepares to make a drop. The bucket is carrying almost 660 gallons or nearly 5,200 pounds of water they picked up from the Feather River a couple minutes before.

    “It’s an amazing feeling to know that I can control the water,” Orduno says.

    “Seeing flames go out with that white smoke coming up,” he says, “it’s a good feeling.”

    By the time Orduno and his crew are released from the Camp Fire, he’ll see a lot of white smoke. Despite being grounded for two days due to weather and visibility, Orduno and the crew will fly for four days and drop more than 37,000 gallons of water on the fire before they head home to Southern California.

    All he knows right now is that he wants to help.

    “I love what I do and I’m glad I can help people who are unfortunate,” Orduno says. “If my house was on fire, I’d want somebody to put it out.”



    Date Taken: 11.26.2018
    Date Posted: 12.31.2018 22:51
    Story ID: 306006

    Web Views: 560
    Downloads: 1