National Guard Wildfire Support


My goal today is to educate you about the National Guard wildfire support. The DoD, specifically the Army National Guard, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve have a critical role in supporting local and national civilian firefighting agencies. Basically, the military is a standby wildfire force. They are on call to support other agencies when required.

In the paragraphs below, I want to share some basic facts and information you should know about what the National Guard does to support wildfires.

  • The military currently assists with wildfires when needed
  • The DoD has been assisting the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior with wildfires since 1975
  • There is an interagency document in place between these organizations to make this possible
  • The National Guard is usually requested when civilian and national resources are maxed out
  • The National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the National Interagency Fire Center has the decision and authority to request military support with wildfires
  • When wildfire support is requested by this agency, the military will send a liaison officer to the NIFC for coordination
  • The military has ground and aerial resources to support wildfires
  • The Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) is used in the C-130 Hercules with Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel
  • Military ground support is provided by battalion level units, which normally consist of 500+ personnel (about 25 teams)
  • The C-130 Hercules with MAFFS is frequently used to put out wildfires
  • The Air National Guard has supported more than 6,500 wildfire missions since 1974
  • There are three MAFFS units in the Air National Guard
  • There are more than 8,400 airmen in different specialties that support this mission
  • Some of the most recent missions include the 2007 California wildfires, the 2011 Texas wildfires, and the 2012 Colorado wildfires
  • The Army National Guard uses Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters to battle wildfires
  • The Blackhawk is equipped with a 600-gallon water bucket and the Chinook has a 2,000 gallon capacity
  • MEDEVAC helicopters have lift capabilities to extract wounded personnel
  • The Army firefighter MOS is 12M and the Air Force Firefighter MOS is 3E7X1

Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Army 13F MOS Overview: Fire Support Specialist
  2. Army 12M MOS: Firefighter
  3. National Guard Firefighter Information
  4. Military Spending: 10 Things You Should Know
  5. Army Futures Command: Top 8 Cool Facts

Recent Wildfires

Just this past summer (2018), we witnessed some of the worst wildfires in the Western United States. Regular firefighters could not keep up with these raging infernos, so Air and Army National Guard were deployed for wildfire support.

These soldiers responded by

  • helping to evacuate families to safe zones;
  • directing traffic;
  • providing logistical support;
  • flying helicopters and dumping thousands of gallons of water;
  • also, flying C-130’s that dropped fire suppression slurry;
  • and above all else, men and women soldiers took the risk and went out and battled the fires.

Every State’s National Guard units train for situations such as these. According to Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma who is the spokesman for the California National Guard:

We train year-round to come to the aid of our neighbors when tragedy strikes, We have alerted the entire Cal Guard, and already more than 2,000 Guardsmen have mobilized to support this response.

Troops That Mobilized

National Guard troops mobilized quickly and efficiently to go to war against these wildfires.

National Guard troops in Nevada mobilized to assist California Guardsmen with the fires in their State.

Oregon’s Governor called up 460 National Guard members to battle wildfires in that State.

Washington National Guard were mobilized to fight wildfires in that State.

And National Guard from other States were prepared, ready and willing to mobilize to help their fellow countrymen.

In total count, it is believed well over 950 California National Guard personnel were deployed for firefighting duties.

21+ Fires

In the State of California alone, there were 21 fires listed on the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection website. This amounted to well over 300,000 acres and that is a lot of ground to work in battling wildfires. With fierce winds that would cause what are called Firenados, the fires would blaze through areas quickly causing trees to fall and houses to be destroyed.

The California Air Guard used both manned and unmanned aircraft to fight these fires. Drones were used to map the areas where personnel could go in and dig up hot spots and even back-burn so that fires would not have material to keep it going forward.

Medevac Teams

The Army National Guard also provided Medvac teams to get injured people out of harms way and provide medical assistance.

One Medevac soldier stated that these fires and the flight conditions were similar to a combat zone, except without shooting.

He added…

There are some dangers, it’s very smoky, and the fire’s just everywhere,” he said. “Like any tornado, the aircraft can get sucked into [firenadoes], then pulled to the ground because you’re trying to fly away from it

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that the National Guard has a critical role with wildfires.  Although they are not  the primary agency to handle these situations, they are always on call and ready to go when needed.

I am sure they would want me to… On behalf of many friends and family who live in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Colorado, many thanks to members of the Army and Air National Guard for putting your lives on the line to help save lives, homes and wildlife. Without your service, the entire West may have went up in flames.

What are your thoughts?  If you’ve spent any time in the National Guard fighting wildfires I would love to hear from you.  Or, if you have experience on this subject, please share your expertise.  Just leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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3 thoughts on “National Guard Wildfire Support”

  1. Wow, it is so wonderful to learn something new. I did not know the National Guard played any part in fighting wildfires. It is great that they do, and I believe there should be more written on this subject. Whenever you hear of these wildfires, it seems that there is no mention of the Guard being within the fight. We always hear of the Guard in situations like Ferguson, Missouri which puts them in somewhat of a bad light; they deserve the recognition in cases like these too.

    Thanks for teaching me something new.

    1. I agree with you Greg. We hear so much about the National Guard being deployed during civilian unrest, or during a disaster situation to maintain order and prevent civilian unrest. But we don’t hear enough about citizen soldiers stepping in to battle fires when other resources are maxed out. This is a dangerous job, and it would be good to see more recognition for the men and women who do this kind of work.

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