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A different kind of firefight

Infantry, engineers to play role in forest fire

Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment and the 23rd Engineer Battalion, both from 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, practiced with fire shelters during wildland firefighting training Aug. 30. Photo credit: JM Simpson

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Approximately 200 Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment and 23rd Engineer Battalion deployed to northern California Aug. 31 to help in the fight against the Dixie Fire in the Lassen National Forest, Lassen Volcanic National Park and the Plumas National Forest.

Both units are part of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. They are expected to be deployed for 30 days.

The fire, the single largest in California's history, has burned over 775,000 acres and destroyed over 1,200 structures.

"We are helping Americans in need," said LTC David Stalker, commander, 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion. "There is a great sense of pride in protecting people, property and public lands."

The request for assistance came from the National Interagency Fire Center. This marks the 40th time the center has requested soldiers to support firefighting response efforts over the past decade.

"We are well suited for this mission," continued Stalker, "because we are used to creative mission sets."

That creativity was enhanced by instructors from the Folsom Lake Veterans' Fire Crew.

"These soldiers are getting some very good training," said Roger Hooper, a squad boss with the Folsom crew and an Army veteran, "and we're happy to be here to work with them."

The soldiers received training on the basics of wildfire suppression and firefighter safety and then will receive two more days of training with fire experts and frontline firefighters once they arrive in California.

"These soldiers are badly needed," added Frank Guzman of the U.S. Forest Service.  "We need the help of the Army; these soldiers are well organized, motivated, physically fit and know how to work together."

He added that the soldiers would work alongside experienced firefighters.

"We will not put them into something they are not ready for."

And they are ready for the worst in this firefight.

"This represents your last-ditch effort to survive," said Hooper as he held up a fire shelter, a bag designed to save a firefighter's life if caught in the middle of the fire.

He then methodically walked the soldiers through how to use a fire shelter.

"Remain calm. Move to an open area. Do not be under trees. Keep your feet to the fire and head away from it. Stick together. Get rid of any flammable materials, but keep your radio, water and gear. Get air into your shelter. Once in the shelter, dig a hole with your hands, put your head down with your hard hat on, and stick your face in the hole to breath. Make sure your toes are down and your heels are up. Stay there until you are told to come out."

Then came a run across Rose Field to climb into the bas. As the soldiers trained, Hooper and his crew made sure that everyone did it right.

"I have learned a lot; we're good to go," said Sgt. Andrew Roseberry, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment.

"All of us are looking forward to doing something to help fellow Americans."

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