Georgia Guard leverages military assets, experience to help save Okefenokee area
CLAY NATIONAL GUARD CENTER, Marietta, Ga., June 22, 2011 – Thirty-three Georgia Army and Air National Guardsmen have been placed on State Active Duty to help Charlton and Ware County Emergency Management Agencies and the Georgia Forestry Commission in containing the current wildfires that have plagued those counties and the Okefenokee swamp area for the past week.
The fires, which began April 30, have burned more than 250,000 acres of the Okefenokee Swamp and Waycross State Forest area. Governor Nathan Deal approved the use of the National Guard in the fight to contain and extinguish the forest fires. These efforts follow the containment of the wildfires in Charlton and Brantley County, which burned just under an estimated 45,000 acres over a span of a few weeks.
“Guardsmen are well-suited for this type of support,” said Maj. Gen. William T. Nesbitt, Georgia’s Adjutant General. “The equipment and training we receive to perform our war fighting missions provides us tremendous capabilities to support civil authorities in times of crisis.”
Major Gen. Maria Britt, Commanding General of the Georgia Army National Guard, agreed saying, “The Georgia National Guard is always ready to answer the Governor's call for assistance, especially when Georgia’s citizens are facing a life-threatening situation. Our Citizen-Soldiers are proud to serve their fellow neighbors.”
As of June 18, 2011, Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen have been working side-by-side with the Forestry Commission, utilizing D7 military heavy earth moving bulldozers to widen the fire breaks and preparing to react to any flare-ups that might occur. The fires, which for the most part have remained away from more populated areas, have been fueled by exceptionally dry conditions, high temperatures and parched vegetation.
“The Guardsmen are doing a great job,” said Jenny Lynn Bruener, Information Officer for the Georgia Forestry Commission Type II Management team. “With their ‘bigger’ bulldozers, we can widen the fire breaks in a shorter amount of time and try to keep the fires from jumping."
The bulldozers, and the Soldiers and Airmen who operate and maintain them, are from the 878th Engineer Company of Augusta and the 165th Airlift Wing out of Savannah.
In addition to the Soldiers and Airmen on the ground, Georgia aviation assets have been utilized as well. Three CH 47 D Chinook helicopters from Detachment 1, Company B, 1st battalion, 169th Aviation, have been used to drop water over the wild fires for the last week. The Chinook helicopters are home stationed at Hunter Army Air field in Savannah and have logged more than 10 hours of flight time dropping water on the fires.
“Supporting the containment of these wildfires in South Georgia is a second-nature mission to Guard engineers who have cleared supply routes in Afghanistan,” said Maj. Gen. Britt. “Aviation units are on stand-by to drop hundreds of gallons of water on the fire. Recently back from a deployment, our Chinook unit is well-trained in sling load operations and cargo transportation.
“It’s instances like these when the dual-mission nature of the National Guard proves vital to mission success – not just by leveraging civilian skills on the battlefield, but also by bringing back military know-how and experience to domestic emergencies,” said Maj. Gen. Britt.
***For live updates about the wildfires, visit the Georgia Forestry Commission's website.
1st Sgt. John Kinnaman
Operations NCO Public Affairs
Office Georgia Department of Defense
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