'Ode to Joy'

'Ode to Joy'

May 17, 2011

Marines, civilians train for upcoming fire season

A CH-53E Super Stallion drops water from a nearby lake onto a simulated fire, May 11. Personnel came from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the San Diego Sherriff's Department, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps to prepare for California's upcoming fire season as a team. (Photo by Cpl. Jen Calaway)

By Cpl. Jenn Calaway, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton 
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.  — While the Department of Defense’s primary mission is to fight and win the nation’s wars, it is often called upon to assist civil authorities in the event of a fire or natural disaster.
Helicopter pilots, air crews and personnel from three Camp Pendleton units and three local law enforcement entities came together, May 11, and used base assets to fight a simulated fire in preparation for the summer’s heat and the dangers that come with it.

“Essentially it’s a training exercise in anticipation of the upcoming fire season,” said Col. James Griffin, Deputy Current Operations Officer, I Marine Expeditionary Force. “Today, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, San Diego Sherriff’s Department, the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps are all participating so we can come together as a team and fight fires.”

Months of planning goes into the small details required to pool different resources. Exercises of this caliber are necessary to prepare for California’s notorious fire season.

“This training is for when the state and local authorities get overwhelmed,” said Capt. Bing Stickney, Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer, San Diego Sherriff’s Department. “At that point we are there to come and assist them when it’s called upon to mitigate loss and property damage.”

To keep the process running smooth, when there is a real-life crisis, every detail, such as radio frequency compatibility, can make all the difference. An exercise like this can keep military and civilian emergency efforts on the same page, saving time when lives and property are at stake.

“In all aspects of emergency preparedness from earthquakes to wildfires, we can be called on to protect the public so that’s why exercises like this are so important,” Stickney said.

At one point during the exercise, two Marine CH-53E Super Stallions, one CH-46E Sea Knight and one CAL FIRE Huey helicopter, which served as director of traffic in the skies, shared the same airspace.

 “We get into pretty complex air operations when we’re working major incidents,” said John Winder, Tactical Air Operations, CAL FIRE. “We have our own [helicopters] flying around and other agencies as well, so it’s critical that everyone understands what airspace management is all about and how we set it up.”

Every year, thousands of acres are burned due to uncontrolled wildfires, eliminating a substantial portion of California wildlife and natural resources. By coming together to combat this serious threat, military and civilian agencies alike are taking a proactive approach to firefighting.

“Back in 2007, there were some massive fires that destroyed hundreds of homes and ruined many lives here in San Diego,” Griffin said. “With all of our assets available to us in the Marine Corps, helping the local authorities during emergency situations is part of our responsibilities as leaders and good citizens.”

The exercise was a complete success, with all communications and operations running at a steady, smooth pace, paving the way for disaster preparedness in the future.

“It’s been amazing to see the progress that’s been made over the years because of exercises like this,” Griffin said. “There was a day where the military and civil authorities did not communicate very well – certainly not as well as they do today. Now, to see how everything works together is just a breath of fresh air.”

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