SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The California National Guard's two military components are operating as one in the aftermath of the Northern California fires.
Airmen from the California Air Guard have assumed operations that Soldiers from the Army Guard carried out at the peak of the destructive wildfires that ravaged Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties mid- to late-October. The arrival of the Airmen allows the majority of Army troops to return home after being activated several weeks ago.
"We still have missions. We're still supporting law enforcement but not at the scale we once were," said Maj. Donald L. Lipscomb, operations officer, 579th Engineer Battalion, 49th Military Police Brigade."With the Air Guard here, they're giving us support so we can ease out the Army side. They're going to continue the mission of assisting law enforcement."
Four Air Guard security forces squadrons (SFS) from the 163rd Attack Wing (Riverside), 146th Airlift Wing (Channel Islands), 144th Fighter Wing (Fresno) and 129th Rescue Wing (Moffett Field, San Jose) – sent elements that share missions with the few remaining Soldiers from the Army Guard's 870th and 670th military police companies, along with nearly a dozen troops from the 149th CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) Company. Airmen and MPs are still controlling traffic points and providing security at emergency centers, as the Cal Guard is still engaged in fire recovery efforts.
"This is a great opportunity for green (Army) and blue (Air Force) to work together," said Senior Master Sgt. Johnny Gatlin, operations superintendent."Our mission is to perform TCPs (traffic control points), to direct civilian population, contractors, etc., making sure the ones making entry into the affected areas are permitted."
Gatlin, of the 146th, added,"We're also providing security at shelters where the Red Cross is operating to ensure that aid for personnel who are evacuated get the resources they need so they can get back on their feet."
Sonoma County residents are returning to their homes in some areas, but locations that are hardest hit, namely by the Tubbs Fire – California's most destructive fire in state history – remain isolated from the public, per Gatlin. So Cal Guard forces are still deterring the public from entry into those areas.
"This is an important mission. We want to assure the safety of these people," said Gatlin.