CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. – Nearly 300 troops from the California National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division were activated and trained at Camp Roberts to aid the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) in combating wildfires throughout the state.
“The California National Guard has a unique mission; not only do we have our federal mission … we have our state mission, which is to support the governors and the civil authorities,” said Lt. Col. David S. Chang, officer in charge of the task force and 250th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion commander. “For us, we come from the community. This is our home.”
With over 1.6 million acres destroyed, troops from the 40th Infantry Division’s subordinate units, including the 250th EMIB, 749th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, and the 144th Field Artillery Regiment, were called to emergency state active duty to receive fire training from CAL FIRE late last week.
Due to the urgency and severity of the wildfires throughout the state, CAL FIRE implemented a comprehensive schedule to get Soldiers trained and in the field supporting local authorities and firefighting elements as quickly as possible, said fire Captain Sean Sunahara, a coordinator for CAL FIRE Training Center South.
“It is a huge win for us to be able to use the California National Guard as a cooperator to make our hand crew system more robust and to go out there and effectively assist a lot of the teams out there,” Sunahara said.
CAL FIRE training includes fire shelter tent training, classroom instruction on fire behavior and safety, hand crew line training, and the issue of proper protective equipment for those working on hand crews, which are responsible for reinforcing or widening the space between the fire line and potential fuel sources to prevent the fire from spreading, said Sunahara.
Some Cal Guard members have years of experience working on hand crews during fire season. For others, like Spc. Andrew Villafuerte, an armor crewman with the 216th Engineer Company, this is the first time working with CAL FIRE and receiving the hand crew training.
“It’s important because we need to assist whoever needs help,” said Villafuerte. “We’re working with knowledgeable firefighters, and it’s very good training.”
This has been a busy year for Cal Guard Soldiers, with many activated for the COVID-19 pandemic and for civil disturbances. Despite the hardships, for many troops, serving the communities where they live and work is worth the long hours, said Chang.
“Our Soldiers are from all across the state and, for many of them, these fires have impacted their families,” said Chang. “So, not only are we here to support the firefighters and the state, but we’re also here to support our local communities and our families that live in these communities.”