SANDSTON, Va. – With an upcoming deployment to Kosovo, Virginia Army National Guard flight crews took to the skies of Chesterfield to certify their ability to fight fires with massive water buckets Oct. 12.
The buckets can pick up and haul nearly 6,000 pounds of water, which can then be flown to the site of a wildfire and dropped to assist with firefighting efforts on the ground.
“Over the last couple of months, Kosovo has had a severe problem with wildfires along their mountain ranges,” explained Capt. Joseph Inglett, commander of the Sandston-based Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. His company will be primarily responsible for aerial firefighting efforts in Kosovo should the need arise.
The training made use of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and included seven pilots and three crew chiefs. With the water buckets strapped inside the aircraft, the crews flew to a pond-dotted training site in Chesterfield and landed to offload and hook up the water bucket. From there, the aircraft flew to one of the site’s ponds, dipped the giant bucket into the water to fill and then flew to the site of a notional fire.
“We used an island in the middle of the pond to simulate the location of a fire,” Inglett explained.
The crew members were able to repeatedly complete the training sequence with the water buckets to ensure proficiency and qualification on the equipment.
“My part is to coordinate location and timing with the pilots to ensure effective dropping on the water onto the target area,” explained Staff Sgt. Richard Osborne, one of the crew chiefs who participated in the training. It was his first time working with the water buckets. “Preplanning, training and rehearsals added to the effectiveness and efficiency of training.”
Approximately 140 Soldiers from 2-224th will deploy early next year to serve as the aviation task force for the NATO-led Kosovo Force Regional Command-East. They will support the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Headquarters as they take responsibility for the 30th rotation of U.S. military forces based at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
NATO KFOR troops conduct peace support operations contributing to a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo while healthy political dialogue continues between Kosovo and Serbia.
“This is great training for us,” Inglett said. “We can use this training and qualification to support here in the U.S. and in Virginia, and I know we’ve had several wildfires in the western part of Virginia over the last decade or so, but it’s also great for our upcoming deployment, whereas we can support the people in Kosovo and do our best to support the mission there.”