US Army, April 17, 2016 - SUTTER CREEK, Calif. by Staff Sgt Eddie Siguenza — Just as Sgt. Andrew J. Lynch opened the door to his UH-72A Lakota helicopter, a breeze forced him to brace himself. He held the door open as he continued his pre-mission check.
“This thing’s still new,” said Lynch, crew chief from the Nevada Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment (Security and Support) out of Las Vegas. “Doors open as easily as getting into a car.”
This is one of several doors Lynch and his flight crew are opening for their state’s future. On this April day, they’re students in the Wild Land Firefighting training course hosted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and the California National Guard in preparation for a common Nevada and California enemy: wildfires. The training took place April 15-17 in rural Northern California in Sutter Creek near the CAL FIRE Academy in Ione, California. Lynch and pilots Chief Warrant Officer 4 Aaron Wallace and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kevin Keeler are learning how CAL FIRE and the Cal Guard incorporate Lakota helicopters into firefighting operations so they can incorporate lessons learned into Nevada’s aerial battle against wildfires in the future.
“It’s important for us to be here to learn how the Lakotas play a role in California’s firefighting system,” said Sgt. Andrew J. Lynch, crew chief and one of three Nevada Army National Guardsmen. “We’re trying to employ the Lakotas into our (Nevada) firefighting assets. CAL FIRE has one of the best systems because they fight fires every year, much more than a lot of states.”
In California, UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters and CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters are used for water drops and transport in firefighting operations. The Lakotas are used for command and control, overseeing action in the air and on the ground.
“These Lakotas are new to the Nevada Guard. We got them just last year,” said Keeler. “The U.S. Army was getting rid of all its Kiowas and replacing them with this version of the Lakota. Nevada is very fortunate to receive this aircraft.”
Right now, the Nevada Guard uses CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks for firefighting and other critical roles, Wallace added. The Cal Guard officially began using Lakotas for firefighting missions over the past two years.
“It’s a win-win for Nevada being here. They’ve assisted us with air support in past fires, so the training they pick up is also a refresher to the pilots who have been here before,” said CAL FIRE Capt. Dan Reese, tactical air operations commander. “The Lakotas are new to our overall operations and they’re proving to be effective for command and control. It’s all about getting the Nevada crew, as well as California’s pilots, onto the same page of operations so we can run our air tactics more smoothly and without flaws.”
One of the keys, according to Lynch, is that the Lakotas have exceptional communication capabilities where they can easily track military and civilian coordination. The Lakotas also can stay airborne longer than Black Hawks, keeping them in the fight and aiding ground operations.
“We need to pick up on how CAL FIRE operates, how (the California Guard) is integrated into the operation, and how the Lakotas are best utilized,” Lynch explained. “Everything we pick up, everything we learn is something very important for what we will do in Nevada. We’re still a few years away from getting the Lakotas into the (firefighting) program, but that’s our goal.”