Agriculture secretary thanks firefighting Soldiers

By Patti Bielling | National Interagency Fire Center Public Affairs | August 24, 2006

BOISE, Idaho – Soldiers battling the 125,000 acre fire near Winthrop, Wash., received recognition Aug. 22 from Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

The secretary praised the efforts of Task Force Blaze, a 550-Soldier battalion from Fort Lewis, Wash., that has been fighting the fire since Aug. 17.

“I just want to say to the Soldiers how much we appreciate them stepping in and providing support,” Johanns said during a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “When we reach (National Preparedness) Level 5, we have dedicated all of our people and equipment. That’s when we reach out to the military.”

Units comprising Task Force Blaze include the 1st Battalion, 38th Regiment; 23rd Chemical Battalion, 5th Battalion; 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment; 4th Battalion, 6th Aviation Regiment; 29th Signal Battalion and 28th Public Affairs Detachment.

The fire season has been especially busy this year – about 50 large fires covering nearly 800,000 acres are burning in 12 states.

“This is a large, difficult wildfire that had the potential to force evacuations and threaten close to 400 homes,” said Mike Lohrey, incident commander. “The Soldiers’ efforts helped bring containment to the Eightmile (Western) Zone of the Tripod Complex fire.”

This is the first military firefighting deployment since 2003.

All military support is arranged through a defense coordinating element assigned to U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The command is the Army component of U.S. Northern Command, which oversees military support of civilian agencies.

“Fighting wildfires is an art and a science,” said Col. Dave Hall, defense coordinating officer based at the fire center. “We, DoD, are the science – we bring the capabilities, but we don’t necessarily bring the expertise to manage the event.”

Military support has been critical, the agriculture secretary said.

“When you call in the military, you get dedication to the mission,” Johanns said. “It’s just outstanding to work with them."