MADISON COUNTY, Va. –
Approximately 30 Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen wrapped up ground support to firefighting efforts Nov. 17, 2023, in Madison County, Virginia, after assisting the Virginia Department of Forestry with mop up operations at the Quaker Run Fire. VNG aviation crews who previously supported the fire in Madison County ended their aerial fire suppression support Nov. 11 after assisting in Patrick County.
“What a fantastic opportunity it is for all of you to stand in a formation with people from Army and Air Guard units from across the state as well as the Virginia Defense Force and our partners in the Virginia Department of Military Affairs,” said Col. Paul C. Gravely, the Virginia Army National Guard chief of staff, after presenting the VNG Emergency Service Ribbon to the troops as they out processed Nov. 18 at Fort Barfoot.
“It was a great learning opportunity, but it also showed the capabilities of the Virginia National Guard and how we help our fellow Virginians when they need our assistance. I am proud of you, and our senior leaders are proud of you. You completed rigorous training, went out and did what you were asked to do and came back safely. I can’t say enough about what an awesome job you did.”
The Emergency Service Ribbon recognizes personnel called to state active duty by the Governor of Virginia in the event of a state emergency or other crisis. Additional personnel supporting the firefighting effort will receive their ribbons at a future date.
Gravely previously served as the Fort Barfoot garrison commander, and he recognized the important role the 12M military firefighters from the Fort Barfoot Fire Department played in the mission. With their experience, they were put in leadership positions to provide subject matter expertise during training and when they got on the ground in Madison County.
“It was amazing,” said Sgt. Donald Ray Blake III, one of the Fort Barfoot firefighters who also works as the assistant chief of the Dinwiddie Fire and Emergency Services Department. “I look for certain qualities in my firefighters, and the people they surrounded me with on this mission never gave me reason to question them one bit. I was surrounded by the attitudes and the qualities I want to be around when I go to fight a fire.”
Blake said it was his first time working with Airmen, and he worked with infantry Soldiers as well as troops who normally work behind a desk.
“Everybody understood the job, didn’t waste time and knew what was expected of them,” Blake said.
Once they got on the ground in Madison, Blake said they were able to provide relief to the DOF personnel who had been on site for an extended period of time.
“It was a highly successful mission,” Blake said. “I would do it again any time.”
The VNG Soldiers and Airmen conducted wildland firefighter training with the DOF Nov. 12-14 at Fort Barfoot. They received their personal protective equipment, and the training stressed safety and also focused on basic tools, familiarization with bulldozers and engines, fireline construction and proper fire shelter use.
For Staff Sgt. Jacklyn Thomas, an all-source intelligence analyst assigned to the 192nd Intelligence Squadron, 192nd Operations Group, 192nd Wing, the firefighting mission was her first time working with the Army. She said the experience will help her better understand the joint service environment in future missions.
Getting ready for the mission involved “lots of preparation, lots of training in a very short amount of time,” but she said she felt she was well prepared.
“We went out there, and we fulfilled our mission,” she said. “We did great work, everyone worked as a team, and we came out successful.”
As an intelligence analyst, Thomas’ job is to analyze, report and distribute information to help streamline the decision making process, and she felt that experience helped with the mission.
“What I bring to the team is that fusion concept,” she said. “When we come together, we can fuse all of our talents together and make an incredible team.
“I had all the necessary things I needed, and now I am ready to do this again.” Thomas said. “It was a very positive experience.”
With their training complete, the troops deployed to Madison County Nov. 15 to assist the DOF with mop-up operations where they patrolled previously burned areas looking for hotspots and used blowers to clear newly-fallen leaves to help prevent reburn and maintain fire containment. VNG support helped with the overall containment effort of the Quaker Run Fire and allowed DOF to reposition resources to other fires in the state.
“National Guard resources were important to our overall wildfire suppression efforts, providing critical resources that helped suppress two of Virginia’s largest wildfires of the 2023 fall fire season,” said Virginia Department of Forestry Chief of Fire and Emergency Response John Miller. “The National Guard’s helicopter and hand crew resources were critical assets, playing key roles in the suppression of both the Quaker Run and Tuggles Gap wildfires. Pre-season coordination between the Virginia Department of Forestry and the National Guard was a critical step in the overall success of the deployment of National Guard resources for wildfire support to DOF this fall.”
After Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency Nov. 6, 2023, aviation crews assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division deployed to Madison County with two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters equipped with 660-gallon water buckets and remained through Nov. 9. Two helicopters flew missions in Patrick County Nov. 11. In Patrick County, aviation crews made a total of 21 drops of nearly 13,900 gallons of water. In Madison County, they made 33 drops of nearly 22,800 gallons of water.
“Our helicopter crews mobilized and deployed in record time to provide additional resources to help the Virginia Department of Forestry in the fight against multiple large wildfires,” said Brig. Gen. Todd H. Hubbard, the VNG Director of the Joint Staff. “Our partner agencies depend on the VNG to rapidly respond with requested capabilities when needed, and we are really proud of how quickly and safely our Soldiers responded."
The Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Virginia Defense Force provided administrative and logistics support to the troops training at Fort Barfoot, and additional Soldiers, Airmen, and DMA employees provided operations center, administrative and logistical support in Richmond.
“We owe a special thanks to the loved ones of all our personnel who are on duty as well their employers,” Hubbard said. “Without their support, we would not be able to accomplish our mission.”
~ Photos of VNG Soldiers, Airmen providing ground fire suppression in Madison County on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/27617
~ Photos of VNG helicopters providing aerial fire suppression in Patrick County on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/27565
~ Photos of VNG Soldiers, Airmen conducting wildland firefighter training on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/27570
~ Photos of VNG aerial fire suppression support in Madison County on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/27512
~ Video of VNG aerial fire suppression support in Madison County on YouTube at https://ngpa.us/27529