|Story & photo by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff
With the peak wildfire season quickly approaching, Fort McCoy personnel
teamed up with members of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
(WDNR) and a military aviation unit to hold a training exercise to
coordinate joint actions in case the installation faced a large
Jim Kerkman, Fort McCoy forester, said the training included a
prescribed burn conducted on South Post. A timber sale was held in the
area about five years ago to help restore the Fort McCoy Oak Barrens
Natural Area, he said.
A helicopter crew from the
1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment drops water to help
control a prescribed burn at Fort McCoy.
This prescribed burn was to help clear logging slash from the area
and control tree growth.
Prescribed burns will be held in the area every six to 10 years to
help ensure it remains an Oak Barrens area.
Fort McCoy uses prescribed burns to help manage installation lands,
provide safer training areas and to support wildlife and vegetation
management. Natural Resource Branch, Colorado State University
contract and Fire Department personnel conducted the burn.
Prescribed burns generally are done in the spring and fall seasons
because weather conditions are most favorable at those times, he
“We had planned this prescribed-burn effort, so it was fortunate we
could combine the other training with it,” Kerkman said. “We have
worked with the WDNR with other training, including helicopter and
plane training, during the past few years.”
James Barnier, a WDNR forest fire suppression specialist, said the
WDNR provided an air-attack plane to provide reconnaissance and ground
communications capability to support the training. Personnel from
the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment provided helicopter
support to drop water at strategic locations to help control the
fires. The 1st, 147th is an Army National Guard unit from Madison,
“The 1st, 147th brought a great resource to the training that we
don’t have otherwise,” Barnier said. “The Fort McCoy training may
help establish the groundwork to make this asset available anywhere
in the state it would be needed to fight wildfires.”
The dry weather in Wisconsin this year has raised the threat, and
the potential for wildfires is very high, he said.
“This type of training is great because we can use our
communications systems, coordinate where we would need the water to
be dropped and work out any bugs in the operations,” he said.
Maj. Max A. Brosig, the executive officer of the 1st, 147th, said
the unit often trains at Fort McCoy and Volk Field so they are
familiar with the area.
The unit’s helicopters, UH60s or Blackhawks, used water buckets to
dump water at selected sites in support of the burning efforts, he
Brosig said the troops can be used to support these types of
missions if there is an emergency and a request is made to the
governor of Wisconsin to provide assistance.
In addition to supporting the efforts to control wildfires in
Wisconsin, Brosig said the training can help the unit prepare for
potential contingency operations. During deployments in the past
several years, unit members provided support to help to contain
wildfires overseas, such as those occurring in Greece.
Tim Jorgensen, Fort McCoy Fire Department station chief, said the
exercise was excellent training for fire department personnel. The
department has several mutual-aid pacts, which allow them to
coordinate support from outside agencies for an emergency situation
at Fort McCoy and also provide such support off post, if requested.
The installation currently does not have a mutual-aid agreement with
“This training also could provide excellent support for our people,”
Jorgensen said. “We could use them to drop water at strategic points
to complement our fire breaks. That would help reduce the heat from
the fires and also help to contain the fires so it would make it
less dangerous and safer for our personnel if they were called upon
to fight a fire.”
James Hubbard, the Fort McCoy airport manager/air space officer,
said the 1st, 147th often flies into the Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport
during training missions, as do other military units with aviation
assets, he said.
“This provides hands-on training for the unit to help them
accomplish their missions,” Hubbard said. “It also helps us get the
training accomplished before we would face a large-scale wildfire.”
Unit members also became familiar with how wind velocity and
patterns might affect their mission support, from flying to the
location to how to plan the water bucket drop to get the water to
the right location, he said.
Unit members were impressed with the training they received and
already have asked if there will be any additional opportunities
available to support prescribed burning or related activities at
Fort McCoy, Hubbard said.