BOISE, Idaho –
Across the bustling campus there is one man clad in a camouflage military uniform. He is the sole service member working directly with the National Interagency Fire Center here and is responsible for coordinating the military response to wild land fires.
Army Reserve Lt. Col. Charles Foreman, who is an infantry officer by trade, served an Active Duty-Operational Support tour here for the duration of the fire season, which, he said, could last upward of three to four months.
As an emergency preparedness officer for Region X of the Defense Coordinating Element, he worked with other federal agencies to plan and prepare military assets to assist in responding to wild fires on federal lands.
“It’s a lot of Air Force assets and then, case-by-case, they’ll request active-duty ground forces to get some quick training, and then they’ll send them out to do some firefighting on the fire lines,” said Foreman, who is attached to the 76th Operational Readiness Command out of Salt Lake City.
During this fire season, Defense Department ground fire assets were used most notably to battle the Dixie Fire in Northern California. The fire consumed more than 1,500 square miles, destroyed more than 1,300 structures and caused one death, to date.
After the NIFC sent a request through federal channels, the request must be approved at the Office of the Secretary of Defense level. Once approved, Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, were called on to provide a command and control element as well as hand crews to fight the fire on the front lines. The Soldiers are a mix of the 23rd Brigade Engineer Battalion and the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, both from the 1st Squadron, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, I Corps.
Once identified, the Soldiers were provided a brief train-up period where they learned the basics of wild land firefighting before being sent to more intensive training near the front lines of the Dixie Fire. Once they are trained and deemed ready to join the fight, the Soldiers are put into crews and begin working to fight the fire.
“They have liaisons with them who usually have background in both military and federal firefighting so they know how to talk the talk with everyone there involved and make sure people are on the same page,” Foreman said.
Each wildfire season brings new challenges, but the role of the military liaison remains a vital link between federal agencies and Defense Department assets.
“While it's difficult to predict what the next few years will look like, considering how significant this year's fire season was, I imagine we'll continue seeing DoD being utilized for firefighting for quite some time,” Foreman said.