SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Members of Joint Task Force-Bravo partnered with Honduran Public Forces to contain multiple life-threatening wildfires here the first week of March.
Members of the 1st Battalion, 228 Aviation Regiment assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo train as often as they can to fight wild fires; one of the many missions the task force supports.
On March 3, the 1-228 was able to put their training towards a real world event.
Fire and smoke from the nearby mountain village of Intibucá could be seen from Soto Cano Air Base.
The fires grew exponentially, prompting the Government of Honduras, via the U.S. Embassy, to request an aerial support package from JTF-B consisting of aircraft from the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment to help contain the blazes.
“We were actually geared-up to go out Bambi Bucket training that day, then the call came in,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Koepke, “So we went about business as usual, only this time it was real-world.”
A Bambi Bucket is a specialized bucket that attaches to the CH-47 Chinook helicopter that carries 2,000 gallons of water, suspended on a cable carried by a helicopter for aerial firefighting. When the helicopter is in position, the crew opens the release valve to battle the fire below. The water is collected from the closest natural water source; in this case it was a pond.
Koepke said on each of these missions, it is a five-man crew in the Chinook; two pilots, a safety officer, and two flight engineers in the back actually dropping the water. For this mission there was also a UH – 60 Blackhawk that was communicating command and control. The Blackhawk could fly faster because it was not loaded with the water and were able to get to the spot quicker and tell the Chinook where to drop the water. It was a team effort.
Sgt. Edgar Vasquez, a 1-228 AVN Bravo Company Flight Engineer, said this mission took about four hours to complete. They were able to make five turns and put most of the flames out.
“From the air we could see the flames getting close to people’s homes, and it was a good feeling knowing we were there helping to save their livelihood,” said Vasquez.
For both Koepke and Vasquez, this was their first real world firefighting mission but it is what they train for.
“It definitely validates the training,” Koepke said. “It was more motivating to get the job done. I learned from this and on my next mission, whether it is training or real world, I will remember what this particular mission felt like.”
When asked if the people of the village homes Vasquez was able to save were to personally thank him for what he had done, he said, “I would hug them and tell them you’re welcome, but I was just doing my job; I was doing what I am trained to do.”
Since this day, the 1-228 has completed several more successful firefighting missions.
“We complete a variety of aviation missions across Central America each day, but it is especially rewarding for the battalion to help those in need during otherwise life threatening situations. I’m extremely proud of each Soldier,” said 1-228 AVN Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Richard Tucker.