SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
As the sun was setting in the hazy afternoon sky, Joint Task Force-Bravo received a call requesting assistance to put out a fire threatening homes and to cut off a road leading to a local village on a mountain ridge in Comayagua, Honduras on April 1, 2014.
The 1-228th Aviation Regiment roared into action and quickly prepared to combat the blaze, located approximately 7 miles east of Soto Cano Air Base, with the water bucket system attached to a UH-60 Blackhawk and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
"I received the call at 4:50 p.m. while conducting a training flight in the traffic pattern," said U. S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Aaron Richards, an instructor pilot for the 1-228th Aviation Regiment. "We immediately returned to receive the mission brief and refuel. We launched at 5:08 to battle the blaze."
One of the problems the pilots had to overcome was a limited amount of time to fight the blaze.
"Our biggest obstacle was the short amount of time before nightfall," said U. S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Mark Ulsh, an instructor pilot assigned to Alpha Company, 1-228th Aviation Regiment. "The mission required a very quick preparation in order to get as many iterations completed. Alpha Company did a wonderful job of making this mission happen."
The water bucket (affectionately known as the "Bambi Bucket" named after the company that manufactures it) for the UH-60 holds roughly 500 gallons of water when full while the CH-47 holds about 2,400 gallons. Both helicopters performed 5 water runs combined.
"We focused our efforts on the small community at the base of the ridgeline and particularly a few homes that were within 200 yards of the fire line itself," said Richards. "In the hour we had to focus our efforts approximately 6,180 gallons of water were dropped on the fire line."
The 1-228th continuously trains and qualifies aircrews to use the water bucket system to maintain their proficiency in performing this type of mission.
"My co-pilot (U. S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Aaron Richards) and I are the primary trainers of this system and have conducted this operation numerous times," said Ulsh. "Nothing excites a soldier more than to know he is doing something to help serve and protect someone else.
Lt. Col. E. J. Irvin, 1-228th Aviation Regiment commander said that he is proud of how the regiment responded to the challenges that this mission presented.
"I am proud to have the best aviators who can react to any contingency executing the most difficult missions. I am glad we could support Honduras and our local community with the necessary resources to save their homes."