Four soldiers from C Company, 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion are going to support the wildfire efforts in the western United States.
According to a National Interagency Fire Center news release, 95 large wildfires were burning across seven states in the western United States last week.
The Fort Stewart soldiers, who were scheduled to leave today, will support 200 active-duty soldiers from 17th Field Artillery Brigade, 7th Infantry Division from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, who have been tasked to assist in fighting the wildfires, according to Capt. Keith Christiansen, the C company commander, and the national fire center.
The four Fort Stewart soldiers will set up communication infrastructure, including phones and Internet, so the Lewis-McChord soldiers can communicate with others participating in the firefighting efforts.
According to Christiansen, the plan is to have the 63rdESB soldiers supporting a battalion task force for about 30 days.
“Right now, we’re on the homeland-defense mission. So right now, we are specifically training for this exact mission,” Christiansen said.
“We can provide communication support from a scale of one to two people, up to hundreds of people,” he said. “So we’re very scalable. And right now, because of the nature of our mission, we’re prepared to deploy within a moment’s notice.”
Staff Sgt. Bradley Greene addressed how crucial his mission is.
“It’s what I train to do. This is why I joined the Army for and that’s what I need to do, so I’ll make sure I do it right and make them do their job as well,” Greene said.
While a mission to fight wildfires across the country might not seem like something active-duty soldiers would be sent to support, Greene said that this is exactly what their mission is.
“Our job is always to provide communication to whoever we’re supporting,” he said. “Any opportunity we can get to do our job, as opposed to just training, to do it in real life, is invaluable.”
With only 48 hours’ notice, the soldiers from C Company were prepared to take on the mission.
“As an expeditionary signal battalion, we are able to provide (communications) at any moment, anywhere in the world,” said Spc. Jaleel Balentine, another participating soldier.
After two years in the unit, this mission will be Balentine’s first.
“What went through my mind is like, ‘Wow, I actually get a chance to actually serve my country,’” he said.
This will be Spc. William Parrish’s second mission, and he is going to keep an open mind on what to expect when he arrives.
“I try to keep it light; I try not to expect anything. So if something else goes wrong, I can be adaptable on the fly,” he said.
As to how often the soldiers train for situations like this, “I guess every day, we’re trained to handle whatever comes our way,” Parrish said.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center news release, “The last time that active-duty military personnel were mobilized to serve as wildland firefighters was in 2006, when a battalion from (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) was mobilized to work on the Tripod Complex Fires on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington.”