JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
The Alaska Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment dropped water from Bambi buckets over the rural areas of the installation here as part of their annual Red Card certification, June 9.
Red Card certification, also known as the Incident Qualification Card, is an accepted interagency certification that qualifies a person in order to accomplish the required mission when arriving on an incident. For 1-207th AVN pilots, this certification means proficiency in water bucket drops to assist with wildfire emergencies within the state.
Specifically, Alaska National Guardsmen must obtain this certification in order to assist with fires that are on federal land, are federally managed, or in order to transport federal agency personnel, according to Lt. Col. Michele Edwards, Alaska National Guard’s state Army aviation officer.
“Because they’re bringing people in from out of state, they need to make sure that they have a common standard operating picture for everyone,” she elaborated.
“If we didn’t do this training to get the federal Red Card certification, we wouldn’t be able to support the state in every possible scenario,” she continued. “This gives the state the full flexibility to use resources in the National Guard regardless of who’s managing the fire.”
The unit has also been preparing for their certification during the month leading up to it, taking four online classes on aviation firefighting, as well as one in-person instruction.
The unit certified using both a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with an approximately 550-gallon bucket, and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with an approximately 2,000-gallon bucket. Both of these aircraft may be called upon and utilized for intra-state wildfire emergencies, and the pilots of these aircraft must re-certify annually.
The helicopter that is sent out to support any given wildfire is dependent mostly upon what the manager of that fire needs, and what assets the National Guard has available to offer at the time. There are also other considerations, such as how many aircraft are using which water locations at the site already.
“There are many things to consider, but the primary consideration is the needs based on the fire, and what other civilian assets are available,” said Edwards. “There are no civilian helicopters in state that provide the high-volume, heavy lifts that our CH-47s provide.”
In addition to providing support for wildfire emergencies within the state, being Red Card certified for water bucket drops gives the 1-207th AVN the opportunity to stay proficient with their federal sling-load mission.
“When we are deployed, when our Ch-47s are deployed, or our Black Hawks are deployed, we are required to do a sling load mission,” explained Edwards. “So, this allows us to improve our crew’s proficiency in that sling load mission.”
Edwards said that the wildfire support mission is a reason that many individuals join the Alaska Army National Guard’s aviation unit.
“We have Soldiers in our organization join because they want to help the state,” she said. “This is just another way that we, in the National Guard, support our state, and can also train for our federal mission.”