CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – Aviation soldiers assigned to the Kosovo Force’s Eastern Regional Command have been working hand-in-hand since arriving in the region to improve their aerial firefighting capabilities. Their ability to successfully fight wildfires is highly dependent on the team leaders, pilots, command personnel and soldiers who service the Bambi buckets used to drop massive amounts of water to extinguish the fires. big fires.
Upon arrival in Kosovo, the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment of the Virginia National Guard set up training to bring their aircrews up to standard and certify anyone who had never used the Bambi Bucket. Crews use local lakes for training, and even after soldiers are certified, aviation teams continue to train because a call to fight a fire could come at any time.
“Before our pre-mobilization, we learned that there were Bambi buckets here in Kosovo and that KFOR 29 fought fires in western Kosovo during their rotation,” Chief Warrant Officer 3 Darrell said. Busquets, the assigned battalion standardization instructor pilot. at Bravo Company. “It prompted us to run our airmen through the Bambi bucket qualifications. Once we arrived in Kosovo, we continued to keep up to date with the operations of the Bambi bucket. Training makes our crews more consistent when called upon to perform real operations. »
Kosovo is prone to forest fires due to farmers participating in agricultural burning to cultivate fields and clear stubble, weeds and waste, for continued crop production. However, if left unchecked, these fires can escalate into larger fires that threaten Kosovo’s villages and forest habitats.
On July 23, 2022, 1st Lt. Caleb Baldwin, an Air Force officer and acting commanding officer of B Co., received a call from the operations office alerting him to a potential wildfire spreading through two towns. northeast of Mitrovica, Kosovo. The fire was also spreading north, where it could potentially destroy a radio tower.
The call came around 5:00 p.m. and Baldwin called his team to warn them to prepare and go on hold. Soon after, they were approved to begin the mission, so they rotated one helicopter to fight the fire and another to function as a command and control center during the operation. They were able to stage everything, in the air and on location in less than two hours after the initial call.
“The first Bambi bucket chopper (took off) to go to the dip site to get some water and we started circling overhead to give them better grid coordinates of the location of the dip. ‘real fire,’ Baldwin said. “Each of the buckets held about 660 gallons of water. We kept sending the plane back to the (lake to get water) to fight the next fire that was coming up the mountain to the radio or cell phone antennas.
The team had to navigate through the ash in the air as they made their way to the site of the large fire. The initial water point chosen was too far from the fire, which only allowed them to disperse a few buckets of water before sunset. So the team quickly changed the location to a new water point closer to the fire, which allowed the crew to successfully drop water from seven bambi buckets from the air to spreading the fire, saving villages and limiting severe damage, and in the end exceeding over 4400 gallons of water for the entire operation.
“You could feel the heat when we got there, and there was ash from the burning underbrush,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Pettway, a UH-60 helicopter repairman assigned to B Co. “They were going into the rotor disc so you could see the rotor disc contrails spinning in the smoke in flight.”
The B Co. crew managed to extinguish 80% of the fire, leaving the remaining 20% to die out overnight. However, the crew was ready to deploy the next morning in case the fire was not fully extinguished.
“This area is very mountainous and it is very difficult to fight the fires running up the sides of the mountains because it is inaccessible,” Baldwin said. “There aren’t many roads going up there. The villages in the coastal area are very scattered and you may find them on the mountainside. The wildfires spread quickly and without air support most of these homes would most likely be destroyed and that’s why I think it’s important for us to go out there and support them.