National Guard citizen soldiers stand ready to support their state in times of need. With multiple large scale wildfires raging in California, several National Guard units are doing just that.
In three rescues on September 5th, 6th and 8th, the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade flew a CH-47F Chinook and a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter into the middle of a raging wildfire to rescue campers cut off from escape. The rescue included a 2-3 week old infant and 27 animals.
The two aircraft launched on the evening of September 5th having only limited night vision capabilities. They flew into heavy smoke and extreme heat. The Chinook crew made the first landing while the Black Hawk hovered above. Many have described the scene as apocalyptic.
The Chinook, which is designed to carry about 30 personnel was loaded with 65 people including critically injured, women and children. An extra pair of hearing protection was found for the infant and the mother was told to keep the child’s ears covered until after they landed.
The aircraft went back in to rescue more campers, hikers, and residents. Each time they were forced to fly in from a different directions because of shifting, gusty winds.
Emergency services and law enforcement were waiting to receive the evacuees on the other end. Communication was perfect and all in all 242 people were evacuated in a single night.
On September 14th, President Trump awarded seven of the National Guardsmen the Distinguished Flying Cross for their bravery. Like most heroes, they believed they were just doing their jobs.