HSC-25 conducts wildfire firefighting exercise at Naval Magazine

by Public Affairs Office
Naval Base Guam

SANTA RITA, Guam (Feb. 20, 2015) – The “Island Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC)-25, a Navy squadron stationed aboard Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted wildfire firefighting training missions Feb. 20 at Naval Base Guam (NBG)’s Naval Munitions Command (NMC).

The squadron used one helicopter to rotate through more than three hours of training, picking up water at a water source (known as a water pumpkin) and delivering it to a remote area of the Fena Reservoir on the Naval Magazine.  The exercise, called a “Bambi Bucket Aerial Firefighting” exercise, proved to be a valuable exchange of firefighting efforts with assistance from the actual firefighters on the ground. 

According to LT Monica Mondloch, the act of hovering a helicopter, in this case a     MH-60S “Knighthawk,” over a small water source like a water pumpkin is a precise skill.

“Picking water from the ‘pumpkin’ water tank is challenging,” said Mondloch, a HSC-25 pilot and native of Waukesha, Wisc.  “Since the pilots cannot see either the ‘pumpkin’ water tank or the Bambi bucket, they are relying on the crew chief’s verbal calls to correctly position the helicopter.  This is especially challenging since the rotor wash blows the bucket around, and the crew chief has to anticipate not only the movement of the swinging bucket, but also the inherent delay between the time he requests a movement, the pilot moves the controls, and the helicopter responds.”

The squadron completed 20 total runs between two crews with the idea of qualifying as many pilots and crewmembers as possible in the shortest amount of time.  The initial qualification for this skill set includes a ground school curriculum, inspecting and preparing the Bambi bucket, and flight training, which consists of six water pickups (called “picks”) and six water drops.  The qualification is good for 6 months.

Despite the very challenging nature of this valuable training and qualification, it is a must during the dry season here on Guam.  According to Mondloch, there is more than meets the eye when responding to wildfires and ensuring pilots and crews are ready.

“The precise movements involved are great training for crew coordination and precision hovering,” said Mondloch, who is now on her last four months of her three-year deployment time with the squadron.  “This is a similar skill set to landing in small areas or on ship decks, hoisting search and rescue personnel into tight areas, and shipboard vertical replenishment/cargo transfer, all of which are missions that our squadron executes regularly.”

Mondloch, who was the second qualifying pilot during the fire runs, felt first-hand the challenges of this training.  Challenges unique to firefighting include working at low altitude in mountainous terrain and working with the heat, turbulence, and restricted visibility present in a real fire.  Compound those with the topographical wind effects to the aircraft’s engine and rotor performance, and maintaining obstacle clearance and terrain avoidance, and you have skill sets that require ambidextrous physical and mental action.

“We conduct a great deal of operational risk management every time we execute a firefighting mission or training event,” said Mondloch.  “Close coordination with ground crews is required, since dropping water in the wrong place or at the wrong time could hinder firefighting efforts and possibly endanger personnel on the ground.

“This is a challenging yet very rewarding mission,” Mondloch added.  “It only works if the entire crew is working together, communicating efficiently, and anticipating how their actions impact the whole crew.” 

And the success of the mission is even more rewarding – saving lives and protecting precious land here on Guam.

Factoid: In the Fall of 2005, HSC-25 was the first HSC Squadron to assume a new mission, providing essential Air Ambulance services for Coalition Forces LAND COMPONENT Command (CFLCC) in Camp Buering, Kuwait.

As the only Navy squadron on board Guam at Andersen Air Force Base, HSC-25 provides forward-deployed vertical replenishment, 24-hour (overland/over-water) SAR/Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) services for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Averaging over 30 rescues and 70 MEDEVACs per year, HSC-25 also conducts Vertical Onboard Delivery (VOD), drone and torpedo recovery, special operations airborne support, and fleet logistics support for all military activities in the Guam area, including the Maritime Prepositioned Shi

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