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Vigilant Guard: Colorado Army National Guard aviators train as they fight 
By Army National Guard Spc. Zach Sheely, Joint Task Force-Centennial Public Affairs 
Interagency training 

U.S. Army Sgt. Nicholas Cornelius, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief with 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation, Colorado National Guard, communicates with Fort Carson Fire Department and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office civilian first responders on the ground during aerial firefighting training at Fort Carson, Colo., July 22, 2013, as part of the 2013 Vigilant Guard exercise. Vigilant Guard, hosted by the Colorado National Guard, is a large-scale, multi-state, multi-agency exercise focused on inter-agency coordination in preparation for emergencies and catastrophic events in Colorado. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Zach Sheely/RELEASED)

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Bambi Bucket®, used for drenching wildland fires with water, is hoisted up by 75 feet of cable and dangles from an airborne UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

For residents of El Paso County, Colo., this is an all-too-familiar scene.

Fortunately, in the skies over Fort Carson, Colo., June 22, this scene was only part of a training drill.

A crew of Colorado Army National Guard aviators from 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation, teamed up with the Fort Carson Fire Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to practice ground-to-air communication, and dumping water onto ground targets with the Bambi Bucket®.

Communication between the ground crew and the aviation crew is important not only to ensure the accuracy of water drops, but to maintain a level of efficiency as well.

“What it looks like to the personnel in the air and the personnel on the ground is completely different,” said Scott Campbell, fire management officer with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. “Accuracy in hitting a prescribed target — be it a prepositioned X on the ground, or a home engulfed in flames — is very difficult to achieve, so communication is paramount.”

And practice makes perfect.

“Our relationship with the Colorado Guard is very mature,” said Campbell. “The radios they use are consistent with the radios we use, they have the aircraft and the personnel and they’re only a phone call away, ready to go.”

Soldiers of the 2-135th GSAB are well-versed in wildfire missions, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brian Wright, a UH-60 pilot, who spent time on state active duty fighting the Black Forest fire in El Paso County, Colo., in June.

He noted that many of the civilian first responders training with them haven’t yet had that same real-world experience in relation to aerial firefighting.

“This training today is to train them up so they can get a picture of what it’s like working with a helicopter, calling in targets from the ground,” said Wright.

The Colorado National Guard also hosted a special observer: Capt. Primož Pintar from the Slovenian Armed Forces. He said the standards and equipment used by the Colorado National Guard is similar to that of the Slovenian military, he said.

 “Colorado and Slovenia are similar in geographic terrain and in how we train for fighting wildfires,” he said. “We even use the same Bambi Bucket.”

Though not as recently prevalent in Slovenia, wildfires have become an unfortunate reality of late in Colorado, so in practice, the Colorado National Guard is already well set up with firefighting capabilities, Campbell said.

Slovenia is one of Colorado’s partners in the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program.