Monterey County

Calif. National Guard troops get firefighting training at Camp Roberts

Troops get firefighting training at Camp Roberts

CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. - The California National Guard is activating a unit that hasn't been called upon since 2008.

With more than 10 wildfires burning in California, Cal-Fire needs all the help it can get to contain the flames.

NewsChannel 5 reporter Jake Reiner visited Camp Roberts this week, where soldiers were training for a different kind of battle.

"This week, about 240 soldiers were mobilized to Camp Roberts to begin the initial Cal Fire support training," said Capt. Kara Siepmann with the California National Guard.

The battlefield might look different, but the principles of being a soldier in a cohesive unit remain identical.

"We're on the same mission and just make sure they understand what we go through," said Cal Fire Capt. Curt Rose.

Sharpening axes, chopping wood and working the fire lines --- these are all skills the soldiers need to learn quickly for fighting wildfires.

"I'm excited, it's an adventure for me so I'm looking forward to it," said Jason Hansen, a member of the National Guard.

Hansen just returned from Afghanistan, where he drove a truck transporting equipment. As a firefighter, he says growing up in the hilly countryside of Prunedale comes in handy.

"We're going to be hiking up in the mountains where these fire are at, going, you know bringing the battle right to the fire," Hansen said.

Of these newly trained firefighter, Rose says "They are now part of the best firefighting crew in the state of California.

Those are bold words coming from an experienced caption with more than 30 years of experience. Rose spent 26 of those years running inmate hand crews, so he knows what it takes to handle a rookie squad.

These 240 soldiers will be marching north this week to fight the wildfires plaguing other parts of the state. Most of them come from Long Beach and Seaside. These troops are being trained so quickly because Cal-Fire is desperate for more help.

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