Bridgeport, Calif. -- When the Slink Fire struck Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California, on Aug. 29, 2020, it forced the staff of the small academic and training focused base, located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to quickly shift their focus.
Staff officers typically focused on facilitating mounternering and cold-weather training for service members during various classes and Marine Corps Service Level Training, had to shift to running an emergency operations center and conducting the duties of a battle staff.
Mountain leaders, known as red hats, began conducting reconnoitering duties in the rugged training areas to gather information and assist firecrews. Marine radio operators moved from the base and set up shop to assist interagency firefighters at the Incident Command Post located at the Antelope Valley Fire Department near Coleville, California, monitoring and routing important radio traffic between firefighters and the command post.
Tara Paladino, the civilian deputy air officer at MCMWTC, harnessed her experience as a volunteer firefighter and took up the responsibility as one of three liaison officers between the base and the interagency response team fighting the Slink Fire.
“The air officer is in a good position to tie the right people together; to talk to the right components ... and be able to use common language to make sure they get what they need,” said Paladino.
When the fire started near Coleville from a lighting strike, Paladino was eating dinner with her husband, Benjamin Paladino, a firefighter at MWTC, and their friends. The fire, spreading quickly, posed a real threat to the MCMWTC’s military housing facility located near Coleville before interagency firefighters and civilian firefighters from MCMWTC were able to contain the threat.
See how Marine Corps civilian firefighters supported the battle against the slink fire: https://www.dvidshub.net/news/377542/base-firefighters-battle-slink-fire-near-mountain-warfare-training-center
But the Fire still traveled south becoming a threat to the MCMWTC Training Areas, and the Toiyabe National Forest.
“I got the notification through the volunteer fire department that there was a start up,” said Paladino. “I got prepared for an evacuation, and got the kids and animals ready, but when we realized it wasn't going to come over Highway 395, they started having meetings and that was where I started getting involved.”
Paladino served with the U.S. Navy as a cryptologic technician, specializing in electronic intellegence, for 12 years prior to becoming a government contractor as an electronic warfare officer.
Under the direction of Col. Daniel Wittnam, the base’s commanding officer, the command staff of MCMWTC attended morning briefs with the interagency to coordinate support of firefighting efforts on the base and to help harness available DoD resources to assist where possible.
The command staff of MCMWTC integrated with the interagency to protect the community and nearby training areas essential to Marine Corps Service Level Training.
An important link needed to be made between the incident commander, and the base command; that is where liaison officers came in.
Palidino, alongside Captains Michael P. Boyle and Robert D. Biggers served as a conduit for communication between the base and Incident Commander, Brook Chadwick with the Great Basin Coordination Center Team Six, U.S. Forest Service. Together, they supervised Marine personnel integrating with the interagency and planned and facilitated support to firefighting efforts, ultimately mitigating training area damage through the efforts of hundreds of firefighters.
“The sharing of information has been really useful, but we are also assisting with labor around the camp, and it may seem menial, but they said they really appreciate it,” said Paladino. “Because of all the fires that are happening in California right now, having them there to help as a makeshift camp crew and to lighten the load has been really important to them.”
Sgt. Kyle Richardson and Cpl. Michael Grosikflora, radio operators from the base assisted with a medical evacuation during the fire when a firefighter was injured and air transported from the rugged-terrained fireline to the next echelon of medical care.
“For us ... as Marines, we’re so used to being the ones fighting the fight, and this kind of .. scenario, this isn't our ballpark … it’s time for us to take a step back, help the community, because at the end of the day, we are going to need the heroes to help us out,” said Richardson.
In addition to direct support at the incident command center, the base opened up its expeditionary airfield to support the needs of the interagency firefighting aircraft, and facilitated the request from the IC for eight Marines and two P-19R Firetrucks from Marine Wing Support Squadron - 373, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, California, located in San Diego County.
“We’re supporting their landing zone… operations in and out,” said Gunnery Sgt. John Anderson, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of the Crash Fire Rescue Marines. “That … involves having a crew on standby in case there’s any type of incident, fuel spill, hard landing, medical incident that happens within this LZ that we can respond to immediately.”
As of Sept. 10, 2020 the Slink Fire burned 22,474 acres, was 36% contained and the Marines were continuing integrated operations with the interagency.
“I have been very pleased with how easy it has been to integrate with the Marines,” said Chadwick. “A lot of our cultures are very similar, a lot of the things we do are very similar … the leadership traits, the core values of our agencies, the fact we like to do hard work … has just made me feel a closer bond … with our country's military ... as a citizen ... I just really enjoyed that opportunity, and it’s going to be something I treasure for the rest of my days.”