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500 Fort Bragg Soldiers Flying West to Fight Fires

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FORT BRAGG — Thousands of firefighters out west are facing what seems like an impossible job -- trying to contain dozens of wildfires. Monday, 500 soldiers from Fort Bragg headed west to help.

The troops are headed to Montana, where fires have charred some 670,000 acres.

More than 10,000 firefighters are currently battling the blazes, but so far they are on the losing end of the battle. Winds and dry weather have made it almost impossible to control the flames.

Mechanics, missilemen and cannon artillery operators -- members of the 18th Airborne Corps Artillery -- are finding themselves in an unusual role, taking on a domestic enemy -- fire.

One soldier said he was proud of the effort. "I would do anything for my country," he said.

On hand for their departure was Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, who told the troops that several factors have come together to create virtually perfect conditions for such wildfires, and that the western states "need you very desperately to help us."

The fire season is said to be the most catastrophic in 50 years and the season is only half over.

"Clearly the business we are going to be engaged in is dangerous business, but some would argue not nearly as dangerous as a firefight," said LG Dan McNeill, Fort Bragg's commander. "So we have a little apprehension, but we have the right kind of training, the right kind of preparation, the right kind of organization in this outfit that they will do fine."

The troops received classroom training Sunday, and will receive more hands-on training before fighting the fires. Trainers say if anyone can help, soldiers can. They are motivated, take instruction well, and are physically fit.

Nonetheless, there is nervousness. One soldier headed west said he really would not be doing it, except it is his job.

"It is something I have to do," he said. "They give you the training you need, but evidently it is not enough because once the fire comes, I mean, some people may forget all the training."

The troops will stay in Montana about 30 days, helping fight fires at a national park near the Canadian border.

A fire information officer says the crews out west are tired, but are being rotated in and out so no one gets too overworked.

Fire-fighting Reinforcements are also being brought in from Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


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