California Gov. Brown 2012SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — As wildfires threaten communities across the state, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today secured approval from U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to mobilize military troops and aircraft to fight fires under a single commander within the National Guard. “Too often the response to fires is wrapped up in red tape, with each military branch reporting to a different commander,” said Governor Brown. “When fires are burning, every second counts. By unifying the command, this agreement will allow us to fight fires, not bureaucracy.”

When California National Guard troops respond to a wildfire threat in California, other responders, including Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine forces, may assist independently. Today’s approval from the Department of Defense allows the state to utilize a new command structure, known as Dual Status Command (DSC), which puts all military responders under a single chain of command led by the California National Guard. This process does not necessarily impact the amount of military support California receives, but once assistance arrives, the management and command operates more efficiently and effectively. This streamlines the process of bringing all military personnel under a unified command when fires are burning in California and resources are needed.

Late last week, Governor Brown requested approval from the U.S. Department of Defense to use this command structure. Approval was granted today. California held its first-ever major response exercise in October 2011 to test this new command structure. Today’s agreement allows the state to put this plan into practice.

“California led the nation last fall by being the first state to fully exercise this concept and now we are among the first to actually put it into practice to protect our citizens,” said California National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. David. S. Baldwin. “This construct will put the right command-and-control assets in place to most effectively manage current military resources as well as to be prepared in case more federal military units are needed.”

Multiple branches of the military have been responding to fires throughout California along with the National Guard. Eight California National Guard helicopters are currently supporting firefighting efforts. This includes two HH-60 Pave hawks with the 129th Rescue Wing and one UH-60 Blackhawk at the Joint Force Training Base Los Alamitos, supporting operations at the Mill Fire. Mather Aviation has three UH-60 Blackhawks supporting operations at the Ponderosa fire and one HH-60 Pave hawk on standby for medical evacuation duties in Northern California. The Stockton Flight Facility has one UH-72 Lakota in Chico for wildland fire mapping efforts in Northern California.

In addition to these helicopter operations, one California National Guard Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems-equipped C-130 airplane is fighting fires in Northern California. The National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing has been working for several weeks and is currently based at McClellan Air Park near Sacramento.