Part 1 in a 4-part series
Commander. High school teacher. Citizen-Soldier.
Colorado Army National Guard Lt. Col. Jesse Morehouse is all of these and more.
As the National Guard liaison officer to incident commanders battling the West Fork Complex fire in southwestern Colorado, this computer science teacher is truly fulfilling his role as a Citizen-Soldier by helping his neighbors in his own community.
Morehouse is from Pagosa Springs, Colo., a mountain town that’s also the location of fire incident command headquarters on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass.
For the last four years, he’s also volunteered on search-and-rescue teams in Archuleta County, where he eventually worked his way up to incident commander.
And since June 21, Morehouse has been wearing his army combat uniform to coordinate Colorado National Guard support to the incident command team headquartered at Stevens Airfield, just off U.S. Highway 160.
His job now is to try to understand the incident command teams’ requirements and advise them about National Guard capabilities that can meet their needs.
Morehouse said having been an incident commander in the past and being from the local area has been a huge benefit to his work as Guardsman in the West Fork Complex fire, which consists of the West Fork, Windy Pass and Papoose fires burning in four neighboring counties.
“I understand the incident command system very well and have relationships with many of the firefighters and local authorities in the area,” he said. “That really helped for me to integrate quickly and get things running.”
For example, when local law enforcement authorities needed more personnel capable of manning checkpoints in the area to protect citizens’ private property as they evacuated to escape the fire, Morehouse was quickly able to provide information on the capabilities the Colorado National Guard could provide.
Morehouse worked with representatives from the Colorado National Guard’s Joint Operations Center in Centennial, Colo., where leaders coordinated Guard forces for the mission. In the meantime, the incident commander channeled the request for a security force package through the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.
When all points were connected, Guardsmen and their military vehicles were stationed across various thoroughfares in Archuleta, Hinsdale, Mineral and Rio Grande counties – all within 24-48 hours of the initial call.
Morehouse said that being able to mobilize a large number of troops and equipment is due to how well the National Guard works with state agencies, and the refined processes are a result of a successful interagency team effort.
“Guard members get called up and many leave their jobs and families at a moment’s notice,” he said. “It happens incredibly fast.”
Morehouse said that he and his small-town neighbors weren’t surprised at the enormity of these infernos – due to the staggering number of beetle-killed trees in these mountains, wildfires have been predicted for years.
And as a resident, he noted that he also appreciates seeing so many agencies working together on the firefight.
“It adds a measure of confidence when you see everyone working to help out,” Morehouse said. “It’s reassuring to see the National Guard out here as well. As a Coloradoan, I love being a Citizen-Soldier, because when our community is in trouble, we get to help. It’s a humbling thing to be a part of such an important mission.”
All stories in this series:
A complex fire: Colo. Guardsman makes good on oath to help hometown in midst of crisis
A complex fire: Colo. Guard firefighters hop from single to triple threat
A complex fire: Chaplain duties hit home for Colo. Guard clergyman
A complex fire: Colo. Guardsmen provide mapping, muscle, mentorship in Rocky Mountains