In Colorado, the Army National Guard is frequently activated to assist state emergency operations for fires during the summer months and blizzard rescues during the snowy months. Less commonly are they activated for fires during snow season. Colorado citizens learned to expect the unexpected Dec. 30, 2021.
“Colorado had immense heat, high winds and an extreme lack of rain and snow which left soil moisture the lowest on record for late December,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Marshall Fire ignited near Boulder, Colorado, and quickly engulfed entire neighborhoods in flames. Within 24 hours, Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency. 56 Colorado Army National Guard Soldiers were activated and would spend the next week including New Year’s assisting state and local authorities.
U.S Army 1st Lt. Michael La Torre, task force commander, 220th Military Police Company, who lives in the mountain town of Conifer, Colorado, had to prepare his things in the dark due to a power outage in the area. This would not stop him from answering the call to duty.
“Just packing bags and equipment and gear with a flashlight was a little surreal and it kind of brought the whole state of emergency a little bit more into focus because it was getting cold,” La Torre said.
From the time the command teams assembled, emergency services worked together as a single unit, according to La Torre.
“I'm thoroughly impressed with how Boulder County ran everything because they were the primary [agency],” La Torre said. “All of the different disaster recovery and response teams worked with them.”
With any operation, adversity is always a challenge. The fueling of ground vehicles was one of the main issues facing the early part of the operation. The 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation Regiment came to the rescue with a solution. Two Soldiers established a fuel point in support of the operations.
“I recently got home from a one-year deployment to Iraq with aviation,” U.S. Army Sgt. Orlando Miranda, Company E, 2-135th GSAB, said. “So it felt pretty natural coming back from aviation and then jumping into the ground mission like this helping out the 220th MPs.”
Boulder residents who lost their homes expressed gratitude and brought food to the Soldiers as a showing of support for their efforts guarding the neighborhoods from unauthorized access.
“We are just so grateful for the Soldiers being out there. We don't want looters to come through here or just random people because it’s a little bit invasive. This was our house,” Antoinette Cabral, a Boulder resident, said.
Some Soldiers who volunteered to aid with the fire response were also members of the communities that were burned.
“I was actually evacuated myself so I told my squad leader I have a uniform and boots. I’m ready to rock so send me out there,” U.S. Army Cpl. Corey Adams, 220th MP Company, said.
Many of the activated Soldiers said they learned lessons throughout this experience as they stood amongst the ashen remains of the homes burned in the fire.
“Always be ready for the unexpected,” Army Sgt. Callista Prill, 220th MP Company, said. “Given the nature of this fire, some people never even got the chance to go to their homes and get what they needed. You never know when the last time you're going to see someone or the last time you're going to go to the place you called home.”
Overall, the Soldiers upheld the National Guard mission to be Always Ready, Always There.
Military police, fuelers, engineers, and band members of enlisted and officer ranks across the 193rd Military Police Battalion sacrificed spending time with family during the holidays for standing in the cold, 12-hour shifts at a time, serving their community.
“It's really mentally challenging, the Soldiers just crushed it,” La Torre said. “I can't tell you how many times people came up to us, and said: ‘You know what, I'm very impressed with these Soldiers.’”