In late December 2022, an extreme cold weather system threatened the lives of the unhoused population in Denver, Colorado, and surrounding communities. This prompted Gov. Jared Polis to activate the Colorado National Guard to assist local authorities with staffing warming shelters as ambient temperatures were expected to hover around -10 degrees Fahrenheit for several nights, just before the Christmas holiday.
Colorado National Guard Director of Joint Staff U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman directed CONG members to oversee operations at specified locations in and around Denver. Service members distributed food and supplies while providing a safe place for people seeking shelter during the storm.
“The dedication, commitment and professionalism of our service members was on full display and very much appreciated by the city of Denver and the state of Colorado,” said Sherman. “Our incredible personnel happily volunteered to work this mission right before the Christmas holiday, experiencing and solving challenges that only this type of mission presents. Three Airmen – true heroes – saved the lives of two shelter clients.”
Several people who were being housed experienced life threatening medical issues, which necessitated a response from Guard members.
140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard Emergency Manager Airman 1st Class Diego Sigala, working at the shelter at the Denver Coliseum, was called to the dining area for an unresponsive female and immediately jumped into action.
“Upon arriving, two Denver County Sheriff deputies were providing aid,” Sigala said. “I assessed the situation and attempted a sternal rub on the individual's breastbone for pain stimulation with no responsiveness.”
Sigala said the deputies were out of Narcan, a medication provided to responders by the American Red Cross, one of the lead agencies for the response. Sigala serves as mental health clinician for the Colorado Department of Human Services as his civilian career and came equipped with his medical bag, which contains Narcan, so he would be ready in any emergency medical situation. He gave what he had to one of the deputies to administer to the patient.
“I then pulled out my trauma shears and cut off her hoodie because I noticed her tight clothing may have been hindering her ability to breathe when her respiratory drive was already compromised,” Sigala said. “She finally became conscious at about the time Denver Fire and Denver Health Paramedics arrived.”
Narcan is used for the emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdose. Its use, authorized in Colorado by a Senate bill in 2015, allows first responders and other individuals in a caring position, the ability to administer life-saving medication to individuals at risk of overdosing.
Within an hour of that incident, two other Airmen, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Daren Igel, 140th maintenance technician, and Tech. Sgt. Angel Trejo, 140th security forces member, observed another individual exhibiting signs that required immediate assistance and administered Red Cross-provided Narcan, saving that person as well.
National Guard members train regularly to perform basic life-saving actions. Narcan was available for this mission based on the population being served. As a trained American Red Cross Basic Life Support instructor in his civilian career, Sigala provided on-the-spot training on the use of Narcan to other military members just prior to these incidents occurring.
Sigala’s civilian career compliments his career in the COANG. As a traditional guardsman, he is assigned to the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosive Enhanced Response Force team which routinely trains to respond to emergency situations. Merely six months prior to this state activation for Arctic Blast, Sigala’s team conducted training at Camp Rilea, Oregon, to hone the team’s skills. Emergency medical care and integration with different units—experience that Sigala was able to utilize and rely on to save lives and lead fellow Airmen—had been a large focus of the exercise.
“We are always going to have the less fortunate among us, and those of us who have the strength and resources to assist the less fortunate have a duty to assist them, when possible,” said Arctic Blast Task Force Commander U.S. Air Force Maj. John Moreland. “The call-up of the National Guard officially provided the much-needed resources to care and feed those who needed assistance.”
“What makes the National Guard unique is our ability to help the American people,” said 140th Wing Commander U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Southard. “There is no higher calling for a Guard member than to be there for the community that we all live in. When our governor tasked our Colorado National Guard men and women to help operate a warming center to serve our unhoused population, we proudly answered the call with 100 percent volunteers in less than 4 hours.”
The mission protected people during the life threatening cold front that moved through Colorado. Airmen who participated in this task force represented a small fraction of the 1,650 COANG Airmen who stand ready to serve Colorado.
“The ‘can-do’ attitude, flexibility, and professionalism shown by the command teams, service members, and the Joint Task Force – Centennial Staff was truly inspiring,” said Sherman. “We are all grateful that we have these talented and committed people on our team.”