By Scott Prater
Tech. Sgt. Rayshon Meeks received the emergency call in the early morning. He drove out the Schriever gate, turned on Highway 94 and was quickly on the scene.
Once there, he saw a vehicle flipped upside down. Barbed-wire twisted and tangled around its axle. A man lay pinned underneath the car, and a motionless body lay some 40 feet away in a snow-covered field.
Emergency responders estimated the civilian couple had slid off the icy highway into a cattle fence, which then flipped the car and ejected the female passenger.
“We were the first people to respond and it was estimated the couple had been out there for three hours,” Sergeant Meeks said.
That scene occurred seven years ago, during Sergeant Meeks’ first year with the 50th Security Forces Squadron.
Fire department crews managed to turn the vehicle back over and rescue the man, who escaped with his life, but the moment stands out as one of the most horrific in Sergeant Meeks’ eight-year career here at Schriever.
“He kept asking me if his wife was still alive,” Sergeant Meeks said. “I responded by saying, ‘I’ll tell you later,’ but I expect he was calling out to her for more than three hours.”
The man’s wife didn’t make it. And it’s one moment Sergeant Meeks, 50th SFS Operations Support NCOIC, reflects on whenever he overhears someone complain about being stuck on base during a snowstorm.
“The biggest thing we stress to people is that when we do have delays, please abide by them,” Sergeant Meeks said. “If you have to stay, it’s for your safety. We are putting people at risk to come out and save you. If you are at work, then you are safe.”
The 50th Space Wing has determined four status levels for road conditions on and around Schriever Air Force Base: Road Condition Green indicates that roads are clear and normal vehicle operations are in effect. Condition Yellow indicates limited visibility or slick or snow-covered roads are present. Conditions require increased awareness by vehicle operators and headlights must be turned on. Condition Red indicates extremely limited visibility, or icy roads with deep snow. Only mission essential personnel should travel during this condition. All vehicles must use headlights and operators must use extreme caution. Condition Black indicates a condition of extreme hazard and only emergency vehicles may operate on base roads.
Security personnel patrol the base and nearby roads on a regular basis. They also contact the Colorado Department of Transportation, other front range bases and local school districts to gain information about weather and road conditions in the surrounding area.
“We want to give the wing commander all of the information we can, even if conditions are fine here, we may have a delay with a school district or Peterson Air Force Base may be experiencing trouble,” Sergeant Meeks said. “We use all of that information when making a recommendation to the wing commander.
The next step for 50th SFS is the flight chief contacts the command post and the command post enters into a conference call with the wing leadership. The flight chief then can make a recommendation to change the road condition.
The flight chief will determine road conditions up to yellow and the wing commander gets involved only when road conditions warrant a red or black status.
From that point, the wing commander can choose to announce a delay, or a phased release.
Phased releases are designed to relieve traffic pressure on the roads. Typically, those who live farther from the base are released first, and subsequent releases follow in 15 minutes increments.
Black road conditions don’t occur often, but Sergeant Meeks has been “stuck” at Schriever twice for more than36 hours in his eight years with 50th FS.
“We’re talking blizzard conditions, zero visibility,” he said. “It was so bad even emergency responders were told to stand down. We’ve had to shut the portals down so people can’t leave. The only thing you can do is shelter-in-place.
Sergeant Meeks points to the several traffic fatalities throughout the years on Corral Bluffs Hill, also known as “Garbage Hill,” west of Curtis Road and Highway 94.
“When it’s that bad you’re only putting yourself in danger by trying to travel,” Sergeant Meeks said. “A lot of people don’t like it when we have to lock the base down, but the wing commander is ultimately responsible for our safety whether you are military or civilian. The wing commander will always err on the side of caution.”