By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Considered the most destructive in Colorado history, the Black Forest fire, which began June 11, destroyed more than 509 structures, damaged 18 buildings and grew to 14,280 acres, as of Wednesday.
As several thousand residents were evacuated, a few individuals and groups at Schriever Air Force Base mobilized to provide help to the victims as well as the responders.
The Schriever Fire Department deployed a team of 19 firefighters and an engine in support of the Black Forest Fire effort.
When news of the fire spread, the 50th operations Group Standardization and Evaluation Division reached out to its people. Sixteen people volunteered for three-and-a-half hours at the Care and Share Food Bank June 12.
“Fortunately, 50 OGV already had 29 people volunteered for two hours at the Care and Share center June 7, the Friday prior, which played into the Black Forest fire relief effort the following Tuesday, June 11,” said Capt. Marion Carter, 50 OGV. “The combined assistance included 45 volunteers donating more than 114 total hours of their time, and contributed more than 10,000 pounds of food and supplies toward disaster relief.”
Seven members with the 25th Space Range Squadron had the same idea to provide help at the Care and Share. For a total of 21 hours, they helped receive and sort food donations, build food shipment containers and clean and move pallets around the warehouse.
“Several of our members felt the need to participate and help the local community,” said Staff Sgt. Anthony Sanford, 25 SRS. “Many of us have been involved with Care and Share before. We knew they were being flooded with donations from reporting on radio and news channels. Care and Share has created a sign-up on their website to allow volunteers to register. This prevents too many people from showing up at once and ensures that all of their time slots are filled.”
Some took it upon themselves to volunteer. Capt. Marquis Wofford, 22nd Space Operations Squadron, volunteered 16 hours at Care and Share and coordinated about $900 worth of donations from friends and colleagues.
Master Sgt. Shane Pogue and Capt. Latasha Spear, both from 25 SRS, also volunteered at Care and Share. Staff Sgt. Kevin Mahoney, 50th Force Support Squadron, volunteered at the Gathering Stones church in Falcon, Colo., where he cooked food, served evacuees and loaded supplies and food. Three members from the 50th Space Communications Squadron network infrastructure shop also donated 76 bottles of sports drinks and delivered them to the firefighters.
Having such a large number of evacuees, food donations were greatly needed. The Airman’s Council organized a food drive in support of the first responders. The group received four cases of water as well as protein bars and snacks, which were donated to Care and Share.
The council set up donation boxes all week in the Airman and Family Readiness Center and the Information Tickets and Travel office. Though the donations are for the firefighters, donations may also be left for the families displaced from the fire.
“The Airman’s Council decided to provide the support because we felt helpless in such a horrible time,” said Senior Airman Gladys Pope, 50 SCS and Airman’s Council vice morale officer. “We knew the first responders were doing the best they can, but the weather wasn’t cooperating with them. So in an effort to help everyone affected by this horrible fire, we decided to organize a drive.”
For some, donating cash was as beneficial as providing food. Bradley Baker, 4th Space Operations Squadron, and his wife, Teresa Wheeler, gave cash to Care and Share. They did the same last year for the Waldo Canyon fire.
“We donated to the organization for several reasons,” Baker said. “They are local, they are reputable, and they have an extensive community network and a well-organized warehouse. They can multiply our donation and procure essential items they know are in short supply.”
For one Schriever member, evacuating from her home didn’t deter her to still provide assistance in any way she could. Though she was evacuated, Jean Olsen still wanted to make sure those fighting the fire were remembered on Father’s Day. She took muffins and cookies to the command post at the Pikes Peak Community College.
For others, providing shelter to those whose houses were in the evacuation area is very important. Staff Sgt. Kimberly Swanagan, 50th Space Wing Chaplain, sheltered some evacuees for a few days. Tech. Sgt. R. Clint Lovelady, 310th Space Wing, and his wife opened their home to some four-legged friends. They rescued all of the horses at the Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding center.
“The center is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of those with disabilities and special needs, to include the Wounded Warrior Project,” Lovelady said. “It was 16 horses in total. As the Latigo area is still under pre-evacuation status, half of the horses are still at our ranch in Peyton.”
For Airman 1st Class Michael Fruit, 2nd Space Operations Squadron, maintaining pets from the fire may provide relief to their owners. For eight hours, Fruit volunteered to ensure the horses were taken care of.
Meanwhile, Tech. Sgt. David Hodge, 6th Space Operations Squadron, used his hobby as a Pikes Peak Amateur Radio Emergency Services member. He spent a total of 34 hours working radio communications for the Red Cross at the Palmer Ridge High School and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs shelters.
“I’ve lived in Colorado Springs 12 years now, assigned at Schriever the entire time,” Hodge said. “I feel it’s my duty and my obligation to provide my skills to help the community in any way possible.”
And such is the generous heart of Schriever Air Force Base. In time of need, they always respond.
The 25 SRS volunteers include Capt. Shawn Green, Staff Sgt. Jason Bernich, Tech. Sgt. Michael DeFilippo, Staff Sgt. Michael Korosec, Staff Sgt. Nate Tueting and Staff Sgt. Tony Vanderpool. The 50 SCS network infrastructure shop volunteers include Senior Airman Roman Colthart, Senior Airman Michael Bruno, Staff Sgt. John Jordan, Tech. Sgt. Eileen Elia.
For more information, about the Black Forest Fire visit: http://www.schriever.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=20842. To volunteer, check out local organizations, such as the Red Cross and Care and Share.