BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
Between the recent floods and wild fires, the past two years have been difficult for many Colorado residents, including a number of employees here at the Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado.
Nearly a month ago, heavy rains began to fall throughout Colorado. The rain caused rivers and lakes to swell beyond what some could hold.
Curtis Wallin was turkey hunting near Estes Park when flood waters washed out nearby roads, leaving him on what he called an "asphalt island." Wallin and several others were stranded for a week before an Army Blackhawk helicopter and crew from Fort Carson rescued them and took them to safety.
Barry Thoma lives in the foothills, west of Boulder. While his house wasn't damaged, the road was. Until Boulder Canyon was recently opened, he was staying at Buckley Air Force Base's Rocky Mountain Lodge during the workweek and returning home on the weekends.
Allan Gooch, from Glen Haven, says 90 percent of his hometown is destroyed. His parents, who still live in the area, have been told it's going to be months before they can return home for good.
Tara LePore said her aunt and two nephews were displaced from their Longmont home, and during a mandatory evacuation they were only able to gather clothes and medication before the flood waters hit. They're now staying in a shelter with a fraction of what they own.
In response to these challenges, many employees at the ADF-C are offering physical support to their colleagues affected by the storms. A number of personnel have opened their homes to victims and assisted in the clean-up efforts.
Air Force Capt. Katie Sullivan recently helped an elderly couple from Niwot who were displaced by the floods.
"At the end of the day, it was just 'stuff,' but it was their stuff," said Sullivan. "People from all over Colorado came out knowing nothing more than an address and helped reset their lives. Being a part of that was truly an incredible feeling."
Tina Jesse and her husband actually housed an ADF-C retiree who was separated from her husband for nearly a week. The flooding washed away the roads and bridges to their community in Lyons, and while the ADF-C retiree was evacuated by helicopter, her husband stayed behind with the animals. He eventually left nearly a week later, by way of an old stagecoach road.
"We have a lot of caring, giving people at the ADF-C, and it's on us to take care of each other," Jesse said.
Others who helped included Jim Bridgham, Adam Brink, Brad Rhodes and Keith Linkous, all full-time employees at the ADF-C and members of the Colorado National Guard. The men were part of the 555 troops, 20 helicopters, two ground search-and-rescue teams, one search-and-extraction team, one engineering team and 53 traffic-control points deployed at the height of the crisis. National Guard and active duty military members evacuated nearly 4,000 people in Colorado.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a disaster relief operations center at Buckley AFB to lead the continuing efforts to aid those affected by the floods. Crews are working around the clock to provide displaced families and individuals with supplies and assistance.
At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers set up alongside FEMA to assess road conditions in affected areas. The Corps is working to improve a number of damaged roads and modify current infrastructure so Colorado is better equipped to handle similar natural disasters in the future. Efforts across Colorado are moving from response and rescue to rebuilding activities. Through it all, the ADF-C family remains optimistic about the future.
"It's ironic, but with all of the rain and the leaves turning colors, it's very beautiful in the mountains right now. I guess that's why we live here," added Thoma.
More on Curtis Wallin's Rescue
When Curtis Wallin retired from the U.S. Navy in 2008, he probably never imagined one of his most harrowing sea stories would come from land-locked Colorado.
Wallin had spent nearly a week in the mountains near Estes Park, when heavy rains began destroying much of northern Colorado. On his way down the mountain, he said he ran into a backhoe driver, who told him nearby roads had washed out. A short time later, the Larimer County Sheriff came by to tell him all the roads in the area were closed. Wallin and several others in the area were stranded.
What began as a five-day turkey hunting trip, turned into a 12-day ordeal that could have easily cost Wallin his life.
Wallin had brought his truck, a trailer, four-wheeler and very little food. Stranded alongside him was a Texas man and his girlfriend. Amazingly, the couple had just stocked their camper full of food before the rains and flooding came. Curtis said they kept him fed and entertained during several tense moments.
"Thursday night was definitely the scariest night," said Wallin. "We were told that if the dam goes, we wouldn't be able to get high enough."
The city of Estes Park had been periodically releasing water downstream, near where Curtis and several others were stranded. The sheriff told Wallin it was a precaution taken to keep the dam from bursting.
Given the steady release of water from the dam, in addition to the downpour, Wallin saw a flowing stream of debris, houses and cars separate his group from others at a nearby bed and breakfast. At one point in the night, he said his group saw an SUV floating down the waterway. When the group flashed their headlights at the vehicle, the driver of the other vehicle flashed their headlights back. Wallin said he has no idea what happened to those inside the vehicle.
The flooding also destroyed cellular towers in the area, making it impossible for Wallin to contact family members for much of the time. It wasn't until a CenturyLink helicopter landed days before their rescue that families learned about their family member's situation.
On the twelfth day of the ordeal, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter rescued Wallin and six others. The group was flown to a Fort Collins church before a friend and his wife picked Wallin up and brought him home to Aurora, alive and safe.
As for Wallin's truck, trailer and four-wheeler, he was able to finally get them out on Oct. 6, after nearly a month of waiting.
Crews are still assessing the damage and planning recovery efforts. Volunteers will be needed most during the long-term recovery phase, which will last months or even years. Those interested in volunteering or making a monetary donation may visit: www.helpcoloradonow.org
, your local Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) website or Denver CFC at www.metrodenvercfc.org
. To learn more about organizations assisting in disaster relief efforts, please visit: www.colorado.feb.gov
and look for Flood Victim Assistance & Resources.