WASHINGTON, (Army News Service, Dec. 22, 2006) - About 50 Colorado Army National Guard troops worked through the night, rescuing stranded motorists, clearing roadways for emergency vehicles and delivering American Red Cross supplies in the midst of a blizzard that's already blanketed the state with more than two feet of snow.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens declared a state of emergency yesterday and activated the Guardsmen to respond to the blizzard.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney, state adjutant general, told American Forces Press Service the troops were ready for the activation order. "We started preparing about two days ago. We knew this was going to be a big one, but we didn't know it was going to be this big," he said.
The Guard activated its Joint Operations Center and put small mobility teams on alert at 10 armories across the state, the general said.
When the governor ordered the call-up, the troops quickly responded with 25 Humvees and 15 medium tactical vehicles to help first responders rescue motorists and clear pathways for emergency workers, he said. The troops also are delivering Red Cross emergency supplies, including cots, food and water, to emergency shelters.
Most of their operations are focused on Denver, Pueblo, Colorado Springs and other parts of the state's eastern range section. Whitney said another 20 Guardsmen are expected to be on duty soon to provide relief to their fellow troops who worked through the night.
About two more inches of snow are expected to accumulate before early afternoon today, but Whitney said the storm has been downgraded from blizzard status. As soon as conditions improve, the Guard will dispatch helicopters to search roads inaccessible by vehicle to ensure no one is stranded, he said.
The Colorado Guard currently has just three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and four UH-1 Huey helicopters at its disposal because most of its Black Hawks and all its Chinooks are deployed to Iraq, Whitney said.
In the event that the Colorado Guard needs more aircraft to conduct its state mission, he said other states would contribute their resources, an arrangement provided through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
In addition, officials at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs have offered assets, if needed, Whitney said.
The general called the Colorado National Guard's quick response to the blizzard an example the important state emergency response role the Guard carries out nationwide.
"That responsibility is one of our primary missions, and we have always responded," he said. "That's the strength of the National Guard. We are the forward-deployed forces in communities across America for the homeland defense and emergency response mission."