Our commitment, our community
By Ray Bowden, Academy Spirit editor
/ Published June 24, 2013
- U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
For most of us at the Academy, June 11 was a regular workday until word spread there was a fire in Black Forest.
From our vantage on the third floor of Harmon Hall, we watched a thin grey column of smoke rapidly grow into a dark wall. We took turns looking through binoculars, but soon realized we didn't need any help to see the flames rapidly overtaking homes, livestock, property ... and the memories of those who built a life in Black Forest.
By that evening, local news reports left no doubt that this fire was quickly consuming everything in its path and due in part to the ongoing statewide severe drought, had plenty of dry fuel to burn and the potential to cause more damage than last year's Waldo Canyon Fire. The reports were right. As of today, two lives had been lost, more than 500 homes destroyed -- including the homes of 15 Academy members -- and nearly 14,300 acres blackened.
As terrible as the effects of this fire have been, there is still a high level of pride to be felt in the wake of the collective response of military and Colorado Springs first responders, particularly the response by the Academy.
In less than an hour after the fire was reported, 16 Academy firefighters were elbow-to-elbow with their civilian counterparts, working to quench the fire. The next morning, Academy Airmen were readying our airfield as a refueling station for the CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks that would dump more than 1 million gallons of water on the fire. Within 24 hours, our Emergency Family Assistance Control Center stood up the following afternoon to deliver crucial assistance to any Academy member displaced or affected by the blaze.
Later, as the fire grew, Academy staff members opened their homes to friends, neighbors and, in some cases, complete strangers who had to evacuate their homes due to the encroaching blaze.
At least one local food bank benefited from military support since the fire started, with donations from local Airmen and soldiers "going out the door as quickly as they've come in," said Shannon Coker, community relations director for the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.
Along with donations of food, service members donated their time to help staff the food bank.
"The service members who have donated food and volunteered their time have been incredibly supportive and incredibly trustworthy to handle the various tasks we've given them," Coker said.
We could go on, but the point is that Academy agencies and Airmen were ready, willing and able to not only integrate their resources with local first responders, but step up to the plate and support their community.
"It seems only yesterday that we were called upon to assist with another devastating disaster, the Waldo Canyon Fire," said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould. "The response by El Paso County, Colorado Springs, Colorado and federal agencies was a sight to behold. As tragic as the Waldo Canyon Fire and this Black Forest Fire have been, we have all learned how strong our community is in the face of adversity. "Several of our team members have lost their homes and we will rally around and support them through these challenging times." Gould said. "We will continue to take care of our community, fight the fire and carry on our mission here at the Academy."
Every one of us here was affected by this fire. At worst, some of us lost our homes; at best, most of us are going about our day with a renewed sense of community and an appreciation for the role we can all play in the face of tragedy.