By Air Force Master Sgt. Cheresa D. Theiral
Colorado National Guard
FORT COLLINS, Colo. (6/28/12) — While civilian and military firefighters and aviation crews fight the High Park fire from land and air, nearly a hundred Colorado Army National Guard military police and Air National Guard security forces are manning checkpoints around the perimeter of the affected area.
But they're not there just for show.
At any given time, for 12-hour shifts every day, these Soldiers are in charge of up to 13 different checkpoints in support of the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.
For these Soldiers and Airmen, in addition to maintaining situational awareness of their proximity to any flames, their job is also to prevent unauthorized access to neighborhoods and assist during evacuations whenever possible.
"For the past decade, we've been training for the war mission -- for the president -- but we've also had dual mission, and that’s for the state," said Maj. Michael McClelland, Task Force-Security commander. "When we do get the call, our guys come running, and we bring an edge to the fight. … I bring my police experience, our firefighters, they bring their firefighter experience with them. All of the troops out there -- our soldiers, our airmen -- they're very anxious to assist in any way they can."
Pfc. Daniel Warner is one of them. A March 2012 graduate of military police school, he described himself as "greener than the uniform."
"Turning people away from their homes has not been easy," he said of his mission. "Just as they're displaced from home, in a sense, I am as well. … The difference to that, is that when this is all said and done, I'll have a home to go home to. … That's been the difficult part about all this."
Pfc. Patrick Lyons, a medic, knows what it's like to be a local citizen.
A Larimer County resident, he and his family were evacuated from their home before he learned he'd be mobilized for the mission to protect it.
"Everybody takes care of me, I take care of them," Lyons said of his mission, which recently required him to provide first aid to a rancher who was injured while moving cattle from danger. "That's just a second level of who I am. I like to help people."
Self-sustaining, too, these Soldiers and Airmen are also in charge of their own food, water and communications, day in and day out.
But despite the long days, the Soldiers and Airmen are glad to help.
"I love my town and I love the people here,” said Warner. “It's not just Americans helping Americans. In this instance, it's Coloradans helping Coloradans. These are all my neighbors."