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Soldier helping in Colorado floods ‘never knew Mother Nature could be so wicked'

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- More than 750 members of the Colorado National Guard continue to respond to flooding throughout the central Colorado area and for many, taking part in the response effort is something that has left an indelible mark.

"I didn't know Mother Nature could be that wicked...;up there in the mountains and the way the flood waters came through," said Army Pfc. Tyler Grandbouche, with the Colorado Army National Guard's B Company, 147th Brigade Support Battalion. "It's pretty treacherous."

That point was especially seen when Grandbouche and other members of his unit responded to assist residents in Lyons, Colo., one of the hardest hit areas.

"In Lyons, before you even get to the town, there's a washed out road and you can actually see underneath where they had reinforced concrete," said Grandbouche, adding that he was surprised to learn that the flowing water that washed out the road wasn't the river's normal path.

"The river itself actually flowed behind the town and that was just where the river wanted to go and there was just so much water that it did whatever it was going to do without regard to what was in the way," he said.

And as they moved further into town Grandbouche said he was even more surprised by what he saw.

"As we progressed into the town, the destruction was just amazing, nothing could have stopped that water and what it did," he said. "Just (seeing) where houses and cars ended up-cars in trees and houses just completely demolished it was something to behold for sure. "

And that was something seen throughout many areas affected by the flooding.

"We had no idea what to expect but every bend in the road going up the canyon is completely washed out," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Eger, a helicopter pilot with the Colorado Army Guard's 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, who flew a number of missions to extract local residents from flooded areas or to move first responders in to provide assistance. "There's houses in the middle of the river, there's cars overturned, there are fire trucks that are stuck that came up during the initial search and rescue, mainly just houses have slid into the river and everybody (in many of the flooded areas) is just cut off."

For Eger, working with local first responders was critical to ensuring those who needed help received it.

"Basically, with each community they've got little local fire stations up and down the river," he said. "Each one of those would muster all their folks they could in their area. They would organize the people and their pets, (who needed to be extracted) we would put them in the helicopter and just come back and forth until we had completely cleaned out the neighborhoods."

Working with local first responders was instrumental in other ways as well.

"We'd land and pick up local law enforcement, local volunteer firemen and fly those folks around their community they knew very well and they would tell us where the elderly or the sick people were and we'd drop some oxygen bottles off or maybe just go in and hoist them out of their neighborhoods," said Eger.

For Grandbouche, his mission in Lyons was similar.

"Our main objective was search and extraction so we actually took units up into the treacherous waters where normal vehicles couldn't pass-we have the high-rise vehicles-so we would take them up there and they would go to houses and search for people and animals and make sure that anybody and everybody from the town was safe," he said, adding that they often worked with members of local and state rescue agencies.

And the destructive power of the water continued to amaze Grandbouche.

"I never thought that without a hurricane or a tsunami that water could have been this treacherous to people," he said.

But he was also amazed, he said, with just how grateful many in the affected areas were.

"We're out there to help them and in many cases we show up to a house to pull people out and they're making you sandwiches," he said. "The gratitude they showed us when we showed up was remarkable. They were happy to see we were out there to help them with whatever it was they needed."

The experience affected Grandbouche in other ways.

"It made me heartbroken for the people that lost everything," he said. "I'm sure a lot of people up there, the majority of people, lost everything they had. Their whole livelihood up there in the mountains and there's not too much that you can say to somebody who has lost everything like that."

Many Soldiers did small things as a way to try and make things a little easier for those affected by the floods.

"I tried and do what I could to make things a little better, especially for the kids,"
said Army Staff Sgt. Lynda Santiago, a supply sergeant with the Colorado Army Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 147th Brigade Support Battalion, who made sure supplies such as water were on hand at the location where many who were extracted in the Fort Collins, Colo., were brought to. "I got some chem lights-glow sticks-and showed them how you break them in the center to get them to light up and they ran around playing with them. I also gave them small flags and other things, just whatever I could to brighten things up."

For Santiago, it came down to simply trying to help where she could.

"I can really empathize," she said. "Many have nothing to go back to and you just help out where you can."

And that ties into what many Soldiers who responded hoped to accomplish.

"What I really hope we've accomplished out here is just giving people hope and peace of mind that whenever something does go wrong that there is always going to be people there to help them," said Grandbouche.