Teri Durtsche said that she feels very lucky that her family is safe and their home in Loveland, Colo. was not devastated like many nearby from the flood waters ravaging Colorado this week. While she stays home keeping an eye on the flood damage close to home and watching over her three daughters, her husband, Justin Durtsche, a captain in the Wyoming National Guard, is piloting a Black Hawk helicopter as part of the Charlie Med unit that was activated on Sunday to provide air medical evacuation support to victims stranded in the flood zone.
Although activated on Sunday, the helicopters were grounded due to the extreme weather on their first day of activation and were not able to begin their mission until Monday, said Teri. Her husband, who has been in contact with her on a daily basis, reported that his helicopter carried 17 people, three dogs and two cats to safety on Monday. On Tuesday, he reported that 27 people, five dogs and two cats were taken aboard and flown to safety.
Teri said her husband is expected to take part in the rescue effort until at least Thursday.
“The unit has a special sturdy hoist to pull people out of danger,” said Teri. “His MEDEVAC unit has medics on board and they usually specialize in helping people who have medical issues, like people who need heart meds or diabetics or people who are injured really bad and stranded. During this mission I think they are just helping anyone who needs help.”
She said her husband told her that his unit is literally flying over some of the most devastated areas looking for people waving their arms for help from below, as many have no other means of communicating that they need help.
She said she doesn’t worry much when her husband flies on an assignment like this one because she knows that, although flying is always dangerous, his unit is highly trained for the task and has a lot of experience.
“Many of the people who do this have been in Iraq and Afghanistan doing the same sort of thing while people below are shooting at them,” she said. “So, they can handle this kind of pressure.”
She said of the 20 crew members in her husband’s Charlie Med unit, each helicopter carries about five and all members are very capable of the tasks required in a major rescue. She said her husband, a pharmaceutical sales rep for Lily USA, trains regularly, including flying the Black Hawk on a regular basis in preparation for this type of emergency. Fortunately, his company is very supportive of his commitment to his guard unit.
“His company is really pretty amazing about it,” said Teri. “In fact, I would say, they are extra great about allowing him time off to do this.”
Justin and Teri were both born and raised in Lovell. Justin has been in the Wyoming National Guard for 17 years, with seven of those years served in the Lovell unit. He is currently a member of the guard unit in Cheyenne. The couple has three daughters 11, 8 and 6, who are old enough to understand and be proud of the heroic work their father is doing.
“They watch the television, and are always watching for their dad’s helicopter in the pictures,” said Teri. “They definitely know what is going on and they are proud of him.”
Teri said the family home is located in an area that is safe even though areas of their town a few blocks away from their home are damaged and flooded beyond recognition.
“Luckily our home is fine. A baseball field right down the road is flooded, sidewalks are bent and broken, homes are damaged and fences are down in other parts of town,” she explained. “We are fortunate to be out of the path of the river. We are safe and we are very grateful for that.”
Teri said the family did have emergency supplies on hand, which they keep in case of emergencies like this one.
“I think we were prepared. We had food and all the basics,” she said. “We had about two months worth of non-perishable items stored, but I think we could have been more diligent about water. I think we’ll have more on hand in the future.”
She said that basic items are becoming more available now as a few roads begin to open, allowing deliveries to stores. Prior to that many items were not available for a period of time during the devastation.
“The whole thing really makes you think twice,” said Teri. “We feel so lucky to be safe, secure and unharmed while many others in the community are suffering.”
She said a part of being prepared is being able to help others. While her husband is away, she is helping with local relief efforts in her own community at a special center that was set up in a vacant building in town.
by Patti Carpenter