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Hometown Heroes: Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers jumped in to help fire, flood victims

By: lisa walton lisa.walton@gazette.com
March 22, 2014
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photo - Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jomand Ervin, left and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brennan Avanti are both helicopter pilots who volunteered to help during the flooding in the summer of 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jomand Ervin, left and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brennan Avanti are both helicopter pilots who volunteered to help during the flooding in the summer of 2013. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Last summer, after disaster struck twice in the form of fire and floods, newly stationed members of Fort Carson's 4th Combat Aviation Brigade showed how invested they had become in a community they were just learning to call home.

Many of the soldiers from the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade had been in the city for just a couple months when the Black Forest fire ignited.

About two dozen of them signed up to volunteer in the recovery efforts. Three months later, they helped residents recover after a devastating September flooding killed several people, swept away cars and wiped out roads.

In the aftermath of both disasters, chief warrant officers Brennan Avants and Jomond Ervin worked to assemble a group of soldiers to volunteer with the Red Cross in disaster recovery.

Within 48 hours of the fire being extinguished, they were in the Black Forest community, passing out shovels, rakes, siffer boxes, interior home clean up kits food ,water, coolers, dust masks and work gloves and whatever else they could get their hands on, said Avants.

"We just supported anybody and everybody that was out there assisting in the recovery effort," he said.

Avants and Ervin, both helicopter pilots, were able to assemble 20 soldiers, who spent two weeks in Black Forest and put in 500 volunteer hours working with the Red Cross, said Avants, who's been at Fort Carson for about 11 months.

Three months later, record rainfall, coupled with bare, burned spots on the mountain devastated Manitou Springs and areas across along the Front Range. And while members of brigade's 2-4 General Support Aviation battalion flew Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters to extinguish the fires in Black Forest, and three months later, flew to Boulder to help with flood rescues.

Avants and Ervin's team handled the ground work.

Their battalion, still in its infancy and waiting on helicopters, acted as an "extension of our brother and sisters that were up in the air," Ervin said. "We wanted to just put our name out there, and let them (residents) know we're not a part of just deploying to protect that home front, we also want to protect and help those right in our backyard."

Close to 20 soldiers also spent a week clearing debris, repairing broken bridges and helping business owners in the Manitou Springs area recover from extensive flood damage.

"We would show up at the volunteer center ... every morning. Once they learned that there were 4th Army Brigade soldiers that were willing to help, the requests just came in, and every day was just getting an address and point of contact and moving out," said Avants.

He remembers one home in particular, where soldiers spent two days cleaning up the property of an elderly woman. The soldiers built her a walking bridge to make it easier to get back and forth from her property while they cleared fallen trees and debris from her yard.

For the solider's efforts, Fort Carson will be honored with the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Red Cross's Hometown Heros military hero award during a dinner at the Antler's Hilton hotel on April 1.

"The biggest thing, and I speak for the entire group of volunteers that we're here representing, was that it was a pleasure and an honor to actually assist and work with the Red Cross and the local community to help out what is essentially now our home," Avants said.

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