During the historic September flood, about 1,200 people were flown to safety from the foothills to Boulder Municipal Airport. On Saturday, roughly the same number of people descended upon the airport — this time to honor to the men and women who worked day and night performing the biggest airlift in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina.
"This is what we put the uniform on for," said Maj. Gen. Michael Edwards, who oversees more than 5,000 Colorado Army and Air National Guard troops. "You hope you're never called to do that, but we're always ready, and we'll always be there."
Edwards' remarks came during the flood rescue appreciation segment of Boulder's Airport Day, in which the public is invited to tour dozens of different aircraft spread across the runway.
It was the city's eighth-ever Airport Day, but this one was deeply personal for the many who came out to tour the very same Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters on which they were ferried to safety nine months ago.
Jamestown's Jyoti Sharp, whose house was all but destroyed by flood damage, on Saturday brought with her the earplugs she wore the day the National Guard flew in.
"When I saw them, I just knew we were going to be OK," she said. "Now, when I see anybody in uniform, I tear up. I still feel so grateful."
Sharp's home was one of 42 in Jamestown to be ruined or badly damaged — a massive hit to a town with a population of about 300. Nearly all the town's residents had to be airlifted out, and only one-third of them have been able to return.
In her remarks to the Airport Day crowd, Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger choked up as she thanked the rescue personnel she described as "our friends and our heroes."
"I am blown away," she said, "by how blessed we are to have people so dedicated to this type of public service."
Col. Kevin Kick of the National Guard, who coordinated the entire military rescue operation, said it was a pleasure to "serve our neighbors" in a time of great need.
"It's incredibly meaningful," he said. "We've got people who will just drop everything when the call comes."
Kick estimated 1,100 military members dedicated a total of almost 4,000 days to the rescue efforts.
"It was a lot of disaster to see in our own backyard," said Maj. Fred Brooks, who coordinated bridge inspections and closures during the flood. "It was intense, but it was so gratifying to be able to help your community when it needs you."
Also present on Saturday was personnel from several ground teams, including the Boulder County Sheriff's Office and the Boulder Police Department's animal control division.
Officer Janeé Boswell said her crew rescued 558 animals, including everything from pet goldfish to chickens to dogs.
"People didn't want to leave their houses without their pets," she said. "They really sought solace in them. We just wanted to see that they could stay whole as a family."