Senator greets vets, children
by Chuck Slothower
Herald Staff Writer
Photo by NICK MANNING/Herald
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, left, receives a gift from 2-year-old Witson and Louvencia, 1, on Saturday at Udall’s office in Durango. Udall, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, helped Michael Blumhardt, pictured, and his wife, Susan Smith, bring their adopted Haitian children to the U.S. after the earthquake in Haiti.
Udall shakes hands with Southwest Conservation Corps worker and former Army veteran Josh Sherrock on Saturday near the Haflin Creek trailhead.
It wasn’t long after U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., pulled up in a Chevrolet Tahoe driven by a staffer that a herd of elk traipsed across the ridge above and a red-tailed hawk flew by.
If the visiting senator had hoped for a picturesque setting, his timing couldn’t have been better.
Udall was in Durango on Saturday to tour the Animas-La Plata project, see a federal forest-thinning project and meet with constituents. He also was scheduled to appear at a Democratic Party dinner.
The elk and hawk were on hand while Udall toured a forest-thinning project on East Animas Road (County Road 250). A U.S. Forest Service crew was joined by a group from the Veterans Green Corps to reduce fire danger next to a Forest Service bunkhouse.
“This is the work you would do when you’re trying to protect a home when a fire gets ripping,” said Mark Stiles, San Juan National Forest supervisor.
The Veterans Green Corps is made up of military veterans transitioning back to civilian life. A six-person crew sawed and hacked away at the brush Saturday. Many of the crew members had served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Denver-based program is funded in part by federal stimulus funds.
“It allows veterans to work together with veterans,” said Josh Sherrock, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from St. Louis. “You still have the camaraderie.”
Sherrock said he served in Iraq and Bosnia, and began working for the Greens Corps program last fall. The crew also has worked at Chimney Rock and Saul’s Creek.
“Let me thank you for your service to the country first, and now you’re serving in another way,” Udall told the veterans.
Earlier in the day, Udall toured the Animas-La Plata project. He said he was impressed by efforts to minimize its environmental impact, and he described the reservoir as an example of a long-ago promise that now has been kept.
“We’ve finally made good on the word we made to the Utes about their water needs,” Udall said.
He also met with a Durango couple who wanted to thank him for helping bring their adopted Haitian children into the country.
Michael Blumhardt, a critical-care doctor, and his wife, Susan Smith, an oncologist, were in the process of adopting two Haitian children when a devastating earthquake struck Jan. 12.
Blumhardt flew to Haiti to get the children, while Udall’s staff and that of Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, worked the phones to ensure their return.
“The congressman and the senator had our backs in a big way,” Blumhardt said.
Udall met the adopted children, Louvencia, 1, and Witson, 2. Blumhardt said both now are healthy. Louvencia battled pneumonia and a life-threatening bacterial infection upon her arrival in the U.S.
“They seem to be doing great,” Blumhardt said.