DARRINGTON, Wash. -- They’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, but this week the Washington National Guard is in Snohomish County. They have the grimmest of duties: recover those swept up by the landslide.
The National Guard trains one weekend a month, but no training can recreate the conditions they’re finding in the landslide debris area. While it’s not easy work, they say there are reminders all around them to get the job done.
“You really can’t tell a structure’s a house anymore,” said one National Guardsman.
They say the terrain is too dangerous for the untrained.
“Walking through it is almost impossible. You fall in about waist deep in some areas, knee-deep in some areas. You’re just wading through it,” said Sr. Airman Charolette Gibson, Washington National Guard.
The Washington National Guard is here looking for any signs of life or death.
“Clothing, pictures…the standard home stuff you’re going to have in your house.”
Two Blackhawk helicopters and 70 Washington National Guard members from across the state arrived Tuesday. They’re searching for victims and are there to help recover the remains. These are citizen soldiers with day jobs.
“We make French fries and send them out to everybody,” said another National Guardsman.
They say this is why they joined the National Guard - to help communities in need. What they find can be disturbing, but say working alongside community members who are looking for loved ones keeps them focused.
“Seeing the families out there is quite emotional, but just knowing you’re there for them is more important than breaking down and not being able to complete the mission based on that,” said Gibson.
The National Guard arrived in Arlington on Tuesday. Some wondered what took them so long to arrive. A Guard spokesperson said they offered their services Saturday when the slide happened, but Snohomish County officials were still assessing how big a disaster they were dealing with.