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Fire evacuation effort recognized with military commendation medal

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO.

A humble hero, Jared Wandell of the High Forest Ward, Colorado Springs North Stake, received a military Joint Service Commendation Medal on July 29 for the assistance in safely evacuating 150 Cub Scouts and 110 adult leaders from the encroaching Black Forest Fire that began on June 11.

Jared Wandell of the High Forest Ward in Colorado Springs, was recently presented with the Joint Service Commendation Medal and certificate of award. Jared Wandell, center, stands with day camp leaders, Marcia Cummings, Sandy Gardner, Shyrelene Brooks and Colorado Springs Colorado North Stake President Kevin Woodward.
Jared Wandell of the High Forest Ward in Colorado Springs, was recently presented with the Joint Service Commendation Medal and certificate of award. Jared Wandell, center, stands with day camp leaders, Marcia Cummings, Sandy Gardner, Shyrelene Brooks and Colorado Springs Colorado North Stake President Kevin Woodward. Photo: Photo courtesy Shyrlene Brooks

"It kind of was a surprise to me," said Brother Wandell. "It just happened."

Brother Wandell is a major in the U.S. Army National Guard and serves as a Joint Regional Exercise Planner for the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs.

Brother Wandell said he was told by a commander not to leave work that day and was later called into one of the conference rooms where he thought the meeting was about somebody else. They called him up to present the medal and read the citation, which is an official letter that accompanies the award.

Jared Wandell of the High Forest Ward in Colorado Springs, was recently presented with the Joint Service Commendation Medal and certificate of award for assisting in the evacuation of 260 Cub Scouts and leaders during the Black Forest Fire that erupted in June.
Jared Wandell of the High Forest Ward in Colorado Springs, was recently presented with the Joint Service Commendation Medal and certificate of award for assisting in the evacuation of 260 Cub Scouts and leaders during the Black Forest Fire that erupted in June. Photo: Photo courtesy Shyrlene Brooks

The citation stated that he received the award due to his outstanding leadership, professional skill and timely decision making that resulted in the safe evacuation of the 260 Cub Scouts and Pack leaders. It also stated that the distinctive accomplishments of Major Wandell reflect credit upon himself, the United States Army and the Department of Defense.

Cub Scouts and their leaders are evacuated in advance of the encroaching Black Forest Fire on June 11.  The Scouts and their leaders called Brother Wandell a "true hero" for his actions.
Cub Scouts and their leaders are evacuated in advance of the encroaching Black Forest Fire on June 11. The Scouts and their leaders called Brother Wandell a "true hero" for his actions. Photo: Photo courtesy Kaylene Smith

Brother Wandell said that this award is unique because it's not just presented from one branch of the military such as the Army or Air Force but is a joint service award, which is not as common among military medals. It is also unique because he was assisting civilians and not his fellow soldiers.

He said there are several different levels of awards in the military and this one ranks right in the middle. "I feel it was appropriate," he said of its designation.

Brother Wandell has served a total of 22 years in the military where he also received the distinguished Bronze Star. Over all, he has 17 ribbons and medals he wears on his military dress uniform.

"That is one of the nice things about the military, that you do get the chance to be recognized," he said.

However, Brother Wandell said he didn't think that he did anything special that anyone else wouldn't have done. Earlier that day some of the leaders had gotten turned around during a hike with the boys in the forest and needed his help with direction. Later, when he saw the smoke billowing above the main roads that led into the campsite, he thought he'd better announce an alternate route for everyone to escape from the fire.

Shyrlene Brooks, Primary president in the Colorado Springs North Stake and Cub Scout day camp director, said she was very pleased that Brother Wandell's command chose to honor him in such a significant way. He was nominated for the award by an officer in the Cordera Ward who had read a previous article regarding the fire and Cub Scout evacuation.

"He is most deserving and certainly considered a hero in the eyes of every Cub Scout and leader he saved that day," Sister Brooks said.

Kevin Woodward, president of the Colorado Springs North Stake, also attended the ceremony along with Sister Brooks. President Woodward said, "Receiving such special recognition from the military really caught Brother Wandell by surprise. It was the last thing he ever would have expected. Yet for the 200-plus stake members who were led out of harm's way by his calm, clear presence of thought and quick reaction, it is considered a most fitting tribute."

Brother Wandell's home was among the 486 homes destroyed in the fire but he said his family is recovering and getting into a routine again. They just moved into a rental home two miles outside of the Black Forest. He said nobody in his family has been overly traumatized by the experience, due to their strong faith.

"We have received tons and tons of blessings, more than we ever thought."

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