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SALT LAKE CITY — Two weeks ago, two Utah Army National Guard medevac teams got a call telling them Houston needed help.

Sgt. 1st Class Zach Kesler, a flight paramedic, didn't hesitate in responding.

"This is something I've gotta do and I said 'Count me in,'" he said.

Less than 24 hours later, the guard members were in the air.

The crew of eight men returned from Houston Friday night. They took two Blackhawk helicopters with them on their rescue mission and saved about 40 people. What they returned with were pictures, videos and stories they'll remember forever.

They arrived to complete devastation in Texas.

"First thing Wednesday morning, it was basically an emergency evacuation of the entire city of Port Arthur," said Kesler. "And that's when it was like, game on."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Paul Merrill is a Blackhawk pilot. He says the rescues were tricky and dangerous for the whole team, especially the crew chief and the paramedics, but they were ready.

"There's trees everywhere; there's power lines everywhere, houses, people," said Merrill. "It's one of those things where you train, train, train and you may never get to do the real thing. And so for us to have been able to go down there and help all those people, it's very rewarding."

One by one, they hoisted up about 40 people over a couple days.

"As we're flying to the area, you can hear on the radio ... you can hear them calling out '30 people trapped over here, four people trapped over here,'" recalls Kesler. "I can pretty much picture the face of almost every single person we picked up that day."

An unforgettable experience for those being rescued and for the rescuers themselves.

"This is one of the reasons why I want to do this, why I want to be a part of this, why I'm part of this organization," said Kesler.

There is a chance the Utah Army National Guard could be called out again to Hurricane Irma. Kesler and Merrill say they would go in a heartbeat.


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Tania Mashburn


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