The LCSTARs page was established to recognize the achievements of team members who have gone above and beyond the necessary requirements to be a professional search and rescue person. They are truly an inspiration to other team members. It is also about getting to know our fellow team members and getting a peek at what makes them tick and some insight into the diverse kinds of people that join the SAR community and what they find so captivating about their experience.
"Unit calling Larimer 21 please identify,"
Mark Sheets, LCSAR's master of the airwaves
by Mike Fink - published in the Summer of 1998
Oklahoma must be famous for something, I thought. Turns out, I was right and his name is Mark Sheets. Born in Oklahoma City in 1962, Mark is one of three boys, he being in the middle, two years younger than the oldest and 11 months older than the youngest. Mark's father is a doctor and spent some time in Vietnam in a Navy MASH-type hospital in Danang when the boys were very young. During his duty, the family lived with Mark's grandparents in Oklahoma City. They moved to Loveland in 1967 after dad finished his tour where Dr. Sheets set up his first private practice. Mark guesses it is currently one of the oldest practices in town. When they built their house on 29th Street in 1967, it was one of the furthest north structures in the city limits.
Mark started Kindergarten about this time and completed all K – 12 years in the Loveland school district, graduating in 1980. Mark participated in Wrestling and Basketball and also managed the high school football teams. He also did some competitive downhill skiing where he injured his knee bad enough to force him into early retirement. Right after high school Mark enrolled at Aims. He also set a personal goal of working at Hewlett-Packard by the end of 1981. Plan B was to enroll in Air Traffic Control school in Oklahoma City, hoping that Grandma and Grandpa would give him a place to stay. This would not have been an easy choice since Mark really liked this area and ATC'ers, at that time, were getting placed wherever the need was. Fortunately, on November 10th of 1981 H-P offered Mark a job. Little did Mark know that in February of 1982 the Air Traffic Controllers Union would decide to go on strike and Ronald Regan would tell them to either go back to work or lose their jobs. Mark could have gotten on wherever he wanted. He has only small regrets however because H-P has been a good place to work.
When Mark and his brothers were young boys in Loveland their parents used to have to search for them whenever the wind would get strong, as it sometimes does in these parts. Anyway, there was this fence south of town that would usually catch them and that's where the term 3 Sheets to the wind came from.
Mark showed Morgan horses when he was in Jr. High and High School – a regular equestrian he was. He worked on a Morgan horse farm near Carter Lake to help pay for the "habit." Youth judging was another skill Mark acquired here and he gave some thought to becoming a professional but at about the same time search and rescue entered the picture. A strong fascination with SAR and the realization that horses were expensive to own and care for moved Mark in our direction.
Being a member of the Civil Air Patrol was Mark's first formal SAR exposure during high school. He attributes that to the fact that he is a Ham radio operator and technician. George Janson and Keith Schaeffer were just getting a Ground Team formed with the local CAP group and Mark joined as a cadet in 1977. The Ground Team became very active in searching for lost persons and technical rescue in addition to looking for downed aircraft. They came very close to getting full MRA accreditation in 1987 but failed to meet all the requirements. Mark by then was convinced he wanted to belong to an accredited team and started LCSAR's BASART just barely making the 1987 deadline. He was the last person to be admitted that year (ID=87-80) and ironically is the only active person remaining from that class. Mark still flies some for CAP and is still a member of the ground team but as we all know, his true love is LCSAR.
When Mark first joined CAP, their mission load was about one downed airplane a month. Now they get maybe two a year. Mark speculates the drop is due, at least in part, to the rising cost of flying and maintaining the aircraft, and cheap commercial air fares. Originally the Colorado CAP was based at Lowry Air Force Base and now they are at Buckley. The Thompson Valley Composite Squadron, which Mark belongs to, meets in Ft. Collins. There currently are 25 senior members and 30 cadets in the local group. You have to remain a cadet from age 11 to 19.
Mark recalls, as many do, of his hardest LCSAR mission being the one for the lady near Pingree Park during Fair Parking a few years ago. The mission lasting from early evening till well into the morning required a carry-up of several miles over very rugged terrain (boulders the size of motor homes), finishing with a helicopter evac of the subject at a high point. Mark has some doubts about the seriousness of the back injuries but states that because of this "condition" she was not allowed to get out of the litter to go to the bathroom…
His most memorable practice was his BASART final at Grey Rock where they had to do an extremely long scree-evac down the steep slope that faces the road. During the debriefing at the Grey Rock parking lot, rescue leader Al Wonch broke into tears recounting some of the errors that may have been made with some of the technical aspects. This emotional debriefing affirmed for Mark the fact that these LCSAR people were very attuned to safety and protecting its members.
Mark commends the team for the vast improvements in the BASART program and the current methods for selecting people. He mentions Dave Hake and Cathy Morgenstern et. al. as examples of the high levels of commitment we see now. Mark has some concerns about some of the requirements the team has for acquiring and maintaining ratings and in particular has a problem with the fact that demonstration of skills on a mission is not used for this at present. He is concerned that we may lose or may have lost some good people because they are not showing up for practices but are fairly active in mission responses. He hopes the training committee will continue to work on the newly revised system and perhaps look at the logistics of this in the future. He is also curious as to why the team places so much emphasis on the EMT rating when historically this level of training has not been needed. This is especially significant when the extra time needed may interfere with a person's ability to keep up their SAR skills or response level to call-outs.
On a more personal side, Mark has no ambitions to become a millionaire but rather is content with his current hobbies of fly fishing, flying and his Ham radio interests. When I asked him if he was happy with leading the single life, he states that he has never been married so he has nothing to compare it to. He doubts if his hobbies would continue to thrive were he married. He looks forward to some moderate advancement at Celestica, which recently purchased the portion of H-P where he works. If things get too hectic in this area he would consider taking a law enforcement job for a smaller community in Wyoming. Mark has done some law enforcement work in the past.
Mark is proud to be a member of LCSAR, which is looked upon in the SAR community as one of the best teams in the nation. He hopes everyone shares his pride and hopes the citizens and officials of Larimer County know how lucky they are to have a team of our caliber.
Last year Mark received his Life Membership award, which recognizes LCSAR members for at least 10 years of significant accomplishments and contributions to the team, and he is currently in training to become a SAR Manager. He is also a highly skilled radio and electronics person and has served as the teams Communications Officer for most of the 1990's. Having been harassed recently on the radio by Bill Cotton, Mark's last bit of advice to everyone is to always keep your wheels pointed in the down direction.