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Making a difference: Water pro serves his country

For more than 30 years, retired First Sergeant Patrick O’Malley balanced life in the Army with an engineering career at Denver Water.

“Mission first” is a mantra that’s been ingrained in Patrick O’Malley’s core since he joined the Army National Guard after high school.

“It’s important to know what you’re working toward, no matter what your job,” he said. “It’s even more critical in the military. You live and breathe your mission, because if you don’t, someone could lose their life,” he said.

When O’Malley graduated from high school in 1979, he couldn’t afford college. So, he set his sights on the Army National Guard’s aviation program — a pivotal decision that would mark the beginning of an exhilarating 33-year military career.

Patrick O’Malley (left) and crew members Kevin Marks, Felicia Ortiz and Mike Eger, wait on standby with their UH60 Blackhawk for a medevac mission.

The Army helped O’Malley attend college, where he studied architecture engineering. When he wasn’t hitting the books, he was hard at work maintaining helicopters and preparing them for operation at Buckley Air Force Base.

O’Malley progressed from a flight mechanic to a flight engineer while also completing his college degree. Soon after, he landed a summer internship at Denver Water in hydraulics, where he set up testing stations on pipes and hydrants to monitor water pressure and flows.

“I basically had two full-time jobs for more than 30 years before retiring from the military in 2012,” he said. “Anytime I wasn’t at Denver Water, I was putting in time with the Army.”

While some would suffer burn-out trying to balance two careers and a family, O’Malley found inspiration in his work.

He secured a full-time position reading meters at Denver Water, then became a distribution drafter in the late ’80s, working on projects that span the city.

Preparing for deployment to Bosnia, O’Malley trains in Guernsey, Wyoming, with a M60D machine gun aboard a UH60 Blackhawk.

At the same time, he became a flight instructor for the Army taking on a variety of assignments along the way.

“Imagine a job where every day is a new adventure. That’s what Army aviation is like,” O’Malley said.

He provided surveillance, transported dignitaries, conducted search and rescue operations, engaged in firefighting, responded to natural disaster relief and delivered brigades of military personnel into hostile areas.

During his time in the Army, O’Malley participated in many international deployments and countless homeland missions.

He trained the Slovenia and Jordan militaries on operational procedures to ensure the safety of their troops. He deployed to the most remote jungles in Guyana where U.S. Air Force personnel delivered medicine and built schools in isolated villages where people had never seen a helicopter.

O'Malley took this photo flying over one of the massive gravesites in Bosnia, a sight that is still painful for him to remember.

One memory that still gives O’Malley chills is of his 12-month deployment to Bosnia in 2001.

“I was deployed in a peace-keeping role after the fighting had subsided. I saw beautiful facilities built to host the 1972 Olympics in Sarajevo turned to fields of rubble,” he said. “Wandering among tombstones in massive gravesites were children missing arms or legs. I saw firsthand the fallout of war and how it can decimate an entire culture of people. It was truly haunting.”

O’Malley also enjoyed working with local communities and organizations across Colorado.

“You hear a lot about the international military deployments, but some of the most meaningful and exciting work I did was right here in Colorado,” he said. “I was able to help a local police department in aerial surveillance during a manhunt, and I even dropped bales of hay after a blizzard made roads impassable for farmers to feed their livestock. It was rewarding to see the difference I made on those missions and the impact they had on my community.”

Patrick O’Malley (center) debriefs with Colorado Gov. Bill Owens on living conditions and medevac flight operations in Bosnia.

O’Malley admitted, he couldn’t have stayed in the Army and experienced all he did without the support of Denver Water and the Veteran’s Assistance program — a sentiment echoed by other Denver Water vets.

“I am truly lucky,” he said. “Some people would come back after a deployment to find their jobs gone. I am fortunate I never had to worry about that at Denver Water. I knew I could leave for a deployment to serve my country and still come back to my job.”

The technical expertise, discipline, commitment to community and teamwork O’Malley learned in the Army have helped him succeed for more than 30 years at Denver Water. Today, he’s the CAD manager for Denver Water, where he is responsible for all aspects of the computer aided design platform and standards in Engineering.

“The military instilled values that are similar to those of Denver Water, like integrity and honesty,” he said. “These are lessons and values you take with you your entire life.”

Reflecting on his military experience, O’Malley urges others to honor those who serve.

“On Veteran’s Day, I hope people remember that our military is made up of volunteers. To be willing to put your life on the line to defend our country is a big thing, and we should all honor that.”