Midwestern Guardsmen Respond to Rising Flood Waters

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2008 - Thousands of National Guard troops in the Midwest have moved into high gear reinforcing levees, conducting security patrols, and delivering food, water and relief supplies as record-breaking floods surged through the heartland.

Nearly 4,000 Iowa National Guard troops are deployed across the state as flood levels break records in almost every river community on the Cedar, Iowa, Des Moines, Raccoon and Mississippi river basins, reported Army Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood, Iowa National Guard public affairs officer.

With 17 civilian fatalities and 106 injuries reported, 25,000 people evacuated from their homes, and flood waters still rising, the Guardsmen are reinforcing threatened levees, filling and delivering sandbags, and providing aerial reconnaissance of the region, Hapgood said.

The Army and Air Guardsmen also are transporting packaged meals, drinking water, cots and other relief supplies, conducting security patrols in support of local law enforcement officials, and providing high-water vehicles to utility crews evaluating homes for unsafe conditions.

"We're ... trying to prevent people from going where they shouldn't for their own safety," said Army Sgt. Jason Boesen, a 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, soldier mobilized to support flood--relief operations. "We assist by roving patrols with vehicles."

In Cedar Rapids, one of the hardest-hit cities, the troops used a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to sling-load seven 800-pound water pumps to a repair facility so wells could be returned to full capacity, Hapgood said.

Meanwhile, nearly 100 members of the Iowa Guard's 334th Brigade Support Battalion and 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, built a 3-foot levee from about 12,000 sandbags to protect a power substation in Ottumwa from being overrun by rising waters.

About 800 Iowa Guardsmen conducting annual training in South Dakota were recalled to the state to support the flood relief, Hapgood said.

Air Force Col. Brian Miller, commander of the Air National Guard's Sioux City-based 185th Air Refueling Wing, predicted that the Army and Air Guard will be "here for the long haul" supporting the mission.

"We're going to be here as long as it takes," he said.

Hapgood noted that many of the Guardsmen involved in the effort have served combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan and now have stepped up to assist their own communities.

"This shows in a very tangible way the incredible amount of flexibility built into our skill sets that we can conduct combat missions and also help people here in the United States," Hapgood said. "It's demonstrative of the broad capabilities we have in the National Guard."

Army Sgt. Sean Rohret, a Company C, 133rd Infantry, soldier who has deployed as part of the Sinai Peninsula peacekeeping mission and served a tour of duty in Iraq, said it feels good to be pitching in to help rescue his home state.

"It's pretty gratifying to actually be able to get out here and help the community," he said. "I've seen a lot of people out sandbagging, a lot of people coming up to us, asking us where they can go to help. It's been a pretty wonderful experience getting to see everybody come together."

"It's a pleasure giving something back to the community," agreed Army Sgt. 1st Class Chino Halpin, from 334th BSB. "It's good service."

Meanwhile, more than 500 Illinois National Guard soldiers and airmen are working alongside local citizens to build up levees along the Mississippi River in the western part of the state. Another 400 have been called to duty and are expected to be on site by tomorrow to provide sandbagging, communications and transportation support, state National Guard officials reported.

Army Sgt. Jon Stonewall, a member of the Illinois Army Guard's 233rd Military Police Company, is among those supporting the effort. Stonewall joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and deployed with his unit to Iraq in 2003, and also was called to duty in December 2006 when a severe winter storm hit Illinois.

"Being here is typical of the Guard," he said. "Part of our mission is here at home, helping the residents in an emergency."

Support from Stonewall and his fellow Guardsmen will be critical in the days ahead. River levels in the Quincy area of Illinois' Adams County are expected to crest tomorrow at 31.9 feet ? almost 15 feet over flood stage, county officials reported.

To the south, hundreds of Missouri National Guardsmen are fighting to hold back the surge of water flowing downriver from Iowa and bracing for more to come.

"To be successful in this mission, we will deploy every necessary resource available," said Army Lt. Col. William McKinney, who commands a task force set up to oversee seven units supporting the effort. "Missouri's Guardsmen are an asset for our people to utilize when they face an emergency requiring additional assistance."

The Guardsmen are monitoring levees, working security and filling sandbags along the Mississippi River, state National Guard officials reported.

The Missouri Army Guard's 548th Transportation Company left annual training in South Dakota early to deliver 20 pallets of packaged meals to flood-ravaged Iowa earlier this week. The pallets, which were donated by the South Dakota National Guard, amount to 11,520 meals.

The mission was personal for the Missourians, who had spent much of the past week in South Dakota training alongside Iowa Guardsmen, who also left training early to respond to the severe flooding back home. "This is what we do," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Christine Chane. "Iowa needed the [meals], and we could help. They knew we had the assets to make the delivery."

Army Spc. John Crawford, whose 1438th Engineer Company just finished its annual training exercise, said he's happy to be able to provide flood relief support. "It is a great thing the Guard is doing up here," he said.

Meanwhile, almost 200 Wisconsin Army and Air Guardsmen are on duty as major flooding continues across the southern part of that state.

The Wisconsin Guardsmen are helping with flood control along flooded highways, filling and grading washed-out roads, securing traffic-control points, and providing aviation support for aerial damage-assessment missions, National Guard Bureau officials reported.

(Army Pvt. Cassandra Monroe and Sgt. Chad D. Nelson from the Iowa Army National Guard's 135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Air Force 1st Lt. Peter Shinn from the Iowa Air Guard's 185th Refueling Wing, 2nd Lt. Stacey Rieger from the Illinois National Guard, and Robert Seyller from the Missouri National Guard contributed to this article.)

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