News: Engineer unit supports search and rescue mission at SR 530 landslide
Story by Sgt. Chelsea Barber
OSO, Wash. — “Here, sergeant!” a soldier yelled, waved his arms and raised a long, orange stick above his head. He moved it 90 degrees to his left and then straight up over his head again, signaling his team approximately 100 yards across the barren, muddy wasteland. In the shadow of snow-capped, tree-lined mountains lay the wreckage of the State Route 530 mudslide, 12 days later. The Washington National Guard soldiers balanced on wooden planks and logs to maneuver the soggy, unstable debris field. They wore hunting camouflage waders, rubber boots sealed securely with silver duct tape and brightly-colored hard hats.
Approximately 48 soldiers with the 176th Engineering Company, out of Snohomish, have been assisting fire and rescue personnel on the site of the mudslide since March 31, 2014.
When Capt. Brandon Myers received the call that he needed to collect 50 personnel, he put the word out to his unit. He was pleased to find that after only two hours he had well over 50 names.
“My guys were so eager to jump on board with this; I’m so proud of them,” Myers said.
“The soldiers have been great, they love the mission and the community has been great to us.”
Their mission provides support for search and rescue personnel and includes laying a grid for the search effort. The grid will provide a mapping system for areas that haven’t been searched yet, so rescue workers can more efficiently track progress by searching within lanes of the grid. Pvt. John McManus, an interior electrician out of Everett, Wash., said that even though his job training doesn't directly translate to the mission at hand, he is happy to be on site helping.
“I’m just glad we’re out here, making a difference,” McManus said.
When called to join the mudslide response, McManus felt a sense of duty yet was slightly weary of the unknown.
“I felt it was an honor and a privilege to do my duty that I signed up for when I joined the National Guard,” McManus said. “But also, the thought of what to expect, something I've never faced before in my life and it was going to be the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced.”
Some soldiers from Snohomish are tied to the community. They find themselves on a very personal mission. Sgt. Jessica Mingle just feels good to get out and help a community that has been so deeply affected.
“It’s devastating, it’s a little hard because it’s our people,” Mingle said. “I wasn't expecting it to be this bad from watching the news.”
While Mingle’s Army job isn't search and rescue, she found the camaraderie between fellow soldiers was what best prepared her for the mission in Oso. Sharing the experience allowed her to endure the emotional hardships of being on the ground.
Soldiers with the 176th Engineer Company have also been able to share their experience with the affected residents of surrounding communities, where outreach to first responders and National Guard members has been extremely positive. While rescue teams continue to recover and return personal items to those who lost them in the mudslide, community members return gratitude, ten-fold.
“A lot of ‘thank you’s,’ a lot of hugs, a lot of shaking hands, it’s been wonderful,” Mingle said. “We’re just here to help.”