News: Guardsmen bring wealth of experience, knowledge to Minot flood fight
Story by Sgt. Jecca Geffre
MINOT, N.D. — More than 1,100 North Dakota Guardsmen are responding to flood emergencies today in the central part of the state with more than 800 of them concentrated in the Minot-Burlington, N.D., area.
The bloated Souris, which winds its way through the middle of Minot, is predicted to reach an unprecedented crest of 1,564.5 feet by Sunday making it six feet higher than the record level recorded in 1881. The North Dakota National Guard has been working within the city since May 24, although coordinating flood response measures with city officials began as early as February of this year.
June 22 signaled a new chapter in the flood saga in Minot when sirens sounded throughout the city to inform residents that departures from evacuation zones were crucial.
“A big part of what we are doing is securing evacuated areas to ensure that property is protected while people need to leave the area for safety reasons,” said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. “Our Guardsmen comprise a versatile force that is able to assist flood-affected communities in a number of ways.”
Sgt. Ross Teigen and Spc. Mike Sall 164th Engineer Battalion transitioned from their duties of levee walkers to teams that go to mandatory evacuation areas to mark empty homes and inform remaining residents in the area to leave as soon as possible.
“It‟s really sad to see what people here are going through. I‟m glad to help in any way I can,” Teigen said. “I‟ve volunteered to be here as long as they need me.”
Following the evacuations, Guardsmen and contractors worked tirelessly to build up berms and secondary levees to protect crucial emergency infrastructure throughout Minot. Five-sided „trap‟ sandbags were placed to line roads along the Third Street Bridge. Broadway Bridge, the city‟s main thoroughfare, was cut off to traffic as a Black Hawk helicopter hovered overhead to assess the situation from above. Quick reaction forces, or QRFs, helped residents sandbag or move furniture out of their homes.
Soldiers and airmen have been working together around the clock to do what they can to assist the city as water runs over levees and submerges streets and underpasses throughout the town.
Airmen from 219th Security Forces Squadron participating in QRFs have been to Minot twice now, as well as participating in flood fights in Fargo and Bismarck this year. Active duty Air Force airmen from the base are also working in close coordination with the NDNG to support the city of Minot.
North Dakota National Guard Airman 1st Class Trent O‟Brian, Mandan, N.D., said he has enjoyed working together with his Army National Guardsmen counterparts.
“It‟s a good change of pace,” O‟Brian said. “We all work well together and are working for the same cause.”
O‟Brian said previous flood experience has been useful to participating in this type of mission, particularly because of the various tasks he‟s been doing while on a QRF team, from filling HESCO barriers to directing traffic and monitoring levees.
Airman 1st Class Travis Brown is from Minot and said this flood fight is very personal to him. He said he feels fortunate that his family is safe.
“It feels good to be helping as much as we can in this situation,” Brown said. “We‟ve heard a lot of “thank yous” from the people of Minot, and they‟ve been really respectful of us when we‟re on the ground doing our missions.”
The 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge) sent some of its bridge experts to the area to assess the possibility of using some of its assets in the area if necessary. Dump trucks, bulldozers, hydraulic excavators and skid steers are just some of the equipment being used by the National Guard in an effort to prevent as much damage from the anticipated flood waters as possible.
Staff Sgt. William Griffin, Battle Desk non-commissioned officer, 136 Combat Sustainment and Support Battalion said the Guard is putting forth their best effort to assist the city.
“We‟re having to adapt to a lot of changes quickly,” Griffin said. “It can get challenging but we‟re getting better every day.”
Griffin participated in the 2009 flood fight in Fargo, N.D., and says his past experiences with flood-fighting have helped during this year‟s flood mission in Minot.
Capt. Tom Leingang, of the 816th Engineer Company (Horizontal), said his unit and those that fall under him as part of task force patrolling the northern side of the city have pulled security, participated on evacuation teams, traffic control points and QRFs since May 25.
“We‟ve got a mix of job skills,” Leingang said. “The soldiers and airmen are doing well. They‟ve been working a lot of hours, but they‟d rather be busy.”
The North Dakota National Guard is highly experienced in conducting flood operations to mitigate the loss of life and property. Earlier this spring, soldiers and airmen spent 32 days on flood operations across the state, with 1,486 Guardsmen contributing to the effort at some point during the mission. Approximately 37,000 mandays have been contributed to flood operations in 2011.