News: Team effort during Souris River flood fight
Story by Sgt. Jecca Geffre
MINOT, N.D. — Active Duty airmen at Minot Air Force Base went above and beyond the call of duty by providing critical support to the community, local officials and the North Dakota National Guard during the flood fight in Minot and Ward County.
The 5th Civil Engineer Squadron worked with North Dakota National Guard members and city contractors by providing dump trucks and drivers to haul clay to levees and sand to fill one-ton sandbags. The airmen operated skid steers, threw sandbags and helped residents evacuate from their homes.
“Our airmen were happy to use the skills they possess to help the community,” said Capt. Samuel Logan, commander of 5th CES. “We were able to scale back normal operations to meet the emergency and urgent needs on the base and to assist with the flood fight. We released all available assets to the city as needed for the mission, to meet that immediate emergency requirement and alleviate human suffering,” Logan added.
Logan said that the 5th CES airmen are well trained and capable of performing despite dealing with long hours and intense mission requirements.
“The morale has been very high,” Logan said. “Even though we’re working these guys really hard, they’re never happier than when they are operating equipment.”
Maj. Deb Lien, Bismarck, N.D., 231st Brigade Support Battalion, serves as the operations officer for the North Dakota National Guard’s Task Force Minot. The task force oversees all Guard missions and support to communities affected by the flooding of the Souris River in Ward and McHenry Counties. Lien said working with the Air Force Active Duty component has been seamless and the assistance provided by the Airmen was key to mission accomplishment.
“They have been absolutely tremendous to work with,” Lien said. “They are extremely responsive to our requests and extremely willing to help the community. They’ve been a great asset and awesome to work with.”
Airmen worked with the Army and Air National Guard with engineering assets as well as troops that placed sandbags and manned traffic control points.
Master Sgt. Robert Dalton, Wolfeboro, N.H., said the Air Force started giving engineer support and volunteers to help with sandbagging, help people evacuating out of their houses moving furniture out, done levee support, hauled tons of sand, clay, rip rap and loader operations.
Dalton said working with the North Dakota National Guard has been a great experience. “It’s been an eye opening experience to be a part of this historic event,” Dalton said. “The Air Force is pleased to be able to assist our parent city Minot; they take care of us and now we’re here to take care of them.”
The Air Force has completed 118 tasks for the mission so far, and contributed 5,400 man-hours since their mission began June 21.
Part of the contingency posturing included using plumbers and carpenters that have licenses to drive the dump trucks to augment the crews able to haul materials to various sights.
Staff Sgt. Frank Hacecky, Yankton, S.D., is a heavy equipment operator currently building a platform with an M120 Cat Grader for the Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit to build a facility at Minot Air Force Base.
Hacecky had been working downtown Minot and in Velva hauling dirt, putting up HESCO barriers, building up the levees, and putting Riprap down. He said that helping the community is the best part of the mission. “I eat this stuff up,” Hacecky said. “I really enjoy helping and it’s a good feeling to get out there and get the job done. Flood control is a unique situation, it really builds up your skills and makes this job the best.”
He said morale has been great, and the group of airmen he works with are top-notch and have been working long hours without complaint. Hacecky worked with the North Dakota National Guard on the HESCO barriers placed at 3rd Street Bridge and said the airmen were able to integrate very well with the project.
Some airmen not only toiled long hours during the flood fight, but did so even as their own homes were threatened by flood waters. One airman volunteered after his shift to help people in Minot evacuate their homes.
Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Webb, Kokomo, Ind., was hauling clay and other material to build up the levees in Minot, working more than 12 hours a day. He owns a home in downtown Minot that was under about five feet of water when he caught a glimpse of it on a news broadcast.
Webb was staying with a friend in town who also had to eventually evacuate. After his exhausting days on shift, he was moving furniture and valuables for fellow Minot community members. He even volunteered his extra storage space for people to place items until the water recedes. “I just asked people if they needed help and did what I could,” Webb said.
“The people here are amazing; everyone pulled together and tried to stay upbeat. The biggest thing is deciding what possessions are most important. A lot of people wanted to take everything but you just couldn’t do it because of time and hauling capability. Everyone had to make decisions and realize some things can just be replaced but memorable things and family heirlooms should be saved.
“Everyone was incredibly grateful. People were helping others that they didn’t even know. I’ve been stationed a lot of places and Minot is the greatest community, the way everyone just came together,” Webb said.
Webb said that although most of the Active Duty airmen on the Minot Air Force Base are not from here originally, they see Minot as their home and one of the most tight-knit communities most of them have lived in.