Guard Ratchets Up Efforts in Midwestern Flooding
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 23, 2008 Missouri is the latest Midwestern state to see increasing numbers of National Guard citizen-soldiers and –airmen on duty in the face of the region’s worst flooding in 15 years.
“Our priority is to protect the lives of Missouri’s residents and their property,” Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said during a visit to flood-affected areas with National Guard officials. “Then we will focus on recovery efforts.”
“As Missourians continue to face the rising waters of the Mississippi, their Missouri National Guard stands beside them in the fight,” Army Maj. Gen. King Sidwell, the state’s adjutant general, said.
More than 5,700 National Guard members were responding to flooding in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin on June 19, a peak since the Guard started deploying troops in the face of rising waters on June 7.
A response that began in Indiana spread with the water to Wisconsin on June 9, Iowa the next day, and Illinois and Missouri on June 14. Indiana operations wound down on June 18 after 11 days.
But the threat was far from winding down, as sandbagging continues in towns along the Mississippi River in the face of cresting waters.
Residents in towns already flooded faced weeks of cleanup and mounds of trash to dispose of. Twenty-four people have died and 148 have been injured during June’s storms and flooding, the Associated Press reported. Damages are estimated in the billions of dollars.
Fourteen Missouri counties were affected, National Guard Bureau officials reported.
Guard officials were monitoring both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers as more than 700 troops responded, focusing on Clarksville and Wentzville. Water had crested or breached levees, and more were threatened.
“We have troops doing work on the ground from Alexandria to Winfield,” said Army Capt. Tammy Spicer, a Missouri Guard spokeswoman. Alexandria is in the north. Winfield is just north of St. Louis.
The Guard was monitoring the situation the length of the Mississippi in Missouri, she said. The Missouri Guard has established a Northeast Task Force overseeing seven units supporting communities facing rising water, officials reported this week.
Army Lt. Col. William McKinney, the task force commander, said the Guard is working hard to protect the local population and has deployed every necessary resource available.
Missouri National Guard members are mobilized in the communities of Hannibal, the boyhood home of famed American writer Mark Twain, and Clarksville, Canton, West Quincy, LaGrange and Alexandria, assisting with sandbagging operations, levee monitoring, and limited security operations.
To combat future flooding threats, the Guard has established a quick-reaction force in Louisiana, Mo. The Guard also has posted liaison officers to work with state and local officials in Clark, Lewis, Marion, Ralls, Pike and Lincoln counties.
Among the units deployed is 1438th Engineer Company from Macon. Several members from that unit were deployed to the area after returning from a two-week annual training exercise in South Dakota.
Army Spc. John Crawford of St. Louis said that though the flooding has kept him from returning to work, his employers know the importance of his mission.
“It is a great thing the Guard is doing up here,” Crawford said. “I have been helping fill and transport sandbags to the levees.”
The Guard was sandbagging, monitoring levees and securing evacuated areas and providing command and control, communications and tactical operations support to civilian authorities. The latest operations were similar to Guard actions throughout the Midwest this month:
-- Illinois: More than 1,100 Guard members assisted with communications and sandbagging.
-- Indiana: Operation Noah’s Ark concluded June 19. The height of the mission saw more than 1,400 Guard members on duty sandbagging, providing security, conducting search and rescue missions, and distributing water.
-- Iowa: More than 4,200 Guard members remained on duty as the state faced a public health emergency caused by lost water supplies. Massive flooding rendered 83 of the state’s 99 counties under state disaster declarations. Guard members focused on preventing more flooding; providing drinking water, generators, security and transportation; conducting aerial damage assessment; and other operations.
-- Wisconsin: About 230 Guard members provided communications, generators, security and transport. The Guard also assisted with conducting aerial damage assessments, filling and grading washed-out roads, and removing debris, National Guard Bureau officials reported.
Meanwhile, Guard members were on duty assisting Border Patrol agents in four Southwestern border states, tackling wildfires, ferrying drinking water to residents of several New Mexico towns, supporting Louisiana police, providing critical infrastructure protection in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, flying critical air sovereignty missions nationwide, and running counterdrug operations.
National Guard members also are on duty on a variety of missions in many foreign countries, including combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves with the National Guard Bureau. Robert Seyller of the Missouri National Guard Public Affairs Office contributed to this report.)