Guard Members Continue to Fight Floods, Fires
By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Jun. 26, 2008 National Guard soldiers and airmen continued to fight Midwest flooding and California fires today.
Army National Guard soldiers from Iowa work to complete a seven-foot sandbagged levy to protect an electrical generator from rising flood waters in Hills, Iowa, June 14, 2008. About 80 Guardsmen -- including those with the 34th Army Band out of Fairfield -- sandbagged at the generator plant. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Oscar M. Sanchez-Alvarez
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
About 2,300 Guard members remained on duty in the Midwest, down from a peak of more than 5,700, National Guard Bureau officials reported.
Meanwhile, the California wildfires called for fewer Guard members and more aircraft. UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters and C-130 Hercules aircraft dropped water and flame retardant, while OH-58 Kiowa helicopters and RC-26 Metroliner aircraft flew fire-spotting and reconnaissance missions. More than 90 Guard members responded to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s request for National Guard assistance.
In Missouri, the National Guard was preparing for potential flooding downriver, Army Capt. Tamara Spicer, a public affairs officer, said. The Missouri Guard posted liaison officers to four lower Mississippi River counties in anticipation of flooding, she said.
One levee near Winfield, Mo. was considered to be in such a tenuous position that only life vest-clad National Guard members and firefighters were allowed to stack sandbags, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
Army Spc. Daniel Maguire of the 1438th Engineer Company was one of hundreds of Guard members on duty from units across Missouri. “It’s my job,” he said. “I’m a National Guard soldier, and I help with state emergencies.”
Missouri’s adjutant general, Army Maj. Gen. King Sidwell, said his state’s Guard members will remain on the job as long as they’re needed. “The Missouri National Guard continues to work closely with state and local leaders to ensure we have our citizen-soldiers and –airmen where they are needed to help Missourians,” Sidwell said. “We will continue to support our communities until local officials release the soldiers and airmen.”
Army Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, the Wisconsin National Guard’s director of public affairs, detailed that state’s experience, typical of the affected Midwest states.
Unrelenting waves of heavy rain moved into Wisconsin on June 7, and by June 8 Gov. Jim Doyle declared 30 of the state's 72 counties disaster areas, Donovan said.
“The National Guard's Joint Operations Center beefed up its routine 24/7 staff to coordinate Guard response as flood waters covered most of the southern half of the state,” Donovan said. “Wisconsin National Guard soldiers and airmen conducted evacuations, delivered sandbags, operated traffic control points, performed security missions, completed engineer assessments and flew aerial assessment flights to assist in the state's multi-agency efforts.”
Army Sgt. Jacek Gusciora, part of the Illinois National Guard's 341st Military Intelligence Company based in Chicago, has been working sandbag operations along the Sny levee.
"This is the reason we signed up for the National Guard; this is our duty," Gusciora said. "We're honored to do it. We've received the training, and now we're doing our mission."
The Midwest flooding mission has seen Guard assistance to civilian authorities in five states since June 7. Troops have concluded flooding operations in Indiana, but remained at work today in four other states. While the numbers of troops receded with the water, they still were in the thousands:
-- Illinois: More than 1,100 Guard members monitored levees as farmland remained threatened from the burgeoning Mississippi. Troops also conducted security patrols in affected communities.
-- Missouri: With three dozen levees remaining at risk, more than 800 Guard members were on duty providing communications and command and control, monitoring levees, positioning sandbags, assessing damage, removing debris, providing security and distributing fuel.
-- Iowa: 200 troops continued mop-up operations.
-- Wisconsin: 200 troops remained in the field today, pumping water, supplying power and giving communications and command support in addition to security, debris removal, road repair and transportation missions.
Guard members are on duty in the United States 365 days a year. Yesterday, a National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopter plucked an injured teenager from the side of a Colorado mountain after a car crash. The same day, Guard members assisted Border Patrol agents in four Southwest border states, ferried drinking water to residents of several New Mexico towns, supported Louisiana police, provided critical infrastructure protection in Northeast states and California, flew critical air sovereignty missions nationwide and continued counterdrug operations.
In addition, Guard members remained on duty on numerous overseas missions, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.
(Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau. Army Sgt. April McLaren of the Illinois National Guard contributed to this report.)