National Guard Battles Winter Storms in Five States
By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Mar. 25, 2009 Rain and melting snow continue to increase flooding in five states across the northern United States today.
More than 1,200 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been called up in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming to help state residents deal with the early spring storm.
In North Dakota, the number of Guard members called up has quadrupled since the weekend to 800.
"We have soldiers and airmen working around the clock to respond to communities' emergency requests," said Army Col. Jim Hrdlicka, who is commanding Joint Task Force East in Fargo, N.D. "Despite predictions, we are very confident that North Dakota citizens and our communities, together with the Guard, Department of Emergency Services, Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, can mitigate this threat to the best of our abilities."
Since March 20, soldiers and airmen have filled sandbags; transported equipment, such as pumps and generators; manned traffic control points; constructed a clay dike in Fargo; and set up Hesco barriers -- large containers that offer protection when filled with sand -- for flood protection..
"As we stabilize the site here in Fargo, we're prepared to move north to Grand Forks later this week," Army Capt. Craig Hillig, operations officer for Joint Task Force East, said. "We will still have personnel in Fargo, but we'll be moving north to follow the water."
North Dakota Guard troops also continue to come to the aid of their neighbors.
"The soldiers don't only save our country, they save the people, one by one," Rose Silbernagl, 87, of Linton, N.D., said. "I never thought they'd save me."
Silbernagl has lived in her home since 1951, "and this is the first time I had to get the heck out of there," she said.
A widow, Silbernagl has a bad heart and is on oxygen, but she opened her home to four friends who were flooded out earlier this week. When her sewer backed up, she still didn't want to leave, but her 15 children insisted.
Army Sgt. Andrew Rohrich was one of the soldiers who helped Rose get out of the water and over to the county courthouse, which is serving as an evacuation center.
Rohrich, a Linton native, now lives in Bismarck where he works full time for the Guard.
Silbernagl has known him since he was knee high, and she joked, "There's a reason there was a flood -- so I can see you guys!"
Silbernagl doesn't know when she will be able to return to her home. "Just have to make the best of it," she said before leaving to stay with her sister-in-law.
In Minnesota, the Red River and its tributaries are expected to crest in the Fargo-Moorhead area tomorrow, shifting sandbagging operations to smaller communities.
Almost 400 Guard members, including soldiers from the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, based in Moorhead, Minn., are on duty providing security at sandbagging sites, conducting dike patrols and manning traffic control points in three counties as well as securing pumps in the cities of Perly, Hendrum and Halstad, Minn., according to the Minnesota National Guard Web site.
In South Dakota, blizzard conditions necessitated the call-up of six National Guard soldiers along with two snow blowers, two Humvees and one pickup truck to help with snow removal in the Rapid City and Sturgis areas.
Asked about coverage of these missions, Army Maj. Brendan Murphy, the state public affairs officer, said, "None of my folks have left our houses yet."
In Montana, several vehicles have been stranded in the southeast corner of the state since March 23 due to heavy snow and subzero temperatures.
The state's Department of Transportation asked the National Guard for help rescuing stranded motorists.
Army Maj. Tim Crowe, the state public affairs officer, said 13 Guardsmen, along with a CH-47 Chinook and a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, were deployed to Powder River and Carter County to support search and rescue operations.
The helicopters, loaded with warm clothing, sleeping bags and food, were sent to search for stranded motorists along U.S. Highway 212 between Broadus and Alzada, Mont., yesterday.
Crews will resume the search in the Broadus, Ekalaka and Alzada areas this morning, Crowe said.
In eastern Wyoming, several residents sought refuge at the National Guard armory in Wheatland, said Deidre Forster, the state public affairs officer.
(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves at the National Guard Bureau. Army Sgt. Ann Knudson of the North Dakota Army National Guard contributed to this story.)