FARGO, N.D. (8/15/11) -- In an unprecedented stint of support for a single-kind of natural disaster, the North Dakota National Guard ceased flood response operations Aug. 12, said North Dakota National Guard officials.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded 22 communities that experienced record crests this year, and since spring, more than 3,000 guardsmen have served on flood duty. Soldiers and airmen worked side-by-side with local, state and federal agencies, as well as volunteers and impacted residents, to hold back flood waters across the state.
The Guard's mission is nearly complete, but local, state and federal recovery efforts continue to operate in full support of the affected communities.
"This year, our men and women of North Dakota's National Guard have demonstrated once again why they are the best in the nation," said Gov. Jack Dalrymple, North Dakota National Guard's commander-in-chief. "In communities across our state, Guard members successfully rose to the challenge and did what needed to be done to assist their fellow North Dakotans in this year's flood fight.
“Even though this part of the Guard's mission is complete, they stand ready to help if the need should arise as we continue to do all we can to help those impacted recover and rebuild."
After an initial flood response in eastern North Dakota spanning 32 days during which time more than 600 Guardsmen were on duty in a single day, a short break turned the citizen-soldiers and citizen-airmen back to help, but this time in the central part of the state. The response increased dramatically during round two, with nearly 2,000 Guardsmen on duty in a single day.
Now, more than two months have passed since central North Dakota flood response operations began again for the Guard on May 23. As the mission concluded Aug. 12 in Bismarck, the tally comes to 114 calendar days devoted to flood operations so far this year - although a half-dozen Guardsmen are expected to remain on duty in Minot for a couple of more weeks.
When that's broken down into how many Guardsmen responded on each day and then totaled, another 55,451 workdays are added to the initial flood response of 11,532 workdays for a 2011 flood response reaching 66,983 work days.
"Our men and women in uniform have become extremely skilled and proficient at flood fighting in recent years," said Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general.
"This year, that experience was needed more than ever. We saw some of our state's largest flooding events ever, some expected and some not. Each time the waters rose, our Guardsmen were there to work alongside local, state and federal responders and community members,” he said. “Their families stood beside them as their soldiers and airmen missed more events and summer vacations, and their employers showed an incredible amount of support as they managed duties without an employee or more. We can't thank them all enough."
Mission in Ward County
In Minot, the Souris River - also known as the Mouse - reached peak flows of about 28,000 cubic feet per second and crested June 26 at 1,561.7 feet, exceeding the record crest set in 1881 by 3.7 feet. The surge of water forced about 12,000 people to evacuate and affected nearly 4,100 homes.
The North Dakota National Guard's mission in Ward County began May 23 with about 30 Guard members conducting levee patrols in Minot and Burlington. By the next week, that response surged to 200 soldiers and airmen who provided presence patrols in evacuated neighborhoods, levee patrols, levee construction, traffic control points, evacuation teams, operations cells and quick reaction force teams ready to respond to any flood-related request.
During the first four weeks in Minot, the flood support peaked at 586 North Dakota National Guard members. As the situation stabilized, the Guard drew down to 146 personnel by June 20, but the circumstances again worsened. As waters began rising even more, hundreds of additional Guardsmen were called back to the city.
On June 22, water began overtopping levees in Minot and even more homes were evacuated. Guard support grew to 870 soldiers and airmen at the end of June.
In addition to the initial missions in Minot, these extra Soldiers and Airmen provided ambulance teams, constructed dikes with Hesco barriers and TrapBags, purified and supplied clean water, hauled supplies from Bismarck, provided support via Zodiac boats and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, prepared and served food to Guardsmen, used hydraulic excavators to pull clay from borrow pits for dike construction, and added traffic control points and patrols at Lake Darling, Velva and Sawyer.
"It's really sad to see what people here are going through. I'm glad to help in any way I can," said Army Sgt. Ross Teigen, of the 164th Engineer Battalion, at the time of the troop surge. "I've volunteered to be here as long as they need me."
For the first time ever, some North Dakota Guardsmen served on Title 10 status - active-duty orders - for flood response, as well. Airmen with the Guard's 219th Security Forces Squadron at the Minot Air Force Base served on active-duty to protect the base's Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles from floodwaters. Additional active-duty airmen from the base helped with not only that mission, but worked alongside Guardsmen in the community.
"Our airmen were happy to use the skills they possess to help the community," said Air Force Capt. Samuel Logan, commander of 5th Civil Engineer Squadron at Minot Air Force Base. "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."
In July, more than 120 Minnesota National Guard Soldiers arrived to replace North Dakota Guardsmen who had been on duty for many weeks. They stayed for two weeks before being replaced by another two-week rotation of about 100 soldiers.
"Letting our brothers and sister in the North Dakota National Guard go home and see their families and friends [and] deal with family issues [was important]," said Army 1st Lt. Nathan Sokolowski, one of the Minnesota National Guard soldiers who helped in Minot, on what he found most valuable in his mission. "Personally helping out the people of Minot, helping them get back into their homes and start the process of rebuilding, those are the biggest things."
Today, only six North Dakota Guardsmen remain on duty in Minot. For about two more weeks, those Soldiers will continue to operate a "one-stop shop" to register contractors working in the city.
Mission in Burleigh and Morton Counties
In Bismarck and Mandan, residents were simultaneously facing similar fears as in Ward County, but from a different source. The Missouri River, which snakes its way between the towns, was set to increase dramatically as the Garrison Dam 75 miles to the north was forced to release record volumes of water downstream.
At its peak, 150,000 cubic feet per second of water was passing through the dam; the previous record release was 65,200 cfs in 1975.
North Dakota National Guard operations started in Bismarck just a day after the mission began in Minot, with soldiers from the 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge) manning traffic control points May 24. By the next day, 300 Guardsmen were on duty to manage sandbag operations and begin building dikes.
Among those working at the cities' sandbagging sites were some of the newest recruits in the North Dakota National Guard. Soldiers from the Recruit Training Battalion, which is home to those who have yet to complete their initial duty training or basic training, were called out for the first time ever to help. Many reported days after graduating from high school, although some chose to skip graduation or post-graduation activities in order to serve their communities.
"In previous floods they've wanted to be a part of flood operations and haven't had the opportunity to participate," Army Chief Warrant Officer Jammy Ryckman said at the time. "This has been a great experience. I'm sure they're learning a lot about teamwork."
Mission sets along the Missouri quickly grew in the coming days until more than 1,200 North Dakota soldiers and airmen were on flood duty there June 3.
In addition to sandbagging and establishing traffic control points, they provided aviation support with two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, ran an operations center, hauled clay in dump trucks, prepared and served food for Guardsmen, patrolled levees, served on quick reaction force teams and operated heavy equipment.
Based on knowledge gained from past flood-fighting experiences, they also established civil military assistance teams, or CMATs, for the first time.
The CMATs went house-to-house in flood prone areas to provide literature on properly constructing flood protection. They also hauled pallets of sandbags to neighborhoods and set up distribution sites for the residents.
"The 957th Engineer Company is bringing in all the sandbags and we're making sure everyone gets in, in an orderly manner, and gets sandbags off of the truck here," Army Sgt. 1st Class Freddie Griffin, of Cavalier, N.D., said as large flatbed trucks pulled into the Hogue neighborhood May 31.
As the Garrison Dam slowed releases and the water dropped, Guardsmen slowly came off of duty in the areas. Missions ended in Mandan July 25 and are expected to wrap up in Bismarck tomorrow.
Planning for spring flood events began in November 2010, as the North Dakota National Guard worked with the Governor's Office and North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. Few would have imagined that those plans would grow and carry them for nine months. The National Guard is now compiling lessons learned from this year's response in an effort to continually refine and improve natural disaster response within the state.
"Once again the men and women of the North Dakota National Guard have made a difference," Sprynczynatyk said. "I am so proud of our Soldiers and Airmen, their families and their employers. Always ready, always there, the North Dakota National Guard will continue to respond, when called upon, to any sort of disaster, natural or manmade."