Fatigued Guardmembers, volunteers battle rising Red River
March 27, 2009
MOORHEAD, Minn. (Army News Service, March 27, 2009) -- After a week of filling sandbags and watching the Red River continue to rise, residents of this western Minnesota community are growing weary.
"People are just tired," said Spc. Tony Baker, an infantryman with the 136th Infantry Regiment of the Minnesota Army National Guard. "They've been doing this for a week now; they're tired and they don't know if they're going to be able to hang on or not."
They may be tired, but the volunteers continue to show up each day to work alongside the more than 400 Minnesota National Guard members, who have been called up to provide support for flood mitigation and support operations.
"It's been busy," said Baker. "Volunteer people have been showing up in droves. It's amazing to watch that sense of support when the community comes together."
Like the volunteers, the Minnesota Soldiers and Airmen have been working in and around the Moorhead area providing support to local authorities since last weekend.
"Our primary mission is to support the local sheriffs in any way that we can," said Lt. Col. Andy Engelhardt, commander of the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment and the on-scene commander of the Minnesota Guard's flood operations.
"We're here to back up the sheriffs' department of all the counties. If we can relieve the sheriffs of some of their traditional roles, like traffic control, patrolling of areas, that will free them up to work more directly with their local citizens."
Minnesota Guard members have responded to a variety of missions.
"Right now we're operating traffic control points, we're helping to move sandbags with our large trucks into locations where citizens can sandbag their own homes and we are providing roving patrols at night to help maintain law and order even though there have been no incidents," said Engelhardt.
Guardmembers have easily meshed with the local municipalities they are here to support.
"The relationship with the local authorities has been very, very good," said Engelhardt. "We attend their emergency operations center meetings, and we have a liaison over there."
And that means that Guardmembers can more easily be shifted around as conditions change.
"Today, we're hauling sandbags from Moorhead Tech to seven different points in town," said Spc. Cory Desrosier, a truck driver assigned to the 134th Brigade Support Battalion. "Currently, we're hauling to the power plant because we had a little breach over one of the banks and we're trying to truck all our sandbags over there to try and stop the breach."
For Desrosier, who hails from the Fargo-Moorhead area, helping to haul sandbags has been a rewarding experience.
"I'm loving it," he said. "I like helping the community and they've been saying on the radio for the last two weeks that they need volunteers and I'm glad that we're finally able to get out here and help."
But driving a 33-foot long, eight-wheeled truck capable of hauling 10 tons presents its own challenges.
"They have a turn radius of pretty much a football field, so you just have to find a driveway to get them into and turn them around and back them in,"
The Guardmembers have received tremendous support from the local community.
"They love us and they've brought us everything you could possibly think of-food, coffee, hot cocoa; they open the house up to us to use the bathroom," said Spc. Tony Baker. "It's just amazing."
Engelhardt said this mission is a great example of the dual role of the National Guard. "This battalion spent more than 16 months in Iraq two years ago - that was the federal mission," he said. "Now, we're back here doing a state mission helping our fellow citizens protect their homes and protect their property."
And for many Guardmembers, that's what it comes down to.
"Just know that the National Guard is going to be here until the end, whether it's evacuation, whether it's making sure we're here just to help the police and sheriff's department," said Baker.
(Staff Sgt. John Soucy writes for the National Guard Bureau.)