Guard fights floods in North Dakota
Spc. Tim Sybrant, of the 817th Engineer Sapper Company, passes sandbags to Pfc. Scott Ness, of the 188th Engineer Company, March 17, in the backyard of Konny Zinns. Zinns' husband, Sgt. Darin Zins, is currently deployed to Kosovo. He serves with the 231st Maneuver Task Force, part of the NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo Force 12. The Soldiers are building a sandbag flood barrier to hold back rising water from the Sheyenne River.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 22, 2010) -- Some 700 National Guard troops have been helping to prevent flooding in multiple counties in southeast North Dakota, including the largest city, Fargo.

As the risk of flooding of major urban areas such as Fargo dissipates, the National Guard there is expected to cut the number of activated troops, according to Guard spokesperson Amy Wieser Willson. She said the number of activated Army and Air National Guardsmen is expected to drop soon.

The Guard continues to monitor overland flooding in several rural areas of the state, including Jamestown, about 90 miles west of Fargo, and the Lake Lamoure area near the Cottonwood Creek Dam -- about 80 miles southwest of Fargo, Wilson said. She said the Guard "anticipates flood condition will worsen" in those areas.

Other counties where Guard troops have been activated include Steele, Traill, Barnes, Cass, Ransom, Sargent and Richland counties.

Last week, Guardsmen in the state were mobilized in preparation of flooding. They were put into 12-hour shifts and fulfilled a variety of flood operation missions, including traffic control, logistical and supply support, sandbagging and creating rows of HESCO barriers.

Airmen and Soldiers with the Guard began traffic control points in both Lisbon and Fargo on March 15.

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In Fargo, Guardsmen participated in a somewhat groundbreaking effort March 17, at least for that area, when they installed for the first time there a flood-fighting tool called "AquaFence," along the nearly cresting Red River there. The installation was a demonstration of the technology.

"We're trying it out to see if it's a tool the city can use in future flood fights," said Nathan Boerboom, an engineer for the city of Fargo. "If it works out, the city may purchase some and use it in future flood fights."

The AquaFence is a reusable barrier system that consists of plywood boards at right angles to each other with aluminum bars anchoring the panels.

The demonstration of the technology included teaching Air Guardsmen how to assemble and deploy the barrier.

"It's a pretty easy product to work with versus sandbags," said Air Force Master Sgt. Terry L. Babler.

Boerboom said some advantages that the AquaFence appears to offer over the HESCO barriers used frequently in last year's flood fight are that less clean up is involved and it's less intrusive on property.

The National Guard actually began flood operations in Fargo March 15 in Fargo, and sandbagging was also a major effort there.

Helping hand in Lisbon

In Lisbon, N.D., 50 miles southwest of Fargo, Guard members ran traffic control points beginning March 16, to facilitate the steady truck movement needed to build a dike against the quickly rising Sheyenne River.

But while in town there, the Guardsmen fulfilled another mission at the home of a fellow Guardsman they'd never even met. Sgt. Darin Zins is deployed now to Kosovo, so he was unable to help his wife, Konny, and his three boys: Trevor, 14, Nicholas, 12, and Brady, 10, battle the floodwater damaging their home.

"I've been deployed before. I know what it's like to worry about back home," said Sgt. 1st Class Larry Jacobson, of Fargo, who assisted in the effort.

After their shift running traffic control points, Jacobson and his crew of seven set to work helping Konny and the three boys move furniture out of the basement. They also built a sandbag dike a couple of feet high to help protect the home, with the promise that they would be back to add more as the water rises.

"It's really nice to see all the support and all the help that the Guard is able to give me," Konny said. "I'm happy somebody is going to save my house because I can't do it alone."

Jacobson said helping out Guard "brothers" is part of the mission.

"He couldn't do it, so we're gonna do it for him," Jacobson said of the help needed at the Zins' house. "When Guard members are gone and their families need help, we help them out."

Sandbagging dike

In Lidgerwood, N.D. -- 60 miles south-southwest of Fargo -- nine Guardsmen were called out as a part of a quick reaction force March 18, to assist in expanding the dike there.

The Soldiers, who serve with the 188th Engineer Company in Wahpeton, N.D., reacted to an early morning increase in overland flooding that threatened the southern part of town.

Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Porter, the operations sergeant in charge of National Guard operations in Richland County, said he received a call at 7:20 a.m. requesting National Guard assistance in preventing a complete dike breach.

The Soldiers began by applying pre-filled sandbags to the dike, and then brought in three 5-ton dump trucks to haul clay for Comstock contractors to advance the height of the dike. It was a cooperative operation among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Comstock and North Dakota National Guard members that successfully stopped the breach and built up the dike.

"If we weren't out here this morning flipping sandbags, we would have lost the dike," said Staff Sgt. Jon V. Benedict, of Wahpeton. "Water was rising and spilling over in places."

Porter said the Soldiers also helped prevent a similar fate in nearby Walsott, N.D., March 17.

"We are on a roll," Porter said.

QRF saves farm

Down in Kindred, N.D., less than 20 miles from Fargo, a Guard quick reaction force responded to a call March 21, where floodwaters threatened a home. The team of Soldiers from Wishek's 815th Engineer Company, is stationed at the Community Center in Hickson, N.D.

Within 15 minutes of getting the call, they were at the farmhouse a mile east of Kindred along the Sheyenne River with two 20-ton dump trucks filled with more than 1,000 sandbags, as well as a skid-steer loader and high-wheeled vehicle. The team of 10 Soldiers, along with the homeowners and neighbors, quickly started building a sandbag dike around the home.

"I'm very, very appreciative for you guys coming out," said Dave Hartfiel, the homeowner. "Last year when this happened, we stayed high and dry. This year, even before it hit flood level, we started jumping the banks over in the back, and never really expected it to get this bad."

Despite the cold water rising and splashing around them, the Guardsmen were glad to be there.

"I live in Fargo, so it's nice to help the community," said Sgt. Robert A. Rau, who was on the QRF team along with his brother, Spc. Steve Rau, of Bismarck.

(Pfc. Cassandra Simonton, 116th Public Affairs Detachment, North Dakota Army National Guard; Penny Ripperger, and Amy Wieser Willson of the North Dakota National Guard public affairs office contributed to this article.)

Page last updated Wed September 28th, 2011 at 19:49