Guard rescues 33 of its own during flood crisis
May 9, 2011
SIKESTON, Mo. (Army News Service, May 9, 2011) -- While the Missouri National Guard 35th Combat Aviation Brigade has been flying missions for local communities during the historic flooding in southeast Missouri, the unit rescued 33 Guardsmen who had been trapped in boats.
The Guardsmen had been stuck in flood waters for about 24 hours and were rescued in two missions. On May 5, 2011, 1st Lt. Brandon Heimericks, a Black Hawk pilot, and his crew managed to rescue 15 Soldiers while dropping off sleeping bags, food, water and tarps to the remaining 18 who remained in their boats overnight. They were pulled to safety the morning of May 6. All were in good health.
Currently, 760 Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen are on duty in response to the flood situation in the boot heel of Missouri, and to get a better picture of how to combat the flood situation, the Guard has been taking to the air.
Capt. Paul Howerton, the commander of Company D of the 1st Battalion, 135th Aviation, based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., has been using air assets to help paint the overall picture for the rest of the Guardsmen who are on duty.
Howerton specifically coordinated aerial surveillance of the area surrounding Birds Point ahead of an intentional breaching of the levee by the Corps of Engineers last week which in the end saved 2.5 million acres of mostly farmland from flooding. The 35th CAB supported the task force commander, Col. Wendul G. Hagler, in ensuring all residents were safely out of the area and that no one would be hurt by the demolition, he said.
The 35th has also worked with Soldiers from other units to be as productive as possible.
Second Lt. Raj Cherian, of the 1175th Military Police Company, accompanied pilots from the 35th on a recent flight. He was specifically chosen for the mission because of his familiarity with the area. He mapped out specific points of interest and also made sure nothing that wasn't supposed to be in the flooded area was present.
"Being in the air gives a better perspective of what's going on," he said.
In Caruthersville, Mo., flood water threatened to breach the sea wall protecting the city from the swollen Mississippi River on May 6, but Guardsmen from the 220th Engineer Company were able to stem the flood and save their community.
About 20 Guardsmen spent five days keeping ahead of rising waters by building a massive secondary flood wall parallel to the existing structure in the event the permanent wall was breached.
Another 100 Missouri Guardsmen, local officials and 40 inmates from the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston were also involved in the project, which began May 3. By May 7, the wall was more than 3,200 feet long and contained more than 60,000 sand bags, along with countless tons of earth and gravel.
Staff Sgt. Steven Anderson said the 220th was charged with operating heavy equipment and delivering material to the project site.
"It's been a daunting task," Anderson said. "We've been hauling a lot of material, building up the wall. We're also building platforms for giant pumps in the event of any spill-over."
The likelihood of a spill-over was all but eliminated May 7, when the Army Corps of Engineers lowered Monday's predicted crest of the Mississippi here from 49.5 feet to about 47 feet. The sea wall in Caruthersville is designed for a 50-foot crest.
Although some rain fell over the weekend, morale among the Soldiers and indeed the townspeople remained high.
"This is the type of real-world situation that we train for," Anderson said. "You get to see the results of your work that will directly benefit the people, and you get an immediate response from them. That's a real boost to morale."
"This community has supported us 100 percent," he added. "The people have been really helpful and very appreciative. We couldn't ask for a better place to work."
While a breach of the sea wall in Caruthersville is now unlikely, Missouri Guardsmen were expected to remain in town through Monday as a precaution. The Missouri National Guardsmen will remain on active duty in support of the flood emergency in southeast Missouri until released by Gov. Jay Nixon.
Units supporting the flood response include:
70th Troop Command, Jefferson Barracks
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 35th Engineer Brigade, Fort Leonard Wood
175th Military Police Battalion, of Columbia
1140th Engineer Battalion, Cape Girardeau
1221st Transportation Company, of Dexter, Portageville and Sikeston
1140th Forward Support Company, Cape Girardeau
1138th Military Police Company, of West Plains and Springfield
1138th Engineer Company, of Farmington and Fredericktown
1175th Military Police Company, of St. Clair and St. Louis
880th Engineer Detachment, Perryville
220th Engineer Company, Festus
1438th Engineer Company, of Macon and Kirksville
70th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment of Jefferson City
7th Civil Support Team, Jefferson City
Missouri Wing Civil Air Patrol
Joint Operations Center at Joint Force Headquarters in Jefferson City