Black Hawk drops one-ton sand bags on levee to protect Minot school
An Army Guard UH-60 Black Hawk prepares to drop 1-ton sandbags on a dike to keep it from deteriorating any further June 27. The dike is the only thing holding back the floodwaters in Minot, N.D., from overtaking the elementary school, which is the only one in the city that remains dry.

MINOT, N.D., July 1, 2011 -- When Capt. Gary Ripplinger and his Soldiers received the call to save a local elementary school, they sprang into action and were on the scene and placing sandbags within 45 minutes.

Authorities had noticed that a dike around this town’s only remaining elementary school that was high and dry had been eroding -- and fast.

“[On June 26] the U.S. Fish and Wildlife were going through the area checking on things and found some [erosion] on one of the dikes surrounding one of the elementary schools in the area, so we were called out to place some one-ton sandbags,” said Ripplinger, 817th Engineer Company (Sapper) company commander.

“The reason the [erosion] was happening was because the velocity of the water coming down the street was hitting the embankment with such speed that it was actually starting to wear away at the embankment.”

The unit placed about 40 sandbags the night of June 26, 2011, and stopped operations at about 1 a.m., Ripplinger said.

“[We] came back out at 8 a.m. [June 27] and identified that more [erosion] was happening, so we called up for some more one-ton sandbags," he explained. “Had we not done what we did this morning, I would say that by tonight, that school would have been inundated with water and would have been a total loss.”

Support from civilian agencies and their boats helped ensure that his Soldiers could repair the dike and prevent it from being further compromised, he said.

“That is a great aspect about what the National Guard brings to local communities here in the nation and around the world,” he said. “I’m glad we were here and able to help out in this emergency.

“We were able to save the school, and we believe the flood waters are now receding, so there should be no more issues with that embankment.”

Ripplinger said moving through the neighborhoods, one can’t help but feel for the people who have lost their homes.

“As you look up and down the street, you’re kind of taken aback," he said. "What [is] clear about being out here is that your surroundings can change at any minute."

“This event here in Minot has really brought everyone together, from the county, to the city, the state and the federal level," Ripplinger explained. "We’re all here to do one thing, and that’s to help the local people and end with the best possible result -- protecting property and saving lives.”

There are about 1,200 North Dakota Guard members responding to flooding around the state, helping to build and maintain levees, perform security patrols and levee patrols, man traffic control points and fill and place sandbags.

The North Dakota National Guard is highly experienced in conducting flood operations to mitigate the loss of life and property, Guard officials said. Earlier this spring, the North Dakota National Guard spent 32 days on flood operations across the state, with 1,486 Guard members contributing to the effort at some point during the mission.

Guard officials said in the coming weeks the community could expect to see National Guard Soldiers and Airmen continuing work on projects and patrolling in the community.

Page last updated Thu June 30th, 2011 at 00:00