By Sgt. Rebekah MaloneApril 1, 2008
CAMP BEAUREGARD, La. (Army News Service, April 1, 2008) - Soldiers of the Louisiana National Guard are helping farmers fight to save millions of dollars worth of crops from the flood waters of the Mississippi River in Pointe Coupee Parish, La.
Significant rains throughout the Mississippi River Basin have raised the water levels and the "Potato Levee" in the Atchafalaya River Basin is in danger of spilling over to flood 5,000 acres of wheat and soybean crops.
Soldiers have been working against time since Monday morning operating heavy equipment, and will continue to do so, officials said, until the seepage from the river side of the levee to the farmland side forces them to stop. The Soldiers are filling super sacks 4 feet by 4 feet with about 3,000 pounds of soil. This is an attempt to raise the levee for 2.2 miles before the river crests on April 7.
"Before this week is done, I hope every one of us finds one of these Soldiers and thanks them for what they do," said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. "You know, a farmer put it best to me, he said, 'freedom's not free.'"
Gov. Jindal made a visit to the site where the farming communities near Morganza and Batchelor, La., are fighting to strengthen the river levees with the aid of Army National Guard heavy equipment.
"These are men and women with day jobs. These are men and woman that have families," pointed out Jindal. "They dropped what they were doing to come here without hesitation ...they were happy to come here and help the local community to protect property and protect farmland."
More than 5,000 acres farmed by eight farmers and owned by nearly 50 landowners are at risk in the Atchafalaya River Basin, north of the Morganza Spillway. At the direction of Gov. Jindal, Louisiana Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau sent the 225th Engineer Brigade, headquartered in Pineville, La., to conduct emergency operations and initially ordered 13 soldiers into state active-duty status.
Two Soldiers worked same mission 25 years ago.
Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Vicellio, of Slaughter, La., operations non-commissioned officer for the 225th Engineer Brigade, helped save the very same properties in 1983 as a private first class. At the time, the method of filling sandbags consisted not of huge "super sacks," forklifts, backhoes and track hoes, but of shovels and small sand bags containing less than 40-50 pounds of dirt.
"As a private, the mission was just as important as it is now; however, advances in technology have made the job more efficient and effective," said Vicellio. "Ultimately, we are still a part of this community and are trying to help save a lot of good people from severe hardships."
Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Major of the 225th Engineer Brigade and resident of nearby Ventress, La., was a readiness non-commissioned officer 25 years ago when the Guard helped sandbag the levee. He explained that having the opportunity to help one's local community in such a big way is a rare gift.
"It's always good to come home and support the local community...the Guard did a lot in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew [as well]. We spent six weeks doing clean up because the community needed our help," said Major.
Marty Graham of Batchelor, La., farmer of more than 1,200 acres of wheat, said he appreciates the help all the farmers and landowners are receiving at the hands of the National Guard Soldiers.
"It means a lot to our community that the Guard is here helping us. It's not just us, it's everyone," Graham explained. "We feel a whole lot more confident with the National Guard's help in that we will be able to sandbag it and get it completed."
Maj. Gen. Landreneau spoke to Soldiers individually while they worked at the project site.
"Every community project we work on, especially when working an emergency situation, is rewarding to the Soldiers involved," said Landreneau. "I'm particularly proud that we can assist in whatever little part we can play in this project."
(Sgt. Rebekah Malone serves with the 225th Engineer Brigade, Louisiana National Guard.)