Thursday, July 3, 2008

Flood 2008: Guard Passes Readiness Test at Home

In the wake of multiple deployments to war theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials have been concerned about the Iowa National Guard’s readiness at home. These concerns were met head-on with the recent flooding in Iowa, which Gov. Chet Culver claimed was the biggest natural disaster in Iowa’s history.

“The response to the floods was a very visible example of the readiness level we maintain,” Iowa National Guard Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood told the Iowa Independent during a phone interview. “The way we think about it is that readiness is our No. 1 job in the Iowa National Guard. If we are ready to go do a federal mission, which means going in to combat, we feel that we can respond to whatever is asked of us in the state of Iowa.”

The Iowa National Guard, in conjunction with the governor's office and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and many local, state and federal entities, has been providing assistance, coordination and planning, in support of flood relief operations across the state of Iowa. More than 80 of Iowa’s 99 counties have been declared state disaster areas.

Just over 4,000 Iowa guardsmen and airmen have been activated during the ongoing response to the flooding. Currently, 9,400 men and women serve in the Iowa National Guard, 1,500 of whom are currently deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations outside of Iowa.

Citizen soldiers recently returning from combat duty in Iraq found themselves cast into new roles with activations at home. “This was something different for them and gave them an incredible sense of pride to help their fellow Iowans right here at home,” Hapgood said. “Those who deployed recently talked about how they were able to help people in countries far away and it was rewarding to provide these same services at home.”

These soldiers were not the only ones cast into new roles. Members of the 34th Army Band out of Fairfieldfound themselves putting their instruments aside and mobilizing north to the flooding in Iowa City and Coralville. Spc. Amy Wymore and Spc. Joshua Clayworth volunteered for deployment June 12, three days before the rest of the unit was officially activated and deployed to the Iowa City area. It was the first time either one of them had been activated since joining the Guard in December 2004.

“I was more than happy to volunteer for this duty, because when it comes down to it, we are all Iowans, and I’m proud to do whatever I can to help out,” Clayworth, who plays the guitar for the 34th, told the Iowa Independent June 16 in Coralville.

Wymore, who plays the flute and piccolo for the 34th, volunteered for duty, despite starting a new internship. “I have a lot going on right now with my new job, and I knew it would be easy to say 'no' and look the other way, but I really wanted to help people out in their time of need,” Wymore said. “After all, that’s the reason why I signed up for the National Guard in the first place.” She said her new employers were very supportive of her decision to volunteer for flood relief operations.

Spc. Clayworth (left) and Spc. Wymore (right) were assigned to keep civilian traffic to a minimum, diverting them away from the flooded HW 6 in Coralville and making sure boaters had a permit from the City of Coralville.

Flood response provides learning opportunity

The Guard’s mission in the flood operation took on multiple facets, including a planning component for future operations. “For us,it was all about trying to forecast what the future will bring and then try to project the correct number of forces, equipment and vehicles we will need for future operations,” Hapgood said. “We are trying to foresee what problems future floods might bring or what we might be asked to do in similar circumstances.”

Moreover, the Guard drew from experiences in previous natural disasters, namely the floods of ’93, as well as combat missions to apply what they have already learned. “We used some of the lessons we have learned in combat to actually fight the floods,” Hapgood said.

For example, Hapgood cited the Guard’s use of the HESCO barriers as a tangible example of lessons learned in combat that were applicable to flooding operations. “Our engineers used these in Iraq to protect buildings and other facilities form improvised explosive devices,” Hapgood said. “We used HESCOs extensively in Ottumwa to keep water out, in particular at the water treatment plant. Not only were they very effective, but we never used them in this type of application and they were much easier to install than we previously thought.”

On a final note, Hapgood noted that the recent response to the flooding gave Iowans a sense of security to see how many forces we have here right at home ready to help out. “The support we received from the communities was unparalleled,” Hapgood said. “We saw the goodness of people, and we saw how people bonded together. This made you feel that we really do live in a special place.”

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