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Saving the Farm: Guard QRF Responds with Sandbags and Can-Do Spirit to Avert Repeat Flood Disaster

NEAR WEST FARGO, ND -- Lindsey Larsen saw her parent's farmstead lost to flood waters in 1997. She saw it threatened again back-to-back in the springs of 2009 and 2010.
As she watched windswept overland flooding inch closer to topping the earthen ring dike that surrounds the farm, thoughts of seeing it all washed away were back again.

"If we lose the farm this time, I'm not coming back," she said, only half joking.

Steady rain mixed with 30-mph gusts Sunday formed whitecaps over the water, backed up for miles to the west. A shallow lake of snowmelt and backed up rivers replaced the normally rich, black farm fields around the farm, about three miles west of West Fargo, N.D.

The wall of water butted hard against the Larsens' 10-foot-high ring dike that her father built in the early 70's.

Neighbors Brad Forness and Doug Kuhn also saw the potential for disaster and called the Cass County Emergency Operation Center, which, in turn, alerted the North Dakota National Guard.

Within minutes, a dozen Soldiers of the 815th Engineer Company, Detachment 2, out of Lisbon, N.D., were on the way with a 5-ton dump truck, 400 sandbags and the can-do spirit to do even more. The Soldiers, part of the Guard's "Heavy" Quick Reaction Force (QRF) based at Hector International Airport in Fargo, N.D., rode in the back of the dump truck as it forged through two-feet of water that covered the county road leading to the Larsen farm.

Once on site, the Soldiers made quick work of the sandbags, creating a two-foot high ring dike around the Larsen farmhouse. Next, the focus turned to shoring up the top of the ring dike that surrounded the farm.

The Soldiers worked shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and neighbors of the Larsens, filling and stacking about 500 additional sandbags.

"We're very thankful for all that the Guard has done for us," said Lindsey Larsen, who lives on the farm with her brother, Jade. "We probably should have called them sooner, but you always think that you can do these things yourself."

Retired Col. Roger Larsen, formerly of the North Dakota Air National Guard, is the father of Lindsey and Jade. Clad from head-to-toe in a yellow rain slicker, Roger was among those working to save the farm.

He, too, was appreciative of the Guard effort.

"They get a lot done in a short period of time, that's for sure," he said.

Sgt. Mike Strom was in charge of the QRF that responded to the Larsen Farm.

He said it was his team's first mission response, and it was a good opportunity to put their training into action.

"We had been alerted for other missions, but this was the first that we actually went out on," Strom said. "It was good for my guys to get out and help. We are here for a reason and it's good to be out helping our community and making a difference."

Strom, who lives in Valley City, N.D., and works as a civil engineer in civilian life, was complimentary of his Soldiers and their abilities to respond quickly.

"They're a really good bunch of Soldiers," he said. "They know what needs to be done and they respond quickly, follow orders and get the job done."

Forness, who lives a half mile north of the Larsens , took a brief respite from shoveling sand into bags to talk about the Guard response.

"The Guard is just a bunch of really great people," he said. "Neighbors helping neighbors is what it's all about, but to have the Guard there as well to help out is just a great thing to see."

Sgt. Ryan Sott, Lisbon, N.D., summed up the QRF Soldiers' feelings, saying it's all part of being in the National Guard.

"That's what we're here for," he said.

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