Fargo, N.D. --
The chief of the National Guard Bureau visited Fargo, N.D., today to meet with North Dakota National Guard leaders and check on flood operations. Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the senior uniformed National Guard officer, surveyed sites where North Dakota Guardsmen have been working and patrolling this past week as the Red River rose to its crest.
"I'm in from Washington, and there's an awful lot of interest in D.C. in what you're doing out here. On behalf of all of the folks at the National Guard Bureau, we appreciate your service to our nation and state, and we know this is one of many things that we ask for you to do," McKinley told the Guardsmen.
McKinley had the opportunity for a quick lunch at the North Dakota Air National Guard base in Fargo with more than a dozen Guardsmen. He introduced himself by his first name, putting the table at ease for a more relaxed discussion.
"After going around the whole table to get an idea of what everyone was doing in support of the flood, he briefly talked about the times he had visited Fargo," said Staff Sgt. Kristi Krabbenhoft, 119th Wing. "I really appreciated the fact that he took the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us and get a feel for how we are doing."
After lunch, he received updates from leaders at the North Dakota National Guard's Emergency Operations Center, before leaving on an aerial reconnaissance of Red River area operations in a UH-60 Black Hawk. After the flight, he took a ground tour with North Dakota National Guard leaders to sites where Guardsmen are employed.
"Gen. McKinley's visit is a clear demonstration of the concern and interest that our military leadership at the National Guard Bureau have for our state and that they are aware and ready support the efforts of the North Dakota National Guardsmen," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general.
McKinley worked with the 119th Wing Public Affairs office to broadcast a base-wide video message about the importance of the National Guard in stateside missions like the 2009 flood.
"The National Guard is as an indispensible force, but many people think of it only in terms of the fact that in which we're fighting overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. What I like to stress is the fact that the National Guard is also an indispensible force in our state and in our communities and no place is that better epitomized as in Fargo and across the state of North Dakota as you fight the floods," said McKinley during the broadcast.
The next stop on the agenda was a city tour of the flood operations that the North Dakota National Guard are involved in. McKinley and Sprynczynatyk were accompanied by Brig. Gen. Pat Martin, N.D. deputy adjutant general, Col. Ron Solberg, emergency operations commander for regional response platform 4 (southeastern North Dakota) flood operations and Col. Steve Tabor, Solberg's deputy, among others from the N.D. National Guard.
The city tour began at El Zagel Shrine, where one of six light quick reaction force teams are stationed in Cass County. McKinley thanked the Shriners for "taking good care of our Soldiers," and met with those stationed at the site 24 hours a day.
McKinley chatted with the Guardsmen, asking questions like how responses are handled by the QRF team, what the Guardsmen do when they are called out, and the process of communicating between the different agencies in the state.
"Thanks for all you're doing. It looks like you were really ready if it had gotten out of control," McKinley said before leaving to see an area where Guardsmen are patrolling dikes by Oak Grove Lutheran School.
Dike walkers Staff Sgt. Ryan Sherman and Staff Sgt. Adam Kapaun, both of the 119th Wing, met up with McKinley while they walked the perimeter of the dike. Kapaun described how he looks for cracks and water seepage while on duty. He also explained that he did the same patrol last year, during the epic 2009 flood, for 27 days.
The last stop of the trip was at Olivet Lutheran Church, where an evacuation-focused quick reaction force is based. Guardsmen are based at the church with high-wheeled vehicles, ready to evacuate anywhere in the area when called upon.
Olivet Pastor Jeff Sandgren and a crew of volunteers ensure the Guardsmen, firefighters and police officers fighting the flood never go hungry.
"They look like they're in good spirits out there, so you're treating them well," McKinley said as he offered a coin to the pastor and volunteers, who offered McKinley fresh bread pudding while he was there. (Tonight's dinner is lasagna.)
"Thanks for taking care of our Soldiers and Airmen, we appreciate it," he said.