Happy Hooligan Airmen recall unique flood experiences
By Capt. Penny Ripperger, 119th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 21, 2009
Fargo -- Two North Dakota Air National Guard Airmen reminisce on personal challenges they faced as they expanded their own families all the while helping the community during the flood efforts in the Red River Valley this spring.
Senior Airman Dominic Ste Marie, of the 119th Wing became a father on March 14. His son, Rylan Alan was born five weeks premature and admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo, N.D.
Life was somewhat normal the first week, recalls Ste Marie, "My wife, Jenae was on maternity leave and I would visit Rylan at the hospital for a few hours after work each night."
As the waters began to rise and the crisis transpired in the region, Ste.Marie wanted to do his part and volunteered for flood duty. His duty shift varied; depending on when he worked he would find time to visit his wife and son at the hospital either before or after his shift. It was a way to keep some type of normalcy to his hectic life.
The new parents were looking forward to March 26, this was the day they were scheduled to have a sleep-in with Rylan and then he would be discharged from the hospital the next morning. But everything changed that same day when MeritCare announced that they would be evacuating the patients from the Fargo hospital.
"He was perfectly healthy, but according to MeritCare protocol, once evacuation is called, all discharges are stopped," said Ste Marie.
Ste Marie and Jenae sat in the NICU through the night waiting for Rylan to get a spot on the chopper to be transported to the Saint Paul Children's Hospital in Saint Paul, Minn.
"We had to wait until 11 a.m. the next morning, two hours after he was supposed to be discharged," said Ste Marie.
Another Happy Hooligan, Tech. Sgt. Donavon Jorissen describes a similar situation with his expectant wife, Emily on March 26.
"I had just arrived at my sister's place by Walcott to do some sandbagging when Emily called and told me her water broke," recalls Jorissen.
"We arrived at MeritCare shortly thereafter and got situated in the hospital room. A couple of hours later Kristen Gabriella was born and about four hours after that we were told that the hospital would be evacuated."
The Jorissen family prepared to be transported and waited for the lower floors to be evacuated first prior to getting their notification.
"We didn't know where we would be going until about 3:00 a.m. when they told us we were being evacuated to the Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, leaving in five minutes," said Jorissen.
Emily and two other mothers with their newborn babies loaded into ambulances and the fathers followed in separate vehicles.
"Due to the icy roads it took us about two hours to get the Grand Forks. It was hard to imagine that it had only been 12 hours since Kristen had been born when we finally got settled again," said Jorissen.
Ste Marie reported for flood duty at noon on March 27. After he explained his situation to his supervisor, he was given the choice to go off state active duty to be with his wife and son in Saint Paul or to continue on flood duty in Fargo.
"I decided to stay with the flood fight once I knew that Rylan arrived safely in Saint Paul," said Ste Marie.
Due to his wife's due date and family situation, Jorrisen was not activated for flood duty.
"My sister's home and community needed help. I sandbagged as much as I possibly could until my daughter was born. When I got the recall message for flood duty while I was at the hospital, my boss told me to stay with my family," said Jorissen.
After Rylan was discharged from the St. Paul hospital, Jenae and the infant stayed at her parent's house in White Bear Lake, Minn.
"The week was extremely tough on me emotionally. I had my first child and I hadn't spent any time with him and he was already growing and changing, but at the same time I kept thinking that I needed to be doing what I was doing to help out with flood efforts. I kept telling myself what a great story this would be for him when he got older," said Ste Marie.
When Jorissen's wife and daughter were discharged from the Altru Hospital they returned to their West Fargo home.
"It was good to be home. I wanted to get back to work at the Air Guard base to help out where I was needed," said Jorissen.
When the situation in the Fargo-Moorhead area began to stabilize, Ste Marie was happily reunited with his wife and son at their Moorhead, Minn. home on April 3.
"It was a wonderful reunion that I had been waiting what seemed like forever for. Through everything that has gone on in the last year with my previous deployment and this year with the flood, my wife has been nothing short of a model wife," said Ste Marie.
Both Airmen sum up their experiences during the 2009 flood operations in the Red River Valley as an interesting and memorable experience. As their families expanded and the exceptional events in both of their personal lives transpired, they remained vigilant to serving the citizens in the great state of North Dakota.