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09-064 Flood Feature: Guard Soldiers, Airmen Patrol Fargo's Dike Lines Around the Clock

FARGO, N.D. -- Sgt. 1st Class Steve L. Groth gets the troops started each day. Living on very little sleep, Groth doles out the risk assessments and situational reports for the past 24-hours to National Guard dike patrollers, who will spend the next 12 to 16 hours watching the flooding Red River for leaks and other hazards.

It's a big job for any noncommissioned officer, but Groth displays a calm seriousness that conveys to the dike watchers how critical their jobs are without adding more stress to the mix.

He's been involved in the 2009 Red River Valley flood fight from the get-go, leaving his full-time Guard position as an instructor at Camp Grafton, N.D., to lend support in Fargo.

Every day, twice a day, Groth briefs about 100 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen. They walk a portion of Fargo's 40-plus-mile river dike in two-person teams, supported by officers from the Fargo Police Department.

Members of the South Dakota National Guard, one of six states supporting the flood-fighting effort in Fargo, have responsibility for other sections of the city's dike.

0530. Dike watchers report for dayshift.

0605. Groth kicks off his brief in the Fargo Armed Forces Reserve Center, amid the din of activity buzzing around him. Overnight weather reports call for heavy snow and possible blizzard conditions in the Fargo area.
"Be sure, today, that you have your winter gear with you," Groth warns the group. "It'll start off nice today, but it will be changing throughout the day."

Groth also reviews any changes that have taken place in the past 24 hours: "Yesterday, you may
have had an open field in your section, today that area might be covered in water ... that's overland flooding that has set in."

He's got one more word of warning for the patrollers before they head out.

"If you see a chem light floating in the water, that could be a sign that somebody is floating there," he says. "Be on the lookout for things like that." Night shift dike patrollers wear small chemically-activated fluorescent glow lights over their life jackets.

0645. Night shift dike patrollers begin to filter into the Fargo Armed Forces Reserve Center (AFRC) out briefs, after spending the past 12 hours or more walking dike lines.

0647. The dayshift dike patrollers depart the Fargo AFRC to their respective sections.

1033: Staff Sgt. Andy Anundson patrols a dike, roughly from 28th Avenue South to Harwood Drive in south Fargo. He's joined by Officer Matthew Christensen of the Fargo Police Department. Every third section of Fargo's dike lines is the responsibility of the city police department. One Guardsman assists at those locations.

1041. Anundson and Christensen chat with a family whose home is on the wet side of an emergency earthen levee, checking to see if the family needs any support. The family is temporarily moving out as a precautionary measure.

Anundson, Fargo, of the 188th Air Defense Artillery, said residents in the area have been keeping him and other dike patrollers well taken care of.

"It's been good," he says. "We get a lot of handshakes and have been served a lot of hot coffee."

1216: Staff Sgt. Chris T. Flaten, 119th Air Wing, and Pfc. Matthew H. Olson, 1-188th Air Defense Artillery in Bismarck, spot an encouraging sign on a stretch of dike on University Drive in South Fargo.

A small lake had formed, but Flaten points to an island emerging at the crown of the street.

"I'd say the water has gone down about three feet at that spot since I came on duty just this
morning," Flaten says.

1237. Snow begins to fall in the Fargo-Moorhead area, at first lightly, but quickly becomes more
persistent.

1339. Sgt. Robert A. Love, Parkston, S.D., and Pvt. Brandon R. Fischer, Scotland, S.D., both of the 153rd Battalion's Forward Support Company of the South Dakota National Guard, brave the
worsening weather conditions as they walk the dikes near the El Zagal Golf Course in north Fargo.

They note neighborhood concerns that high winds, as much as 30 mph, had been forecasted for the area, and that it could force waves to top the dikes into their backyards.

National Guard Soldiers and Airmen bolstered the sandbag levees in that area with plastic sheeting to prevent further erosion by worsening wave action. They wrapped potatoes in the plastic tarp to serve as connectors for sandbags and threw the bags into the water to weigh the sheeting down.

1715. Night shift patrollers begin to trickle in to the Fargo AFRC to report for duty and to get their briefing.

1728. Groth leads off the night shift brief, after only a couple of hours of sleep that afternoon.

1930. On nightshift, Pfc. Aaron Halbersma, with the 1742nd Transportation Company in South Dakota, and Police Officer Zach Messmer, stumble across a homeowner, who is able to maintain a sense of humor, near Dike West in Fargo.

"I found a dry spot," the resident shouts from atop the roof of his house.

2042. Staff Sgt. Steven Halter, with South Dakota's 153rd FSC, is looking for signs of erosion in the Oak Grove area of Fargo.

"We've had small beaches farther down our area near the downtown," Halter says.

Halter said he got the call that he was activated for the Fargo flood fight at 2 a.m., last Friday.

"We're upbeat and happy to be up here," he adds.

0530. The dayshift begins to return for another stint on the dike lines. Again, on very little sleep,
Groth and his team prepare to brief one more time.

The city of Fargo, for the most part, remains free of major inundation from floodwater yet another day, thanks to the vigilance of the multi-state joint task force of dike patrollers.
"It's getting a lot smoother day by day," Groth says. "We have an excellent working relationship that has developed between the Air and Army side of the Guard, as well as with the South Dakota Guard. We've all come together as a team."

--
Since the terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 2,800 Soldiers and more than 1,600 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. More than 1,900 National Guardsmen have been mobilized for current flood fighting missions all across North Dakota - another 1,100 Guardsmen remain available to provide support for state and national emergencies and homeland defense.

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