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09-063 Flood Feature: Supporting One Another - Shriners Supporting Guardsmen as Soldiers and Airmen Protect the City from Flooding

A1C Kristen E. Thomsen receives food from a Fargo Shriner while working flood operations on March 31, 2009 in Fargo, N.D.

A1C Kristen E. Thomsen, 119th Wing, North Dakota Air National Guard, receives food from a Fargo Shriner while working flood operations on March 31, 2009 in Fargo, N.D.

Fargo, ND -- Shriners here have temporarily shifted their focus from helping children to helping Soldiers. They're doing so by providing refreshments and dry shelter for citizen-Soldiers and citizen-Airmen, who have been activated to help fight a massive flood.

The North Dakota National Guard recently has been focused on making sure the dike system in the Fargo area holds. To ensure leaks are promptly plugged, Quick Reaction Forces (QRFs) have been set up at 11 staging areas in the community.

The El Zagal Shrine and Masonic Temple in northeast Fargo is one of those places. George Vettel, a temple member, said the city asked the organization to keep the building open so the National Guard could use it. "We're here now to make sure that they have whatever they need, whether it's food, coffee or pop, or anything else," Vettel said. The shrine members are also making sure that the building stays maintained during inclement weather.

Staff Sgt. Charles Todd, of Northwood, N.D., serves in the 1-188th Air Defense Artillery and is one of the members of the QRF at El Zagal. Todd said since he came on duty with the QRF, he had seen between 10 and 15 missions go out.

Although the Red River in Fargo appears to have crested earlier this week, there are still reasons why the QRFs remain vigilant. "If we get sustained winds of 30 miles per hour, that could erode some of the dikes," he said. Todd has seen several quick response missions, both large and small. "Even if the water level goes down, the pressure is still there on temporary dikes," he added.

Between missions, life for the Soldiers and Airmen is a waiting game and many of them have found time to help out at the shrine. "They mopped the floor, put plastic down on the carpet, shoveled snow, cleaned chairs and swept mud off the street and sidewalks," Emily Garten said.

1st Lt. Loren Soma, with the 957th Multi-Role Bridge Company in Bismarck, lives a few blocks away from the shrine. He said that in this instance, boredom was a good thing. Bill Hovell, chief of staff at the El Zagal Shrine, said the organization has been working closely with the service members since they set up at the shrine, and he was grateful for the work the North Dakota National Guard was doing.

"You look at the officers and higher enlisted and they're very professional," Hovell said. "Then I saw a young man in uniform who looked barely old enough to shave. I asked him what brought him here. "He looked me right in the eye and said, 'I enlisted to serve'," Hovell finished with a smile.

Barten said the community had been an important part of helping out the service members based at El Zagel. "We've gotten a lot of donations from various places in town - restaurants, other Shriners and area residents," she said. "We've fed close to 80 today for lunch," Barten continued. "We're planning for that many for meals because this is a command and control site."

Soma said he and others had built dikes throughout Fargo, including Lindenwood Park and Oak Grove Lutheran School, as well as placing HESCO barriers on the eastern edge of the city. He agreed that the response from area residents had been outstanding. "It's nice to have the support of the community," he said. "We've been working hard all week and it's nice to have a break. We're actually getting babied here."

Blizzard conditions have not affected the morale of the Soldiers and Airmen at El Zagal, and during some down time a group of Soldiers decided to build a snowman, which Hovell thought brought some levity to an otherwise serious situation. The waiting game the QRF is going through has not taken away from their professional attitude, however. "We are still on full guard," Todd said. Hovell noted their professionalism and expressed his gratitude for what the National Guard was doing.

"As Shriners, we couldn't have better guests," Hovell said. "We're honored."
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