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North Dakota leaders meet with Guardsmen during sandbagging operations

FARGO, N.D., (3/16/10) - More than 300 members of the North Dakota National Guard are working side-by-side with community residents to hold back the rising Red River, which fills the border between North Dakota and Minnesota.

After an 8 a.m., meeting followed by a press conference at Fargo's City Hall today, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, the adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, headed toward River Drive South, where a slew of Fargo South High School students were busy sandbagging.

North Dakota Airmen from the 119th Wing were woven between the students in sandbag lines that extended from pallets on the street and in driveways, through garages and out back doors. The quickly rising river behind them reminded them of the urgency of their mission.

The biggest immediate threat lies in Fargo, where the river is expected to crest between 37 and 39 feet by the weekend. Major flood stage is 30 feet.

"Our three primary missions today include traffic control ensuring that people coming into this area have the authorization to do so,"Sprynczynatyk said." In addition, we're doing resource control checkpoints all around the community... and then the major part of the operation today and in the coming days is placing the sandbags, working side-by-side with community members, ensuring there's enough efforts to protect lives and property here in the city of Fargo and throughout all of eastern North Dakota."

The resource control points are places where the city prepositioned sandbags and supplies needed by those fighting the flood.

Hoeven stopped to talk to and throw sandbags with those hard at work, and he had a message strictly for Guard members on flood operations.

"For all of us, for our citizens in Fargo and Cass County, throughout the entire state of North Dakota, knowing that you're there, our men and women in uniform, helping us out, making sure that whatever needs to be done gets done, thank you," Hoeven said.

Homeowners on River Drive had similar sentiments.

"I just love seeing the Guard here! It's like the Cavalry rolling in to save us," said a resident in the 3900 block.

Others expressed their thanks and offered coffee, water and hot apple cider to the sandbaggers.

Despite the 38-degree temperature with a cool wind, everyone remained optimistic.

"It's not too bad of a day out here, so it's alright," said Senior Airman Greg Byer of the 119th Wing. "It's nice to be able to help the community and show them what the Guard can do."

Byer was manning one of the resource control points on River Drive. He started his 12-hour shift at 7:30 a.m. He volunteered for the duty, and was glad his employer remained supportive this year, as they had last year.

When he's not serving with the Guard, Byer provides technical support at Microsoft in Fargo.

"It's kind of nice to know that he'd come out to see what we're doing, check on me," Byer said about the general's visit.

Sprynczynatyk was pleased with what he found.

"As I walk about and talk to our Soldiers and Airmen, I sense the pride in each and every one of them," he said.

While the main focus of Guard efforts in Fargo today remains sandbagging, the mission is expected to grow on Wednesday to incorporate building HESCO barriers to hold back the rising floodwaters.

On Thursday, the Guard anticipates staging quick reaction forces, or QRFs, that will use various engineer equipment to respond where needed.

While the Guard's largest effort is here, Guardsmen also are working in Ransom and Richland counties, Jamestown and are closely monitoring the situation in other communities where flooding appears imminent.

Elsewhere around the country, six Nebraska National Guardsmen are providing liaison support to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. South Dakota has mobilized 18 Army Guard members to preposition equipment for possible flood operations, and about 27 members of the West Virginia continue to help with clean-up after flooding there last weekend.