WORLAND, Wyo. – Wyoming National Guard soldiers responded to a request from the governor and Wyoming Homeland Security to mitigate flooding in Worland and surrounding areas.
As of Wednesday morning, about 75 personnel were on duty assisting, according to figures from the National Guard Bureau.
Two 20-soldier rapid action teams (RATs) began working Saturday morning to reinforce a berm along the Big Horn River near two overpasses and critical infrastructure near downtown with sandbag-fortified concrete barriers.
By Sunday afternoon, with the addition of another RAT team, that objective was nearly complete. Now the focus is on areas north of town where the Director Wyoming Homeland Security Guy Cameron and Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming adjutant general, are assessing areas where the ice is likely to move and subsequently jam up the river.
Lt. Col. Paul Phillips, Wyoming National Guard Joint Task Force commander, who's been on the ground in Worland since Friday, said those findings will help determine how long the Guard will be needed.
"We'll be here until we're no longer needed," Phillips said. "We moved 25,000 sandbags yesterday, and it's going to be a lot more today. It's going really smoothly."
On Monday, another 20 person RAT team was sent to Worland to help in further operations with sandbags and berms. An outpouring of community volunteers, organized at the fairgrounds, has helped the Guard focus more of its energy on placing sandbags, than filling them.
"They're making our job a lot easier," Phillips said of the more than 300 volunteers that have been working steadily throughout the day Sunday.
"It's amazing how everyone has come together to make this work," echoed 1st Lt. Ira Werger, an RAT officer in charge, assigned to the ARNG's A Company, 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery in Lander. "We've been able to work harder where it's really needed. They're amazing."
Capt. Kevin Messamer, a member of the Guard's 84th Civil Support Team and a liaison between the Wyoming Military Department and WOHS, said "the problem here is the river will freeze, then thaw, then freeze and thaw again, and each time it does, sections of ice will break off and flow until they get caught up somewhere else.
"Mitigation is really your best bet, as some of those chunks weigh up to 20 or 30,000 pounds. As soon as you break one up, there are a hundred more right behind it. As it keeps freezing and thawing, it will continue until it finds an outlet."
Seventeen Guard members, who were in Worland for drill weekend, have volunteered to stay in the area until the job is done. One of them is Sgt. Terry Smith with the 960th Brigade Support Battalion. Like most of his colleagues, they come from all over the state for drill and from units in Sheridan, Powell, Lovell and Worland.
"It's going really well," he said of his team's effort. "We're getting it done."