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NEWS | June 30, 2011

Nebraska Guard Soldiers apply military experience to flood response

By Army Capt. Andrew Nelson Nebraska National Guard

LINCOLN, Neb. - With a fondness for physical activity and the outdoors, Army Sgt. Matthew Hagen, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 195th Special Operations Forward Support Company, never envisioned himself working in an office.

So, being assigned to Nebraska’s Emergency Operations Center, where he’s coordinating logistics as part of the state’s response to flooding, has been a new experience.

Nonetheless, it is a role he has excelled at, according to his supervisor.

“I’m still very much a field Soldier,” Hagen said. “It helps me be a better point of contact with the riggers, the transportation guys, the guys actually out there doing operations.”

Television camera crews are often drawn to Soldiers patrolling levees. Pictures of helicopters hoisting giant sandbags are sure to be widely published in print and online. But no less important is something that receives considerably less of a draw to the cameraman’s lens – the behind-the-scenes orchestration that makes it all possible.

Much of Nebraska’s 2011 flood response coordination is being performed by the men and women of the Nebraska National Guard.

Soldiers have helped coordinate relief supplies, advised their civilian counterparts and answered the state’s flood hotline, among other duties.

Hagen’s job at the EOC was simply to answer phones at first. But he kept taking on different assignments and excelling, said his boss there, Earl Imler of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

“Everything in the world I dump on Matt. I kind of abuse him if you want to know the truth,” Imler said. “It just kept escalating. … It got to the point, every time I turn around it’s, ‘Matt, I need this,’ and he has done an exceptional job at it.”

Hagen is doing much of the logistical coordinating for the state’s response. He ensures items like slings and sandbags are ordered from private companies and that they get to where they are needed. He also makes sure troops in the field have what they need in order to accomplish their missions.

Like other Guard members working the flood response, Hagen brings a sense of mission focus to the job that some civilians might lack, Imler said. But he also is very personable and does not spew military jargon at civilians – but he does address everyone as “sir” or “ma’am,” which is deeply rooted in military customs.

“He endears himself to people and everybody likes him here. He’s a very likable guy.”

Just down the hall from Hagen is Army Pvt. Amanda Berry of the 402nd Military Police Battalion. Berry has been answering phones for the Nebraska flood hotline. Berry said she and her comrades were fielding about 10 calls per hour.

“We’re where everybody is getting their information,” Berry said. “They get information from the news … and they call us if they have questions about it, and we put it in simpler terms for them.”

Like many other Guard members, Berry said the most rewarding part of flood duty was helping Nebraskans in need.

“There [are] a lot of people [who] are having a lot of trouble right now,” she said. “We just try to help them as much as we can by giving them shelter information, or stuff like that.”

On the other side of the road from the EOC is the Sprit of 1776 Armory, the 41st Rear Operations Center which served as the Joint Operations Center. About 20 Soldiers there are under command of Army Lt. Col. Todd Stevens, commander of the ROC.

The JOC is responsible for helping coordinate current and future National Guard support missions and provides information to state decision makers, including Army Maj. Gen. Judd Lyons, state adjutant general.

“The Joint Operations Center is actually staffed to kind of be the eyes and ears …, not only for General Lyons, but also for the governor with respect to what the National Guard’s capabilities are [and] what assets we have available,” Stevens said.

Back in the EOC, Hagen works on emergency management courses during what little free time he has.

Before he went on duty here June 2, the former corrections officer wanted to obtain full-time employment with the Nebraska Guard. However, with people like Imler who are so pleased with his work, this Soldier with the maroon beret of airborne troops folded on his desk thinks a career in emergency management may be in his future.



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