After massive rains and flooding in northern Wisconsin last July, the National Guard responded. For the next two months, Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard troops provided debris removal, road clearance, road safety and damage assessments, and repairs to key infrastructure throughout the region.
National Guard troops completed operations in northwest Wisconsin Sept. 10, signaling an end to their mission of assisting with debris cleanup and road repairs resulting from the summer storms.
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, called members of the Wisconsin National Guard to northwestern Wisconsin following a state of emergency declaration by Gov. Scott Walker.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to work closely with officials from local, state, and federal agencies,” said Maj. Joseph Davison, the officer in charge of Joint Task Force-Engineer, or, JTF-EN, created for this operation. “And to jointly analyze problems in order to develop options to solve them.”
The task force was primarily comprised of members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 724th Engineering Battalion and the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Civil Engineering Squadron. JTF-EN had three primary mission sets in its response: debris clearance, road repair, and township road damage assessments.
National Guard personnel served to augment town and county personnel in cleanup efforts. They worked in conjunction with township and county government, Wisconsin Emergency Management, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Forest Service.
The Guard’s road assessment teams assisted local municipalities that lacked capacity to provide timely information to FEMA and Wisconsin Emergency Management. The teams documented description, size, and location of 180 damaged sites then built project worksheets to provide the Department of Transportation cost estimates for the repair projects.
Three debris removal teams, two Air and one Army, operated in Bayfield and Sawyer counties to remove downed trees from roadways and roadside ditches. The teams also felled 166 trees that were partially blown over and deemed unsafe. These missions took 2,550 person-hours and 277 dump-truck loads.
In Bayfield, Ashland, and Iron counties, JTF-EN carried out five missions to repair portions of washed out and rutted roads, replace culverts, and regrade the surface of roads. More than 6,000 person-hours and 11,900 cubic yards of fill material went into these missions.
Davison served previously as a staff officer in Wisconsin’s Joint Operations Center during the major flooding events in 2008. He drew heavily on that experience to lead JTF-EN — however, this situation gave him the chance to directly influence operations in the field.
“Through taking these lessons learned, I’m confident we can put in place plans and procedures that will enhance our posture and readiness for future domestic operations,” Davison said. “This operation demonstrated to me that if a problem or a request for assistance is not clearly understood than the response will rarely be appropriate. It is critical that we continue to leverage experts from local, state, and federal agencies to gather facts and jointly recommend a plan that will best provide the most appropriate assistance to the municipality in need.”
As the first military responder in the homeland, the Wisconsin National Guard will draw upon these lessons to be better prepared for similar future missions.
Between 8 to 12 inches of rain fell within a few hours July 12, resulting in flooding and severe damage to numerous roads and highways, as well as private property. Saxon Harbor in Iron County, Wis., was also heavily damaged.
Four Soldiers of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation also completed a medevac mission July 13, providing helicopter transport so five stranded dialysis patients could receive treatment.
More than 75 members of the Wisconsin National Guard were activated at the height of operations.