Engineers from the Wisconsin National Guard completed road damage assessments in northwest Wisconsin and provided their findings to Wisconsin Emergency Management in the wake of major floods that impacted the region earlier this month.
The Guardsmen, who hailed from the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-based 724th Engineer Battalion, assessed more than 180 sites in Sawyer, Washburn and Bayfield counties after eight to 12 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours across the region July 12.
Approximately two dozen Wisconsin National Guard members were called to state active duty to assist the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) with road damage assessments July 18, and the assessment teams completed their work July 22 in advance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s arrival for their own assessment July 25. Gov. Scott Walker requested FEMA to conduct a preliminary damage assessment after local and tribal officials estimated that damage to roads and other public infrastructure, debris clearance and emergency protective measures exceeded $35 million.
Gov. Walker declared a state of emergency for eight Wisconsin counties, which authorizes Wisconsin’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, to call National Guard forces to state active duty to assist local authorities with recovery efforts.
Serving on state active duty in times of emergency is at the core of the National Guard's unique dual-mission as the first military responder in the homeland and as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force.
“To conduct more than 180 road damage assessments in the span of just a few days is an incredible example of the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the Wisconsin National Guard,” Maj. Gen. Dunbar said. “The Wisconsin National Guard remains ready to assist the people of northwest Wisconsin with additional missions, if needed.”
Local authorities requested assistance from the Guard to assess restoring infrastructure to damaged town roads in more rural and isolated areas where local resources are limited. The Guard’s assessment teams worked closely with Wisconsin Emergency Management and DOT to conduct the damage assessments last week. DOT remains focused on restoring bridges and state and U.S. highways affected by the flooding, while the National Guard’s assessment efforts were focused on local roads.
The Wisconsin National Guard remains ready, well-equipped and well-trained to assist local authorities and the people of northwest Wisconsin with additional missions as requested.
Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation, based in West Bend, Wisconsin, also assisted with flood response when they responded July 13 to a medevac mission for five citizens of the Bad River Tribe who needed air transport to Ashland, Wisconsin, for dialysis treatment. Road access to the Bad River Reservation had been cutoff in the aftermath of the storm.
For the latest updates on the state's response to the floods, visit Ready Wisconsin.
The 724th Engineer Battalion has a long and storied history of service to the state in times of emergency and as a primary combat reserve force for the nation. Formed from former infantry, artillery and tanker units shortly after World War II, the 724th remained a part of the 32nd Infantry Division until the 1960s. In 1961, the battalion mobilized along with the rest of the 32nd Infantry, into active federal service during the Berlin Crisis. After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the battalion and its units mobilized numerous times in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Elements of the battalion have served on state active duty in times of emergency for a variety of missions including a benzene spill near Superior in 1992, major floods in 1993, winter storm activations, and when downed trees from a major wind storm posed a fire threat to northern Wisconsin in 2011, among other state activations. The battalion has also completed numerous community service-oriented engineer projects over the years including recent work at Camp American Legion and construction on a community sports complex in Mosinee, Wisconsin, and a shooting range for the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Department.
The 724th Engineer Battalion’s headquarters, the 949th Engineer Detachment (Survey and Design), as well as the Hayward, Wisconsin-based 724th Engineer Battalion Forward Support Company are all scheduled to be inactivated as a result of Army-wide force structure changes required under the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.