Hundreds of Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard answered the call in recent weeks as floodwaters threatened critical infrastructure and communities across the state.
But as water levels rose, the Wisconsin National Guard’s commitment and dedication to assisting the state in times of need rose with it.
After torrential rains swamped parts of Dane and Iowa Counties Aug. 20-21 with as much as 13 inches of rain, Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry were on duty to help Madison and Monona lay sandbags in those communities through Aug. 29. More Soldiers assisted communities with sandbagging efforts Aug. 30 in Sauk County in North Freedom and Baraboo.
As more heavy rain continued to soak southern Wisconsin, a new threat emerged on the state’s interstate system in Columbia County near Portage. Nearly 80 more Soldiers reported to state active duty Sept. 2 to emplace sandbags along Interstate 90/94 near Wisconsin Highway 33 where they worked overnight into Labor Day Sept. 3 to keep floodwaters from overtopping the interstate on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
The National Guard continued to fill and emplace sandbags at critical junctures along Interstate 90/94 and Interstate 39 in Columbia County as trouble spots in low-lying areas emerged. Multiple Army National Guard units from the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 64th Troop Command mobilized volunteers to assist, including the 105th Cavalry, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery, the 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, and the 1157th Transportation Company. Approximately 50 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison joined in the sandbagging effort and both Army and Air Guard units from around the state assisted state authorities in transporting sandbags stored in other areas of the state to areas of critical need. By Sept. 7, hundreds of Soldiers and Airmen had served on state active duty.
After Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency, the National Guard completed 19 requests for assistance from Wisconsin communities with an all-volunteer force. The Guard emplaced a nearly mile-long sandbag barrier along Interstate 90/94 and another 2,500-meter long barrier along the southbound lanes of Interstate 39 near Wisconsin Highway 33.
Capt. Matthew L. Shaw, an environmental management officer with the 115th Fighter Wing volunteered to lead a diverse group of 30 Airmen from around the state to assist with protecting a 4,000-foot stretch of interstate.
“There is good morale here,” Shaw said. “They are still hitting it hard and are very positive considering we don’t know how long we will be here.”
Shaw’s team reported at 6 a.m. that morning to help emplace the thousands of sandbags that 45 volunteer Soldiers filled overnight.
Volunteers all had their own motivations for helping but the sense of community was consistent throughout.
Tech Sgt. Jacob Noll, a security forces Airman with the 115th Fighter Wing, directly experienced some of the worst effects of the flooding.
“The roads to our home were cut off by water and my family did not have electricity for two days,” Noll said.
He and his family started volunteering in their community immediately after the roads to their home were open again.
Airman 1st Class Brooke Steavens, a medical technician with the 115th Fighter Wing, was grateful for the opportunity to serve.
“An opportunity like this is rare for Airmen because usually the Soldiers go,” Steavens said. “Morale is a lot higher than usual.”
Other service members, including Tech Sgt. Spring Miller, a public health noncommissioned officer with the 115th Fighter Wing, were just happy to have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and assist.
“This is a great mission because at the heart of it, we are caring for the people around us,” Miller said.
Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard troops have transported more than 800,000 empty sandbags throughout the state to staging areas to ensure they were in position for local municipalities to use since the operation began. They also emplaced thousands of sandbags and filled thousands more.
Both Walker and Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, agreed that the National Guard’s response to the flooding speaks to the excellence of the organization.
“It's just a phenomenal, rapid response,” Walker said when visiting National Guard troops at the National Guard armory in Portage Sept. 7. "Our Guard troops, volunteers, and community members are not just responding to something negative that happened, they are helping prevent additional damage from occurring. We are grateful for their continued efforts to support Wisconsin communities.”
Assisting civil authorities in times of emergency is one of the National Guard’s core missions. The National Guard fulfills a unique dual-mission as both the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, but also as the first military responder here in the state during times of emergency. Last fall, the Wisconsin National Guard deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist with hurricane recovery efforts, and Soldiers responded on multiple occasions to flooding last summer in Monroe County and Burlington, Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin National Guard simultaneously remains heavily engaged fulfilling its federal mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. More than 350 Soldiers from the Milwaukee-based 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery deployed to the Middle East this summer and more than 25 Soldiers from the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade’s Military Engagement Team deployed to the Middle East in March. Meanwhile, a team of Soldiers from the 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment deployed to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in March to provide public affairs support there. Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators from Detachment 5, 641st Aviation deployed to Afghanistan earlier this spring, and Soldiers from the 248th Aviation Support Battalion deployed to the Middle East last September. Approximately 85 Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in January, and 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
Also in November, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing returned to Madison from a deployment to Korea, and more than 100 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadron at Volk Field returned from Southwest Asia. Approximately 70 Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee are in the midst of deployments worldwide, and other Airmen from the 128th deployed earlier in the fall as well.