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Air National Guard shores up as flood recedes

by Staff Sgt. Patrick Brown
Air Force News Agency

6/16/2008 - CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AFPN) -- One hundred-fifty Air National Guardsmen from the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa, landed at The Eastern Iowa Airport June 15 to augment the 295 already working with Army National Guard and state agencies in Cedar Rapids as flood waters recede from what is being called the 500-year mark.

This is one of the largest operations for the wing in several years. It's also the first time in recent memory the Iowa ANG has been recalled for duty by the state.

"I've been in for 22 years and this is the first time I remember our unit being state activated. With this record flooding, we've got Airmen in the fight and our people are really excited and ready to jump in and do what they can," said Maj. Jerry Self, 185th Mission Support Group deputy commander. "This is history in the making."

As the water receded, mission focus shifted from protecting Cedar Rapids from flooding to protecting residents. Airmen from several backgrounds have come to help Cedar Rapids including civil engineers to operate heavy equipment during clean up and recovery operations.

"The Army has the equipment and we have the people to operate it," said Lt. Col. Joe Ascherl, 185th Mission Support Group commander. "This is truly a purple (joint between Army and Air Force) mission."

"First and foremost, our mission is to protect the people," said Colonel Ascherl to one of the groups who arrived June 15 during a mission orientation at the Mount Mercy College near downtown Cedar Rapids. School officials there have opened the campus to the Airmen, giving them a place to sleep, eat and, when water is available, shower. "Secondly, we're here to help stop any looting. This is serious business here."
Looting has not been a major problem in Cedar Rapids, partly due to the ANG's presence, said Cedar Rapids Police Department Sergeant Stephen Keller.

"Both the Air and Army National Guard have been absolutely essential to our operations," he said. "We couldn't continue to do what we do without them."

Sergeant Keller said the Airmen augment the local police in every facet of their duties from manning residential checkpoints to patrolling off-limits of the downtown area 24 hours-per-day, to helping with human and pet rescues. "When the flood waters had peeked, there were lots of places our vehicles just couldn't go. The Humvees and five-and-a-half- tons (trucks) were crucial for our rescues.

The residential checkpoints are potential hotspots with local residents as they are eager to return to their homes to check for damage after being evacuated before the flood crested June 14, but some local residents said the National Guard's presence has made the ordeal more bearable.

"It's very aggravating not being able to get back to our house," said Nancy Nelson as she waited patiently for her and her family to be cleared to return home at one of the checkpoints manned by one CRPD officer and three Guardsmen. "But it's comforting to know our home was looked after while we were gone. It's nice to know they (the NG) were here when we couldn't be.

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