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Illinois Air National Guard gathers to help save town

by Staff Sgt. Patrick Brown
Air Force News Agency

6/20/2008 - PLEASANT HILL, Ill. (AFPN) -- More than 300 Air National Guard members from across Illinois gathered June 19 to help save a small farming community from the swelling Mississippi River here.

A collective group from the 126th Air Refueling Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., the 183rd Fighter Squadron at Springfield, Ill., and the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., worked with locals to spread 40-foot-wide plastic sheets along 23 miles of levees holding the Mississippi River from pouring into the almost 70,000 acres of farmland, businesses and homes that make up Pleasant Hill.

Locals worked June 18 and 19 to raise the levees four-feet higher as flood levels rose more than expected, said Mike Collard, a resident of Clarksville Missouri, just across the river from Pleasant Hill. Mr. Collins has family who lives and owns farmland in Pleasant Hill and owns a hotel there himself only seven miles from where he and other locals were working.

"The water is expected to crest Saturday morning at 30 feet, but the forecast changes every day, so we need to get this done as soon as we can," Mr. Collins said.

With the water still rising, and only feet from the top of the levees, crews worked swiftly to lay the plastic to prevent the flowing water from eroding the freshly laid sand. Teams placed thousands of sandbags, filled by local volunteers and Army and Air National Guard Units, over the plastic to keep it in place.

The Airmen are billeted in cramped quarters, many sleeping in cots on the gym floor at Quincy University and working tirelessly in near 90-degree heat, but none are complaining.

"Morale is high and everyone is happy to be here," said Capt. Sean Heup, a personnel officer with the 183rd FW. "I'm losing a weekend, maybe a few more days, but these people could lose everything."

Staff Sgt. Haley Windling, also a personnelist from the 183rd said it was interesting to work with Airmen from different units.

"You always hear about people from other units," she said. "It's good to put faces to the names."

Sergeant Haley said she also has a cousin here who is a member of the local police department and that gives her a greater sense of connection with the community. "It feels good to get out and do what you can for the people."

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