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Red River Valley flood efforts by Grand Forks AFB

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Every year, the people of the Red River Valley gird up their loins for the annual swelling of the Red. And every year, the members of Grand Forks Air Force Base help in some way. Whether it's filling sandbags or lending heavy equipment, the Warriors of the North are ready for the call to action.

On March 25, Grand Forks AFB was designated as the National Logistics Staging Area for the Red River Valley flood by U.S. Northern Command.

As the Red River began growing, volunteers were called to Fargo to help fill sandbags as well as fortify dikes March 26. Several Warriors of the North answered the call. While volunteers from Grand Forks AFB were in Fargo, the base was preparing to become the NLSA and receive aircraft, aircrews, trucks and supplies.

Grand Forks AFB relocated many KC-135 Stratotankers in order to make ramp space for several helicopters from the Army, Coast Guard and National Guard. The base was also preparing to receive 100 trucks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As the Red River continued to rise, several units on base began 24-hour operations. That included the Grand Forks AFB Emergency Operations Center, the hub of flood-related activities for the base.

"We're here in a support capacity," said Col. Joe Douez, Grand Forks AFB EOC director. "We're here to make sure FEMA, the Coast Guard, the Army and the National Guard have everything they need to fight the flood."

Preparation continued March 27. The base's fitness center was closed in order to transform it into a reception area for arriving aircrews, as well as extra billeting. A dorm was made ready for lodging and Air Mobility Command delegated the authority to convert empty houses into aircrew quarters to Col. John Michel, 319th Air Refueling Wing commander.

"We are 'all in' in support of flood efforts," said Colonel Michel. "We're providing billeting, ramp space, office space, heavy equipment and volunteers to help the people of the Red River Valley battle this flood."

The operations side of the house was preparing to receive 12 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and 10 CH-47 Chinook helicopters from six different states. A United States Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin was also expected to land at 6:30 p.m.

As the bloated Red tested the strength of the dikes, Mother Nature cut the people of the Red River Valley a break; colder temperatures which slowed snow melt.

Activity continued March 28 with 319th Civil Engineering Squadron's snow crews clearing snow from the Alpha ramp, which is being used as a staging area for FEMA's trucks. The Grand Forks County EOC requested help from the base in protecting an outlying neighborhood from flood waters. A group of 72 Warriors of the North headed to the Burke Addition of Grand Forks to assist in building a protective dike while buses were shuttling volunteers to Fargo.

The base welcomed two more Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphins, as well as 13 members from the security forces squadron at Minot AFB, N.D. A five-man team from the 818th Contingency Response Group of McGuire AFB, N.J., also arrived to assess the base's ability to accept large, air mobility aircraft.

Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for; the Red River crested at 40.82 feet in Fargo, more than an inch lower than predicted by the National Weather Service. But a second crest was already anticipated due to expected snow fall over the next few days.

By March 29, the base was in full swing as a NLSA and a Base Support Installation. More than 350 cots and 700 pillows were received and distributed to vacant house or set up at the fitness center for billeting. The base provided 649 bed spaces, with 279 reserved or occupied already.

Since the Warriors of the North found the groove of their new-found mission, many unit control centers were able to return to normal duty hours while the base EOC remained a 24-hour operation.

A winter storm warning was issued by the National Weather Service expecting four to six inches of snow over the course of two days. By March 30, the North Dakota Department of Transportation issued a no-travel advisory for the southeast region of the state. Interstate 29 was closed between Grand Forks and the South Dakota border March 31.

But, the fight is not over. Ice build up along the Red is cause for concern and there are still homes in the northern valley that are isolated due to flood waters.

"Our TEAMMATES have done a terrific job," Colonel Michel said. "We've fully integrated with the agencies we're supporting, we've all pulled together to help those affected by the flood."

The Grand Forks AFB EOC is on full alert while the people of the Red River Valley remain vigilant in holding back the river. While the communities of Fargo, Grand Forks and others are safe for now, the Warriors of the North will stand ready should the mighty Red attempt to submerge the surrounding communities again.