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Airmen tasked to build levee in Grand Forks

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Although weather experts have recently lowered the expected crest range of the Red River in Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., the Grand Forks county Emergency Operations Center requested assistance from Grand Forks AFB to protect a housing area in southern Grand Forks from overwhelming flood waters. 

"The Air Force has been very gracious since this started," said Doug Stern, Grand Forks county EOC operations officer. "[Airmen from the base] were here yesterday offering volunteer assistance, so as we looked at our resources this morning, with people in the community becoming exhausted; we turned to the base, which has been patiently waiting for the opportunity." 

With the local labor force insufficient to complete construction of protective dikes, about 80 Warriors of the North loaded into buses and trucks, heading south, toward the Burke Addition, where river water was already infiltrating backyards. Neighbors had worked to build the three-quarter mile sandbag wall adjacent to the rising river, but the extra 160 arms in the sandbag chain makes the herculean effort attainable in a matter of days, as opposed to weeks. 

"When they saw us ... it was like a weight was lifted," commented Chief Master Sgt. Maurice Stansbury, 319th Civil Engineer Squadron, who was quick to shift the accolades to the Airmen and community members; the backbone of the physical labor. 

"We're happy to help our community in their time of need," commented Senior Airman Timothy Stencil, 319th Communication Squadron. "We know they'll always be there to support us, so it's nice to return the favor." 

Members of the base are credited with organizing the command and control of the project and for coordinating the efforts of the neighbors, volunteers and Warriors of the North. 

"I can't say enough great things about the teamwork out there," added Lt. Col. Greg McClure, 319 CES commander. "We were just picking up as the anchor leg of the relay race. The students from [the University of North Dakota], our teammates from the base, the people in the neighborhood - they all worked together getting the task accomplished." 

With a centralized concentration of efforts, the endeavor is scheduled to be complete tomorrow, a feat even the engineers are proud to attain. 

The base's EOC director, Col. Joe Douez, received the official request the morning of March 28, and immediately put Airmen in action, coordinating transportation and manpower. 

"The EOC is integrating with other federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, all branches of the U.S. military and Civil Air Patrol, as FEMA's designated Base Support Installation," the colonel said. "In addition to facilitating the beddown of more than 700 additional flood relief personnel, we are still committed to providing the local community our support in their time of need." 

And, according to Col. John Michel, 319th Air Refueling Wing commander, team Grand Forks is available for any other operations that may come its way. 

"We are dedicated to providing personnel, equipment, lodging, supplies and sustenance to our federal and state partners, as well as our teammates within the Grand Cities," he said. "The 'bring it' wing is trained, equipped and ready to support additional missions that may transpire in the near future."