The adjutant general called more than 75 Wisconsin National Guard members to state active duty this week to assist townships in northwest Wisconsin affected by major flooding and damaging winds last month.
Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency for nine Wisconsin counties and one tribal government in the wake of the July 12 storms, which authorizes Wisconsin’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, to call National Guard forces to state active duty to assist local authorities with recovery efforts.
Local townships requested the Guard’s assistance with recovery efforts related to continuous storms that have impacted the area, and teams of Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard moved to the area this week to begin debris removal and road repair missions.
National Guard engineers were asked to complete debris removal missions in the townships of Barksdale, Eileen, Pilsen, Port Wing and Tripp, Wisconsin, as well as road repair missions in Grand View and Lincoln, Wisconsin. Additional missions from other municipalities may be forthcoming as well.
Guard engineers also conducted a bridge assessment at the heavily damaged Saxon Harbor in Iron County.
Torrential rain and extreme flooding caused more than $25 million in damage to public infrastructure and costs related to debris removal and emergency protective measures after the July 12 storm and continuous storms in the region throughout the month resulted in wind damage and more debris.
Elements of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 724th Engineer Battalion headquartered in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin — and specifically the Prairie Du Chien and Platteville, Wisconsin-based 229th Engineer Company — along with route clearance teams from the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Madison, Wisconsin-based 115th Fighter Wing and Milwaukee-based 128th Air Refueling Wing make up the task force responding to the request for Guard assistance.
The 229th Engineer Company specializes in road construction and will use those skills to repair damaged town and county roads in Grand View and Lincoln to restore access to those roadways in the short-term until Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) road construction contractors can complete permanent fixes in the months ahead. The DOT remains focused on restoring bridges and state and U.S. highways affected by the flooding.
“The local emergency managers in northwest Wisconsin have done a tremendous job managing the response to the flooding and wind damage that affected the area last month,” Dunbar said. “The National Guard looks forward to assisting those emergency managers and helping return the region to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.”
Serving on state active duty in times of emergency is at the core of the National Guard’s unique dual-mission as the first military responder in the homeland and as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force.
A team of approximately two dozen Wisconsin National Guard engineers from the 724th Engineer Battalion previously assisted the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in completing road damage assessments in July and provided their findings to Wisconsin Emergency Management. Those teams assessed more than 180 sites in Sawyer, Washburn, and Bayfield counties after eight to 12 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours across the region July 12. Local authorities requested assistance from the Guard to assess restoring infrastructure to damaged town roads in more rural and isolated areas where local resources are limited. The Guard’s assessment teams worked closely with Wisconsin Emergency Management and the DOT to conduct the damage assessments.
The assessment teams completed their work July 22 in advance of a preliminary damage assessment by the Federal Emergency Management Agency assessment requested by Gov. Walker. The state ultimately requested a federal emergency declaration Aug. 3.
Meanwhile, Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation, based in West Bend, Wisconsin, also assisted with the flood response when they responded July 13 to a medevac mission for five citizens of the Bad River Tribe who needed air transport to Ashland, Wisconsin, for dialysis treatment. Road access to the Bad River Reservation had been cutoff in the aftermath of the storm.
The Wisconsin National Guard remains ready, well-equipped and well-trained to assist local authorities and the people of northwest Wisconsin with additional missions as requested.
For the latest updates on the state’s response to the floods, visit Ready Wisconsin.
The 724th Engineer Battalion’s headquarters, the 949th Engineer Detachment (Survey and Design), as well as the Hayward, Wisconsin-based 724th Engineer Battalion Forward Support Company are all scheduled to be inactivated as a result of Army-wide force structure changes required under the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
The 724th Engineer Battalion has a long and storied history of service to the state in times of emergency and as a primary combat reserve force for the nation. Formed from former infantry, artillery and tanker units shortly after World War II, the 724th remained a part of the 32nd Infantry Division until the 1960s. In 1961, the battalion mobilized along with the rest of the 32nd Infantry, into active federal service during the Berlin Crisis. After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the battalion and its units mobilized numerous times in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Elements of the battalion have served on state active duty in times of emergency for a variety of missions including a benzene spill near Superior in 1992, major floods in 1993, winter storm activations, and when downed trees from a major wind storm posed a fire threat to northern Wisconsin in 2011, among other state activations. The battalion has also completed numerous community service-oriented engineer projects over the years including recent work at Camp American Legion and construction on a community sports complex in Mosinee, Wisconsin, and a shooting range for the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Department.