The National Guard continued emplacing sandbags along Interstate 90/94 and Interstate 39 in Columbia County Sept. 4.
Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers spent the past several days working to prevent floodwaters from spilling onto the state’s interstate highways in low-lying areas.
Approximately 75 Soldiers from the Portage, Wisconsin-based 132nd Brigade Support Battalion mobilized to state active duty Sept. 2to sandbag on Interstate 90/94 near Wisconsin Highway 33, where they worked overnight and into the morning of Sept. 3. Thirty-two Soldiers remained on duty Sept. 4 to add additional sandbags to the interstate and fill more sandbags for state use in Wyocena, Wisconsin.
That state active duty mission was transferred today (Sept. 5) to the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery, who will supply at least 50 Soldiers.
The 132nd Brigade Soldiers who worked filling and laying sandbags through the night Sept. 2-3 were grateful for the opportunity to serve their state in a time of emergency.
“Right now we’re looking at huge flooding that we haven’t seen in decades, so to be able to come out here and serve our communities, which is what most of us signed up for — it’s what I signed up for,” said Spc. Michael Johnson, from Company D, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion out of Madison, Wisconsin. “It really helps fulfill the desire for why I enlisted into the National Guard.”
Cpl. Ben Weber agreed.
“It’s huge,” he said of the impact the Guard had thanks to its efforts. “We go through all this training like basic and after you’ve completed your initial training. You’re constantly going to school, and it feels good to have it actually pay off and have it make a difference.”
While laying sandbags is unglamorous, backbreaking work, the Soldiers were quick to recognize the importance of their mission to the state and its citizens.
“With the roads being flooded or potentially flooded, it could cause a huge impact to everything as far as families travelling for a holiday weekend trying to enjoy their weekend, to businesses and truck drivers trying to deliver goods,” said. Sgt. 1st Class Jason Mattke, the readiness noncommissioned officer for Company E, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion in Antigo, Wisconsin.
“It shows that we’re ready to help the state any time of the day,” he added. “It’s a holiday weekend and we’re here. It shows that our readiness is there. All we have to do is be called upon by any city or county for whatever needs to be taken care of.”
Within hours of receiving a request for assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Sept. 2, Wisconsin National Guard troops were on the ground filling sandbags. By the morning of the Sept. 3, they had filled more than 10,000 sandbags and emplaced approximately 8,500 along the interstate to keep the highway open on Labor Day — annually one of the state’s busiest driving days. They went on to fill and emplace more Sept. 4, and the Guard remains on standby ready to assume additional missions in the event that local authorities need their assistance.
“Once again, the Wisconsin National Guard has stepped into the breach. Assistance from the Wisconsin National Guard was key to keeping two extremely important highways open throughout the high traffic demands of the Labor Day weekend,” Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross said. “We continue to work closely with the Wisconsin National Guard and other county and local partners to do what is necessary to keep the highways safe and open to the public.”
The Wisconsin National Guard has conducted a number of sandbag missions throughout the state in the past two weeks since torrential rain began falling across large swaths of southern Wisconsin. The Guard concluded a sandbag mission in Dane CountyAug. 29, where as many as 85 National Guard troops assisted civil authorities in Monona and Madison emplace nearly 7,400 meters of sandbags. Wisconsin Army and Air National Guard troops have transported more than 800,000 empty sandbags throughout the state to staging areas to ensure they were in position for local municipalities to use since the operation began. The Guard also assisted authorities with sandbagging missions in North Freedom and Baraboo in Sauk CountyAug. 30.
Multiple rain events soaked the state over the past two weeks causing local lakes and waterways to swell with floodwaters. Gov. Scott Walker signed Executive Order 303 declaring a state of emergency for Dane County last week, which authorizes the adjutant general to call elements of the National Guard to state active duty, as he deems necessary. The governor subsequently signed Executive Order 306, which expanded the state of emergency declaration to cover the entire state after additional heavy rains impacted the state this week.
The state emergency operations center remains at an elevated level, and officials with Wisconsin Emergency Management are urging citizens affected by the flooding to contact 2-1-1 to report damage to residences. For the latest information on the flood response, visit www.ready.wi.gov.
Assisting civil authorities in times of emergency is one of the National Guard’s core missions. The National Guard fulfills a unique dual-mission as both the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force, but also as the first military responder here in the state during times of emergency. Last fall, the Wisconsin National Guard deployed Soldiers and Airmen to Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islandsto assist with hurricane recovery efforts, and Soldiers responded on multiple occasions to flooding last summer in Monroe Countyand Burlington, Wisconsin.The Wisconsin National Guard simultaneouslyremains heavily engaged fulfilling its federal mission as the primary combat reserve of the Army and Air Force. More than 350 Soldiers from the Milwaukee-based 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillerydeployed to the Middle East this summer and more than 25 Soldiers from the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade’s Military Engagement Teamdeployed to the Middle East in March. Meanwhile, a team of Soldiers from the 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment deployedto U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in March to provide public affairs support there. Wisconsin Army National Guard aviators from Detachment 5, 641st Aviationdeployed to Afghanistan earlier this spring, and Soldiers from the 248th Aviation Support Battaliondeployed to the Middle East last September. Approximately 85 Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 147th Aviationreturned from a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in January, and 35 Soldiers from West Bend’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviationreturned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in November.
Also in November, approximately 270 Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wingreturned to Madison from a deployment to Korea, and more than 100 Airmen from the 128th Air Control Squadronat Volk Field returned from Southwest Asia. Approximately 70 Airmen from the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee are in the midst of deployments worldwide, and other Airmen from the 128th deployed earlier in the fall as well.