131st Citizen-Airmen Contribute to Historic Flood Response

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jeffrey M. Bishop, APR
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
A number of Guard members associated with the 131st Bomb Wing remain on State Emergency Duty as liaison officers (LNO) to help communities remove debris and recover from historic flooding that struck the state over the New Year holiday.

As follow on to the initial flood response task force, 10 Citizen-Airmen from the 231st Civil Engineer Flight, the 131st Civil Engineer Squadron, and the 239th Combat Communication Squadron were tasked to support flood recovery efforts as part of Operation Recovery.

While some have completed their duties and have been released, a number remain involved. The LNOs, based here, have been coordinating debris removal and aid to assigned communities across the region under the leadership of Lt. Col. Grace Link, Missouri Air National Guard director of staff.

In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, a number of Airmen from the 131st Bomb Wing and its affiliated units worked alongside fellow Missouri National Guard soldiers to support flood response and recovery efforts.

Within the first 12 hours of the operation, a complement of Jefferson Barracks-based Airmen helped protect the water treatment facility at High Ridge, Missouri. More than 35 Airmen rallied from the 157th Air Operations Group, the 131st CES and the 239th CBCS to build a four-foot high sandbag barrier around the site in the St. Louis-area community.

"Our people had all worked a full day, and went back out there and filled sandbags until 1 in the morning," said Lt. Col. Bill Boothman, director of operations for the 157th AOG.  As part of the Missouri Guard's Quick Reaction Force, the wing has four hours to muster its Airmen.  In this situation, volunteers were recalled at 4:30 p.m., and by 6:30 p.m. were on site filling and laying sandbags, according to Boothman.

At the same time, the Army Guard's armory at Festus, Missouri, the location for the flood response task force, suffered water damage that affected communications.  In response, the 239th Combat Communication Squadron deployed six Airman to set up, operate and maintain its Joint Incident Site Communication Capability, or JISCC system, to provide satellite-based telephone, network and email capability to the operation. 

The team had communications online within six hours, managed the system around the clock, and stayed on throughout the operation - even after armory communications were restored, in order to expand capacity and ensure continuous connectivity, according to Capt. Tony Crnko, 239th officer in charge.

"Having them here has been a blessing," said Missouri Army National Guard Maj. John Myers, a battle major in the Tactical Operations Center. "If there were any problems, they were right here to work them out for us, no matter what time it was."

Another four Airmen from the 231st CEF worked as liaison officers in the Joint Operations Center at the Ike Skelton Training Site in Jefferson City, Missouri. Their work included tracking personnel and equipment, along with liaison work to the State Emergency Management Agency, according to Maj. Rachel Jackson, a civil engineer with the unit who was not part of that team.

"That's pretty much in our wheelhouse," said Jackson of the role the LNOs played. "As a staff augmentation team, that's right in line with what we train to do."

The wing also sent public affairs support to St. Louis, where a joint Air Force-Army broadcaster team filed video stories, photos and articles and worked with reporters to keep the state in the know about the role the Missouri Guard is playing in the flood response and recovery.  Those stories can be found on the wing's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/131BW.

"The Missouri Air Guard brings a lot to the mission; in terms of numbers, in terms of rapid response and in terms of unique capabilities," said Col. Michael Francis, 131st Bomb Wing commander.  "The ANG stands 2,400 tall, and is ready to roll whenever tasked.

"Once again, the men and women of the 131st Bomb Wing have much to be proud of in respect to the help we provided our Missouri neighbors during and following these floods," Francis added.