Madison Native Assists With Nebraska National Guard's Ongoing Flood Response
By Sgt. Koan Nissen
/ Published July 12, 2011
Omaha, Neb. -- Like an unstoppable force, the Missouri River continues to redefine its banks as it cuts across the Nebraska landscape and through Omaha's north and east shores.
The sheer amount and momentum of unmitigated water hastening southward, carrying trees and debris like missiles, truly escapes the mind as it displays the awesome destructive power Mother Nature can bring to an area once occupied by recreationalists; joggers and bicyclists, partygoers and boaters.
So it only seems fitting that Nebraska, in return, would retaliate with its own impressive force to challenge this formidable opponent. Helicopters, sandbags, levees and a good bit of preparation are essential, but no piece of equipment is as important as the troops on the ground that provide the necessary components to ensure the safety of the citizens of the river city.
One of those troops is Senior Airman Sara Chadwick, a 22-year-old Madison, Neb., native. Chadwick, a medical technician with the Lincoln-based 155th Air Refueling Wing, Nebraska Air National Guard, and a full-time Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package team member, joined 27 other Airmen who volunteered for state active duty on June 26 to assist in the Nebraska National Guard's ongoing response to the flooding along the Missouri River.
Chadwick, along with the other Airmen, is serving as a watchful eye along Omaha's Missouri River levee system. They are patrolling the levee in three different areas, two to the north and one to the south of Omaha's downtown area. The northern levee protects Omaha's Eppley Airfield, while the southern levee area protects the Omaha Public Works Missouri Wastewater Treatment Plant.
And although these Guardsmen are not filling sandbags or slinging loads for helicopters, they are walking or driving directly on the levees in sweltering conditions to prevent further damage.
"We're looking for sand boils, animal burrows and any type of erosion," said Chadwick. "But we're keeping safe. We always travel with a wingman and we drive slowly. We can't help anyone if we don't stay safe ourselves."
When the Nebraska Air Guard was first tasked to assist in the flood response, the majority of the Airmen had no idea what work would lie ahead, yet they still volunteered for the mission.
"When we were first given the tasking to support Douglas County and the Omaha area we didn't realize what levee surveillance was," said Senior Master Sgt. Carl Oestmann, the 155th ARW Headquarters' first sergeant and noncommissioned officer in charge or the Airmen's flood response. "They thought they were going to be filling sandbags. Yet you had people like Sara say, 'You know what, I want to help my neighbor.' This isn't a training exercise. This isn't a deployment overseas. This is why they joined the Guard."
And once the mission was clear, it took little time for the Airmen to tackle the challenge.
"The levee is being stressed by the flood water," said Oestmann. "Our Guard members have done a very good job of identifying those [levee] stressors. Within 12 to 14 hours we had our training. Within 24 hours we were on the levee."
"Sara and all the other Airmen here are doing a fantastic job," he added.
Chadwick said she volunteered to help in the flood response because she felt she could make a difference for the citizens of Nebraska, but Chadwick's sense of military duty didn't come from any television commercial or recruiting campaign; it came from her late father, Robert H. Chadwick.
Robert Chadwick retired as a senior master sergeant with the Nebraska Air National Guard after proudly serving for 27 years. He lost his battle with cancer in 2008.
Being a part of a bigger community is important, said Chadwick. Serving in the military allows her to be that part of that bigger community, a message that was relayed to her by her father many years ago.
"I'm really proud of our military system," said Chadwick. "Whether you're Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines, we're all part of a big family."
And volunteering for the mission was one simple way she could give back to her state.
"The military treats me well and this is a way I can give back," said Chadwick. "We're making sure that if anything happens we are here to help -- this is my state."