Shriners Support North Dakota Guardsmen During Flood Mission

By Army Spc. Chris Erickson
Special to American Forces Press Service

FARGO, N.D., April 1, 2009 - Shriners here temporarily have shifted their focus from helping children to helping National Guard members.

Members of the international organization that supports a health care system of 22 hospitals providing specialty pediatric care, research and teaching programs are providing refreshments and warm, dry shelter for citizen-soldiers and -airmen activated to help in fighting a massive flood.

The North Dakota National Guard has concentrated its efforts on ensuring the dike system in the Fargo area holds. To ensure leaks are promptly plugged, quick-reaction forces have been set up at 11 staging areas in the community. The El Zagal Shrine and Masonic Temple in northeastern Fargo is one of those places.

George Vettel, a temple member, said the city asked the organization to keep the building open so the National Guard could use it.

"We're here now to make sure that they have whatever they need, whether it's food, coffee or pop, or anything else," Vettel said. The shrine members also are making sure the building is maintained during inclement weather.

Although the Red River in Fargo crested earlier this week, the quick-reaction forces remain vigilant.

"If we get sustained winds of 30 miles per hour, that could erode some of the dikes," said Army Staff Sgt. Charles Todd of the 1-188th Air Defense Artillery, a member of the force based at El Zagal. "Even if the water level goes down, the pressure is still there on temporary dikes."

Between missions, life for the soldiers and airmen is a waiting game, and many of them have found time to help out at the shrine.

"They mopped the floor, put plastic down on the carpet, shoveled snow, cleaned chairs and swept mud off the street and sidewalks," Emily Garten said.

Bill Hovell, chief of staff at the El Zagal Shrine, said the organization has been working closely with the servicemembers since they set up at the shrine, and he is grateful for the work the North Dakota National Guard is doing.

"You look at the officers and higher enlisted, and they're very professional," Hovell said. "Then I saw a young man in uniform who looked barely old enough to shave. I asked him what brought him here. He looked me right in the eye and said, 'I enlisted to serve,'" Hovell said with a smile.

Barten said the community has been an important part of helping out the servicemembers based at El Zagel.

"We've gotten a lot of donations from various places in town - restaurants, other Shriners and area residents," she said. "We've fed close to 80 today for lunch. We're planning for that many for meals, because this is a command and control site."

Army 1st Lt. Loren Soma of the 957th Multi-Role Bridge Company in Bismarck said he and others have helped to build dikes throughout Fargo, including Lindenwood Park and Oak Grove Lutheran School, and have placed barriers on the eastern edge of the city.

Soma agreed that the response from area residents had been outstanding. "It's nice to have the support of the community," he said. "We've been working hard all week, and it's nice to have a break. We're actually getting babied here."

Blizzard conditions have not affected the morale of the soldiers and airmen at El Zagal, and during some down time, a group of soldiers decided to build a snowman, which Hovell thought brought some levity to an otherwise serious situation.

The waiting game has not taken away from the Guard members' professional attitude. "We are still on full guard," Todd said.

Hovell expressed his gratitude for the National Guard. "As Shriners, we couldn't have better guests," he said. "We're honored."

(Army Spc. Chris Erickson serves with the North Dakota National Guard.)

*Related Sites:*
North Dakota National Guard  [ ]
Shriners Support North Dakota Guardsmen During Flood Mission [ ]