Guardsmen Spring into Action for Rescue, Relief Operations in Nebraska


In the true nature of the force, the Nebraska National Guard sprang into action when unprecedented flooding hit the state.

Airmen fill sandbags.
Airmen fill sandbags at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., during preparations for anticipated flooding of the base, March 16, 2019. An increase in water levels of surrounding rivers and waterways caused by record-setting snowfall over the winter, in addition to a large drop in air pressure, caused widespread flooding across Nebraska. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake
Airmen fill sandbags.
Airmen Fill Sandbags
Airmen fill sandbags at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., during preparations for anticipated flooding of the base, March 16, 2019. An increase in water levels of surrounding rivers and waterways caused by record-setting snowfall over the winter, in addition to a large drop in air pressure, caused widespread flooding across Nebraska. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Rachelle Blake
VIRIN: 190316-F-IT794-1026

National Guardsmen performed 107 aerial rescues of stranded Nebraskans, and they helped to evacuate people and pets via ground transport, said Army Lt. Col. Kevin Hynes, a spokesman for the Nebraska Guard.

The Guard is working “as part of a multi-agency effort at the state and federal level,” he said. The emergency operations center is located at the Nebraska Air National Guard base in the state capital of Lincoln. “That’s where everything in operations and the handling of those operations is coordinated,” Hynes said.

The area of operations is throughout eastern Nebraska.

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the Minnesota National Guard is bolstering Nebraska’s effort. “We have two CH-47s in the state right now,” Hynes said. “We have others, but they have been deployed to U.S. Central Command.”

About 250 soldiers from the Nebraska National Guard are actively supporting the response efforts. “Today, we have a number of soldiers involved in traffic control points throughout eastern Nebraska, working with the State Patrol and Nebraska Department of Transportation,” the Nebraska Guard spokesman said. “We also have a number of sandbag operations that we are working with our helicopters.

Feeding Stranded Cattle

“The really unique mission is we are doing hay bale operations in Kolfax County in east-central Nebraska,” he continued. “We are starting to support farmers and ranchers whose cattle are stranded by the floodwaters. It’s the first time we’ve done something like that since the early 1950s.”

Nebraska Army Guard elements are on standby to do search and rescue operations around Nebraska City and in Lincoln.

The disaster is unprecedented, Hynes said, noting that a number of rivers in the state flooded all at once. The Niobrara River in the northeast part of the state flooded. That river flows into the Missouri River, which also is flooding. The North Loup River and the Elkhorn River, which flow into the Platte River, flooded simultaneously. “So for us, it is historic,” he said. “All of the rivers have reached historically high levels.”

Nebraska had an especially snowy January and February, and then a bomb cyclone dumped a tremendous amount of snow and rain on the state. When the temperature rose, it sparked the flood.

State planners are anxiously watching the rivers and the weather to see the extent of the damage and if more Guardsmen will need to be called to duty. The rivers are beginning to recede. As they ebb, officials are finally able to ascertain the extent of the damage to roads, bridges, buildings, docks, levees and more. “It is just like any emergency,” Hynes said. “It takes a while for it to reveal itself.”