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National Guard Forces Ready for Quick Response in Richland County

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WAHPETON, N.D. -- As 2011 flood operations hit full-swing this week, the North Dakota National Guard is on standby for potential emergencies in Richland County. Two eight-member quick response force, or QRF, teams are based out of the Wahpeton Armed Forces Reserve Center and on call 24 hours a day to respond.

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Sgt. 1st Class Jon Benedict, of Wahpeton, is the noncommissioned officer in charge of one group. He said both teams are on from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and on-call during the evening since it's rare to get calls then. Once people wake up and realize the water has encroached quickly overnight is when the calls come in, he says, speaking from the experience of three years of flood-fighting experience in the area.

The Soldiers are members of the 188th Engineer Battalion, North Dakota Army National Guard, which is on an alert for potential deployment this year.

Spc. Kevin Ehlers, a North Dakota State College of Science student from Barney, N.D., is a first-time flood fighter, having joined the Guard just two years ago Sunday.

"I think this will help me out and get me ready for deploying a little more," he said, "like working as a team and getting to know people a little bit more."

With only one other exception, the Soldiers on the QRF teams have done this before and have no qualms about helping again this year.

"We're just ready for it when it comes," Benedict said. "Everyone packed bags at drill so we're prepared."

The team was glad to not receive any calls on the first day, because that means nobody was in an emergency situation yet. They passed the time monitoring road closings, reviewing city maps and examining who lives near closed roads and may need assistance, whether it's evacuation or delivery of supplies. Almost everyone on the teams hails from the Wahpeton area, so any response would be personal to many who, if called, would literally be helping their neighbors.

Two five-ton dump trucks are filled with sandbags and faced out, ready to roll should a call come in. The team also has Humvees packed with ropes, chains, waders and life vests.

"We're prepared to do pretty much anything -- traffic control points, evacuation, distributing sandbags," Benedict said.

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Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,500 Soldiers and more than 1,800 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Currently, about a dozen North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas while more than 4,000 remain in the state for emergency response and national defense. For every 10,000 citizens in North Dakota, 65 serve in the North Dakota National Guard, a rate that's more than four times the national average.

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