"I was leaving my house at four in the morning and I was getting home about 10 at night. Then start all over again."
As the Missouri River swelled to record heights in the summer of 2011, members of the 185th Air Refueling Wing, like Master Sergeant Dave Henson, were called in, deploying on a mission in their own backyard.
"So, they put together a Crisis Action Team and Water Rescue Teams and they were working with them, finding the worst spots to deploy the Water Action Teams." Master Sgt. Henson said. "We were in charge of crisis management for any emergency rescue they were going to use the helicopters for."
Troops jumped in where they were needed, building levees, sandbagging homes and businesses, and assisting throughout the tri-state in preparation for the flood.
"In 2011, I was doing aircraft crew chiefing, is what they call an aircraft mechanic on the KC135 at that time," said Master Sergeant Ron Hanson, "and we heard of the flood happening and so the state came up and came to our unit and wanted us to have some individuals to volunteer and step up and patrol the levees to keep the infrastructure of Sioux City safe."
Levee patrol meant hourly walks across the manmade dikes looking for cracks and weak spots, checking and preparing any issues they came across. Master Sgt. Hanson and his team were stationed along Larsen Park Road in downtown Sioux City, patrolling from what is now Crave all the way to the end of the Andersen Dance Pavillion.
"Right behind the Interpretive Center, the levee was built around a great big cottonwood tree," Master Sgt. Hanson recalled, "the tree was in the middle. Of course, it started swaying back and forth which started the levee to crack."
The levees were patrolled day and night by members of the Iowa Air National Guard. Not only were they looking for issues within the levee itself, but they were also making sure people weren't entering the area.
"It was absolutely closed off to anybody except for military only that was in charge of that patrol," Master Sgt. Hanson said, "we had a few encounters and we had phones that we could direct call to the police force and they came down and helped out."
As waters began to rise, up in the sky was a sight not seen in Siouxland, military helicopters.
"We had South Dakota helicopters here, Iowa and Minnesota helicopters." Master Sgt. Dave Henson was the only one stationed at the 185th in 2011 with helicopter experience and he was pulled off of his current duty and onto the flight line in 2011.
"I came to work one morning and Col. Christensen pulled me out of a meeting, told me 'you're my guy'. That's how much notice, so about 4 hours later, helicopters were landing," Master Sgt. Henson recalled.
"So I had to help crews get the aircraft ready in the morning, and we would line them up. They'd do sorties (combat missions) up along the river," he said describing what Siouxlanders were seeing in the air that summer. "Then we were doing hot refueling and maintenance on the aircraft."
The helicopters not only helped monitor the rising Missouri from the sky, but they also set sandbags to keep infrastructure safe.
"The helicopter has a long line slung underneath it, so they could just pull into a hover, hook up with sandbags and take them to wherever they needed to plug holes." Those sandbags weighed tons of pounds and helped a number of businesses and communities stay dry in 2011.
There were more than a dozen military helicopters flying in Siouxland that summer, and on the ground, mother nature was not making levee patrols easy.
"A lot of things that we battled, which was on the inside of the levees, on the opposite side of the river, was the thunderstorms that passed through," Master Sgt. Hanson said. "All of the sewers were plugged. You get that backwater and backpressure and manhole covers would go flying up. The city worked with us really well bringing down pumps to pump water out of the area and all of that. That was a lot of the battle, the thunderstorms."
"Part of our goal is statewide, so any crisis in the state, the governor tasks us to help out with," Master Sgt, Henson said on responding to a national crisis in his own backyard. "Plus, we have a national level where we still deploy overseas and things like that."
Now 10 years later, there are a few still stationed at the 185th who battled the Great Flood of 2011 and spent seven weeks working in the city they still call home.
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