Wingman concept is working: Rebuilding lives after Souris River flood

By Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

WingmenIn a DODLive Bloggers Roundtable July 15, 2011, Lt. Col. Jon Dawson, Inspector General at Minot Air Force Base (AFB), ND gave a first-hand account of returning to his home after a destructive flood, named the worst in Minot history. More importantly, he talked about how wingmanship prevailed in a time when devastation could overwhelm a community.

The husband and father of two teenaged sons has a house, which was built in 1895, on the Souris River. Until now, it had never flooded. This summer, despite sandbagging efforts, water rose to three or four feet, just above the windows of the main floor, completely filling the basement. A 15-foot bird house was covered to the 13-foot mark in water from a river that usually dries up to not much more than six inches in summer months.

After working during the day, Dawson went home to clean. The main floor had been gutted down to the studs, and water was still being pumped out of the basement. His belongings were scattered between the second floor of his house, a neighbor’s garage, the base house garage and a few personal items that he and his family have with them. Temporary living arrangements will be available to the Dawson family until mid-August at which point he will be looking for a place to live.

Dawson was not the only one. He admits that he got hit worse than some, but points out that he still fared better than others. In Minot and the surrounding areas there are 11,000 people, of which 1,200 are Airmen, displaced due to the rising waters.

“I didn’t do it for me. I did it for the 10,000 other people out there,” said Dawson about his participation in an interview that would provide an understanding of what flood victims are experiencing.

Throughout all of this, Minot AFB has operated normally. It takes resiliency and Airmen helping Airmen to make that happen in times like this.

“The wingman system is working,” said Dawson. The wing commander released 300 Airmen for volunteer alternate duty location. These Airmen have helped fill sandbags, and will continue to help with clean-up efforts around the city. In addition to that, many more Airmen volunteered their free time.

Some folks have offered their homes to displaced people which has reduced the burden on the shelters. Also, there is a system on base to match displaced Airmen with a family that is able to share or donate items or services.

Chapel services throughout the Air Force are collecting money for Airmen affected by the flood, so be sure to get in touch with your chaplain if you are interested in helping out or make a donation to Operation Warmheart by sending a check made payable to “Operation Warmheart” and place the words “flood relief” in the memo line and mail to the following address:

Minot Airman and Family Readiness Center
22 Peacekeeper Place
Minot, N.D. 58705

Photo: (Top) U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Devin Vitt (left) and Capt. Bryant Harrison, 23rd Bomb Squadron radar navigator and pilot respectively, help sandbag the home of Lt. Col. John Dawson, 5th Bomb Wing Inspector General, in Burlington, N.D., June 23, 2011. The Airmen are assigned to Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The Souris River, which begins in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, is expected to inundate thousands of homes and businesses. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sharida Jackson)
(Bottom) Water engulfs a neighborhood in Minot, N.D., June 23, 2011. As many as 10,000 residents, about one-fourth of the city’s population, have evacuated as the fast-rising Souris River inundates thousands of homes and businesses. The deluge from the Souris River is expected to exceed that of the city’s historical 1969 flood, making this the region’s worst flooding in four decades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sharida Jackson)