Natural Disasters Inspire Guard Members to Re-enlist

TOPEKA, Kansas – No one wants bad things to happen, especially in their communities. However, for two Kansas Army National Guard members, the devastation of recent floods was a rejuvenating experience.

Torrential rains and thunderstorms hit Kansas in late May, and flooding became an imminent danger for several communities downstream from levees and dams that were close to overflowing. With the addition of a destructive tornado that hit Douglas and Leavenworth counties, the emergency in Kansas escalated to disastrous proportions.

Members of the Kansas Army National Guard were asked to help. One of them was Staff Sergeant (SSG) Michael Eicher of the 891st Forward Support Company, who had no problem volunteering.

“That’s why I signed up to be in the National Guard,” SSG Eicher says, “to help people.”

Although not a Kansas native, his active duty service led him to the State when he was stationed at Fort Riley in 1993. It was not long after he met his wife that he decided to leave the military to raise a family.

“Then 9/11 happened,” he says. “My wife looked at me one day and said, ‘You miss it, don’t you?’ I said ‘Yeah, big time,’ and she said, ‘You do what you (have) to do.’”

SSG Eicher restarted his military career by enlisting in the Kansas Army National Guard. However, as he closed in on completing 20 years of service, he had it in his mind to finally retire from military life.

To get to his 20 years, SSG Eicher would have to extend his enlistment another year. His fellow Soldiers were trying to convince him to sign up for another six, so he joked with his wife that he would do it. She gave him a response that he wasn’t expecting: “At least you finally made up your mind.”

Later that month, the flooding began, and SSG Eicher was called to State active duty, where he immediately started running missions to deliver supplies to multiple communities in southeast Kansas. The tasks included dropping off pallets of water and other supplies for water rescue.

Finishing those missions, he and his team went back to home base in Iola, where they received their next mission to deliver 18 pallets of water to Coffeyville – a town that was preparing for flooding if the Verdigris River levee should break.

“When we were done with the water, we got the word to go and start helping with the sandbags. We did that well into the night,” he explains.

After finally getting some rest when other Soldiers came to relieve them at around 3 a.m., SSG Eicher and the rest of the Guard members finished helping the community members with the sandbagging late that next afternoon.

MAJ Polen (left), executive officer of the 891st Engineer Battalion, gives the reenlistment oath to SPC O’Neill (right), assigned to 891st Forward Support Company, June 2, atop of pallets of water that are ready to be distributed to communities in Kansas devastated by flooding in May. (Photo by 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

The whole experience reminded him of why he joined the Army National Guard in the first place, and he began reconsidering his decision to retire. After completing his final mission to Valley Falls, he told his commander he would re-enlist in the Guard.

“I’d been thinking about it for a while, but just helping others was what made me decide,” SSG Eicher says. “I was there in the fire station in Valley Falls and something clicked in my mind that said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You love this! Why are you getting out?’”

SSG Eicher wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Lawrence resident Specialist (SPC) Russell O’Neill of the 891st Forward Support Company, also realized it was not quite time to let go.

SPC O’Neill was coming to the end of his first enlistment and had already decided to conclude his service at the end of his contract because he felt like he was doing less and less of the job he signed up to do.

But then disaster struck south of Lawrence when a tornado plowed through on its way toward Kansas City.

SPC O’Neill, who works for a landscaping company in Lawrence, says several of the houses he worked on were damaged. Several of his family and friends who lived in the vicinity of Linwood, Kansas, were affected and had damage to their homes.

That next weekend, SPC O’Neill would get the chance to help. One of the vehicles used to deliver supplies broke down while his unit was drilling. His experience working on those trucks made him the go-to guy to fix it.

While these events were not the only reasons SPC O’Neill decided to stay in, they helped him confirm he needed to continue his service. He also realized the benefits he would get for his three children would outweigh the little time he would be away. The biggest reason, however, was the realization that he didn’t want to let go of the camaraderie he’s found while serving in the Army National Guard.

“I feel that with my fellow Soldiers it is a brotherhood that I haven’t had since high school. The weekend drills, I get to go be around a bunch of guys that I enjoy being around, and I’ve had a lot of them call me throughout my hardships and ask how I’m doing.”

By the end of the June drill, SSG Eicher and SPC O’Neill had reenlisted, standing on pallets of water to be delivered for the flooding.

“When the State active duty stuff comes around and people need your help, that is what we are here for,” says SSG Eicher. “If you are thinking about retiring and you’re thinking about getting out, think about all these things that could happen.”

“Who knew that the flooding was going to take place? Nobody – and that’s why you joined in the first place.”

If you’re passionate about giving back to your community, join the Army National Guard where you can serve part-time in your home State, and be the one your neighbors look to in times of need. With hands-on training in over 130 career fields including ground forces, logistics, and transportation, you can be part of a team that’s prepared to handle anything. Visit the job board to browse open opportunities today.

From an original article by the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Kansas National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June 2019.

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Building a Bridge in a Pinch

Throughout August, we’re talking about the many engineering military occupational specialties (MOS) that are available in the Army National Guard. This week, On Your Guard flashes back to a particularly interesting disaster exercise that took place near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, last year. Did you know Guard Soldiers can construct a floating bridge that’s 44 yards long in a mere 90 minutes? Check out the details in this excerpt from GX magazine

Members of the 125th Multi-Role Bridge Company (MRBC), S.C. Army National Guard, construct a temporary floating bridge to support Operation Coastal Response, a joint training exercise between local authorities and the National Guard.  (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun/released)

Members of the 125th Multi-Role Bridge Company (MRBC), S.C. Army National Guard, construct a temporary floating bridge to support Operation Coastal Response, a joint training exercise between local authorities and the National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun/released)

Engineers from the 125th Multi-Role Bridge Company (MRBC), South Carolina Army National Guard, were tasked with constructing a temporary floating bridge to ferry equipment and supplies from the landing to Sandy Island to support Palmetto Thunder, a joint training exercise with local civilian authorities and the South Carolina National Guard.

Agencies from Georgetown and Horry counties, along with units from the South Carolina Guard, participated in the training exercise that depicted response efforts in the aftermath of a mock commercial airliner crashing on approach to Myrtle Beach International Airport near Sandy Island.

Due to the location of the simulated crash site and debris field, the South Carolina National Guard was called to train with various support capabilities, including rotary aircraft, water purification, security, and hazardous materials response. Almost 300 personnel from different units in the State National Guard supported Palmetto Thunder.

The 125th MRBC is equipped with the Dry Support Bridge System (DBS) and can deploy a 40-meter (44-yard) bridge in under 90 minutes during daytime. The bridge sections are palletized and transported by a 600-horsepower Palletized Load System (PLS).

“This scenario provides us with the opportunity to gain real-world experience so that we will be prepared to provide relief to our community,” said Private First Class Serenia Thatcher, a 12C Bridge Crewmember with the 125th MRBC.

South Carolina is prone to hurricanes, which pose a concern to residents annually with a storm season that runs from June until November. One of the major missions of the 125th MRBC is to provide support and relief to the State coast and neighboring islands.

“We can go out and build our bridges and transport any civilians who need our help,” said PFC Thatcher. “My family lives in Charleston, and it could be my relatives who are in need of help. It makes me feel good to know that I can go out and help, and save lives.”

“It’s moments like this,” said (now retired) Brigadier General Darlene Goff, (former) director of joint staff for the South Carolina National Guard, “… that make a difference. While we provide lifesaving capabilities and train to accomplish missions, it’s really about people. That’s what the National Guard is about.”

If you’d like to make a difference for the people in your community by pursuing an engineering career in the National Guard, visit our jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

Original story and photo, by SGT Brian Calhoun and courtesy of GX magazine, were first published online on Feb. 6, 2014. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.

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