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.
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.