By Army Capt. Andrew Nelson
Nebraska National Guard
OMAHA, Neb. (6/24/11) – As airliners came in for landing here at Eppley Airfield, Nebraska National Guard members from Detachment 2, 165th Quartermaster Company, did their part to prevent catastrophe by rigging 2,000 to 2,500 pound sandbags.
The sandbags, intended to hold back flood waters should the levee that protects Omaha's major airport fail, would be dropped by helicopter at the breach point.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inundation maps indicate Eppley could be under several feet of water if the levee protecting it from the Missouri River fails.
The mission is part of the Nebraska National Guard's on-going efforts to help local emergency management official's deal with the historic Missouri River flooding taking place along Nebraska's eastern border.
"The water is just right over the berm there and if it were to break, this airport would be inoperational." said Army Staff Sgt. Keith Cox, who was directing efforts that day.
This would be a particularly onerous problem, considering that on that day, June 17, baseball fans were converging on Omaha for the beginning of the College World Series, which is scheduled to last most of the rest of the month.
All that seemed remote on that afternoon on Cargo Ramp B at Eppley's far northwest side. As the sun shone down and caused the temperature to soar toward 88, the riggers attached cables and nylon slings while commercial and airliners landed and took off a relatively short distance away.
"We'd like it if it were about 70 degrees and breezy, but it is what it is. It's Nebraska," said Army Spc. Joshua Peavy as he worked to install the slings to the sandbags to a row of white sandbags.
Cargo Ramp B offered no shade, so some of the Nebraska Army Guard riggers wore flight suits rolled down to the waist, like Army Pvt. Robin Bruscato.
"It's actually pretty easy once we get everything figured out," she said. "It gets me doing kind of what I signed up for the Army for… to help others."
A Nebraska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter is staged on the east side of the airport nearly a mile-and-a-half away.
In the event of a breech, the Black Hawk would take off, rumble over the runways to Cargo Ramp B and hover above as the riggers attach the sandbags, then fly back across the airport, giant sandbags dangling, drop them in the appropriate spot and repeat. Roughly 400 sandbags were being readied.
"The great thing about being in the Guard is it's for a good cause. You get to help Nebraskans," Peavey said. "It's what we signed up for."