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Wyoming Guard works hand-in-hand with Fremont County residents to keep flood waters at bay

LANDER, Wyo. -- The last time the water ran this high in Lander and Riverton was 1963. It was also the last time the Wyoming National Guard deployed to the Fremont County valley. But like a good friendship that lasts through the ages, so the members of the Wyoming Military Department were welcomed back.

"It's great to have them here," said Randy Newman of Lander. "They have been a real helping hand for all of us."

Newman works for Rocky Mountain Premix Concrete and has been working in and around Lander with his people to help bolster the defenses of the rising water.

"Now that [the Guard personnel] are here, the sheriff and police can get back to their regular patrols and help people out around town," he said. "They keep the ' looky loos' from wandering around were they shouldn't and have been really adding some needed hands to help with building flood barriers."

More than 220 Wyoming National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are in Fremont County helping residents with sandbagging, security, evacuations and other flood mitigation efforts. Gov. Dave Freudenthal began calling the Guard into action June 7.

The goodwill is mutual on both sides. Staff Sgt. Evan Reed, a security forces Airman with the Wyoming Quick Reaction Force, said that the community has been supportive of the Wyoming Guard coming in to help.

"They recognize we are here to help and they are appreciative of the assistance we are providing," he said. "We have had the opportunity to form some excellent working relationships on the fly with local law enforcement and other emergency agencies." Reed, along with the other members of the QRF, are on hand to provide assistance with evacuations, as well as providing safety patrols in high risk areas for flood waters. But it's not all roses and sunshine for the Guard members.

"It's hard to help people trying to save their homes and know there is only so much we can do before the water wins out," he said.

Most residents whose homes are at risk of being flooded have either relocated temporarily with friends and family, or have been given shelter and supplies by the American Red Cross.

Linda Hulme's mother, June is one of those residents. Hulme said her mother has lived in a high risk flooding area for more than 40 years. But this high water is just a little too close this time, Hulme said, so she and other family members moved her mother's things out of the house - just in case the water rises higher and floods her home. She will be staying with Hulme for the time being.

Dave Rodgers, a local optometrist who lives just up the river from June Hulme, said he has two reasons to be grateful for the support of the community members and the Wyoming National Guard - his home, located on 25 acres next to the rapid moving water, and his optometry practice in downtown Lander.

Rodgers said that if he had not had the timely assistance that was given, the water would have ruined his home and his business.

Tony Radman, who traveled from Utah to try and stave off the water from taking his mother's home, situated on the river, said the help the National Guard and community volunteers are providing is why many of the homes threatened by the water are still standing.

"I can't tell you how helpful they have been," he said. "The volunteers, everyone, have been great."

Radman said he has never seen the water running through the river like this. "We're just burning through the snowmelt," he said. "It's truly amazing how fast it is melting."
But the help extends beyond the waterline. Many Guard members in the area are working side-by-side with civilians filling sandbags.

"The civilian volunteers were awesome, but also very thankful we were there," Tech Sgt. Michele Lyster, a member of the 153rd Security Forces Squadron, said. "They really have stepped up and worked hard to give a hand to their community."

She said she has seen little kids, Boy Scouts, college students, and many other people from different walks of life out at the sandbag site volunteering.

While success against Mother Nature is never a guarantee, the teamwork taking place between the deployed Guard members and community of Fremont County certainly should give it a better chance.