MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kansas --
Senior Airman Colton Vizner, 184th Civil Engineer Squadron, nails roof trusses to supports while reconstructing a group pavilion that was destroyed in the 2019 floods that swept through Kansas. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
Flooding occurred across the Midwest during the summer of 2019, leaving a piles of debris and millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
Nearly 14 million people in the Midwest and southern states were affected by, what The New York Times called, “The Great Flood of 2019.”
At least one million acres of farmland in nine grain-producing states sustained heavy damage and loss of crop production.
Kansas Under Water
Kansas was among the states that suffered damage and it wasn’t limited to farmland.
Many lakes and campgrounds were shut down due to high waters and dangerous conditions, including Marion and Council Grove Reservoirs.
“The floods started about May 7; we didn’t get out of flood waters until late July,” said Kevin McCoy, assistant park manager for Marion and El Dorado Reservoirs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As the park was trying to recover and rebuild after the May storms, another round of floods hit in early July.
Airmen assigned to the 184th Civil Engineer Squadron use heavy equipment to level the ground and build an erosion control embankment around the new boat dock at Marion Reservoir. The squadron built a new dock as part of the park's repairs from the 2019 floods that damaged parts of Kansas. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
“The massive flood that hit us July 4 of last year really set us back,” said McCoy. “Almost 87 percent of it was under water for three months and as people know, you can’t put things under water and have them come out of it in the same condition when they went under, regardless of whether the waters receded or not. Things rust, things corrode.”
The park’s maintenance crew did the best they could, and according to McCoy, they made impressive strides in rebuilding the infrastructure. But with only two full-time employees and a few volunteers, they were looking at a long road to reopening.
“Unfortunately, Cottonwood Point didn’t open last year because it suffered the most amount of damage,” said McCoy.
Airmen assigned to the 184th Civil Engineer Squadron build a concrete platform for the ADA accessible ramp that leads from the parking area to the newly constructed boat dock a Cottonwood Point Campground, Marion Reservoir, Kansas. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
We Put Two-and-Two Together
Then by chance, a visiting camper assigned to the Kansas Air National Guard put two-and-two together.
Master Sgt. Jody Olsen and his wife, Dana, were camping at Marion Reservoir in June when they decided to check out the damaged campground at Cottonwood Point.
“We came over and did a walk through memory lane because we used to bring the kids here all the time,” said Olsen.
Olson is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the electrical shop for the 184th Wing’s Civil Engineer Squadron, stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita.
“As we were walking through, we noticed piles of material,” said Olsen. “We were like, hey, this would be a really good project for us.”
Master Sgt. Billy Smith, 184th Civil Engineer Squadron, nails support beams together while rebuilding a group pavilion that was damaged during the 2019 floods at Council Grove Reservoir, Kansas. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
It just so happened that the 184th Civil Engineer Squadron was looking for a training opportunity to develop construction skills for their Airmen.
Olsen reported what he saw to his squadron leaders and presented a plan to help.
“We reached out to some of our local partners, like the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and we were able to get this to happen in about a three-week timeframe,” said Chief Master Sgt. Homer King, superintendent, 184th CES. “They were able to procure the materials, and we helped them with the construction.”
Tech. Sgt. Carmen Alumbaugh, 184th Civil Engineer Squadron, helps hang roof trusses for a group pavilion that sustain significant damage during the 2019 floods at Council Grove Reservoir, Kansas. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
Kansans Helping Kansans
A labor force of 13 Air National Guardsmen arrived at Marion Reservoir on July 11 ready to work.
They spent that week building a 140-foot boat dock with an ADA accessible ramp.
For some of the part-time Airmen, working on a construction site is different than what they do in their civilian jobs, and building a boat dock was something new for all of them.
Airmen assigned to the 184th Civil Engineer Squadron build a new boat dock at Marion Reservoir following massive flooding that damaged many structures in the campground in 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
“We’ve got people here that, for normal jobs are teachers, construction workers, retail and a lot of them only do this on the weekends,” said Master Sgt. Jarrod Wolf, noncommissioned officer in charge of HVAC, 184th CES. “We also have people who are very experienced in it, they’ve been doing this for fifteen or twenty years.”
In addition to the dock, the team replaced 32 electrical pedestals that power campers and recreational vehicles. They also removed storm debris from campsites and built an erosion control embankment with 300 tons of stone.
Tech. Sgt. Corben Sherwood, 184th Civil Engineer Squadron, repairs electrical pedestals for camper hook-ups that were damaged by floods at Council Grove Reservoir, Kansas, in 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
“Airmen worked side-by-side, gaining knowledge from hands-on training, while also learning about the functions of other civil engineer career fields,” said King. “Members were introduced to real-life damage caused by a natural disaster, and able to play an important role in the ongoing recovery and rebuilding process.”
“Having a workforce here on hand, where my workforce is normally four on a good day, they’re making incredible progress that would take us a significant amount of time to come up with,” said McCoy.
The Civil Engineers moved to their next construction site at Council Grove Reservoir the following week.
Airmen assigned to the Kansas Air National Guard's 184th Civil Engineer Squadron rebuild an 18-foot by 32-foot group pavilion that was submerged under water during flooding at Council Grove Reservoir, Kansas, in 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
There they removed and rebuilt an 18-foot by 32-foot pavilion that was submerged when the flood waters rose more than 10 feet. They also replaced roofs on nine small campsite shelters and eight electrical pedestals throughout the park.
“All the help that we’re getting from the [Air National Guard] is putting us more than a year ahead,” said McCoy.
Park officials estimate that opening a year earlier than expected will increase the state’s annual revenue by more than $323 thousand.
Campsites at Marion Reservoir, Kansas, were completely under water during the flooding that devastated the Midwest in 2019. Evidence of flooding is shown on the discolored tree trunks, indicating that this picnic area was submerged with the exception of the shelter roof. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)
There was an overall sense of pride among the Airmen from the opportunity to serve their Kansas neighbors.
“It’s awesome that we’re able to do this,” said Wolf.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but at this point, our engineers are loving it,” said King. “This is what they strive for. This is why they enlisted.”
Airmen assigned to the 184th Civil Engineer Squadron place a new roof on a campsite shelter that was damaged by floods in 2019 at Council Grove Reservoir, Kansas. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt McCoy)