Utah National Guard ready to help with flooding despite overseas deployments

Published: Wednesday, May 4 2011 12:19 a.m. MDT

Col. William French talks about sandbagging equipment and heavy equipment on call at Camp Williams.

Tom Smart, Tom Smart, Deseret News

BLUFFDALE — The Utah National Guard is a primary asset at the governor's disposal if spring flooding leads to a call for help, and Gov. Gary Herbert has said several times recently his resources are at the ready.

But Guard units that would be tasked with flood response have also been very active in deployments overseas. About 25 percent of the 600-member 1457th Engineering Battalion is currently in Afghanistan, not due home until mid-July.

Fewer Guard members who would be first in line for flood response are overseas right now, however, than have been in the recent past, said 1457th commander Lt. Col. Scott Burnhope.

Col. William French is the Guard's state director of plans and operations, and a former 1457th commander. "We've got a number of sandbagging machines, and they're spread around the state," he said, pointing to efforts that can be done in advance of the somewhat uncertain potential for flooding that is mostly dependent on the weather at this point in the season.

Equipment has been readied specifically with flood response in mind, Burnhope said, including sandbag-filling machines, loaders and backhoes. "We are preloaded right now with dump trucks. They are fueled and ready to go. The maintenance is done."

Burnhope said the absence of 120 soldiers assigned to the 118th Sapper Company, who are in Afghanistan performing hazardous route-clearance duties, "shouldn't interfere with flood operations in any way."

Members of the 222nd Field Artillery Battalion are scheduled for deployment in June. "That could have some impact on operations, but I don't see it as significant," he said. The 118th is scheduled to return to Utah in mid-July. "Nobody else is deploying until next year."

The 1457th has its headquarters in American Fork with elements in Blanding, Mount Pleasant, Price, Spanish Fork, Springville, Vernal and Salt Lake City. Guard members fill other roles in their communities and may be part of flood relief efforts as part of their civilian jobs or as good neighbors. They would only perform flood response duties as Guard units if called on by the governor, Burnhope said.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com, Twitter: SteveFidel

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