- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Staff Sgt. Matthew Mitzel has patrolled the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq, and now he’s patrolled the Red River in Fargo.

“I’ll take Fargo any day,” said Mitzel, a North Dakota National Guard member and veteran of two tours in Iraq now leading a quick-response rescue team in flood-soaked Fargo.

“It’s the first time in my career I’m not fighting with Iraqi terrorists. I can just help North Dakotans fight Mother Nature. I’m fighting side by side with the people I’m protecting.”

National Guard soldiers were a huge presence in Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., after the Red River rose to a threatening level against the miles of protective dikes. As the water receded, the Minnesota Guard ended its mission around Moorhead on Friday, but the North Dakota Guard kept about 1,200 soldiers on its side of the river.

Military Humvees and helicopters have given Fargo the feeling of an occupied city _ but it was an occupation that residents welcomed.

“It’s nice to have them deal with our sand, not the Iraq sand,” U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., said at the peak of the threat, referring to the tons of sandbags hoisted into place by guard soldiers.

The North Dakota guard deployed a total of about 2,000 soldiers to Fargo and surrounding areas to help with the flood fight. Minnesota sent 650 of its National Guard members to the Moorhead area, and several other Upper Midwest states pitched in with 400 more.

Most of the soldiers in Fargo have been working 12-hour shifts, patrolling in two-person teams to check for leaks in the dikes and guard closed streets.

Staff Sgt. Justin Lampert, 26, is based in Williston, about 330 miles from Fargo, but had been teaching at air assault school at Fort Benning, Ga. He went to college in Fargo, and after seeing the floods on the news he asked his commanders if they would send him to help out.

“The town is near and dear to me,” Lampert said. “It just sucks when you see all your friends helping out, and you’re sitting in 80-degree weather and you’re chilling out.”

Lampert, who was assigned to roadside bomb removal squads in Iraq, led a quick-response ground team in Fargo. They got word of a dike breach last week by Oak Grove Lutheran School and “took off running” in single-digit weather to join the emergency sandbagging at the school.

A member of another quick-response team, Sgt. Carrie Rossow, 28, spent 15 months in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. She said nearly every member of the North Dakota National Guard has served time overseas since Sept. 11, 2001.

Rossow, a tax accountant who lives south of nearby Casselton, said everyone in Fargo was “working toward a common goal.”

“In Iraq, you don’t know who your enemy is and who your ally is,” she said. “There, it’s a surprise around every corner. Here, it’s a familiar element.”

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