Fighting the Mighty Mississippi

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Johnathon Orrell
  • 126ARW/PA
It all starts with the ring of a phone. The voice on the other end informs you that you have been called upon to do your duty. You must report the next morning in full uniform and you'll get further instructions at that point in time.
You tell your family and friends that tomorrow you have to go and will be back when "the job is done." It's time to put the citizen side of your life on hold and become the citizen-soldier you've been trained to be.
Always ready...Always there - that's the motto of the National Guard. Those words were never more true than when Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich called upon the Illinois National Guard and members of the 126 ARW to protect the lives and property of Illinois' citizens during the 2008 Mississippi River floods.
The first wave of 126 ARW Airmen made their way to Quincy, Ill. to serve with the Illinois Army Guard troops already in place as part of Joint Task Force--North. The Guardsmen found themselves helping secure weakened levees along the banks of the Mississippi River. Members were housed in the gymnasium of Quincy University in Quincy, Ill. while they toiled alongside the residents in the affected areas.
When the rising waters started moving to the south, Col. Richard J. Nyalka, 126 ARW Mission Support Group Commander, was tasked to command the Joint Task Force--South. Headquarters for the JTF-South were established at the Alton Mental Health Center in Alton, Ill. Nyalka and his JTF-South team were responsible for the local Alton area including Jerseyville and Hamburg and eventually moved slightly north to Pleasant Hill while covering areas as far north as New Canton.
"It was amazing to see the Illinois Army and Air National Guard units from throughout the state come together and help out our fellow neighbors in their time of need," said Nyalka. "It really makes you proud to be a member of the Illinois National Guard." 
During the Mississippi River flood of 1993, then Staff Sgt. Mike Nowak found himself sandbagging and working as security forces for the flooded areas. Fifteen years later, now Chief Master Sgt. Nowak, the chief of plans and resources for the 126 ARW Communications Squadron, served as the Command Chief Master Sgt. for the JTF-S under Col. Nyalka.
"It was an honor and a privilege to be able to serve for the joint enlisted forces during the flood of '08," said Nowak. "I felt that this was an outstanding group of forces. Everyone worked together in a seamless transition that allowed us zero injuries and zero loss of life, and that made it a complete success for us and the Illinois National Guard."
Master Sgt. Frank Lamm served as the First Sergeant for JTF-S. He was able to help Soldiers and Airmen during their time on flood duty.
"Serving the Airmen and Soldiers of the Illinois National Guard during flood relief efforts in Illinois has been the most rewarding experience of my military career," said Lamm. "As a First Sergeant, I was afforded the opportunity to serve in a capacity, which allowed me to aid Airmen and Soldiers while they in turn served others."
Although the waters receded and towns have started the tedious task of rebuilding and moving on, mother nature has left her imprint on the face of Illinois. A comforting thought for the affected Illinois communities is that when called upon to do their job, the 126 ARW, along with the rest of the Illinois National Guard, will be there to answer the call.