Operation Heartlander Mucks and Saws in Iowa

Jill L. Ferguson

Potential flooding was forecasted for their area, Iowa resident Susan Wipert told her husband, Keith, who was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma on March 14, 2019. Their home was not too close to the Missouri River, but, depending on the season and snow and rainfall, the sunken part at the end of their front yard occasionally filled with water. Keith took emergency leave and got home that night. At around 1:30 a.m. that night, the sheriff “came knocking on our door,” Keith said. “He told us that voluntary evacuation was underway. By mid-day the order was mandatory.”  

Susan’s father helped them move as much as they could into the second story of their home, and then Susan and Keith and their four-year-old daughter, Rylee, evacuated to a family friend’s house in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Then began the painful wait.  

On April 1, Keith applied for a humanitarian reassignment to Offut Air Force Base so he could be with his family. His move became official April 6.  

It took almost a month for the water to recede and for some of the roads to be declared safe enough for the Wiperts to drive to and assess the damage and enter their house on April 13. Their front and backyards were now giant lakes. Rylee’s swing set was mostly submerged. Ducks floated on the water, and fish and frogs jumped, causing periodic splashes. “You could actually fish in our yard,” Keith said, frustration in his voice. 

On April 13, at a local gas station, Keith ran into a disaster response non-profit from Oklahoma. He told them about his family’s situation and how the water had risen to the top of the first story in their house. He asked if they could help them with clean up. But the organization said it didn’t have time and that it’d be leaving to go back to Oklahoma soon.  

Keith felt despair. He turned to the Mills County website looking for an organization that could help them. That’s where he came across Team Rubicon, and so he called. The next day, a Sunday, Team Rubicon had an assessment team meet the couple at the house.  

For two days Keith and Susan had worked to remove photos and any keepsakes from their home. By April 15, they were emotionally overwhelmed and decided to take off the day. On April 16, Team Rubicon’s muck out strike team arrived to help the couple remove all the damaged items from the garage and first-story family room. A TR sawyer team arrived 30 minutes later to dispose of the large dead tree that the river currents had deposited onto the property like a behemoth hollow lawn ornament. 

Wiping away tears throughout the morning, Keith supervised some of the sawyer and muck work, removed things from his house with one of his buddies and loaded them into a trailer. A couple of times he said, “I’m so grateful Team Rubicon was able to get to us.” He had heard from his bank earlier in the day that the couple’s insurance wouldn’t cover the flooding. He was devastated and unsure of what their next steps would be. But he was thankful to the family that was letting their family stay and that TR had helped so quickly.  


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