On July 2, a 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron element leader was in Grand Forks, N.D. preparing for his deployment to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, when he was allowed to return home to Minot, N.D.
Sending an airman home during predeployment training is not typical protocol, but it was a necessity for Tech. Sgt. Paul Burns as more than 4,100 homes were lost in Minot due to a record-breaking flood beginning June 23.
“It was pretty bad, I had to see my house by boat,” said Burns, who is deployed from Grand Forks, N.D. “We have a split-level home and the lower level and most of the main level was flooded, there were some homes that you could barely see the roof.”
“Our yard became a collection point and we had a shed float over and other property from blocks and blocks away,” he continued. “12,000 people were without a home and were living in shelters or with friends, two weeks later there were only 280 who were still living in shelters, that speaks volumes about the city which opened its doors to others. Also there were no causalities or looting.”
Burns, who is originally from Buffalo, N.Y., first arrived at Minot Air Force Base in 1986 as a security forces airman. Later, he transitioned into the Air Force Reserves and remained a cop.
He also works for the Minot Police Department.
“The Minot Police Department was put on 12-hour shifts,” said Burns. “I’ve worked there for 16 years and have never seen us on 12-hour shifts for emergency situations, but everything was bad.”
Minot already had a housing shortage due to a recently found large oil reserve in the western part of North Dakota that has brought many workers to the area.
The Burns’ family, which includes Mrs. Burns and their 11-year-old daughter, were fortunate, because they were among the less than 10 percent of homeowners in the area who had flood insurance.
“Since we had insurance our house will be completely redone, but after that we will either sell or rent our home because we can’t go through this again,” said Burns. “It was hard looking at my daughter’s room where she used to play and seeing it covered with mold.”
The Burns’ house is scheduled to be renovated by December.
“It’s hard to find a contractor because most have been hired by the city to rebuild and clean up,” said Burns. “Luckily I have some contractor friends who will help, but there is still a four to five month wait.”
Meanwhile, his wife and daughter are living with friends, most of their belongings are in storage.
One-third of the population in Minot had to evacuate their homes due to the flood.
“We lived in a beautiful house in a new neighborhood, but now everything is grey and most people aren’t coming back, all because of water,” he continued. “Mostly we’ll miss our friends.”
Although more than 7,000 miles away, Burns is still trying to help Minot.
“I spoke at a 5/6 meeting to give perspective about the airmen at Minot Air Force Base who have lost everything and really need all the donations they can get,” said Burns. “Depending on where you lived in the city, some had to evacuate immediately while others had two days notice, so few people got everything out.”
The Joint Base Balad 5/6 Council is hosting two fundraisers at JBB for airmen at Minot.
Story by Senior Airman Amber Kelly-Herard