FORT SNELLING, Minn. –
After successive spring storms ravaged parts of west, central and northern Minnesota, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. approved two separate disaster declarations in mid-July to help with the cleanup from the flooding.
Once those declarations were approved, members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were called into action. One question stood out: where would the team be located for the initial set up and response?
“Our logistics folks reached out and in coordination with General Services Administration (GSA) identified Fort Snelling as one of the possibilities,” said Brian Schiller, federal coordinating officer, Region V, FEMA. “They looked at a couple other locations, but, boy I tell you what, nobody could have been more welcoming and as easy to work with as the folks on Fort Snelling and then, in particular, the 88th Readiness Division.”
This coordination resulted in Schiller and his team beginning work from Fort Snelling on July 18 and utilizing vacant conference room and office space mere steps away from the Army Reserve’s 88th RD command suite and full-time staff.
“We truly built a partnership. We have an interagency partnership here at the federal level to where we’re using assets that are saving taxpayer money yet also incorporating the infrastructure and response structure that is important to the people of Minnesota,” Schiller said.
That partnership extends both ways. Under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Darrell J. Guthrie, the commanding general of the 88th RD, staff elements and facility coordinators at Fort Snelling were able to work through the process and bring a team of more than 20 FEMA representatives onto the military installation to conduct immediate command and control of the situation and establish a base of operations.
“We coordinated with building manager, David Skavnak, for access keys and parking; Sgt. 1st Class Latonia Nettles and James Zierdt for office keys/access, easels and possible mail room operations,” said Maj. Justin Windschitl, plans/operations officer and Defense Support of Civil Authorities liaison officer, 88th RD.
The FEMA assistance hits close to home for Minnesota native Windschitl as well.
“Personally, providing customer service and assistance to FEMA so that they can help communities across Minnesota who were affected by the weather events gives a sense of pride,” he said. “It’s also personal because growing up along the Minnesota River, we experienced severe flooding in 1997 and 2001, which FEMA played a role in assisting our family.”
With the team firmly in place, they began the process of working with state officials and local organizations to clean up areas across 38 counties and four tribal areas.
“This is state led. It’s federally supported. We are here to federally support,” said Schiller. “It’s locally executed. It’s the citizens and it’s the companies and the utilities and the public works of Minnesota that are actually doing the work. It’s being organized by the state, and we are here to support the state and their requests.”
With an initial base of operations at Fort Snelling, Schiller and his team are looking to establish a Joint Field Office at another location as the response team grows to more than 200 people. But, if the need arises, the team is always welcome to utilize space within the 88th RD footprint at Fort Snelling.
“We could find ourselves in the middle of something that we don’t know that’s out there in the future at a JFO space, yet we still have to conduct business,” he said. “Having that in our back pocket, as a familiar site, a site that we know that has all of the necessities and the infrastructure that we need to communicate and do the job is something that we’re greatly appreciative of for Fort Snelling and the readiness division.”
Windschitl said he is appreciative of getting to see another example of interagency coordination after being part of the 88th RD and Fort McCoy, Wis., response during Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) in 2021.
“OAW as a DSCA operation did help,” he said. “It helped because it provides experience on how to interact with other supporting federal agencies and the process in general. This experience was unique for me because I got to see how the deliberate mission assignment process works/plays out for a DSCA operation.”
As the response continues, members of the 88th RD will assist the FEMA response team in any way they are able.
“This is peanut butter and jelly, this stuff goes together, and we really, really appreciate it,” Schiller said.