VALLEY CITY - A thin clay line of dikes is all that stands between Valley City and the rising waters of the Sheyenne River.
The North Dakota National Guard's 817th Engineer Company has been responsible for watching over the dikes since April 11.
Based in Jamestown, the 817th returned from a year of "trailblazer" duty in Iraq in late 2008. In the desert, the 817th specialized in destroying roadside bombs. Now, their full attention is devoted to preserving Valley City's tenuous dikes.
"As long as we're here, we're going to keep our people on the dikes because we know what we're looking for," said 1st Sgt. Curtis Kaseman, the 817th's top enlisted soldier. Now a Jamestown resident, Kaseman grew up in Gackle.
The 817th has been mobilized for flood duty since March 23, helping protect Fargo from flooding before moving on to Valley City.
"Hot spots and seepages are going to develop more frequently as the water rises," Kaseman said. "If we deal with the seepages before they turn into leaks, we will stay ahead of the ballgame."
Most of Valley City's dikes are made out of clay, and loaded dump trucks are on the move constantly through town carrying fresh clay for delivery to weak spots.
Spc. Dustin Kirschenmann, Fargo, helps man the phones in the unit's tactical operations center, receiving reports from the unit's patrols on the condition of the dikes.
On Monday, his 45th call of the day was about a major leak at a pump site. Kirschenmann received the report and called the dike contractor, telling them they needed to send dump trucks to the site and rebuild the leaky spot. "We're running so ragged we don't even think about it," he said. "We're just doing what we need to do."
Kirschenmann said the job "can be exciting, that's for sure."
There are many wet spots on the inside of the dikes, said Sgt. Torrey Finck, Jamestown, one of the 817th's dike patrollers. "Some of the water is from snow melt," he said. "We look for water flowing out of the dikes and for soft, muddy spots."
A contingency dike behind the area Finck patrols protects Valley City State University. The dike has turned 4th Avenue Southwest into a muddy one-lane road, now used mostly by dump trucks.
Kaseman said this was probably the third time in his Guard career that he had come to Valley City to fight a flood. He said this flood fight was the most serious yet.
"If the water gets into town, it's not going to recede for 10 to 14 days," he said. "A city can't function with 24 inches of water in its business district."