COUNCIL BLUFFS — Second Lt. Jennifer Newman is a transportation officer in charge of the Iowa National Guard's Alpha Company of the 248th Aviation Support Battalion.
A typical assignment for Newman is running troops through .50-caliber exercises at a gun range.
But for now, she's in charge of 51 soldiers walking the levees surrounding Council Bluffs. Her troops are responsible for seeing that the citizens of the city remain protected.
"Before I got here, I didn't know what a sand boil was," Newman joked Tuesday as she walked on a levee patrol with two privates north of Veterans Memorial Highway.
They are focused on making sure that any irregularities or defects are marked, logged and the appropriate people notified.
The role of the Guard is finding flaws, not fixing them.
"We are looking for signs of degradation so other agencies can repair them, and the levee will continue to hold," Newman said.
She is responsible for two shifts of patrolling soldiers. One shift runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the other from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. During each shift, the soldiers take two turns walking the levees.
Pvt. Tyler Hulsey said teams of two or three soldiers hit the levees each morning. After eating lunch, they make a second trip down the levees.
Hulsey said he and other soldiers are looking for sand boils, erosion, water seepage and animal burrows.
Newman said all of the soldiers have volunteered for the levee duty.
Hulsey is a member of Newman's battalion, and calls Lorimor home. He works for Fansteel/Wellman Dynamics in Creston, which mainly makes metal castings for the military and aviation companies.
He volunteered for the mission because he knows how important it is.
"We are here to help out in anyway we can," Hulsey said. "It's important because we are here to help keep homes safe."
Hulsey walked on top of the levee Tuesday looking for erosion on the wet side because of the dropping river water, while Pvt. Jesse McCarvel walked on the dry side of the levee, checking for holes and new seepage.
"If you would have asked people in late May or June if the levees would hold until the middle of August, they would have said, 'No way,'" Newman said. "The reason they are still holding is the Guard is patrolling and catching small problems quickly.
"We've impressed on our people that the levees wouldn't hold if they were not patrolling."
It's a mission the soldiers have taken seriously, she said, and the public has supported them.
"We appreciate the civilian support. They have brought us water and Gatorade," Newman said. "We're here for them; our purpose is to take care of them."
So until the water goes down, Hulsey will be walking the levees twice daily. Walking over the same area over and over and over again, taking care of the residents of Council Bluffs.