Wars, hurricanes and floods

Fairfax native Randy Melby serves four decades in places of drama and disaster

Afghanistan traffic often includes a horse-drawn wagon

Story by Fritz Busch / Photos by Fritz Busch and submitted by Randy Melby

Fairfax native Randy Melby has seen a good share of the world with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

After four decades of service, the Montevideo resident has retired from the organization but continues working on the Lac qui Parle Dam project as a quality assurance representative. He worked as the dam manager beginning in 1998 before he volunteered for work in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2005 and 2006.

Melby has volunteered in many other places including a number of hurricanes including Hurricane Marilyn in 1995 in the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Louisiana in 1992, Hurricane Michael in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in 2018, Hurricane Maria that devastated Dominica, Saint Croix and Puerto Rico in 2017, Hurricane Erma that hit Florida in 2017, floods in New Jersey and Arkansas.

“I was able to do a lot of things, go to a lot of places with the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Melby. “If you’re willing to volunteer, you can do that. Everything we do is on a voluntary basis.”

Melby’s backpack features flags from some of the armed forces he served with in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2005-2006.

He was quick to add he would not have been able to do all the deployments without the sacrifices his family made.

Melby was accompanied by National Guard troops in many of his deployments. He volunteered with first responders on natural disasters in U.S. lands overseas.

Much of his service with the Corps was in and around the Lac qui Parle dam, located on the upper Minnesota River, 30 miles east of the South Dakota border, seven miles upstream of Montevideo.

Funded by a $5.7 million contract, recent dam modification and equipment refurbishment project replaces nine sluice gates, which stop water flow with a tapered wedge sliding into groves. A permanent stop log dewatering system was added for sluice gate and concrete inspection, maintenance and modifications without impeding flow through the dam.

The Corps of Engineers includes 37,000 civilians and soldiers delivering engineering services in more than 130 countries around the world. Projects include building and maintaining America’s infrastructure and providing military facilities where U.S. service members train, work and live.

Fairfax native Randy Melby stands in his man cave under an Operation Iraqi Freedom 2004 pennant he received before Retiring from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2020.

Projects include dredging America’s waterways to support the movement of critical commodities and providing recreation at campgrounds, lakes and marinas.

By devising hurricane and storm damage reduction infrastructure, disaster risks are reduced.

The Corps also cleans sites contaminated with hazardous, toxic or radioactive waste and materials.

Randy Melby stands in the middle of a bombed out structure being rebuilt in Afghanistan.

Melby, second from right, poses with his bodyguards during his U.S. Army Corps of Engineers service in Iraq.

Melby, third from right, poses with National Guard troops prior to flying home from Afghanistan.


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