LUMBERTON, TX, UNITED STATES
Story by Capt. Maria Mengrone
176th Engineer Brigade (TXARNG)
LUMBERTON, Texas – A group of female Texas guardsmen dubbed themselves the “Spice Girls” after helping rescue more than 300 flood victims in Lumberton, Texas. The soldiers are mobilized on state active duty orders in support of ongoing Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
“At first the nickname was a running joke because we were five females running around the town of Lumberton helping people,” said 1st Lt. Mikayla Schulte, environmental science/engineering officer, 136th Military Police Battalion native of Fort Worth. “After we took a picture copying the group we decided it really was a perfect description.”
The five soldiers took a photo replicating an iconic image of the famous ‘90s pop group, the Spice Girls, that helped seal their newly adopted moniker.
The soldiers felt that the pop group closely represented and captured the strength of their all-female team.
“We were messing around trying to come up with names and that’s what stuck; that’s what many of us grew up listening to,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Riley, wheeled vehicle mechanic, 136th Military Police Battalion and native of Berryville.
The group of female Soldiers came together after its convoy was split from their main element due to the rapidly rising flood waters.
Although in the same battalion, prior to Harvey, the five female Soldiers had not worked so closely together. The events that unfolded on August 29, 2017 brought the group closer together.
Initially part of a group of 16 vehicles and 52 soldiers, Schulte’s group was temporarily separated due to mission requirements, with the intent of regrouping by the end of the day.
The entire group had been ordered to move to another city where they would receive a new mission that day.
The flood waters in Lumberton rose two-feet in less than one hour, making a portion of interstate 96 impassable for even the two high-profile military vehicles Schulte commanded.
The flood waters posed a major threat to the convoy and Schulte made the decision to turn around, which prevented her from being able to link back up with the original team.
“By the time our two trucks tried to cross, the water was too high and moving too fast. I ordered the team to back out of the water; it was one of those decisions that I may not have had a chance to take back if I didn’t trust my lead vehicle driver,” said Schulte.
The team of Soldiers, with its two high-profile vehicles, headed back to the Lumberton Fire Department, looking to see if they could help.
Later, the soldiers learned that all roads leading into the city of Lumberton had flooded leaving them separated from the rest of their team, no longer in Lumberton, but making their mission that much more critical.
“We reported to the incident commander and we immediately started to help get as many of the evacuees to dry land,” said Riley.
The group of five soldiers worked tirelessly and assisted in relocating evacuees in a flooded-out shelter to a secondary location with the use of its dump truck and high-water vehicle.
“We loaded families, children, elderly, dogs, cats, birds and everything in between. If we could get it into a dump truck we loaded it,” said Schulte.
The surrounding communities also responded to help the city of Lumberton.
“Boats from all over had converged here to help evacuate people from the flooded neighborhood,” said Schulte.
In total, the five soldiers helped rescue more than 300 flood victims in the span of four days from Aug. 29 to Sep. 1, 2017.
“We are humbled and I want to thank the Lumberton Fire Department. They took care of us for four days. These first responders lost their homes, cars and everything in between but they still were out there saving people,” said Schulte.
The soldiers are assigned to Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade based in Round Rock.
“Once we realized we couldn’t get out, the Lumberton Fire Department went out and got us sleeping bags and pillows,” said Riley. “It was just heartwarming how they welcomed us.”
“It’s amazing how we have come together as a team,” said Schulte. “This experience brought a group of female soldiers together and calling ourselves the ‘Spice Girls’ is our way of remembering our unity and strength in our group, but more importantly it remained us of the human spirit and how even in a time of crisis people are willing to help one another.”
At the request of the Governor, the Texas Guard mobilized more than 12,000 military men and women from the Texas Army and Air National Guards, Texas State Guard to support Hurricane response operations following Hurricane Harvey.