Posts From October, 2015

From fires to floods, Texas National Guard helicopter crews are always ready to serve 

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: October 29, 2015

1st Lt. Alicia Lacy  A Texas Army National Guard Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk hoists a member from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1 during a search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014. The joint, interagency exercise simulated emergency response following a hurricane, with members from the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1, the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety integrating to form a joint response team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy/ Released)
1st Lt. Alicia Lacy 
A Texas Army National Guard Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk hoists a member from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1 during a search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014. The joint, interagency exercise simulated emergency response following a hurricane, with members from the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1, the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety integrating to form a joint response team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy/ Released)

AUSTIN, Texas - After six days of fighting wildfires, Texas Army National Guardsman Sgt. Steven Nesbitt thought he was going home. Then the call came in – they were needed for floods.

“There’s not much to think about when the call comes in,” said Nesbitt, a helicopter crew chief and standardization instructor with the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “Just get your assets ready.”

Texas Guardsmen supported a total of seven wildfires in central Texas, Oct. 15-20, 2015, dropping more than 1 million gallons of water on the fires and saving hundreds of homes from destruction. As quickly as the fires had come, they were gone. 

The day after the fires, it rained so much that several areas in Texas experienced flash flooding. 

Switching gears from firefighting to swift water rescue operations, the same pilots and aircraft took to the skies, once again, to support local first responders and serve Texans in their time of need.

“The Department of Emergency Management calls us whenever the local and state resources are exhausted and need extra help, whether it be fire, floods or hurricanes,” said Col. Michael Dye, commander of the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility, Texas Army National Guard. 

Defense support to civilian authorities is the official title the military uses when referring to this type of mission. Each National Guard unit has both a DSCA mission, working alongside local, state and federal partners to support domestic operations, and a combat mission. 

Primarily, these guardsmen train to support Texans at home during wildfires, hurricanes and flash flooding, as well as, combat operations overseas; they even support the Department of Homeland Security with aerial interdiction along the Texas-Mexico border. 

“We are constantly training throughout the year in order to remain proficient in these mission sets,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Cordero, a pilot for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “So when we have an incident like we did, where we are fighting fires and the mission set changes and it’s time to go and respond to a flood event, we’re ready, that’s what we do.”

The combat aviation unit is equipped with several types of aircraft, UH-60 Blackhawks, CH-47 Chinooks, LUH-72 Lakotas and AH-64 Apaches, each with different capabilities, but each that can support a variety of missions.

“We bring a valuable dimension to the fire and search and rescue missions,” said Dye. “There are a lot of situations where ground crews cannot get to a location and the only way to get rescuers or fire suppression to an area is with aviation assets.”

Helicopter crews train regularly with first responders from the Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Task Force One. The training the unit does with these and other partners helps prepare them for this diverse mission set. 

“When the call came in to respond to the flooding, we just reset our aircraft,” said Cordero. “We removed the bucket we used to fight fires and our Task Force One partners came in and equipped the aircraft with their rescue basket, medical equipment and anything they needed to rescue individuals from rapidly rising water.”

Training and experienced helicopter crews work together to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

“My crews bring a high level of experience and dedication to mission accomplishment,” said Dye. “They have learned over the years to anticipate when events will occur and are prepared when the call comes in for support.”

And even though it doesn’t happen every year, crew members say battling different natural disasters back to back is not unheard of in Texas.

“In 2005, we were on the way home from fighting fires in the Davis Mountains, out in west Texas, and we got moved to respond to Hurricane Rita,” said Nesbitt. “Texas is a big state to protect – a lot of dry areas and a lot of wet areas.”

But regardless of what Mother Nature throws at Texas, the men and women of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade say they are ready to support.

“We are strategically located throughout the state in order to respond to that DSCA mission, wherever it may be,” said Cordero.

Providing this support to local first responders and helping their fellow Texans is what drives most guardsmen said Nesbitt.

“That’s what motivates us,” he said. “Protecting the citizens of Texas.”

Thursday, October 29, 2015 8:23:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

36th Division and the Choctow Code Talkers 

Native Americans who were a part of the 36th DivisionPhoto and Commentary by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

The normal individual would never link Native Americans to World War I. And for Texas Military Department members, most don’t know the history of Native Americans who were a part of the 36th Division. During a brief program at Camp Mabry Oct. 21, Robert Bass, program director for the Great Promise for American Indians, and Sandy Duncan, a volunteer for the organization, told the history of Native Americans in the U.S. and their military contributions through storytelling and traditional Native American songs.
The TMD members learned of the Choctaw Indian Code Talkers of World War I. A group of 19 code talkers helped devise a system of communication to transmit messages, which the Germans were never able to decipher. Their contributions during World War I helped establish a standard for code talkers and they forever left their imprint on U.S. and Texas military history.
 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 12:32:00 PM Categories: Blog

National Guard engineers ready to rescue 

Story by: Sgt. Michael Giles

Posted: October 25, 2015

Sgt. Michael Giles  Members of the Texas National Guard's 236th Engineering Company stand ready within Light Medium Terrain Vehicles to engage in flood rescue operations in Huntsville, Texas, Oct. 25, 2015. Members of the 236th Engineering Company, part of the 111th Engineering Battalion, mobilized to Corsicana and Hunstville, Texas, to stand ready to respond to any rescue needs caused by the rainstorms resulting from Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)
Sgt. Michael Giles 
Members of the Texas National Guard's 236th Engineering Company stand ready within Light Medium Terrain Vehicles to engage in flood rescue operations in Huntsville, Texas, Oct. 25, 2015. Members of the 236th Engineering Company, part of the 111th Engineering Battalion, mobilized to Corsicana and Huntsville, Texas, to stand ready to respond to any rescue needs caused by the rainstorms resulting from Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas —"Everybody here, myself included, is ready to do what we have to do," said Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Frawley, a squad leader in the National Guard's 236th Engineering Company. He traveled with his team from Lewisville, Texas, to Corsicana, and then to Huntsville, anticipating a need for flood rescue operations.

Spc. Steven R. Hankins, an engineer who helped rescue upward of 30 people during the storm of May 2015, has a lot of experience with these sorts of disaster missions. He said that they are equipped to rescue flood victims because of how their trucks are built. Their height and weight allows them to navigate in deep and flowing water, and they are airtight enough to almost entirely submerge for up to 15 minutes. They rescue people by driving toward the houses, vehicles, and even trees where they are stranded, and pull them on board.

"We pulled a man out of a tree after water had surrounded his car," Hankins said. "This man popped his trunk, climbed out the back and up a tree. Luckily, we could get to him."

This team of citizen-soldiers, led by 1st Lt. Clayton C. Harrison, consists of military-trained engineers, plumbers, and electricians, many of whom have participated in multiple flood rescue operations.

"Some people really get stuck in jams," said Sgt. Charlie W. Brown. "Sometimes we're the only people who can get to them. I love what I do."

The ability of the 236th to rescue also comes from their readiness to be where they need to be. These citizen-soldiers were called up on Oct. 23, 2015, and activated for days of swift water movements throughout central and east Texas. They traveled to Corsicana the following morning, where floodwater derailed a train and neighboring guardsmen rescued a reported 14 civilians from homes and vehicles.

"We're out here, we're ready and we're prepared," Harrison said. "The people of Texas are much safer because units like the 236th anticipate needs and prepare to respond." 

Later that day, they drove in a convoy of six vehicles to Huntsville, Texas, where they stood by at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in case they were needed. The following morning, it was determined that the risk in Huntsville was low enough that it was safe to depart. 

"We try to minimize risk, but there's always risk when dealing with mother nature," Harrison said. "In the end, it's a good thing we didn't have to go out today."

Sunday, October 25, 2015 8:26:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Guardsmen fight fires in Bell County, save 200 homes 

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Post: October 21, 2015

A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk drops 660 gallons of water on the Comanche Fire in support of firefighting operations in Bell County, Texas, Oct. 19, 2015. Texas National Guard helicopter crews, supporting Texas A&M Forest Service, responded to six wildfires across central Texas Oct. 14-21, 2015, saving hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black/ Released)
A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk drops 660 gallons of water on the Comanche Fire in support of firefighting operations in Bell County, Texas, Oct. 19, 2015. Texas National Guard helicopter crews, supporting Texas A&M Forest Service, responded to six wildfires across central Texas Oct. 14-21, 2015, saving hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black/ Released)

BELTON, Texas – Texas Guardsmen helped save close to 200 homes, while supporting firefighting operations in Bell County, Oct. 20, 2015.

After almost a week of battling the Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop, four Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawks were rerouted to take on a second fire and support ground troops in suppressing the Comanche Fire, just off of Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

“When we arrived on scene, we knew we needed air support and a large volume of water to fight the fire,” said Rhea Cooper, assistant chief, North Branch, Instant Response, Texas A&M Forest Service.

The forest service requested National Guard support and four aviation crews were sent to help.

“We were going out to the Hidden Pines Fire,” said Texas Army National Guard pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “As soon as we landed, we were directed to the Comanche Fire.”

The fire covered approximately 50 acres and was in close proximity of almost 200 homes.

“It wasn’t too big,” said Black. “But it was threatening a lot.”

Ground crews made up of several local fire departments and members of the Texas A&M Forest Service were already on the ground working to put out the fire. As the fire moved through, it left behind hot spots and smaller fires, all of which ground crews were working to extinguish as quickly as possible, said Black. Ground crews also used bulldozers to create firebreaks in attempts to stop, or direct, the fire.

Toward the end of the day, Black’s crew was called to a smoky area on the northeast side of the lake, by the marina.

“There were some really huge flames,” said Black. “We rushed up and were able to put them out; we definitely saved some houses there.”

Cooper estimates that the four helicopters dropped almost 396,000 gallons of water; an effort he claims was instrumental in putting out the fire.

“The Texas National Guard was absolutely necessary to the operation,” said Cooper, who said he was also impressed with the crews’ ability to maneuver their aircraft in such a small space. “Fifty acres is a relatively small space to operate four helicopters and they were able to do it very safely.”

For Texas National Guard pilots, this type of mission is not new. 

A part of the Guard’s mission statement is to provide the governor and the president with ready forces to support state and federal authorities at home and abroad, and they have done just that on many occasions.

“Our unit has been on many fires in the past,” said Black. “And I’ve also been on the other side of it.”

In 2011, Black’s company was mobilized to deploy when the Bastrop County Complex fire hit. Because they were mobilized, that company was unable to support the fire, but fortunately, many other firefighting assets were, to include their sister Texas National Guard aviation companies.

“I live in Bastrop,” said Black. “And those guys saved my house.”

Being able to pass on the favor is important to Black.

“It’s such a good feeling to have your house saved and then to be able to save someone else’s house and property – the feeling is indescribable,” said Black. “It makes me proud to do what I do.”

That feeling seems to be mutual.

“I’m really proud of the hard work our Guardsmen have done all over Central Texas to support firefighting operations and serve our fellow Texans,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, Domestic Operations commander, Texas Military Department.

Helicopter crews responded to six wildfires across central Texas during the week. Partnered with local fire departments and the Texas A&M Forest Service, they helped save hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property.

“It was very rewarding to help – it makes you feel good,” said Black. “Helping people and saving houses.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 8:28:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas National Guard fights Bastrop wildfire 

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: October 16, 2015

Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility helps fight wildfires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)
Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon
A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility helps fight wildfires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)

BASTROP, Texas -- The Texas Army National Guard’s aviation assets joined the fight to help its neighbors in Bastrop County battle a wildfire that ignited Oct. 13, 2015.

Since the initial request Tuesday evening, the Guard supported local officials and the Texas A&M Forest Service to help suppress the Hidden Pines fire that, as of Friday, has burned more than 4,500 acres of land and destroyed about 40 structures.

The TXARNG provided two UH-60 Black Hawks from the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility and two CH-47 Chinooks from Grand Prairie to support fire suppression efforts, with two additional UH-60 Black Hawks on standby from the Guard’s San Antonio facility.

As of 8 p.m. Thursday, the four TXARNG aviation crews flew nearly 50 hours and dropped nearly 700,000 gallons of water that they loaded into their Bambi Buckets from local lakes and ponds.

Bastrop County officials said the fire is 25 percent contained, but weather conditions may change that.

“The fire has spread and the wind has picked up today, so we’re bringing in more assets,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Schmidt, a line pilot from the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility, said Thursday morning.

The scene was too familiar to some area residents, aviators and Texans who remember the Bastrop County Complex fire just four years earlier that burned more than 34,000 acres of land not too far from the heavily-wooded Hidden Pines area where the fire continues to burn.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Drew Segraves, an instructor pilot from the Austin facility, said he remembers crews from the facility who helped battle the 2011 fire.

With the devastating Bastrop County Complex fire still fresh on their minds, TXARNG aviation crews continue to provide aerial fire suppression efforts.

Friday, October 16, 2015 8:31:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

An Astonishing Victory: The legacy of the Texas Military Forces 

Army National Guard gathered in the prolific shadow of the 567-foot San Jacinto MonumentCommentary by LT Zachary West 100th MPAD

LA PORTE, Texas – On a hot, humid morning in late September, the commanding officers of the Texas Army National Guard gathered in the prolific shadow of the 567-foot San Jacinto Monument.  One of the tour guides fished a Kentucky rifle out of his truck and began reviewing the specifications of the venerable nineteenth-century weapon. The temperature seemed to rise several degrees every minute, and with the heat came swarms of hungry mosquitos.

Thus began the annual Texas Army National Guard Commanding General’s Staff Ride. Since the first staff ride in 1906, at the Chattanooga battlefield in Tennessee, these events have served as a powerful and enduring tool to further the professional development of U.S. Army officers. Texas, with its particularly colorful and often violent history, offers plenty of sites to accommodate Army staff rides.

This year’s location holds a special place in the heart of every Texan:  San Jacinto, where Gen. Sam Houston and the last of his embattled Texan rebels mounted a daring and strategically devastating assault against an overextended Mexican invasion force. After just 18 minutes of combat, 11 Texans and some 650 Mexicans had fallen.

Despite this astonishing victory, the true triumph came shortly after:  Gen. Santa Anna, the totalitarian leader of Mexico, fell into Texan hands twenty-four hours later. Chased out of his camp by the Texans’ attack at San Jacinto, Santa Anna donned the clothes of a junior enlisted soldier and went on the run. He was soon picked up by a Texan patrol, but his identity remained a secret until he arrived at a hasty camp for Mexican prisoners.

“He had spent so long inculcating extreme drill and protocol into the ranks of his army,” the tour guide told the commanders, “that his men didn’t think twice about saluting him and calling out his name in front of their captors.” The Texans brought Santa Anna to Sam Houston, who gave the Mexican leader an ultimatum:  Sign a treaty granting full independence to Texas, or hang by the neck from the nearest live oak. After three weeks of negotiation, the disgraced Santa Anna signed an agreement, and the Republic of Texas was born.

One hundred seventy-nine years later, no one would call the Texas Army National Guard an underdog. From the mounted charges of the Mexican-American War to the brutal Comanche ambushes atop the Llano Estacado, from the perilous landing in the Gulf of Salerno to the nighttime raids in Korengal Valley, Texas military and irregular forces have earned a reputation as fearsome, cunning warfighters. Yet, every victory traces back to that warm April morning in 1836, when an exhausted, badly-outnumbered group of rebels managed to defeat one of the greatest armies in North America.

The officers at the staff ride who stood and listened to the history of this battle are the collective embodiment of its legacy. They may have arrived in helicopters and taken digital photos with smart phones, but the reason they wear the uniform hasn’t changed in almost two centuries. Staff rides like this remind them that they might one day be in Sam Houston’s shoes, with the odds never worse and the stakes never higher.  If, or perhaps when, that day comes, they must echo the raw determination and deadly cunning of our Texan ancestors, who, beneath the San Jacinto sky, won the right to call themselves free in a storm of fire and blood.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 1:23:00 PM Categories: Blog

Guardsmen mentor El Salvador, Honduran forces to counter organized crime 

Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego

Posted: October 14, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion stand with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts following their four-month mentorship training program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 1, 2015. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations. (Courtesy photo by Texas Army National Guard/Relesed)
Courtesy Photo 
Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion stand with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts following their four-month mentorship training program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 1, 2015. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations. (Courtesy photo by Texas Army National Guard/Released)

Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion recently trained with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts for a four-month mentorship program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations.

Recently, Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, traveled to El Salvador and Honduras for several missions as part of a joint task force mentoring program with local and national law enforcement.

The missions, held May to September 2015 as part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership, were designed to focus training and mentoring for El Salvadorian and Honduran forces in order to enhance their capabilities to detect, disrupt, and detain persons involved in illicit trafficking within their respective regions. The Texas Guardsmen assisting the effort were designated Task Force Coyote.

“TF Coyote’s particular mission was to facilitate, through instruction, the better development of the intelligence production flow and the analysis of human reporting,” said Capt. Kurt Clawson, the intelligence officer for the 72nd IBCT.

Thirty-seven Guardsmen volunteered to participate in this series of missions, and were selected for their experience and language proficiency crucial to the success of the mentorship program. Many of them have specific experience in U.S. agencies such as Counterdrug, U.S. Customs, Border Patrol, local and state law enforcement, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. These backgrounds contributed immensely to the value of the training. 

“The focus of the overall mission was to develop intelligence training that gave students an overview of the intelligence environment, while practicing their analytical skills,” said Clawson. “The mission requirements varied by country and TF Coyote even differentiated instructional topics between the two trips to El Salvador.”

The task force’s teams targeted key communities and coordinated schedules with the partner nations to maximize the reach and potency of the operation.

“Our teams are well-trained and proud to be representing the Texas Army National Guard in El Salvador and Honduras,” said Lt. Col. Robert Eason, commander of the 72nd BSTB. “We get to learn from each other and these events are a great opportunity for our Soldiers.”

The training focused three main aspects of combating organized crime: Intelligence Support Operations; Surveillance and Reporting Operations and Procedures; and Intelligence Targeting and Superiority. While the main focus was on intelligence, the teams used the U.S. Army’s train-the-trainer approach to not only teach the mentees relevant skills, but also to equip them to be able to teach others in their departments and agencies. 

“Any beneficial CTOC training helps our entire hemisphere and helps relations overall,” said Clawson. “The training was mutual because presenting the U.S. Army way of doing things, you learn how foreign militaries try to accomplish the same mission set.”

The mentees received detailed classroom instruction, scenario-based training, and proficiency certification before moving forward to the next advanced topic. The Guardsmen also shared vital experience in force protection, personnel recovery, anti-terrorism, and medical and casualty evacuation practices.

“Our troops conducting these missions really enjoy the opportunity to work with members of the army of our partner nations,” said Eason. “Very few units get to do this; this training will greatly increase our Soldiers’ capabilities and the capabilities of our partner nations.”

Due to the security situation, Task Force Coyote conducted the training on the Army’s Signal School’s Headquarters’ compound. The culminating training event involved pattern analysis, evaluating summaries, and developing targeting packets.

“The preparation and presentation of even the limited intelligence process allows for good training,” said Clawson. “We always learn better when we are responsible for teaching concepts to others. Through their comments, all the countries respected the training due to the quality of product and presentation provided by the 72nd military intelligence Soldiers.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 8:39:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Rescue conference recognizes TexasGuardsmen with service award 

Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego

Post: October 14, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 receive the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, October 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas. (Texas National Guard Photo by Texas State Guardsman Staff Sgt. Timothy Pruitt/Released)
Courtesy Photo 
Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 receive the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, October 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas. (Texas National Guard Photo by Texas State Guardsman Staff Sgt. Timothy Pruitt/Released)

Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 received the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, Oct. 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.

The Texas National Guard is no stranger to emergency response and community support. From hurricane relief to wildfires, citizen Soldiers have stepped up and served in times of need. Recently, those efforts received special recognition when the 16 crew members of the Texas Guard’s four rescue air crews were honored with the prestigious Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue for their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.

The award, presented during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference, hosted by the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals, recognizes the tireless efforts of the 16 crew members and their interagency cooperation with fellow recipients from Texas Task Force 1.

“This is not an individual award,” said CW5 Matthew B Reynolds, the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Command Chief Warrant Officer. “This is a situation where quality training involving many people and many hours allows the mission to go smoothly. Through coordination, the Texas Military Forces and Texas Task Force 1 are provided funding, time and equipment to become a coordinated "Mission" aircrew.”

The award recognizes excellence in the field of flood and swiftwater rescue and is presented for several categories, including outstanding achievement, program development, special commendation, swiftwater rescue incident, and lifetime achievement. The Guardsmen were honored with the rescue incident award for their late spring helicopter operations.

“Together with Texas Task Force 1 and its rescue swimmers, we train as a crew monthly in preparation for events like the one for which we received the award,” said CW4 John Silva, call sign Alamo 07 and the pilot in command. “Through training and hard work we work as a team responding to incidents that need our services and successfully and safely conduct our operations.”

Although the two units have been involved in independent rescue missions in the past, this was the first real-world demonstration of their coordinated, interagency effort. The results of this partnership were beyond expectations. Together, the teams performed 132 rescues during the flooding period in May. 

“In the 90s and 2000s, the National Guard did not work with Task Force 1,” said Reynolds. “We just placed a rescue net beside the stranded personnel and hoped they could get in. Since then, we have come a long way with the integration between our two agencies. We provide professional, quick reaction aircrews throughout Texas, consisting of highly trained aircrews and rescue swimmers.”

The teams both bring to the table years of experience and expertise that were instrumental in the successes of May’s flood rescues.

“It is important to note that aircrews from Texas Military Forces have been performing these operations in response to natural disasters for many years,” said Silva, “and that countless lives have been saved by professional crews and people both in the air and on the ground. I see this award as recognition for all of the people involved and the decision to put the teams together. I'm honored to be a part of that team.”

The awards presentation was just one event in the four-day conference, held Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at the Century Center in South Bend, Indiana. The annual gathering brings together members from all disciples of the water rescue community to promote safety, training best practices, and risk management.

Also present during the ceremony was Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, the commander of the Texas Military Forces’ Domestic Operations Task Force and senior military officer in charge of the rescue efforts.

"It's a great honor to be recognized by an international organization that looks at swift water rescue efforts around the world,” said Hamilton. "To be that extensively recognized is humbling and shows that Texas is doing all the right things in preparation for future swift water rescue events."

What struck the Texas Guardsmen most was the international attention garnered by their actions and the acknowledgement of just how immense the rescue community is. 

“Because this is a civilian award, it has special meaning to the Military crewmembers,” said Reynolds. “It is job recognition from an entity that is outside our normal channels. Being recognized by the Civilian Swiftwater Rescue community is a memorable event for all of us.”

For the award recipients, who included pilots, crewmembers, and divers, the May floods were simply one aspect of a big picture of what it means to be a citizen Soldier.

“Within 24 hours I had flown an airplane for the National Guard as my duty on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I was flying a UH60 Black Hawk on state active duty for the rescue of an elderly man who would otherwise have died in San Marcos,” said Silva. “Along with Alamo 11, we evacuated more than 20 floodwater victims in Wimberley who were surrounded by water. When I got home to the ranch that night after a long day, I found a cow with a breached calf in a pasture who needed assistance delivering.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 8:33:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard