Posts From October, 2020

Texas Counterdrug hosts 3rd Annual Red Ribbon 5k virtually

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force hosted its 3rd Annual Red Ribbon 5k Run/Walk virtually Oct. 23, 2020 throughout the state.

The virtual event allowed task force members and other service members from around Texas to participate even with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down group gatherings.

“Our annual Red Ribbon 5k run/walk is a great event to help spread substance use awareness,” said Lt. Col. Erika Besser, the Texas Counterdrug Task Force Coordinator.

Service members from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to Brownsville, from Houston to El Paso sent in their results to show support of the Red Ribbon campaign.

More than 85 people registered for the event posting their times, whether they ran on a treadmill or outside in pouring rain. The fastest time was by Capt. Timothy Ross logging 18 minutes and 23 seconds.

“Even during the pandemic and even if it has to be virtual,” said Besser, “this shows we are still actively working to do our part to "Protect Texas! Stop Drugs!"

The Red Ribbon campaign is in honor of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena who was tragically kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a cartel in 1985.

New partnership brings together Naval and Texas Army Guard aviators

Story by Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

NAVAL AIR STATION FORT WORTH JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas – Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight with agency partners aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter on October 6, 2020.

This flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base in order to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Naval personnel stationed at that facility.

The familiarization flight marked the beginning of a partnership between leadership of NAS Fort Worth JRB; Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the Texas Military Department.

Commander Allen Grimes, Executive Officer for NAS JRB Fort Worth, said that the Chinook familiarization flight has provided him with a concrete view into the Texas Army National Guard’s aviation mission set, and into what operations may look like the Texas Guard’s hangars are incorporated into the JRB.

Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, October 6, 2020. The flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Navy personnel stationed at the facility. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released)
Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, October 6, 2020. The flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Navy personnel stationed at the facility. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released)


The Sailors who participated in the flight were also impacted positively by the experience.

“I was actually very impressed with the capabilities of the Chinook. The low flying, maneuvering through the woods definitely made me feel as if I was on a mission in a movie scene. It was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic Safety Equipment First Class (AW/SW) Bianca Henderson.

This partnership also supports the Adjutant General of Texas’ intent on modernizing the Texas National Guard’s aviation hangar assets. The Texas Army National Guard has been working closely with the leadership of NAS JRB FTW and NAVFAC for over three years to acquire two additional hangars intended to house CH-47 Chinooks.

The hangers include a ramp space which will allow the Texas Guard to establish a rotary wing operations and maintenance capability at the JRB.

“Moving to JRB for the Texas Army National Guard Chinooks means quicker access to training areas, [increased] ability to depart and return under more challenging weather condition, and less restrictive airspace,” said Lt. Col. Chris D. Hanna, 449th Aviation Support Battalion commander.

In addition to providing the Texas Guard with much needed hangar space, the initiative will allow partnerships to grow between the Army aviators of the Texas National Guard, and the Naval Aviation community.

Nurturing this partnership will benefit both services as they work to meet the intent of the National Defense Strategy which relies on “Joint Force military advantages enabling U.S. interagency counterparts to advance U.S. influence and interests.”

Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, October 6, 2020. The flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Navy personnel stationed at the facility. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released)
U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released


Once the two hangars are procured, the CFMO will engage in a nearly $6 million renovation project to expand the hangar depth in order to allow the Chinook’s to comfortably fit. The construction project will also entail adding administrative and support facilities at the hangars in order to facilitate increased operations.

“We anticipate receiving the official licenses for the property before the end of 2020,” said Brian Stevens, the director of planning and programming for the Texas Military Department’s Construction and Facilities Management Office.

“The most important outcome from this event is the partnership that we are building to ensure we will successfully integrate the TXARNG facilities, aviation mission and personnel into the NAS JRB FTW Community."

Credentialing assistance program offers Texas Guardsmen with opportunities for career growth

Story by Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas— The Texas Army National Guard graduated twenty-four students from the University of Texas Project Management Certificate Program, October 7, 2020, during a ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin.

Maj. Gen. Greg Chaney, Texas Military Department Deputy Adjutant General – Army, presented the graduates with certificates to recognize this significant achievement. The twenty-four Soldiers came from across the state to enhance their skillsets through the use of the Army Credentialing Assistance Program.
The Texas Army National Guard graduated twenty-four students from the University of Texas Project Management Certificate Program, October 7, 2020, during a ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin.
Students underwent a rigorous 60-hour course of instruction as well as over 750 pages of reading material and were taught by Col. (ret.) Garry Patterson, a former Texas National Guard officer who now serves as an educational consultant for the University of Texas at Austin Center for Professional Education.

The course usually focuses on corporate project management, but this particular version was engineered specifically for the Soldiers to give relevant examples to projects they would encounter in their military careers.

The Project Management Certificate Program is intended to enhance Soldiers’ project management skills through globally recognized processes and a proven framework for leading and directing projects and teams. The program is industry-driven and takes Soldiers through the essential processes in a logical and sequential way to prepare them to move up in their careers.

With their graduation from this program, the 24 Soldiers are eligible to apply to sit for the PMP certification exam, using their remaining credentialing assistance funds. Once certified, these citizen-Soldiers will be able to successfully manage teams and projects across the Texas Guard, as well as in their civilian jobs.

The Army Credentialing Assistance Program was established in 2019 to provide service members with increased opportunities to expand their skills and experiences, enhancing their ability serve in a multi-domain warfare environment.

The program directly contributes to supporting Soldiers’ professional development, retaining quality Soldiers, and preparing Soldiers for meaningful employment upon transition from military service.

“The credentialing assistance program is an additional tool for Soldiers to develop themselves in technical and practical skills, much like the tuition assistance helps students achieve their educational development goals,” said Mary Lantz, Texas Military Department education services specialist.

“We ensured rigorous COVID-19 mitigation procedures were in place,” such as enforced social distancing, mask requirements, and daily temperature checks,” said Lantz. “It was very nice that in the middle of a COVID-19 environment, we were able to provide some normalcy in a classroom setting where the Soldiers could gain new skills as well as build their networks.”

The benefit from the Credentialing Assistance Program is two-fold – providing service members with tangible skills for their military specialties within the Guard, while also bolstering their ability to perform in civilian careers as well.

The program extends beyond simply funding coursework. The funding is comprehensive and provides every Soldier $4,000 every year said Lantz. These funds can be used for course work earned towards a certification, books and supplies, as well as certification and examination fees.

The program is flexible and allows Soldiers to guide their own learning path through the use of a website called Army COOL, which contains a catalogue of all possible credentialing opportunities and the associated requirements. This system affords Soldiers the flexibility to independently work.

However, in the case of the Project Management Professional program, Lantz explained that the Texas Military Department coordinated the coursework directly with the University of Texas so that all twenty-four students could participate together.

“The Soldiers learned the logic behind project management,” said Patterson. “They performed extremely well.”

Texas Guardsmen satisfy thirst for Lake Jackson

Story and photos by MSgt Lynn Means, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

“We knew we were in a crisis.”

When the water supply of a southern Texas city became tainted and unsafe to drink, the Texas Military Department responded by sending Army National Guardsmen to ensure residents had the water they needed to sustain life.

“Back in September, a little boy lost his life due to a brain eating amoeba,” said Bryan Sidebottom, Lake Charles, Texas deputy emergency manager. “We were trying to figure out what happened, and posted a water advisory. We told everyone the water was not consumable, and to use it only to flush the toilet.”

City officials were faced with the dilemma of ensuring residents had water to drink. Without the free flow of clean water to houses, it was going to be an enormous task.

“We didn’t have enough manpower in the city to hand out water bottles while we continue to provide city services,” said Sidebottom. “It’s a big task, so we requested the Guard.


“Initially we had a do-not-use advisory for the water, then it became a boil water advisory. This meant you could drink it after you boil the water.”

But this still was not a good solution, said Sidebottom, as the elevated levels of chlorine used to disinfect the system caused great concern for the residents.

“We wanted to provide the water to ensure every citizen felt they were being taken care of,” said Sidebottom. “It’s been a very arduous task, but thankfully the Guard came to our aid.”

Texas Army National Guardsmen distribute water bottles to local residents October 8, 2020, at Lake Jackson, Texas. These jumped into action to supply water to residents when a deadly amoeba affected the water supply. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means)
Texas Army National Guardsmen distribute water bottles to local residents October 8, 2020, at Lake Jackson, Texas. These jumped into action to supply water to residents when a deadly amoeba affected the water supply. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means)


31 Army National Guardsmen arrived on the morning of September 27, 2020, bringing water to quench the thirst of Lake Jackson residents. Over a span of nearly two weeks, the team handed out cases of water, talked to residents, and expressed their joy at being able to serve.

“Today we handed out 4,400 cases, and we also hit a little over one million water bottles since we started,” said Private 1st Class Markel Locks, a Texas Army National Guardsman assigned to the team. “Seeing people smile when we gave them water, it meant the world to us.

“That’s the reason why I joined. I wanted to help people.”

Locks said he was struck with the depth of the situation when the team had to move hotels because they could not shower.

“We were a little scared,” said Locks. “Water is a part of life. It’s a part of our body.”

But the outpouring of gratitude from the residents had a positive reaction on all the members.

“We all love being here. Every four cars or so, we got cookies, candies, we got to look at all kinds of dogs - it was beautiful! I really love this town! I’ve been thinking about moving here.”

The mission was not without its risks. Several days into the mission, one of the Guardsmen began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

“We had a soldier experiencing symptoms and started asking about COVID,” said Juan Guerrero, officer in charge of the mission. “We took him to the hospital, then quarantined him at the hotel. Two days later, his test results came back positive.”

The team was taken off mission while they waited in isolation to see if they also would test positive. The state immediately mustered a Quick Response Force to fill the mission’s needs.

“Within six hours’ notice, the QRF was out here,” said Guerrero. “It was really awesome. Next morning at 7:00, they started doing our thing and they kept it up for two days until we got our tests back.

The rest of the team was relieved to receive a negative COVID test within a couple of days.

“We were ready to get back to work,” said Guerrero. “The city of Lake Jackson was a great host. They made sure we had hot meals and no need to eat MREs. They really boosted our morale.”

Sidebottom explained everyone was immensely grateful for the Citizen Soldiers who came to distribute water to their city.

“One resident wrote she could see everyone was happy to do what they were doing, and she could see that through their smiling eyes,” said Sidebottom, grinning.

Texas Army National Guardsmen distribute water bottles to local residents October 8, 2020, at Lake Jackson, Texas. These jumped into action to supply water to residents when a deadly amoeba affected the water supply. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means)His own eyes welled up and he stood a little taller.

“She said it brought tears to her eyes to see their service,” said Sidebottom. “I love that. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

Sidebottom said it takes a special person to serve.

“They’re very high spirited,” said Sidebottom. “They’re motivated. They understand the cause, and they’re always ready to serve.
 

They are Texans serving Texas.

Bent, but not broken: A breast cancer journey

Story by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver, 136th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
 

NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas - “Riddle me this: It feels as hard as a rock, but it can spread like jelly,” said Texas Air National Guard Maj. Adrienne Saint, Logistics Readiness Officer at the 136th Airlift Wing (136 AW). “It’s not edible, but it can eat you.”

The answer?

Saint has a five-year life-changing story to embody the answer: breast cancer.

Saint’s journey began in December 2015 when she went to a primary care physician at Fort Belvoir, Va., to get a routine mammogram. At the time, Saint, 45, was serving her 15th year in the Air Force on an Active Duty tour at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va.

One month later, Saint completed her tour and was back to her normal routine at home in Fort Worth, Texas. She just started a new job at the 136 AW Inspector General’s (IG) office, bought a new house and was awaiting a promotion. She had all but forgotten her appointment until she received a voicemail from Fort Belvoir informing her that her images were “distorted” along with a letter suggesting she seek a follow-up appointment.

It was May 2016 before Saint reached out to make an appointment with her local primary care physician, just shortly before she discovered a lump herself for the first time. When her doctor referred her for another mammogram, Saint shared the message she had received from Fort Belvoir with the nurses.

“My original thought was they didn’t do the mammogram right and my images were just messed up,” said Saint. “And they said, ‘No, that means something is wrong with you… You’re distorted.’”

Texas Air National Guard Major Adrienne Saint, 136th Airlift Wing Logistics Readiness Squadron Officer, smiles in celebration of being cancer-free September 27, 2020, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Saint recently celebrated her fourth anniversary of being breast cancer-free after a full bilateral mastectomy in September 2016. Making an effort to fully understand the experiences and recognize the resilience of those who serve alongside helps build stronger Citizen Airmen. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver)
Texas Air National Guard Major Adrienne Saint, 136th Airlift Wing Logistics Readiness Squadron Officer, smiles in celebration of being cancer-free September 27, 2020, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Saint recently celebrated her fourth anniversary of being breast cancer-free after a full bilateral mastectomy in September 2016. Making an effort to fully understand the experiences and recognize the resilience of those who serve alongside helps build stronger Citizen Airmen. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver)



After the second mammogram came an ultrasound, and then finally the diagnosis: breast cancer.

“Time stood still for a minute,” said Saint. “Those are words you don’t expect to hear. When the doctor left, the nurse kept saying, ‘It’s okay. You can cry. You can breathe.’ But I was just frozen.”

“I had nobody,” continued Saint. “I didn’t know anybody that had ever had breast cancer. I had no support. Once I left the facility, I barely made it to my car. I felt so weak, and I just sat in my car because I couldn’t even drive home.”

Soon after the initial discussion, Saint’s biopsy came back positive confirming the doctor’s diagnosis. She had been keeping her struggle a secret, but she finally began to break the news to her friends and family in August 2016.

“I had my new house, my new job, my grandma passed, and I even had this massive promotion party at work,” said Saint. “So all of this was going on while I’m trying to face this, and nobody knew.”

She also knew it was time to say something to her coworkers. The task, however, wasn’t so simple for her. The 136 IG was a team of all males.

“They were shocked when they found out, but they were understanding,” said Saint. “They all have wives, and some of them have daughters, so I think they had a lot of compassion. But I think as long as I put it out of sight and out of mind, it was out of sight and out of mind for others too.”

The stage-2 cancer was a mutated estrogen hormone that had developed into a slow-growing mass called an Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). After exploring her options with her doctor, Saint opted to have a full bilateral mastectomy that September, followed by four reconstructive surgeries spanning over the next 18 months.

“After five major surgeries in 18 months, I can truly say I’m a rebuilt 1974 Ford Pinto made in Texas,” said Saint.

After her first surgery — the mastectomy — Saint found comfort in simply getting back into a sense of normalcy.

“When I left the hospital that day, I wore a new pair of heels,” said Saint. “Ironically, I don’t like the color pink, but to celebrate, I bought a pair of burgundy-colored heels with a t-shirt that said ’drunk off my t**s,’ and that’s what I wore out of the hospital with my hair and makeup done. And every day after that during my recovery, I got up, I brushed my hair, and I put on my makeup before I left my room. My mom kind of laughed at me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘Why not? This is my normalcy. I can’t do anything else, but if I look in the mirror and look good, then that makes me feel good.’”

While the mastectomy was successful, a complete recovery didn’t happen overnight. It was a lengthy process for the new Air Force major as she worked to overcome not only the obvious physical challenges, but also her internal struggles as she progressed through the reconstructive surgeries.

“The pain doesn’t stop,” said Saint. “It’s a long term thing: the numbness from the lymph nodes being removed, the swelling that comes along with it, the loss of my body parts, and having something foreign put in my body that’s not natural or real. I felt like my womanhood was taken away from me, and it felt like a loss of control of a lot of things. The recovery was hard because of the pain, but I think what was harder was not being able to do anything for myself. I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t even lift. I’ve lived on my own for 20 years, and it was hard to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t even get my own glass of water.”

In between her surgeries, Saint pushed herself by immersing herself in her job. Though her male coworkers in IG were supportive, she was determined not to fall behind and tried to keep a heavy workload as much as she could.

“I was working with all males, and I felt like I had something to prove,” said Saint. “I was trying to prove to everyone that just because this happened, I could still work harder. There was the guilt of leaving work and the fear of getting behind. So I buried myself in my work. I was on leave for so long in between every surgery, and I kept telling myself, ‘I’m in the military and I have to get back to my job.’ Instead of healing, I was trying to rush back to work. But it’s a mourning process, and those are things I didn’t realize at first.”

Saint’s friends and coworkers at the 136 AW recognized her struggle and made efforts to be there for her as much as they could. Several of them were able to bring her lunch during her recovery and check on her at home. The wing commander and Saint’s supervisor visited her at the hospital during one of her surgeries. The Force Support Squadron Airmen even brought over Long John Silver’s because she was craving it.

Saint’s network of friends across the country also found ways to help from afar.

“A lot of my friends are in different states, partly because I’m in the military and partly because I’m originally from California. There are a lot of connections I’ve made throughout the years, and we’ve all stayed in touch. One of my girlfriends in California was able to contact my closest friends through an email I sent previously, and she set up a meal plan for me. I had no idea, but when I got home from the hospital, everyone had signed up to cover two weeks of my meals. My friends from other states ordered from a delivery service, and my local friends brought something over.”

Saint’s last surgery was in March 2018. She just hit her four-year mark of being cancer-free in September of this year. The most emotional part for Saint now is reflecting on how far she’s come since the beginning of her journey. As her bright eyes welled up with tears, Saint had a piece of advice for the past version of herself who felt so alone and exhausted in her battle.
 

Texas Air National Guard Major Adrienne Saint, 136th Airlift Wing Logistics Readiness Squadron Officer, takes a moment to celebrate four years of being breast cancer-free September 27, 2020, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. After her diagnosis in 2016, Saint had five major surgeries over the span of 18 months. Understanding Citizen Airmen and their personal struggles boosts the resiliency of military and civilian Air Force members. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver)
Texas Air National Guard Major Adrienne Saint, 136th Airlift Wing Logistics Readiness Squadron Officer, takes a moment to celebrate four years of being breast cancer-free September 27, 2020, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. After her diagnosis in 2016, Saint had five major surgeries over the span of 18 months. Understanding Citizen Airmen and their personal struggles boosts the resiliency of military and civilian Air Force members. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver)

“I would tell her it’s okay to take time off and heal,” she said. “Everybody kept telling me, ‘You’ve got this’ and ‘You’re strong.’ I felt like I couldn’t feel, and I harbored so many emotions because I was trying to be strong. But it’s okay to feel, and it’s okay to be weak.”

This is also the advice Saint gives to those who reach out to her when their loved ones are going through similar situations.

“The words of advice I give to those people are to let them feel,” said Saint. “If they’re angry, if they’re sad … just support whatever they are feeling and let them feel that. It’s human nature that when someone comes to you with a problem, you want to relate. But it’s important to be a good listener and to let that person talk.”

Though Saint initially kept her struggle a secret, she is now outspoken about her battle with breast cancer in an effort to be a voice of encouragement and support for others who need it.

“The reason I’m willing to share my story is not because I’m asking for sympathy or attention, but because maybe, if I can be brave enough to speak out, this might be my blessing to the next person,” said Saint. “I believe my breast cancer was to be part of some greater good.”

The answer to Saint’s initial riddle is just two small words that don’t express with justice the war stories of Saint and thousands of other women who have or are currently struggling with breast cancer. But her story illustrates a counter to the riddle of breast cancer with two other powerful words: hope and resiliency.

“We’re stronger for it in the end,” said Saint. “It’s our story. Embrace the scars because we have to live with it, and we can beautify it because everyone’s a little bit bent. We’re not broken — we’re all just a little bit bent.”