Posts From December, 2019

Guard members reflect on 2019, prepare for new decade

By Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith, National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – From cyber missions to training with international partners, supporting the war fight and responding to natural disasters, 2019 was a busy year for the National Guard.

The year began with Guard members helping out during numerous winter storms.

More than 450 New York National Guard members were on duty in January responding to a snowstorm that blanketed most of New York, including New York City. Many of those same troops were back at it when gusting windstorms in February meant clearing debris from roadways and conducting traffic control operations.

In March, massive flooding affected thousands of people in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and other Midwest states, prompting governors to activate more than 340 Guard members. Airmen from the Missouri Air National Guard's 139th Airlift Wing used sandbags to stem the flow of running water, while Soldiers with the Nebraska Army National Guard's Company B, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, used CH-47 Chinook helicopters to drop bales of hay for displaced livestock.

"We pushed hay out of the back of one of our helicopters in order to feed cows that were stranded," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, the adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard. "The floodwaters have trapped the cattle and isolated them."

In Colorado, winter storms came as late as April, and the Colorado National Guard activated 50 members to help first responders with transportation needs, using Humvees to get to hard-to-reach places.

"The [Colorado National Guard] is always ready, always there to assist our neighbors [and] to save lives, prevent suffering and mitigate great property damage," said Army Col. Scott Sherman, commander of Joint Task Force Centennial, which leads the Colorado Guard's response to domestic events.

As winter storms subsided, many Guard units shifted their attention to wildfires.

In May, Alaska Army National Guard fire suppression efforts included water bucket drops from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters while ground troops provided traffic management and evacuation support using Humvees.

"Soldiers are manning traffic control positions 24/7," said Army Capt. Ralph Harris, commander of the Alaska Army National Guard's 297th Military Police Company. "Some folks were asked to leave their homes, but had to return to their homes first to prepare, so our MPs check them in and out for accountability and to ensure people are aware of the unsafe roads for travel."

More than 100 Soldiers and Airmen with the California National Guard's Task Force Rattlesnake cleared out potential fuels, such as dead trees, dry vegetation and other flammable material, throughout the state.

"Everyone's really motivated and excited to be a part of this project," said Army 2nd Lt. Jonathan Green, the officer in charge of a firefighting team with the California Army National Guard's 115th Regional Support Group. "We're excited to hit the ground, make progress and hopefully prevent future fires from happening."

But wildfires and snowstorms weren't the only natural disasters that tested the Guard's readiness. As the active hurricane season arrived, Guard members were primed to respond.

After Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas, Airmen from the Tennessee Air National Guard's 118th Wing provided imagery analysis, including damage assessments, infrastructure reports and identification of potentially hazardous material.

"I am proud of our Airmen for their tireless efforts to respond in the affected areas and from right here in Nashville, Tennessee," said Air Force Lt. Col. Aaron Wilson, commander of the 118th Intelligence Group. "This is what we train for. This is why America has a National Guard: to save lives at home, to fight our nation's wars and to build partnerships."

More than 5,500 Guard members were on duty, positioned to respond in the aftermath of Dorian.

Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, highlighted how Guard members were ahead of the storm as it made its way toward landfall.

"[Guard members] will be poised to work and ready for their communities and states – from the inception of preparation, through the response, through the recovery – until the [local first] responders can handle this without any military assistance," said Lengyel.

But first responders weren't the only partners the Guard had in 2019.

The Guard saw continued growth and activity with the State Partnership Program, a Defense Department priority that pairs Guard elements with partner nations worldwide.

The Nebraska National Guard was paired with Rwanda's military, marking the 78th partnership in the SPP.

"I know that the training opportunities, cultural experiences and professional exchange of ideas that the SPP makes possible will benefit both the Nebraska National Guard and Rwanda for years to come," said Bohac, the adjutant general of the Nebraska Guard.

During the year, other Guard elements worked with their SPP partners.

New York Air National Guard members worked with South African firefighters near Cape Town, South Africa, honing their skills battling brush fires. The effort was part of the partnership between the New York National Guard and the South African National Defence Force.

"It was a great experience to be part of an international partnership and to be able to learn from other firefighters as well as show them what we are capable of," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jodi Ruther, a firefighter with the New York Air Guard's 109th Airlift Wing.

She was pleased to see many women involved in the training.

"Hopefully, encouraging more women to join firefighting [teams] will show that we are just as capable as the men in the world of wildland firefighting," Ruther said.

In Estonia, military police and security forces from the Maryland National Guard participated in Spring Storm, an annual exercise conducted by Estonia's military that focused on convoy security, detainee operations and tactical patrols.

"This is not a typical training environment for the military police detachment," said Spc. Angelique Helkowski, with the Maryland Army National Guard's 290th Military Police Company. "When we train stateside, we do the same things repetitively. This gets us out into nature and relates more to a deployed environment."

For Tech. Sgt. Kevin Miner, a security forces specialist with the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing, working with a mixed group of U.S. and Estonian soldiers meant his squad had to operate more efficiently and effectively.

"Although my squad had never trained together, we were able to mobilize as a team," Miner said. "It was a very easy transition, and we had unit cohesion immediately."

The year also had its share of milestones and anniversaries.

In early June, aircrews from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing, flying two C-130 Hercules aircraft, participated in the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. The aircrew performed seven flyovers in the C-130s and helped airdrop nearly 1,000 U.S. and Allied paratroopers as part of the commemoration.

"This was an incredible opportunity," said Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Brown, the loadmaster superintendent at the wing. "To be involved with something so significant – I never thought that in my career I would get to do something like this. We have some young guys with us, too, and it has been great for them to see what it takes to go into a large exercise like this."

In North Carolina, a Virginia Army National Guard artillery unit took part in a unique live-fire exercise: firing from a waterborne landing craft.

Though artillery crews employed their guns from landing craft during the D-Day invasion in World War II, the tactic has not often been used since that era. 

Spc. Jerrad Nicholson, with the Indiana Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment, leads Soldiers into a room during Slovak Shield 2019, a training exercise in Lešt, Slovakia, Nov. 10, 2019, as part of the Defense Department's State Partnership Program. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Padish)
Spc. Jerrad Nicholson, with the Indiana Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment, leads Soldiers into a room during Slovak Shield 2019, a training exercise in Lešt, Slovakia, Nov. 10, 2019, as part of the Defense Department's State Partnership Program. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Padish)

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Turner, with the Virginia Army Guard's 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, said the unusual setting for the artillery exercise presented challenges.

Every time a shell was fired, he said, the recoil from the shot would displace the howitzer on the landing craft.

"Being on the boat, we had to situate sandbags behind the tires [on the howitzer] as well as the spade," said Turner. "What we've rigged up seems to work."

The year also marked the 30th anniversary of the National Guard Counterdrug Program, which has Guard members working with law enforcement agencies to combat the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.

"This program allows the Citizen-Soldier [and Airman] to support law enforcement agencies down to our communities, making it a solid grassroots initiative," said Army Col. Miguel Torres, the head coordinator for the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force, one of the first units to conduct counter-narcotics support missions with law enforcement. "Guardsmen can help do the nuts and bolts of things and allow law enforcement agencies to put people behind bars."

In July, Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson took the reins of the Army National Guard.

Hokanson, previously the National Guard Bureau's vice chief, said it's the Soldiers who make leading the Army Guard worthwhile.

"With all the changes nearly four centuries have brought with them, what has made the National Guard great remains the same – that's our people," Hokanson said, adding that close to 30,000 Army Guard Soldiers are currently deployed worldwide.

Air National Guard members deployed as well, fulfilling a variety of roles, such as providing tactical airlift throughout the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

C-130 aircrews from the Montana Air National Guard executed nonstop missions flying personnel, equipment and supplies to established bases and austere locations.

"It's a very consistent flow here. But that's the beautiful thing about the C-130 – it can land on short runways," said Air Force Lt. Col. David Smith, commander of the 779th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. "Our flying schedule is extremely busy."

Meanwhile, Soldiers with the North Carolina Army National Guard's 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team operated M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles in the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

"We are here as American Soldiers, one team, to do what our nation needs us to do," said Army Col. Robert Bumgardner, commander of the 30th ABCT. "We didn't come here to sit and watch. We came here to be part of the fight."

While the Guard's support of the war fight continued, cybersecurity activities in Texas reflected a different battle.

"In May, one county – Jackson County – got hit with ransomware," said Army Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard. "It disrupted county services. People weren't able to transfer property, the police doing a background check weren't able to pull up that information."

Texas Guard cyber teams were called in.

"We had people out there within 12 hours to do an assessment on what had happened and to get that county back online," said Norris. "We helped them get to a recovery point where their IT professionals could come in and get the county back to where it could deliver services."

Later in the year, the Ohio National Guard forged ties with the University of Akron to open a "cyber range" – a virtual training ground and testing site to enhance cybersecurity.

"This cyber range for us is a big deal," said Army Col. Daniel Shank, the assistant adjutant general for the Ohio Army Guard. "The cyber threat is changing, and we have to change with it. The military understands the threat, and we've actually changed our doctrine."

Lengyel said the more than 3,900 troops that make up the Guard's cyber element include traditional part-time units and full-time units that work directly for U.S. Cyber Command.

"The Air National Guard always provides two [cyber protection teams], and on the Army side, the Army [National Guard] always provides one, that are continuously mobilized and doing duty for U.S. Cyber Command and the cyber mission force," said Lengyel.

He said the Guard must continue to meet the challenges the cyber domain presents.

"When I first joined the National Guard, cyber was not part of our vocabulary," he said. "Now, it's one of our daily battlegrounds."

The National Guard celebrated its 383rd birthday on Dec. 13, the same day two Army Guard members became the first female enlisted Soldiers to complete the challenging U.S. Army Ranger School.

Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley, a military police officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard, and Army Sgt. Danielle Farber, a medical instructor with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, joined a small group of other women who have successfully negotiated the iconic school.

Farber attributed her success to seeing herself as a Soldier first.

"Come into it knowing you're going to be doing things that every other male that comes through here has to do," said Farber. "Don't come through here and expect any sort of special treatment, because it won't happen."

For Smiley, putting on the Ranger tab meant never giving up.

"My mindset going into this was to leave 100 percent on the table and never have a regret or look back and say, 'I should have pushed harder or I should have done something different,'" said Smiley. "I gave 100 percent. I did everything that I could, and now here I am."

With specialized training options, multiple mission sets and continued deployments, the Guard is an important part of the joint force, said Lengyel.

"Right now, about 40,000 Guard members are serving (overseas) worldwide," he said. "I wish I could visit with and thank every single one. It's an extraordinary force that has contributed more than 1.1 million individual overseas deployments since 9/11."

The Guard continues to stand ready as a new decade approaches.

"It is imperative the National Guard remains an operational force, as part of our Army and Air Force, that helps protect and secure our interests at home and abroad," Lengyel said.

This article was originally published by the National Guard Bureau at:

From the Top December 2019

Words from Brigadier General Greg Chaney

Brigadier General Greg Chaney is the Deputy Adjutant General - Army for the Texas National Guard

As we enter into the holiday season, I want each of you to pause and take time to reflect on what brought you into the profession of arms to begin with. We get so caught up in day-to-day tasks that years can go by in a blink, and we look up in amazement at all that has transpired. This same phenomenon can often result in us getting off track and forgetting where we were going in the first place. Taking time away from work to connect with family and friends helps us reconnect to our roots. It is important to re-discover your motivation to get up and do the good work you do day in and day out. Brigadier General Greg Chaney is the Deputy Adjutant General - Army for the Texas National Guard

If you are a leader in this organization, I want you to encourage your Soldiers, Airmen, State Guardsmen, and civilian employees to reset, and take care of themselves and their families. By the very nature of the environment we operate in, there are no “slow” seasons, no set routine breaks in the tempo of effort. We therefore must create those for ourselves when and where we can. 

Here in Texas we have a deep heritage of military service. Many of us signed up to serve because of this legacy. Following in the tradition of duty to country that we have had demonstrated to us by family members and those we look up to, has led many of us to where we are today. Throughout our history, the Texas Military Forces have consistently remained the most capable and mission ready forces in the Nation.  This distinction is indicative of our hard work and neighborly attitude. When disaster strikes at home or abroad, the Nation turns to Texas for personnel, equipment, and expertise. Thank you for following in the footsteps of our veterans of the generations before us.  It is an honor to serve here with each of you. 

Stay safe out there, take care of each other, and have a happy and healthy holiday. 

Duty Honor Texas 


The First Big Test


Story by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer, Texas State Guard

The Texas Defense Guard, created by the Texas Legislature in 1941 and renamed the Texas State Guard in 1943, was the state military unit responsible for protecting Texas, its people and property during World War II.  With the National Guard federalized, the Texas Defense Guard was on the front line to respond to attacks by foreign enemies, domestic civil disturbances and natural and man-made disasters.  Within a few months of its official existence, the Texas Defense Guard would face its first big test as a defense force.

In the Caribbean Sea near Cuba, a tropical disturbance started brewing on Sept. 15, 1941.  As the storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico, weather conditions were conducive to a tropical depression forming.  By Sept. 21, the storm had grown into a hurricane bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast, headed for Port O’Connor or Matagorda.  On Sept. 23, the storm made an unexpected turn, placing Freeport, Houston and surrounding areas in its path.

Preparing for the hurricane, local authorities along the Texas Gulf Coast began requesting the support of the Texas Defense Guard.  On Sept. 23, the Guard activated 700 members, the first being from the 2nd, 7th, 22nd and 48th Marine battalions and the 2nd Squadron, Aviation Branch.  Battalion and squadron commanders ordered their men to bring their personal sidearms while the Guard would provide Enfield rifles with fixed bayonets and shotguns.  The Texas Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. John Watt Page, instructed all commanders that “their mission is to aid and support in every way possible civil authorities.”

When the hurricane made landfall, bringing rising tides, heavy rain and destructive winds up to 95 mph, Houston officials knew they did not have a sufficient number of policemen, firemen or city employees to patrol the city and protect property and people. On Sept. 23, the mayor and police chief assigned guard members from the 48th Battalion to patrol downtown on foot, ride along in Houston Police Department squad cars or observe from Houston Electric Company buses.  Armed with rifles with bayonets and sidearms, they protected department stores from looters.  At the coliseum, which was a shelter for evacuees, they cleared streets where sightseers caused traffic congestion by driving around staring at evacuees arriving on trucks.  Keeping streets clear around the coliseum was especially urgent because National Guard convoys were bringing soldiers and airmen from airfields and armories threatened by the storm.   

One sergeant-in-charge commended his men for their selfless service during the storm.    “Not one of them flinched from their duty and were eager to step off the bus in water up to their knees to reach their stations of duty,” he said.

The 2nd Battalion patrolled downtown Houston, stood guard to protect people from stepping on downed high-tension wires and broken glass and helped fifty women and children seeking shelter at the Houston Light Guard Armory.  

The 22nd Battalion braved wind, rain and flooding to make dramatic rescues near the Houston municipal airport.  Two guard members drove fifty miles to rescue a woman trapped in her home.  Notified that a family was stranded in a car two blocks from the airport, five guard members went into action.  Combatting the 95 mph wind and tying themselves together, they pushed forward on foot.  As they made their way down the road, they saw a man trying to hold on to a tree branch to keep from drowning in a flooded ditch.  One guard member put the man on his shoulders and carried him back to the airport.  The rest continued on, having to crawl as the force of the wind made walking impossible.  They finally reached the family of nine men, women and children.  They could not take all of them at once.  The guard members made two trips during the rescue, carrying four children on their shoulders on the first rescue and on the second carrying two women and two elderly men while a younger man held on to the ropes of the guard members.  

In another rescue near the airport, guard members received a message that a family was in grave danger as flood waters rushed into their home six blocks away.  Guard members struggled down the road on foot in rain so heavy and wind so fierce that they could not see or breathe.  This rescue team first stopped to rescue a boy and his grandfather who had suffered a heart attack.  Putting the old man on his shoulders, one guard member with the boy holding on to his belt returned to the airport.  Once there, the guard member administered first aid while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  The rest of the rescue team, wading through flooded prairies and roads in waist-high water, found the house and brought the family members to the airport.  In all, the 22nd Battalion at the airport rescued 100 people between Sept. 23 and 24.

The 43rd and 9th battalions in Port Arthur mobilized to stop traffic at the seawall, maintain order in hotel lobbies and protect local schools filled with hundreds of evacuees.  At the Gulfport Boiler and Welding Works guard members kept watch over the shipyards and assisted workers trying to save equipment and materials from flooding waters.  

Although escaping the impact of the storm, Corpus Christi had requested the 28th Battalion to protect downtown and north beach businesses from looters.  Guard members with Enfield rifles closed the Nueces Bay causeway and prevented traffic at the seawall and water gates.

Radio operators from the Texas Defense Guard maintained communications by radio throughout the storm.  At Palacios, 1st Lt. J. C. Johnson of Houston, who served in the radio division, worked throughout the night of Sept. 23 and early morning of Sept. 24 and was one of only a few radios that continuously broadcast along the Texas coast.

On the morning of Sept. 24, the final mission of the Texas Defense Guard was to survey the coast and report back the damage.  The 2nd Squadron, Aviation Branch, received the mission.  Capt. N. E. Meador piloted the first plane to leave any Houston airport for the previous thirty hours.  He flew over oil fields, several towns and airfields, such as Freeport and Ellington Field.  He reported that fields and structures along the coast sustained significant damage and flooding, the road to Freeport was impassable and the town of Kemah was under water.  The second pilot, Capt. W. H. Cocke, flew over Houston and the lowlands, Liberty, Galveston Bay and Galveston.  The third pilot, Capt. Bernie Groce, checked out Kemah because the Red Cross had sent a message that people needed rescuing, but he found no one there.   All pilots relayed reports of total devastation.

The Texas Defense Guard ended its mission on Sept. 24.   In their first disaster response, guard members proved they were ready as a state defense force.  They were proud, and their morale soared.  They had earned the respect of the civilian authorities, local law enforcement and the public.  “I cannot speak too highly of the work of everyone concerned.  If the Texas Defense Guard had not mobilized and contributed their service, we would not have been able to handle the situation alone,” remarked Houston Chief of Police Ray Ashworth.

Texas Defense Guard members were men of selfless service, bravery and dedication to serving fellow Texans during the 1941 hurricane. Those qualities remain in the character and soul of every guard member who serves today in the Texas State Guard.  

Texas Ranger General

Story by Bob Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

In the early days of Texas, the Rangers provided security and rule of law. However, as Texas grew, the Rangers also grew in both size and mission. During the Texas Revolution, the force formalized from a security force for settlers to well-trained soldiers and finally into lawmen delivering justice to an untamed frontier. No matter their role, it was clear: they were a military force. Nearly 100 years after the Texas Revolution, this connection would lead to a Ranger’s first term as adjutant general when Brig. Gen. William Sterling took office.

Texas Adjutant General William Sterling
Texas Adjutant General William Sterling

Born in Belton, Texas, near the turn of the century, Sterling grew up on his family’s ranch. It was there where Sterling learned how to ride, forage and shoot, before enrolling in Texas A&M University for courses in animal husbandry. Studying for two years, Sterling never attained his degree. Instead, he left to put his knowledge to use on ranches throughout Hidalgo County. Sterling had worked toward a life of raising cattle and tending herds. However, Sterling’s career would soon change as violence from the revolution in Mexico spilled across the Rio Grande.

In 1915, as World War I raged across Europe, another war was being waged closer to Texas. Beyond the Rio Grande, violence spread throughout Mexico in a bloody civil war. At the height of the conflict, Mexican forces raided American cities and military outposts, incurring the wrath of the famous Gen. John J. Pershing and his 10,000-man punitive expedition.

As Pershing pushed deeper into the heart of Mexico, hunting Gen. Francisco Pancho Villa, violence continued along the Texas border. There, Sterling found his calling as a scout and reserve member of the United States 3rd Cavalry Regiment and Texas Rangers. Working closely with both groups, Sterling saw firsthand the slaughter of more than 500 Texans at the hands of Mexican troops. As the raids worsened, word spread of the “Plan of San Diego,” a plot that called for race riots between Anglos and Tejanos. These riots were to be ignited by bloody incursions from Mexican seditionists. Supporters of the plan believed the riots would eventually force America to return the Southwestern states to Mexican control. 

Fear of the Mexican reoccupation plot was growing as the Zimmerman Telegram arrived, both at the height of the U.S. march to World War I. The telegram offered Mexico help in conquering most of the Western United States in exchange for allying with Germany and possibly Japan. The plot called for the extermination of all Anglo men over 16 and any Latino that fought against Mexico. Texas’ response to this threat came from a combination of soldiers, rangers and deputized citizens who left nearly 1,000 of the Mexican seditionists dead.  

As the Texas border came under control, the United States prepared to join the European war effort. Sterling, like many Americans, joined this effort, commissioning with the Texas Infantry as a second lieutenant. Though he never served overseas, Sterling's time with cavalrymen on the border helped him prepare newly enlisted soldiers for the war.  

After the war, Sterling returned to law enforcement as the sheriff and justice of the peace of Mirando City, a border town near Laredo. He once again worked alongside the Texas Rangers, whose duties had shifted from fighting Mexican revolutionaries and seditionists to catching bootleggers smuggling liquor across the border. 

“Bill [Sterling] preserved order in an oil town by methods learned from the Texas Rangers and other border officers. On an unpainted pine shake we found a large sign bearing ‘W.W. Sterling, Justice of the Peace, The law of the Tex-Mex,’” described contemporary historian Walter Prescott Webb. “Nearby, stood a boxcar in which the judge held his prisoners by means of a generous length of chain and padlocks.” This method of restraint was called a “trotline.” 

Adjutant General William Sterling poses with his Texas Ranger Captains.
Adjutant General William Sterling poses with his Texas Ranger Captains. 

As crude oil gushed from derricks rising against the bright Texas sky, the call went out for roughnecks seeking “black gold” to move to Borger, a city centered in the Texas panhandle. Though every oil town had its share of card houses and lawlessness, a corrupt city government coupled with a population increase of more than 40,000 people in three months, allowed prostitutes, card sharks and bootleggers to become nearly as common as oil workers. Lawlessness in Borger reached a boiling point when murders and explosions within the city limits had become a way of life.

“Many persons have been killed including several officers and two or three women. Daylight robberies, hold-ups, explosions and bootlegging continued practically unabated,” according to a contemporary Associated Press report.

Sterling arrived under the command of Capt. Frank Hamer, who would later become famous for putting an end to Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s criminal careers in a hail of gunfire. Working with 10 other Rangers, Sterling and Hamer brought the town under control as Rangers arrested 124 men within the first day. Each lawbreaker found himself shackled to a trotline awaiting removal to trial in Stinnett, Texas.  Rangers also targeted vices throughout the city, issuing warnings to 1,200 prostitutes to leave town or face arrest. Liquor, gambling and corruption were additional focuses of the team as it sought to reign in the lawlessness of the city.

“The liquor traffic was broken up, many stills being seized and destroyed, and several thousand gallons of whiskey captured and poured out. 203 gambling slot machines were seized and destroyed,” said Brig. Gen Robert Robertson, the Adjutant General of Texas at the time. “As a result of the demand on the part of the citizens of Borger for administration of the law, the mayor, city commissioners and chief of police resigned, replaced by citizens pledged to uphold laws.”

Sterling’s work in Borger did not go unnoticed. Among other changes, he would promote Sterling to captain, giving him command of the Laredo-based Company D. 

His previous experience on the border allowed Sterling to run an efficient unit far from the headline-grabbing troubles of the booming oil towns of northern Texas. He worked with his Rangers to respect the local population and to be sympathetic to Anglo and Tejano concerns, fairly administering justice. For a time, Sterling seemed to have settled into a job he had always wanted. This changed after the election of Ross Sterling to governor. 

Ross Sterling prepared to take office as the nation was entering the Great Depression in 1931. The economic collapse of the nation would ruin many of his initiatives in the legislature, but the one initiative in which he did find support was strengthening the Ranger corps. 

Ross Sterling had known Bill Sterling for years, having met through Bill’s father. Both men discussed their ancestry sufficiently to decide there was no kinship, a determination that would be important as Ross Sterling prepared to appoint his new adjutant general for the Texas Military.

“I called in William W. Sterling, a tall, colorful Ranger captain, and gave him the names of several men who had applied and asked ‘Whom would you suggest for adjutant general?’ Bill replied that he would like to see Torrance of Fort Worth get it, but he could get along very well with any of those mentioned” said Ross Sterling. “I told him you won’t have to get along with any of them. I’m going to appoint you.”

With that conversation and a state senate confirmation, Capt. Bill Sterling became known as Gen. Bill, the first adjutant general pulled from the Ranger corps since Texas became a republic. If anything signified the unique path of his ascension, it would be his choice in uniform. 

Though he served as a commissioned officer during WWI, Sterling left mandarin collars and olive drab to career Guardsmen. The 6-foot-3-inch Ranger instead donned his trademark gun belt with a revolver inscribed, “Captain Sterling,” on the handle. No stars adorned his uniform; instead he had “GENERAL BILL” stitched above the pocket of his western shirts along with western motifs of bucking broncos or lone cattle. 

Brigadier General William Sterlinlg posing with a rifle at Brooks Field, a former U.S. Army airfield located outside of San Antonio, Texas. Members of the Texas National Guard participated in pilot training for both fixed wing aircraft and blimps in the 1930's.
Brigadier General William Sterling posing with a rifle at Brooks Field, a former U.S. Army airfield located outside of San Antonio, Texas. Members of the Texas National Guard participated in pilot training for both fixed wing aircraft and blimps in the 1930's.

Sterling took office vowing to eliminate politics from the promotion system within the department.  Changes to the National Guard’s structure began with the 1903 Dick Act, giving the organization a standardized promotion system within the Guard. However, the Rangers still primarily promoted individuals under a system patronage and political influence.  Sterling issued regulations requiring all captains of Ranger companies to serve first for two years. He also directed promotions to occur on merit and the reputation of the candidate.

Trouble from oil towns mostly sprang from vices that followed oil booms and roughnecks from drill site to drill site, but July 1931 would see oil producers for the first time fall under the gaze of both the Rangers and the National Guard.

The railroad commission moved to regulate the oil market and implement production limits but found the task impossible without an enforcement arm. Ross Sterling, an oil man before his political election, knew the problems collapsed oil markets would add to the stagnant economy of the depression era. He called upon his adjutant general and informed him it was time to restore order to the oil fields. 

Ross Sterling declared martial law across the oil fields, deploying 1,200 National Guardsmen from the 56th Calvary Brigade to Southeast Texas, led by Brig. Gen. Jacob Wolter, an expert in population control. Gen. Sterling empowered the Rangers to arrest any producers defying orders from Guardsmen to shut down drilling operations.

The deployment of the Rangers was more than enough to enforce the newly issued production limits. Without a single shot fired, Guardsmen secured the largest-known reserve of petroleum in the world at the time. However, this would not last long. Court injunctions issued in response to lawsuits by oil producers found the occupation to be unconstitutional. Therefore, as quickly as they arrived, the National Guardsmen left the area. 

Oil towns would continue to plague Bill Sterling’s time as adjutant general. However, a new foe would soon emanate from Oklahoma. 

Bill Sterling saw his tenure as adjutant general come to a close in 1933. Ross Sterling lost his bid for the Democratic nomination to Miriam Ferguson, and, as a result, the governorship. Though the Rangers began an investigation into claims of ballot stuffing on the part of the Ferguson campaign, Ross Sterling called the investigation off in order to avoid the appearance that he was using the Rangers to influence an election. 

Bill Sterling knew Ferguson’s retaliation for the Ranger investigation into election tampering would be fierce, so he tendered his resignation before she took office. Upon his departure, Sterling’s biennial report to the governor offered some parting guidance about the Rangers’ role in the Texas Military.

“The Ranger service should be taken out of the hands of the adjutant general, who in almost every case is a military man. The military organization of the state has grown to such an extent that the adjutant general should devote his entire time to the military.”

It took another two years for Sterling’s vision for the Rangers to manifest as the force moved from the Texas Military’s control to their new home at the Department of Public Safety. Now part of an official state-sanctioned law enforcement agency, Rangers saw their department grow into a modern investigative force with tools and methodologies at their disposal that their predecessors could only imagine. 

The Rangers left the Texas Military Department, and along with it, they left behind a joint legacy of heroism and the story of Texas’ only Ranger-adjutant general.   

The tombstone of Adjutant General William Sterling


CBRNE Task Force Certifies in Disaster Response

Story and Photos by Andrew R. Smith, TMD Public Affairs


ROUND ROCK, Texas Dec 5, 2019 — A National Guardsmen from the Texas based 136th Infintray Division, CBRNE Task Force, stands a decontamination boundry watch as part of a FEMA certification. These drills are an important preperation for disasters that may occurn in FEMA region 6. (U.S. Army Photo by Andrew R. Smith/Released)

ROUND ROCK, Texas Dec 5, 2019 — A National Guardsmen from the Texas based 36th Infantry Division, CBRNE Task Force, stands a decontamination boundary watch as part of a FEMA certification. These drills are an important preparation for disasters that may occur in FEMA region 6. (U.S. Army Photo by Andrew R. Smith/Released)

ROUND ROCK, Texas, Dec. 5, 2019 – National Guard units from Texas and Louisiana met at the Round Rock Public Safety Training Center for an emergency response training evaluation. The training of the day was a large staged incident that rated the Guard units’ response to a simulated chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear contamination incident. The units had to set up and maintain contamination boundaries, perform search and extraction of crisis actors, decontaminate the actors and provide medical triage care for any injured actors.

ROUND ROCK, Texas Dec 5, 2019 — National Guardsmen from the Texas based 136th Infintray Division, CBRNE Task Force, preform washdown drills as part of a FEMA certification. These drills are an important preperation for disasters that may occurn in FEMA region 6. (U.S. Army Photo by Andrew R. Smith/Released)

ROUND ROCK, Texas Dec 5, 2019 — National Guardsmen from the Texas based 36th Infantry Division, CBRNE Task Force, perform washdown drills as part of a FEMA certification. These drills are an important preparation for disasters that may occur in FEMA region 6. (U.S. Army Photo by Andrew R. Smith/Released)

The Texas-based Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Task Force took part in the training exercise and activated nearly 200 Guardsmen and more than a dozen vehicles as part of the training event.

The exercise was a combined green and white exercise, with the “green” referring to military personnel and the “white” referring to local first responders. Observers graded the National Guard units taking part in the training on the day’s response efforts. The U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command sent personnel to observe and grade CBRNE Task Force’s efforts and rate its level of preparation to respond to a real-world event of a similar nature.

Due to the extensive training and requirements to set up and properly use the decontamination equipment, as well as CBRNE’s unique cooperation with local authorities and disaster response units, the unit has a very high training tempo. Guardsmen in the unit often have to devote additional time to training and certifications such as this one.

“Our unit works with a variety of local agencies,” said Maj. Bradley Smejkal, executive officer of CBRNE Task Force. “Due to these missions, all of our traditional Guardsmen have to balance the green and white mission. We do a lot of extra training including additional annual training, most of which is devoted to cooperating with and being certified by the white side.

“If you can’t protect yourself and your personnel, you’ll become an additional casualty. We are here to help, not hinder, local assets. To assist them, we bring in our own gear and train to meet the local standards.” 

ROUND ROCK, Texas Dec 5, 2019 — National Guardsmen from the Texas based 136th Infintray Division, CBRNE Task Force, check resperators before preforming decontamination drill as part of a FEMA certification. These drills are an important preperation for disasters that may occurn in FEMA region 6. (U.S. Army Photo by Andrew R. Smith/Released)

ROUND ROCK, Texas Dec 5, 2019 — National Guardsmen from the Texas based 36th Infantry Division, CBRNE Task Force, check respirators before preforming decontamination drill as part of a FEMA certification. These drills are an important preparation for disasters that may occur in FEMA region 6. (U.S. Army Photo by Andrew R. Smith/Released)

The scenario utilized numerous crisis actors whose independent actions added realism and chaos to the exercise.

“I learned a lot from the exercise and the presence of the crisis actors. I saw firsthand how civilians under stress can be random and unpredictable,” said Pfc. John Albert Dearing Jr., a member of the unit. “It is important to explain any instructions clearly and keep them updated with the status of the situation.”

By the end of the first day, the task force completed all of the tasks associated with the training. However, the event had more tasks and challenges to follow over the next two days.

The combined training of Texas and Louisiana guard units alongside local responders helps to organize all assets that might respond to a disaster in FEMA region 6, which encompasses much of the southwestern United States. The training was coordinated by the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in coordination with local authorities, in preparation for potential disaster response. The 136th MEB is the brigade-level command for CBRNE Task Force.

Texas Guard's 6th CERFP showcases disaster response

Story and Photographs by Tech. Sgt. Agustin Salazar, 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard

Capt. Gabriela Torres, a trauma nurse assigned to the 149th Medical Det-1, simulates providing medical treatment during the Texas National Guard's 6th CERFP Task Force response evaluation exercise Dec. 7, 2019, in Round Rock, Texas. (Photo Credit: Tech. Sgt. Agustin Salazar)
Capt. Gabriela Torres, a trauma nurse assigned to the 149th Medical Det-1, simulates providing medical treatment during the Texas National Guard's 6th CERFP Task Force response evaluation exercise Dec. 7, 2019, in Round Rock, Texas. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Tech. Sgt. Agustin Salazar)

ROUND ROCK, Texas - Members of the Texas National Guard's 6th CERFP Task Force participated in a disaster response evaluation exercise Dec. 4-8.

The Texas National Guard's 6th CERFP Task Force includes the 149th Medical Detachment-1 and Fatality Search and Recovery Team from the 149th Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard unit headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. This task force includes Air and Army National Guardsmen who may be called on to assist first responders within FEMA region 6 -- Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Lt. Col. Joseph McDaniel, the chief medical officer assigned to the 149th's Det. 1, supervised his team's efforts during the exercise.

"The purpose of this evaluation is to certify that we meet standards for hurricane response and all that entails as it pertains to disaster preparedness," McDaniel said. This particular exercise simulates a disaster caused by an explosion where patients are exposed to chemical, nuclear and biological warfare."

Leaders of the task force conduct these responses at least three times a year, since members may be asked to support first responders during large-scale emergencies. The "C" in "CERFP" stands for CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear), which is an integral part of their "ERFP" (enhanced response force package).

Capt. Jesse Hernandez, a 149th medical plans and operations officer, oversaw the joint task force's planning and integrated operations.

"This exercise highlights the 149th's ability to perform and manage multiple missions," Hernandez said. "It validates to the governor that the 149th is a very important wing to the state of Texas."

The team showcased its response efforts during Hurricane Harvey.

"During Hurricane Harvey, we were pulled out as an a la carte response team," Hernandez said. "We were used as a primary E.R. for a week and a half until they were able to get their power and water running."

Leaders note that another benefit of this task force is the multilayer perspectives it includes. The various members are as diversified as the various job roles they hold within the task force. Some, for example, may hold military jobs that are vastly different from their assigned responsibilities within CERF-P. This military diversity does not always include the additional civilian experience many members have as an added perspective.

"These teams -- it's their passion," said Master Sgt. Kristin Bovinet, an observer, coach and trainer for the National Guard Bureau's Joint Surgeon General's office, as she evaluated the task force during the exercise. "For some of them, it is not their primary duty. There are many who hold other career fields, yet they are still managing to come out here and complete their duties."

Responding to domestic operations and natural disasters while integrating with other federal and civilian agencies is a major part of what a state's National Guard does for the nation's defense, a point not lost on Hernandez.

"Every single component in the CERF-P brings a certain flavor that other components might not be able to provide," he said. "The joint capability brings a more robust capability to the civilian agencies so that we can integrate and have a unified response to any event."

"All the teams come together, and they make it work because they know deep down that lives depend on it," Bovinet said.