Posts From March, 2018

Texas State Guard Builds Partnerships

Story and photos by Sgt. Chris Feriante 
Texas State Guard Public Affairs

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Privates 1st Class . James Little and Lee McWilliams, 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, scan an Emergency Tracking Network (ETN) identification wristband on a volunteer, role playing as an evacuee, and on her dog during a training exercise with Walker County Office of Emergency Management in Huntsville, Texas, February 24, 2018.  The Texas State Guard is trained on ETN which helps to track the location of evacuees and pets during an emergency or disaster.  (Texas State Guard photo by Cpl. Chris Feriante)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – In preparation for the 2018 hurricane season, the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, partnered with local and state emergency management agencies February 24, 2018 to practice and rehearse combined operation capabilities in Huntsville.

The Texas State Guard, in coordination with Walker County Emergency Management, Texas Division of Emergency Management and Sam Houston State University Emergency Management, participated in a joint evacuation exercise to strengthen skills using the Emergency Tracking Network system.  Operating the ETN is one of the Texas State Guard's mission-essential tasks.
    
"We are focused on this exercise as both a training opportunity for our guardsmen to use the ETN system and as an opportunity to build a strong relationship with the Walker County emergency management folks and the Huntsville community," said Lt. Col. Arthur Levesque, 2nd battalion commander.
    
The ETN provides a network to maintain accountability of evacuees throughout a disaster; from the time they board evacuation mass transit, to their arrival at a shelter and finally back to where they boarded the mass transit after a storm.  Each evacuee is given a yellow wrist band which has an identification number unique to each individual.  Family pets, as well as medical and mobility devices are also banded and can be tracked together.    
    
With students from Sam Houston State University acting as evacuees being transported to the Walker County Emergency Shelter, 40 guardsmen from the unit registered evacuees and tracked the role player’s movements from the simulated evacuation site at the university to the shelter.  To make the exercise as real as possible, both pets and medical and mobility equipment were required to be evacuated and tracked.  
    
"The objective of our training today is to give guardsmen hands-on experience using ETN so that we are ready to provide to our fellow Texans effective assistance during an emergency or disaster," said 1st Sgt. Charles Sumner.
    
Walker County Judge Danny Pierce stressed the importance of training with the Texas State Guard and emergency management agencies. 
    
“During Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, we sheltered 150,000 evacuees along the I-45 corridor within Walker County,” said Pierce.  “At that time we did not have a way to track the movement of evacuees.  So we lost people, and we couldn’t find them.  The Texas State Guard turned out in huge numbers for this ETN exercise which raised our comfort level knowing that we have these guys behind us in an emergency.”
    
The Walker County Office of Emergency Management coordinated the exercise which also included the Walker County Community Emergency Response Team, the Walker County Sheriff's Department, Huntsville Independent School District, the Walker County Animal Issues Group and the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.
    
The Atlantic Hurricane season begins June 1st. 

Breaking the Language Barrier: Texas State Guard Utilizes Different Languages to Serve Fellow Texans

Story by Capt. Esperanza Meza
19th Regiment, Texas State Guard Public Affairs

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Sgt. Allen Barnfield, 19th Regiment, Texas State Guard, communicates using sign language with a shelter guest during Hurricane Harvey at Athens Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas, August 27, 2017. (Texas State Guard photo by Capt. Esperanza Meza)

Whether rescuing families and pets from flooded homes, lending a helping hand to parents and children who need a place to sleep in a shelter, or distributing basic necessities and medical care during a natural disaster or emergency, the Texas State Guard knows that communicating with people is vital to every mission. When every minute counts these guardsmen do not want language to become a barrier for getting their fellow Texans help.

Sgt. Allen Barnfield, 2nd Battalion, 19th Regiment, Army Component, decided to learn American Sign Language because he wanted to assist people who could not hear.  Last summer when Hurricane Harvey displaced tens-of thousands of residents, he used his sign language skills to communicate with eleven evacuees at shelters.

“Being able to interpret for the deaf evacuees made me realize how important it is to be able to communicate with them,” he said. “The fact that I could provide them with information through sign language made them feel much better about staying in the shelter.”

Barfield said that he was brought to tears when one of the children he had interpreted for drew him a picture to thank him for making their stay more bearable.

For another member of the Texas State Guard, it was his knowledge of Spanish that helped place a frightened young by at ease when carrying him to a rescue boat.

“If time is of the essence and English skills are limited, providing direction and guidance in their language gives them confidence that we will get their family to safety,” said Master Sgt. Robert Lewis, 3rd Battalion, Texas Maritime Regiment.

While the size and geographic diversity of the state makes it a melting pot, guardsman like Cpl. Zaw Maung of the 19th Regiment, who speaks Burmese, become a critical language asset during times of need. Maung used Burmese with shelter guests at the NRG Stadium in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.  He created signs and gave announcements in Burmese and worked as a translator at a help desk.  
    
“If I had not been in the Texas State Guard, I would not have been in the position to help this community,” said Maung.  Communicating in my native tongue made the Burmese guests feel a little better during a most distressful time because of the hurricane." 
    
During Operation Lone Star, the largest medical humanitarian operation in the country and mass casualty training exercise in the Rio Grande Valley, Capt. Margarita Elestwani, Texas Medical Brigade, assisted patients and physicians through her ability to communicate medical terms in Spanish, Tagalog (Filipino language) and French.  Another Texas Medical Brigade member at OLS, who also speaks Tagalog, Capt. Abram Braza, 2nd Battalion, used his ability to communicate in a Filipino dialect to reunite a lost elderly Filipino man with his family.  
    
Although those with multilingual skillsets help serve fellow Texans, there are times these language capabilities also help communicate with the members of the media and dignitary visitors, further enhancing the delivery of needed messaging. For Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, his Spanish fluency enabled him to serve as an interpreter when a Chilean military delegation observed OLS.  
    
“One member of the Chilean delegation gave me a challenge coin for assisting them and I gave him my Texas flag patch from my uniform,” said Illich. “I was honored to be able to use my fluency in Spanish to assist the Rio Grande Valley community as well as act as interpreter for our Chilean guests.”
    

Texas Guardsmen partner with international allies; improve disaster response skills

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Texas Army National Guard engineers from the 836h Engineer Company, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, work alongside soldiers from the Indiana National Guard, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in support of Operation Toxic Lance, a search and rescue exercise involving a chemical warfare scenario, March 12th – 23rd, 2018, at Training Area Lest in central Slovakia. The soldiers were brought together as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program that focuses on building interoperability and strengthening international relationships through military-to-military exchanges. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Smith)

SLOVAKIA

03.21.2018

Courtesy Story

Texas Military Department

 

Training Area Lest, Slovakia – Seventeen Texas Army National Guard engineers from the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade’s 836th Engineer Company provided search and rescue support and participated in a multinational exercise, Operation Toxic Lance, March 12th – 23rd, 2018, at Training Area Lest in central Slovakia.

The operation brought together chemical and engineer trained soldiers from the Texas and Indiana Army National Guards as well as the Slovakian and Czech Republic militaries, as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program that focuses on building interoperability and strengthening international relationships through military-to-military exchanges.

The Texas-based soldiers are search and rescue qualified and provide real world response to FEMA Region VI as one part of the Texas-run Homeland Response Force, under the command of the 136th. The purpose of this exercise was to participate with and to demonstrate search and rescue skillsets to partnered service members in the Slovakian and Czech Republic military chemical response units.

“We do not have any type of search and rescue units, or soldiers trained in that discipline here in the Slovak Army,” said Lt. Col. Oliver Toderiska, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Battalion commander for the Slovakian Army. “Seeing the Texas soldiers integrated with our chemical response teams, working hand in hand with our own soldiers shows us how we could also use search and rescue.”

While Texas brought refined search and rescue skills, techniques and procedures to the exercise to share with their partners, their Slovakian allies brought experienced chemical experts to share training and response procedures.

The Texas search and rescue team has trained countless hours on simulated exercises, involving scenarios such as accidental and terrorism themed mass explosions, radiation threats and hazardous chemicals. But the main effort during Operation Toxic Lance was a chemical weapons threat and each day a new scenario was presented around that threat forcing soldiers to respond to new challenges.

One scenario presented a lab, run by a terrorist organization that manufactured chemical weapons and released a chemical.
“We’ve worked a lot with how to perform in and mitigate radiation threats, but we haven’t spent a lot of time on weaponized chemical agents,” said Sgt. Myles Merriweather, Texas Army National Guard search and rescue team member. “We can take what we’ve learned here and use it to establish our own TTP’s back home.”

Each service member involved in Operation Toxic Lance went through a scenario where a live chemical agent was used. For most of the engineers that are certified in search and rescue, this this was the first time they were exposed to a live chemical agent. The exercise built confidence in their equipment, proofed the concept of proper decontamination and showed the importance of technical proficiency in a chemical environment.

“The Texas soldiers have come a long way since they first arrived,” said Slovakian Army Capt. Labraska, doctor of Chemistry for the Slovak unit, speaking on the Texas National Guard soldiers’ ability to adapt to new tactics, techniques and procedures. “By the end of Toxic Lance, your soldiers were just as proficient in our TTP’s as our own.”

The Slovak Army has state of the art chemical labs, reconnaissance vehicles, equipment, agents and they are subject matter experts in combating chemical warfare, but have no formal training in search and rescue disciplines.

With the increased threat of terrorism throughout the globe, the Slovak chemical unit is studying how to improve rapid mobilization, response operations and augment rescue efforts in a chemical attack, should that day ever come.

“The Slovak military doesn’t usually practice with its local first responders, nor is there a procedure in place for it, but luckily that’s something that our task force does very well,” said one of the Texas Guardsmen serving as a search and rescue evaluator for the exercise. “What makes our organization so good at working with any entity and in operational constraints, is that we will augment the efforts on the ground and provide whatever support the Incident Commander needs. Even though we are a military unit, we don’t take over an event, we provide the most good for the most people in whatever capacity we’re needed.”

Texas Guardsmen discussed these methods at the National Slovakia Emergency Response Conference, as well as, Slovak Lt. Gen. Pavel Macko, the Deputy Chief of Defense, British Gen. Andrew Garth serving as the military attaché to Slovakia, and a group of military command staff comprised of leaders from several other countries.

“I don’t know how you Guard soldiers do it,” Garth remarked. “How you’re able to have a combat military specialty and also find the time to train on a completely different task such as this, as complicated as this, and be proficient, is beyond me.”

Participating in Operation Toxic Lance was a huge endeavor for the Texas soldiers involved, every day putting on a chemical suit and mask while conducting physically demanding complex search and rescue operations. But the end result was an experience that was once in a military career.

“The training gave me a new perspective on how Search and Rescue operations can integrate into chemical reconnaissance” said Spc. Katty Gracia, chemical noncommissioned officer for the 836th Engineer Company. “Even with a language barrier, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a common goal and the right motivation.”

Story written by Texas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Steven Smith

Texas Guardsmen cultivate multinational partnerships through competition

BASTROP, TX, UNITED STATES

03.03.2018

Story by Spc. Gerardo Escobar

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

BASTROP, Texas — Texas Guardsmen and service members from the Chilean and Czech armed forces battled to earn the title of the 2018 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Feb. 28 - March 3, 2018 at Camp Swift near Bastrop. 

The joint competition provided an opportunity for cultural exchange as well as enhanced military capabilities in a friendly but competitive environment. 

"With our state partnerships, the Czech Republic and Chile, we trade technical expertise, leadership and values on how they may operate and how we may operate with tactics and techniques," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kristopher Dyer, Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Texas Army National Guard.

This year’s best warrior competition brought together 28 candidates who competed in nine rated events that closely imitated real-life and combat situations. 

"Everything within the competition is scenario based to where they would be able to participate in a combat environment or a real-world exercise," Dyer said. "We put them in mental and physical fully blown tests to see how they react under pressure and stress.”

The importance of the relationship between the Texas National Guard, the Czech and Chilean armed forces is being able to predict the thoughts and processes of a partner nation, allowing them to work in unison, Dyer said. 

The inclusion of foreign forces is part of the TMD State Partnership Program, which is partnered with the Czech Republic and Chile. The program facilitates cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level.

For Staff Sgt. Juan Domingo Silva, a Marine with the Chilean Navy, this was his first time participating in a multinational event. 

“The physical aspect has been challenging but we’ve trained for similar events in Chile,” said Silva. 

The competition meant much more than just winning, it meant representing his country and learning to adapt to a different environment and culture, Silva said.

The program provided Chilean service members with a bilingual sponsor to help with the language barrier during the competition. 

“The culture exchange experience has been valuable,” said Texas Army National Guard Spc. Manuel Najera, Alpha Company, 536th Brigade Support Battalion. Najera served as Silva’s sponsor.

“The most challenging part has been adapting to the Chilean-Spanish dialect,” Najera said. 

Sgt. Jan Hronek, a Czech Republic service member also said interacting with other multinational service members increased his cultural awareness.

“This competition has shown me the similarities between forces and how they operate,” said Hronek. “I feel proud to serve and represent my country abroad.”

The competition enabled competitors to refine their skills and learn from their counterparts.

“At the end of the day this is an event that brings Texas together with two separate countries that we are partnered with,” Dyer said. “Together they learn from each other and benefit from training and different techniques and ways that we can lead our Soldiers and operate in the environments that we are in.”

The winner of the competition will be announced at a banquet in April. Competitors from both Chile and the Czech Republic will be invited back for the ceremony.

Sole female competitor battles for "best warrior"

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Photo By Staff Sgt. Agustin Salazar | Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Brown, 273rd Cyber Operations Squadron education and training specialist, Texas Air National Guard, completes the running portion of a physical training test at the 2018 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift March 1, 2018, near Bastrop, Texas. Of the 28 participants who competed from the Texas Army and Air National guards, Brown was the only female competitor. (Texas Air National Guard photo/Staff Sgt. Agustin Salazar)

BASTROP, TX, UNITED STATES

03.02.2018

Story by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton

136th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs (Texas Air National Guard)

 

Of the more than 3,200 Airmen currently serving in the Texas Air National Guard, only eight were selected to compete at Camp Swift as part of the 2018 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition. Among the selectees, Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Brown, 273rd Cyber Operations Squadron education and training specialist, Texas Air National Guard, stood out from her peers chosen to participate. Not just for her skill and abilities in qualifying to represent her unit, but also as the only female competitor overall.

“Competing seemed like a great opportunity,” said Brown. “For me, it wasn’t an imitation factor. I used to be a Marine and I remember every year my commander would send out an invite for individuals interested in the competition. When I saw the email for this year and saw the list of different knowledge responsibilities I went ahead and tried out.”

The Best Warrior Competition consists of several challenges over a period of four days. Competitors are expected to display proficiency in marksmanship, physical and written tests, land navigation, self-aid buddy care and combat-communications. Though not a part of her day-to-day operations, Brown trained for months prior to familiarize herself with competition requirements.

“The ruck has been the most challenging thus far,” Brown said. “I don't think I was as prepared for the last four miles of fatigue, but it’s something you have to learn and power through on your own. The obstacle course was the most fun. It was hard at points, but the competition is about challenging yourself. Getting over the fear factor.”

Brown has more than fifteen years of combined service between the Marines and Texas Air National Guard. Even with deployments to Iraq under her belt, she still lacked all of the experience needed to be successful to compete. After qualifying at the base-level, her unit was instrumental in making sure that she would be a strong contender.

“It [training] exposed me to a different environment in the Guard,” Brown recalled. “To train, we ran tactical air control party obstacle courses, had weapons knowledge training and did 45-pound ruck marches, which was good because I got exposure. Then they had land navigation at the schoolhouse at Camp Bullis.”

The competition is meant to be grueling, with extreme stress and long testing hours. The simulations reflect real-world combat situations and test the tactical and technical skills of the members being evaluated. 

Competing alongside fellow Airmen, Soldiers and state partners provides a unique opportunity to experience completely different ways of accomplishing the mission, Brown said.

“We all serve.” Brown said. “It’s a humbling experience, and being here I hope is an example that will encourage others to participate. I don't back down from a challenge and I’m proud to have been a part of this event.”