Posts From April, 2009

Kids participate in Firefighter Challenge


Courtesy Story

With a furrowed brow and tired arms, he carries the fire hose over his shoulder across the line. Once across, he picks up a mallet and begins to pound away at a forced entry simulator. Tired but relentless, the next task brings the individual to a mannequin rescue scene, wherein his strength is tested as he carries the body to safety. Finally, he must extinguish a simulated fire with the precise aim of a powerful pressure hose. Successfully completing the tasks, he greets his family as they praise and cheer for him. This three-year old has just completed the Kid's Firefighter Challenge.

The 2009 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry welcomed dozens of uniformed departments and organizations to show off their service to the community. The Austin Fire Department warmly embraced the youth of the event by putting on a small-scale version of their annual service competition, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

"It's actually a competition that we train for quite a bit," said Scott M. Bartell, lieutenant for Engine 1 of the Austin Fire Department. "It's a fun thing for the kids to see what we do."

Showcasing the American Fire Service while promoting physical fitness for children, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge takes participants through four of the rigorous trials of the real competition.

"[The Firefighter Challenge] was developed as an assessment tool for fire departments," said Bartell. "It simulates our firefighting activities."

The children's version includes a fire hose carry, the Keiser block, which simulates forcible entry, victim rescue with the aid of a mannequin, and a fire hose drag and spray. The adult counterpart additionally includes wear of the full SCOTT Air-Pak breaking apparatus and climbing a five-story tower.

"I like the hammer because I liked to move the big block," said Elizabeth W. Schiesser, 10. "I would like to do it again because I had a fun time."

Jim Key, retired Austin Fire Department captain and coach for the AFD Firefighter Challenge Team, has been working with the competition since its conception more than 15 years ago.

"We brought some of the toys we play with on a daily basis that represent firefighting," said Key. "We want kids to have a good day."

"I like spraying the hose because it's like pulling a trigger on a gun," said Jack H. Waters, 5.

In addition to giving youths the opportunity to perform real firefighter activities, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge also educates children on fire safety, home evacuation during a fire and other safety topics. As an outreach program, it stimulates children to take an active role in their family's fire plan and engages them with related competitions such as fire safety posters and essay contests.

This year's national-level competition for the Firefighter Combat Challenge takes place in Dallas in October with the world competition following in November in Las Vegas.

Search and Rescue Dogs Find Receptive Audience


Courtesy Story

Camp Mabry's American Heroes Celebration this year brought together diverse groups of people from various backgrounds and professions. Uniquely suited to feature a massive gathering of departments and organizations, the weekend-long event combined the related efforts of two offices that have never before worked together, the Austin Police Department Search and Rescue Dog Team and the Travis County Sherriff's Office Dog Team.

During three separate demonstrations on Saturday, these teams came together to educate and entertain the public on the challenges, rewards and techniques of working with trained dogs.

"We start training our dogs the minute we get them," said Matthew W. McDermott, K-9 team head for the Austin Police Department's Search and Rescue Team. "Training is simply a matter of rewarding the [behavior] you want to keep and ignoring the stuff that you don't."

Though a part of the Austin Police Department and found within the 15-man Search and Rescue Team, the three-man K-9 team is not made up of police officers.

"We're an all volunteer team," said McDermott. "We're not sworn officers."

Contrastingly, the officers of the Travis County Sherriff's Office use their dogs in official police situations.

"My dogs are bomb dogs," said Jo A. Carson, a K-9 handler with the county office. "We also search for suspects who may have committed criminal acts."

The demonstration included the APD office describing training techniques and taking the audience step by step through the reinforcement process. McDermott led his Golden Retriever, Ruby, through search games and recognition exercises to highlight the dog's refined skills.

The county office followed with a discipline presentation about how obedient and focused the police dogs are. Darren Jennings, dressed in a protective suit, allowed Hutch, a German Shepherd, to subdue him as he played the role of a suspect. With perfect accuracy, Hutch subdued Jennings on command and immediately let go when the "suspect" began obeying the orders of the enforcing officer, Mike Stanley. True to training, the dog's actions never threaten the life of the suspect, they only serve to detain the individual.

Often misperceived as a violent attack dog, police dogs rarely engage their targets with biting or clawing. The handlers of both offices train their dogs especially for tracking, taking advantage of dogs' naturally heightened sense of smell.

A fan delight by children and adults alike, the search and rescue dog demonstrations brought to the American Heroes celebration a wonderful glimpse into specialized law enforcement.

Vietnam Reenactment Brings Memories, History to Life


Story by Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

While a wide grassy field and a cedar tree "jungle" may be far from the humid jungles of Vietnam, for many visitors to the American Heroes Celebration here April 19, the reenacted ambush was a glimpse into the pages of history, both personal experience and a war some have only read about.

Because of the treatment they received when coming home, "a lot of the veterans retreated with indifference, and sometimes, hostility," said Jeff Hunt, Director of the Texas Military Forces Museum on Camp Mabry and member of G Company Living History Detachment. 

"I haven't talked about it much with my family," said Michael Williams, a Vietnam veteran from Pflugerville, Texas, but "this gave my kids a chance to see a little bit of what it was like there. Not a lot of what it was like, thank God, but a little bit."

For Glen Villoz, from Georgetown, Texas, telling stories of the men like Williams is why he participates in the reenactments. "Instead of coming home heroes, [the Soldiers] were generally shunned," he said, but as the population of Vietnam veterans ages, "they want their story told." 

"What these guys went through when they were 18 or 20," said Villoz, "they never wanted to talk about that stuff with their families." His goal is to make sure these Soldiers are remembered for their contribution to history, not just that they were part of an unpopular war. 

These Soldiers' "service and sacrifice was equal to any other veteran in any other war," said Hunt, but Vietnam was the first war Americans really got to see happen in front of them." "They sat down to dinner...and it was right there." Because of the amount of media coverage, he said, "history can be skewed." 

"Vietnam gets referred to a lot," said Hunt, and it is important to educate people about the causes and effects of the war. Ignoring what happened there isn't the answer, he said, because "if we ignore it, lessons aren't learned and we [as a society] tend to repeat mistakes."

Gabe Ramirez, a resident of Austin originally from Mendocino, Calif., fought in Vietnam, and his son has deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

"Iraq isn't Vietnam," said Ramirez. "My son's war isn't mine, but I want our story told. Maybe I don't like what I remember, maybe I miss my buddies, but I want people to know what we did, and what our war was really like. This is a good place to start."

North Texas State Guard Unit deployed by Governor Perry to assist in aftermath of wildfires

North Texas State Guard Unit Deployed by Governor Perry to Assist in Aftermath of Wildfires
Texas States Guardsmen from the 4th Civil Affairs Regiment, Texas State Guard (TXSG) located in Denton, Decatur and Fort Worth, Texas had an eventful Easter holiday weekend due to the devastation caused by a recent string of wild fires in Montague, Jacksboro and Cook counties, where over 100 homes were destroyed.

Members of the Texas State Guard deployed at the request of its Commander in Chief, the Governor of Texas to team up with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Texas Baptist Men and the Texas Animal Health Commission to name few who were among the 19 organizations in Montague County, offering assistance at the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster Assistance Center (VOADAC).

Many families across the counties were still in shock, trying to sort out how to begin cleanup and rebuilding of their homes. The flames were undiscriminating; others were even less fortunate having lost everything they had to the wind swept flames.

The sight of the Texas State Guard men and women being there rendering assistance and aid in time of need was emotional for many. Frazzled, lost or in need of assistance, they came from various areas, what some have described as a “different planet, scorched and devastated, total despair”.

All of Texas can not help but to stand tall and be proud of these citizen – soldiers who sacrificed their personal time with their families at Easter to answer the call for help from fellow Texans in times of need. “The true meaning of the State Guard’s motto “Texans Serving Texas”.

The Texas State Guard is oldest of three branches of the Military Forces of the State of Texas, reporting to the Governor of Texas and the Adjutant General. The other two Branches are the Army and Air Guard.

TXSG has units throughout the State of Texas, providing Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) by maintaining a highly trained, mission-ready, military force, providing services to state and local authorities in times of State Emergencies and Homeland Security throughout Texas;

MAJ J. Michael Spraggins contributed to this story