Posts From April, 2010

Patriots Swear in as US Citizens at American Heroes Celebration 

Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 "Patriotism is voluntary," said former Seaman and politician Jesse Ventura. "It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that  is the result of knowledge and belief."

 One could not find greater patriotism than from the servicemembers who valiantly serve a country of which they are not  citizens. For 15 such veterans, that changed on Saturday, April 17 when the Honorable Lee Yeakel opened a special  session of the US District Court to swear in these incomparable volunteers as US citizens. 

 The ceremony, held during Camp Mabry's 4th annual American Heroes Celebration, took place in front of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Traveling Wall. The wall, which is a precise replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington,  D.C., offered a somber and reverent setting for this significant occasion. 

 "I can think of no more appropriate place for this," said Retired Lt. Col. Donald R. Allen, CEO of the AVTT, who also  served as the distinguished guest speaker for the event. "Our history has taught us that we were founded on the  principle of freedom at any cost."

 The newly immunized citizens came from 13 different countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Russia and Kazakhstan.  Their services included the US Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. The troops, ranging in ages from 19 to 39,  included four combat veterans and eight Texas residents.

 Army Spc. Victor A. Becerra, who was born in Mexico and raised in California, deployed to Iraq twice before even  becoming a citizen. A member of the 36th Infantry Division, he spent his second deployment to Iraq training their police force.

 "What we were doing was overseeing the training of 6th Iraqi division," he said, "to make sure that their forces were  properly trained so they could stand to protect the region that they were in charge of."

 Becerra always felt close to the nation for which he's served for years.

 "I've been an American since I first put on this uniform, ever since I started speaking the language," he said. "I feel just as proud to be a part of this country."

Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, commander of the Texas Military Forces, presented each new citizen with his coin and congratulated them on their achievement.

"It took maybe six to eight months," said Becerra. "That included the studying for the exam for the interview. It's good to know how this country has developed when it was founded back in the 18th century."

"They were defending and protecting and fighting for a country that they weren't even a citizen of," said Allen. "That, my friend, is a true measure of patriotism, these are great patriots. We should be very proud that as a country, there are people that are willing to fight for us to become one of us."

Without a doubt, these brave service members have worked and devoted themselves to the fulfillment of a life of service.

"I've always been an American at heart," said Becerra. "But I could say that today, it's official; I am an American."

Monday, April 19, 2010 11:38:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

American Heroes Re-Enactment Brings History to Life 

Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego 

 The Muster Day reenactment brings to life a time in America's history when the nation was a member of the Allied forces  fighting against Germany in World War II. The annual event, put on by the Brig. Gen. John C. L. Scribner Texas Military  Forces Museum, took place at Camp Mabry in Austin during The 2010 American Heroes Celebration, held April 17 and 18.

 Throughout the two-day reenactment, the period actors camped out in the field in authentic tents.

 "I have been inspired by WWII history since I was a child and my father, who is a WWII veteran," said Matt Rayson,  portraying a field medic in the 36th Infantry Division. 

 G Company, 36th Infantry Division, the main body of the reenactment, along with other living history groups and military  vehicle collectors, built the battlefield and campgrounds of the American Division and their German counterparts. The battlefield was filled with simulated dragons' teeth, barbed wired, bombed out buildings and military pyrotechnics. 

The goal was to remind people of what life was like for Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division in World War II, honor all veterans. The public was also educated on Texas military history with vehicles such as a Sherman Tank, M3 Halftrack, jeeps, German Hetzer, and Kubelwagens. The re-enactors also had authentic uniforms and weapons.

"Veterans appreciate [the re-enactors] being out there, veterans from the 36th have come by time to time," said John Reed, a 36th ID re-enactor. 

The event recreated the attack on the Siegfried Line in March 1945, which was the last line of defense the Germans had before the US entered Germany. 

With the Allied troops in the east tree line and Axis troops coming in by convoy, their encounter began the engagement. With shots fired from rifles and machine guns on both sides, the 36th ID slowly moved forward on the German bunkers and buildings. When the 36th's Sherman tank rolled onto the battlefield, the Germans quickly started using mortars and their own armored vehicles against the US troops. After the 40-minute battle, the 36th ID ended the skirmish by destroying the German headquarters. After the re-enactors performed a quick clean up of the battlefield, the spectators joined them on the field to collect and keep parts of the engagement as souvenirs. 

"If anything's my favorite, it's the old World War II tanks," said Daryl Reif, a spectator of the event. "I would love to see a tiger tank, but those are very hard to come by." 

Daryl, who has attended the event for four years straight, enjoys bringing his six-year-old son each time. "It keeps getting better every year."

Monday, April 19, 2010 11:36:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Following in their Footsteps 

Aaron Black, an Austin native and father to Hal R. Black, watches as his son is assisted by living historian Lee R. Chesney in firing a rifle at the Texas Revolution and Civil War weapons demonstration at the 4th Annual American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry.
Aaron Black, an Austin native and father to Hal R. Black, watches as his son is assisted by living historian Lee R. Chesney in firing a rifle at the Texas Revolution and Civil War weapons demonstration at the 4th Annual American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry.

 

 Story by Officer Candidate Micah Barnes

 As the sky cleared from the dark and hazy morning to a bright and sunny afternoon, the air filled with the smell of fire  and a billowing cloud of smoke. Wind blew away the ominous cloud, revealing a single line of ancient single-shot rifles  used in the late 19th century, hoisted in the air by men young and old.

 Held during the American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, the Civil War and Texas Revolution  weapons demonstration showcased not only weapons of the times, but also post Reconstruction dress, lifestyles and  food of the era. 

 Throughout this event, authenticity was the key message conveyed to all the members of the audience and participants  in the demonstrations. 

 "I feel more or less this is a forgotten time period that is swept over in the history books," said Kevin M. Burke, a native of  League City, who wore his grandfather's uniform and shot a rifle used between 1906 and 1917. "This is my way of trying  to follow in my grandfather's footsteps and get a better understanding of the family history." 

 The weapon's demonstration became an educational piece at one point, once the audience started to become involved  with the "living history" group. They learned how to make some of the common foods that Confederate Soldiers ate such  as hard tack, a hard bread that had a high resistance to spoiling and was used for centuries for land and sea operations  by the military. 

 Another learning point for the on-lookers included how to properly load, aim, and fire the rifles and pistols of their  military heritage.

 "It was pretty intense, my heart was pounding because I knew that the rifles were loud and I did not realize how heavy  they were," said Blake A. Kirk, a sixteen-year-old native of Rockwall. "I almost dropped it after I loaded the rifle."

 The exhibits of the Civil War and the Texas Revolution offered families the opportunity to experience history hands-on.  Several of the audience members crowded to take pictures of their sons and daughters attempting to hold onto the  rifles, while the other adults looked at the living history Soldiers in amazement at how they moved around in the period  shoes and uniforms. 

 "I could never miss this even if I wanted to; my kids look forward to it all year, both days actually." said Austin native Aaron Blake.

Overall, the fun-filled demonstration assisted in boasting the American Heroes Celebration message of remembering and honoring American Soldiers from our past and present. This event educated and bolstered the curiosity for learning about the American past through the audience's hands-on participation.

"This weapons demonstration is amazing, just being able to see all the things people used back in the past is really cool." said Blake. "I'm really appreciative of history to the point I'm thinking of joining a reenactment group."

Monday, April 19, 2010 11:34:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

Search and Rescue Dogs Help to Entertain, Educate Public 

Hernandez holds on as Miletonde subdues a tricky suspect
Hernandez holds on as Miletonde subdues a tricky suspect.

 

Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter

AUSTIN, Texas - "We wouldn't put a dog in a tree in a search event," said Casey E. England of Travis County Search and Rescue. "But we might have a reason for why we would need to put a dog in a harness and raise him up a cliff face."

England and Megan E. Kazda, also of Travis County Search and Rescue, prepared AJ, a Labrador mix, for a rappelling demonstration as part of the search and rescue dog event at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry in Austin. The exhibitions, held April 17, showcased the discipline and skills of search and rescue and police dogs. 

"We all practice rope safety and rappelling," AJ's handler Sean D. Glynn said about his search team. "You also want to get the dogs used to being rappelled down.

"This is part of the initial training where you're just getting them used to being comfortable suspended and moving in a vertical environment," Glynn continued. "I'm going to give him some pieces of bread, and he's going to associate this happy feeling.

"Some dogs, they might scramble at first," Glynn said, while content AJ dangled in his harness from the tree above. "As soon as they get used to being up there, they're just suspended and hanging out." 

"It's cool because he could save me," said Sophie Beilinton, 9, as she reached out to pet the dog after his safe return to the ground.

Despite a light rain earlier that day, dogs from Austin Police Department Search and Rescue and Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit also demonstrated their special skills. 

Matthew W. McDermott, a volunteer with APD Search and Rescue through K-9 Search, began the demonstrations with a word about safety.

"We get out there and we talk to the kids about what to do if they get lost, how to use their heads," he said. "The main thing you want them to know is to stay in one place. Doesn't matter if they're in the woods or if they're in the mall. ... Grab on to something, like a garbage can."

McDermott performed an evidence demonstration with his 11-year old Australian Shepherd mix, Willa. Sniffing out a glove hidden in a row of boxes, Willa lay down when she caught the scent.

"This is her trained alert," McDermott said as he described techniques Willa uses to let him know she's found her target.

Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit showcased their dogs' discipline and focus. Deputy Mike Stanley walked his German Shepherd, Tex, across the parade field. Tex did not hesitate or take his attention off his handler. 

German Shepherd Ryker and Deputy Jo A. Carson apprehended "unsavory character," Stanley, in a bite suit. Deputy Gilbert A. Hernandez and Meliton, another German Shepherd, pulled a stubborn suspect from his vehicle in a demonstration new to the celebration. 

Though police dogs move fast, they do not move with the intent to injure. Ryker and Meliton followed their training and released their suspects when they stopped resisting.

"We spend about 10 hours a day training new dogs," Hernandez said. "Of course it's not 10 hours straight, but we start with obedience and work up from there."

Hernandez said, though Travis County owns them, "essentially, they are our dogs. We spend 10 hours a day in the car while we're working, and then they go home with us. ... It's a 24-hour-a-day job pretty much."

The amount of time these K-9 handlers spend with their dogs creates an intense bond. McDermott pointed this out when he compared search and rescue dogs to police dogs.

"Ours are friendly, lick-your-face dogs," he said. "Theirs aren't. Theirs are trained for protection. They'll take a bullet for their officer if they have to."

While families love seeing the dogs in action, McDermott said the celebration gives search and rescue teams an opportunity to inform people about the dogs, their training and their jobs.

"We love being out here," he said. "The thing I like about it the most is the recognition we get as a team. I'm often amazed at how many folks don't know that Austin even has a search and rescue team."

Saturday, April 17, 2010 11:40:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment conducts drill, locates downed aircraft 

Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment conducts drill, locates downed aircraft
STEFANIE THOMAS
2010/04/10

Sgt. Corey Lewis, of Plano, and Petty Officer Carl Clary, of Madisonville, conduct a side-by-side search of Lake Houston waters in an effort to recover aircraft debris during a training exercise April 10. Both are members of the Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment (TMAR) 1st Battalion Rescue Dive Team.
Sgt. Corey Lewis, of Plano, and Petty Officer Carl Clary, of Madisonville, conduct a side-by-side search of Lake Houston waters in an effort to recover aircraft debris during a training exercise April 10. Both are members of the Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment (TMAR) 1st Battalion Rescue Dive Team.

With ’go-bags’ at the ready all hours of the day and night, and dedicated members prepared to drop their daytime jobs for however long it may take, two hours is all it takes to get the Texas State Guard mobilized in the event of an emergency.

Saturday's drill at Lake Houston’s Anderson Park, the site of the Houston Police Department Lake Patrol in Huffman, took six months of planning, but the scenario was all too real as more than 60 men and women in fatigues and police garb swarmed the shore line and waters of Lake Houston in search of the remnants of a downed Air Force drone plane.

“This is a joint operation between the Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment, the Texas Air Guard, and the Galveston Police Department,” said Solomon Cook, public information officer and petty officer in the Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment 1st Battalion, locally known in his role as Humble Independent School District chief of police. “The scenario is that an Air Force aircraft has crashed into Lake Houston and now we’re attempting to recover the plane and any debris. We actually sank parts of a plane in the lake.”

ALL ABOARD

While divers conducted a side-by-side search of the 58-degree waters, a 3-acre area flanked by a peninsula and far off from civilian fishermen and jet-skiers, Galveston PD Marine Division officers used a side-scan sonar to map the bottom of the lake and pinpoint objects possibly related to the crash. The aircraft debris hidden on the lake bottom was donated by the Lone Star Flight Museum.

“We can see items down there and send divers to determine if it’s the debris we’re looking for,” said John Courtney with the Galveston PD, adding that the $3,000 sonar equipment was only recently purchased with funds raised through DVD sales of Hurricane Ike footage. “In Galveston, we plan on using the equipment to locate bodies, vehicles, sunken vessels, and large pieces of evidence. We get about six to 10 calls like that a year.”

Senior airman Scott Hart has taken up his post on the pier. His public announcement system, a medium-sized loud speaker that generates nearly 40 pre-recorded ultra-loud audio files, can be heard across the lake at homes two miles away.

“We can use this equipment to warn ships, vehicles and people away to keep them from interfering with our mission and for their own safety,” Hart explained. “It can also be used during times of civil unrest, when we might be dealing with a large crowd.”

Also assisting in the search for debris are Charles Ashton and his crew. As a member of the Columbia Center, a regional geospatial service center affiliated with Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Ashton’s job is to generate maps of the area utilizing GIS and GPS - onsite.

“It’s very important to know where things are and to put them in a spatial setting so the commanders in control have all the information they need to make decisions while the event is going on,” he said. “We make the maps right here, in a trailer, with Air Force equipment. We’re completely mobile and self-contained. We have our own power, our own data, and within 10 to 20 minutes, we can be fully operational.”

As Ashton maps the terrain and Courtney monitors the lake bottom, Sgt. Raymond Winkler of the 447th Air Support Group Texas State Guard Security Forces instructs his team to keep onlookers at bay, protect communications equipment and search the ground for aircraft debris during the search and rescue/recovery mission.

“Our team performs security around the perimeter of the scene to prevent unauthorized persons from coming in and picking up souvenirs, since it would be sensitive materials,” he said. “We also protect our assets to make sure it doesn’t walk off. Our airmen come out and we set up the search pattern. We walk that search pattern and any debris we might find is marked. We enter everything in the computer and use the GIS/GPS system to lay out a debris field.”

The crackle of the radio is constant, and the orders come in quick succession. Actors pose as civilians trying to breach security; two young girls are missing their father. The scenario is interspersed with many variables.

“Finding a body, for example, will get the chaplain involved,” said Wayne Hogard, commanding officer for the TMAR 1st battalion. Injuries are also part of the scenario, as are missing persons, and bring out the medical team. “We try to get as many people involved as possible.”

John Hesse, the training and operations officer for the 1st Battalion TMAR, said the planning of the drill involved covering every detail from organizing an incident command system, communicating with the national emergency and military emergency management systems, to ensuring civilian safety and plotting activities.

“The idea is to overwhelm the teams and see how they act under stress,” he said. “The better they train now, the better they will perform when an emergency actually happens.”

NO WEEKEND WARRIORS

Cook said some people may think of the Texas State Guard as “weekend warriors,” but nothing could be further from the truth.

“We are trained professionals,” he said. “And even though you may have a combination of people who work in law enforcement, engineering, or as chemical operators, we all bring our abilities and talents to the table in the best effort of helping our state.”

The cooperation among agencies was inspired by the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, when the shuttle disintegrated over Texas shortly before it concluded its 28th mission during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

“The Columbia disaster was a good guiding force on how things like this need to be done,” said Hesse. “We expanded on that process, created some policies and procedural system on how to get flight plans, utilize the algorithms the Columbia Center has, use information about air speed and altitude to figure out where the aircraft parts should be.”

Hogard said Texas State Guard members serve in a volunteer function until, or unless, the governor of Texas gives orders to deploy the force. Beginning in May, TMAR will be called upon to assist the coast guard, beefing up numbers.

The regiment, Cook said, communicates via e-mail and cell phone. Each member is in possession of a primary and secondary cellular phone. Members are also required to keep a ‘go-bag’ handy at all times, filled with three days worth of supplies, including food, water and clothing.

“We are part of the Texas military system. We are a recognized state agency and we have a monthly drill and training, like the reserves or state guard units,” Cook said. “When an individual decides to participate it’s at least a one-year commitment, and if they have no prior military experience they undergo training. They’re not just handed a uniform.”

Cook said monthly meetings and drills are held at the armory in LaPorte off Spencer Highway. Upon signing up for the Texas State Guard, prospective members are given a choice of participating in the Texas Air Guard, the Texas Army, or TMAR (Texas Maritime Regiment).

Cook, who has served as Humble ISD chief of police for about 6 years and worked for the Humble Police Department for 13 years prior, said he had no former experience in the military when he joined TMAR.

“Personally, I got started through friends,” he said, “wanting to do more to serve our state.” no former military. about 6 years cop, humble 14 years.

Saturday, April 10, 2010 11:18:00 AM Categories: Texas State Guard