Posts From April, 2014

Texas National Guard and partner agencies orchestrate search and rescue exercise

rom left: Melchor Fernandez, Luke Schott and Jeff Keuper from Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1, discuss a search and rescue mission with a joint terminal attack controller from the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance Wing, based at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, Texas
From left: Melchor Fernandez, Luke Schott and Jeff Keuper from Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1, discuss a search and rescue mission with a joint terminal attack controller from the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance Wing, based at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, Texas, during an exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014. The joint, interagency exercise simulated emergency response following a hurricane, with members from the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1 and Texas Department of Public Safety integrating to form a joint response team.

Story by 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy


 CANYON LAKE, Texas – Canyon Lake was their stage.

 The joint team of the Texas National Guard, Texas Taskforce 1 and the Texas Department of Public Safety were the players. 

 The interagency team worked together in a search and rescue exercise April 11, 2014, at Canyon Lake, Texas, with each  entity taking charge of the roles they would play in a real-world emergency response situation.

 While members from the combined response element actively participated in the search and rescue exercise, representatives  from each component were at Camp Mabry, Texas, handling all command and control functions, viewing live feeds of the  action thanks to the set up of the communications Texas Air National Guardsmen from the 149th and 221st Combat  Communications Squadrons.

 This particular exercise was conducted over the course of a week, beginning April 9 and ending April 13, 2014, with Texas  National Guard units contributing their piece throughout the week, from aviation assets to communications capabilities. 

 When a natural disaster or an emergency situation arises, the governor calls all the involved agencies together to respond  and fall under the command of a lead agency.

 “You’ve got a lot of different agencies operating in the same area trying to complete the same mission and each agency  brings its own piece to the puzzle,” said Jeff Deane, a Texas Task Force 1 helicopter search and rescue technician and  Austin firefighter.

 “This is the first time we’ve put all these pieces together with a focus on the aviation side of things,” Deane said. “The piece  that the aviation brings to the search and rescue mission is very valuable. We can cover a lot of area in a short amount of  time, and we see a lot of things the ground crew may not see.”

In addition to linking all the aviation pieces together for the exercise, this was the first time all the interagency partners worked with Tactical Air Control Party members.

“When you think of TACP, you normally think of warheads on foreheads,” said a master sergeant with the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance Wing. “Close air support is our bread and butter, but we’re broadening our horizons as a unit and really getting vested in the domestic operations.”

“(The ASOS element) was absolutely beneficial,” said Chief Master Sgt. Shawna Woods, Texas Air National Guard operations superintendent. “This was the first time Texas Task Force 1, Army aviation and ASOS had eyes on the same focus.”

Woods said the primary responsibility of the TACPs was to de-conflict the airspace, acting in the role of the Federal Aviation Administration. However, in addition to that, the incorporation of the TACPs was a way to integrate an added capability from the Guard.

The goal of the exercise was twofold: to exercise command, control and coordination of joint and interagency aviation capabilities in response to a hurricane in Texas, as well as conduct training in actual search and rescue, incident awareness and assessment, and air mobility response operations.

The search and rescue mission began with members from the 221st and the 149th Combat Communications Squadrons establishing communications that allowed for the delivery of incident awareness and assessment capabilities to the representatives in the air operations center at Camp Mabry, as well as facilitating communications amongst all the players involved to include the TACPs speaking to aircraft via radio communications. 

“We’ll provide the immediate situational awareness for the incident commander, and then we’ll also provide additional incident awareness for the senior military officials,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Sean Morrison, with the 221st Combat Communications Squadron. “Our package can be setup in 15 minutes or less and an additional 30 minutes for the (Texas Interoperable Communications Package) and from there, you’ll have a pretty robust communications system.”

The communications element was imperative to the seamless execution of the search and rescue exercise.
“(Communications) for command and control is very critical,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Juan Rodriguez, an RF transmission systems airman from the 149th Combat Communications Squadron. “The on-scene commander can communicate in a given area, but it also gives reach back.”

Network and radio communications set in motion the simultaneous command and control from the air operations center to the forces on the ground, as they were able to view a live feed of the action in real-time through visuals provided by the RC-26 aircraft flying overhead.

“Everybody has a part to play and what we do is we help them talk to each other,” Morrison said.

After communications were established, the TACPs setup the landing zone for the helicopters to load and unload personnel and “survivors,” and then members from Texas Task Force 1 and DPS set to the waters and geared up to launch the mission with players wading in the lake awaiting rescue.

This continued throughout the day, as rescuers hoisted survivors onto aircraft and delivered them back on land, rescuing 36 survivors total.

Ultimately, it was the scene of a well-executed mission to enable all agencies to communicate with each other as a piece flowed from group to group to create a synthesis of capabilities and collaboration, as each agency worked together to accomplish the mission. 

“The great thing about Texas is that we have a lot of partners, from the local partners to the state partners to the federal partners,” said Mike Miller, DPS Region VI Division of Emergency Management state coordinator. “We value the exercise for bringing everybody together for an event like this so in real world there is a coordination piece that has to go on…so it’s important to exercise and work through those issues today so in a real world event we can assist the citizens of Texas.”

“We value the partnership with the National Guard. They’re our neighbors, our community folks, our partners. They help us serve the citizens of Texas,” Miller added. 

“In hurricane events we look for our valuable partners in the Guard.”

Texas State Guard (TXSG) is hosting its second annual team competition

Texas State Guard Army Component 19th Regiment team rescues an injured person as part of the First Aid exercise at the 2013 Gonzalez Cup competition at Camp Bowie.
Texas State Guard Army Component 19th Regiment team rescues an injured person as part of the First Aid exercise at the 2013 Gonzalez Cup competition at Camp Bowie.

The Texas State Guard (TXSG) is hosting its second annual team competition which will test five skill sets in Stephenville and Erath County from April 10-13. Approximately 30 soldiers in five six-soldier teams from the Army Component will be competing to win the Gonzales Cup.

The skills to be tested include marksmanship, the ropes challenge course, physical fitness, land navigation, and first aid. Competition will be held Friday and Saturday at the Tac Pro Shooting Range, the Tarleton Challenge Course and Hunewell Ranch.

The Gonzales Cup represents the courage, strength, and skill that the defenders of Gonzales demonstrated while resisting the attack of the Mexican Army during the Texas Revolution in 1835. The Gonzales Cup is engraved with the words “Come and Take It” found on the flag made by the people of Gonzales during the fight.

Texas Airman named Air National Guard's 2013 Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year

Master Sgt. Joseph G. Ashwood, from the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance at Ellington Field in Houston, receives an award from Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wisian, Texas Air National Guard commander, during the 2014 Outstanding Airman of the Year  event at Camp Mabry.
Master Sgt. Joseph G. Ashwood, from the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance at Ellington Field in Houston, receives an award from Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wisian, Texas Air National Guard commander, during the 2014 Outstanding Airman of the Year  event at Camp Mabry. Ashwood was named the Air National Guard's Outstanding Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year and will compete against other nominees at the Air Force level.

Story by: 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy


 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Doing the assigned job is one thing, but taking that a step further and going the extra mile is what  makes one outstanding.

 Superior leadership, job performance, community involvement and personal achievements are all part of the criteria  Outstanding Airman of the Year nominees must demonstrate.

 The work and contributions of Master Sgt. Joseph G. Ashwood, from the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron, 147th  Reconnaissance at Ellington Field in Houston, earned him a special honor: the Air National Guard’s 2013 Senior  Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

 “The task of selecting these Airmen from the outstanding individuals nominated this year was a difficult one,” said Lt. Gen.  Stanley "Sid" E. Clarke, III, Air National Guard director. “All nominees should be extremely proud of their achievements, their  exemplary representation of their states and territories, and their service to the Air National Guard and the communities in  which they live. They are examples to all Guard Airmen.”

 Besides his outstanding achievements at the squadron, Ashwood recently earned his bachelor’s degree, implemented a  workout regimen for the flight that increased the pass rate of members’ physical fitness assessment, and participated in a  wealth of community events, raising funds for the chief master sergeant of the Air Force’s scholarship fund, the Wounded  Warrior Project, and other groups, in addition to volunteering at the annual Wings Over Houston Air Show and being an active  member of the National Guard Association of Texas.

 Despite all his work at the wing and in the community, Ashwood credits his success to his leaders and his Airmen.

“I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for leadership trusting me and putting me in positions to be successful,” Ashwood said, “my troops for working [hard] for me and to those who have mentored me along the way.”

As the ANG’s Senior NCO of the year, Ashwood will move on to compete against other nominees at the Air Force level.

Partners in Care program making its way to Texas National Guard

Story by: 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy


CAMP MABRY, Texas - The goal is to help the Soldiers and Airmen of the Texas National Guard.

Through collaboration and partnerships with faith-based organizations in the state, the Texas Military Forces Chaplain Col. Joe Combs can achieve just that.

Since November 2013, Combs and his staff have been working to launch a Partners in Care program for the Texas Military Forces.

Partners in Care is a Department of Defense-approved program that establishes partnerships between the Texas National Guard and faith-based organizations that can provide resources to Soldiers and Airmen, and do so without regard to any religious affiliation.

The benefit of the initiative in Texas, given Texas’ vast geographical area and members living in communities across the state, often rural, is that it provides a linkage between service members who may be in need with groups that can provide resources to assist them at no charge. 

“In Dallas, or Houston or Austin, there are a lot of resources, but when you’re talking about Nocona, Texas, and Muleshoe, Texas, where we have Guardsmen and women, those resources aren’t as easily available,” Combs said. “But in each of those communities, there are faith-based organizations that are active and meeting the needs of those in the community.”

Though the partnerships are with faith-based organizations, the program allows service members to receive needed assistance from these organizations while maintaining their religious freedoms.

“It’s very clear in the [Memorandum of Understanding]. This initiative neither endorses the establishment of religion, nor requires any member of the Texas Military Forces to participate in any religious activity,” Combs said. “It respects each member’s right and each family member’s right to freedom of religion.”

Types of support includes, but isn’t limited to; counseling for individuals, couples, or families, childcare, household and automotive repairs, child and teen education, mentoring, reunion and reintegration support, single parent support, emergency food, clothing, and housing, transportation assistance, financial management classes and crisis and grief counseling.

A key benefit is that these groups provide assistance at no cost to the National Guard or the service member.

In early March 2014, Combs received the final approval to hit the ground running and begin establishing these partnerships with Texas congregations. Despite the green light, Combs is not in a rush to kick off the program.

“I want to make sure to proceed slowly and judiciously to make sure we do it right,” Combs said.

Combs plans to work with Air and Army National Guard chaplains throughout Texas Military Forces to identify possible congregations that would be willing to participate, in addition to getting commanders on board with the program.

Twenty-five other National Guards have already established a program in their respective state or territory, and Combs and his staff connected with chaplains from other states with established programs to gain insight on how to launch a program here.

“These faith-based organizations have a history of being willing, ready and able to help in the time of need,” Combs said. “As long as we ensure those religious freedoms are being upheld, this is a great resource to alleviate some of those needs out there.”

Texas Special Ops support US counterterrorism efforts in Africa

Maj. Sean Vieira, Special Operations Detachment planner, works to develop campaign plans with African counterparts during the 2014 FLINTLOCK exercise in Niger.
Maj. Sean Vieira, Special Operations Detachment planner, works to develop campaign plans with African counterparts during the 2014 FLINTLOCK exercise in Niger. The exercise allowed U.S. forces to work with partner nations to expand their capabilities to combat terrorism.

Story by: 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy


NIAMEY, Niger - Texas Army National Guard Special Operators recently returned from a monthlong mission to Africa where they worked to bolster the counterterrorism capabilities in the northwest region of the continent. 

Special Operations Detachment – Africa (Airborne), one of the newest units in the Texas Army National Guard, deployed from mid-February to mid-March to Niger, Africa, serving as the overall command and control headquarters for the U.S. Africa Command’s FLINTLOCK exercise. 

This premier exercise is designed to help build the counterterrorism capacity of African partner countries. Special Operations forces from eight African countries and 11 Western European countries participated in the event that was performed in four locations across Niger. 

Building partner capacity is a key tenant in the war on terror. Special Operations forces, like SOD-A, routinely work to bolster abilities of partner countries so they are able to defend their borders from terrorist activity and attacks. 

To address the emerging and ongoing security threats in Africa, U.S. armed forces, other U.S. government agencies and international partners have been working closely together - training and fighting side-by-side - to thwart the spread of violent extremist groups.

Nowhere is this model more relevant than Niger, which has been described as the crossroads for African terrorism, said Col. Douglas O’Connell, SOD-A commander. 

Niger is adjacent to Mali, Nigeria, Libya and Algeria - all countries that are currently battling al-Qaida or affiliated terrorist groups. 

Proliferation of al-Qaida-linked extremist groups in the area presented real-world threats to troops who trained, mentored and advised partner nations in command and control, airborne operations and small unit tactics.

“This exercise is occurring at a time when our nations are faced with multiple obstacles within our region, which requires strong resolve to confront terrorism,” said Nigerien Chief of Staff M. Koridio Mahamadou. 

The annual, joint exercise, hosted by Special Operations Command-Africa since 2005, is a multifaceted, multinational training that consisted of airdrops of equipment and personnel, live-fire exercises, long range patrolling and support, mission planning and control at the operational level, and humanitarian relief operations that provided medical and dental care to the local populace. Interfacing with the other nations presented an opportunity for increased interoperability, counter-terrorism, and combat skills training for the African and Western nation partners.

Under SOD-A’s leadership, more than 1,000 troops from all four branches of the U.S. armed forces, Africa, Europe, and other Western partner nations played a role in the exercise, which was SOD-A’s new unit validation exercise.

“Your presence reflects your interest in our regional partnerships,” said Nigerien Col. Mahoamane Laminou Sani, FLINTLOCK country coordinator.

The goal of the exercise is to expand the partner nations’ capabilities to combat terrorism and enhance their tactical, operations and strategic capabilities.

SOD-A officers also mentored African officers, and the detachment conducted a unique airborne operation involving jumpers from all four U.S. military services, European parachutists and jumpmasters from Niger. At the conclusion of the parachute jump, SOD-A members were awarded Nigerien Jump Wings.

However, beyond the tactical and strategic operations, SOD-A operators understood the significance of building relationships.

“Relationships matter,” O’Connell said. “You can't attempt to influence any events or outcomes in Africa without first building a personal relationship with your host nation counterpart. Special operators understand this, which is why we are ideally suited for these types of missions.”

SOD-A is a unique reserve component comprised of highly experienced special operations soldiers and key enablers such as intelligence, logistics and communications. 

With the multinational flavor of FLINTLOCK combined with the very real threat, proved to be the ideal exercise to test the detachment’s readiness to conduct operations. The detachment’s mission is to deploy and provide command and control of joint and combined special operations forces 

“The soldiers who have joined SOD-A are looking for a chance to conduct real-world operations in challenging and extreme environments,” O’Connell said.

Yet, these highly-qualified service members did much more than execute realistic counterterrorism training. Without question, they contributed to the counterterrorism capabilities of America’s partners throughout Africa.

Texas Air Guard top leader transitions to Pentagon position

Story by: 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy

CAMP MABRY, Texas - Two Texas Military Forces leaders stepped into new roles. 

Brig. Gen. Brian C. Newby is returning back to his legal roots as the guard adviser to the U.S. Air Force deputy judge advocate general at the Pentagon, and Col. David M. McMinn will step into the position left vacant by Newby.

“I will be the No. 2 lawyer in the Air National Guard to support the No. 2 lawyer in the United States Air Force,” Newby said. “It’s a fantastic job and one that I’m looking forward to.”

The position is newly created within the ANG structure that will allow the Guard to build a relationship with its active duty counterparts.

In his role as the Texas Air National Guard chief of staff and deputy commander, Newby served as the principle adviser to the commander of the Texas Air National Guard for all Air National Guard issues, in addition to assisting in the planning, direction and administration of more than 3,100 Texas ANG Airmen. His responsibilities also included recruiting, retention, labor relations, training, employee development and equal opportunity initiatives.

“I’m going to miss being the deputy commander, but my relationships with both the Army Guard and Air Guard are very strong,” Newby said. “I’m a Texan at heart. I’m a Texas Guardsman.” 

As Newby prepares to make his transition from Texas to Washington, D.C., this move is not new for him. Newby, a graduate of Texas Tech University and the University of Texas School of Law, has had two previous assignments in the nation’s capital, serving as the ANG assistant to the secretary of the Air Force inspector general and the ANG assistant to Headquarters U.S. Air Force Operations and International Law Division.

“We will dearly miss Brian’s leadership and judgment, but this position will bring even more benefit to the entire ANG,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wisian, deputy adjutant general and commander of the Texas Air National Guard.

As McMinn begins to step into his position as the Texas ANG chief of staff and deputy commander, he will leave his current position as director of strategic planning with the TXMF. 

McMinn, a Clemson University graduate, was formerly the commander of the 136th Airlift Wing, Carswell Field, Fort Worth, Texas.

“If anyone if ready to fill Gen. Newby’s shoes without missing a beat, it’s Dave,” Wisian said.

The formal handoff was April 1, 2014.