Posts From May, 2016

Memorial Day 2016 

Each year, on the last Monday in May, we remember and honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. On 30 May 2016, we again pay tribute to these men and women, remember their service, and renew our commitment to the nation. While I encourage each of you to take full advantage of the long weekend to relax and enjoy quality time with your family and friends, I want you to do so with safety in mind. Be aware of your surroundings; situational awareness is the key to avoiding hazardous situations. I thank you and your families for all you do in defense of our great state and nation.

-- Major General John F. Nichols, Adjutant General

Thursday, May 26, 2016 11:05:00 AM Categories: Blog

Airmen beat Army peers in annual Best Warrior Competition 

Story By: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted on: May 19, 2016

Staff Sgt. Steven Hein, secruity forces airman 136th Airlift Wing, Senior Airmen Austin Kirwin, tactical air control party member, 147th Reconnaissance Wing, stand together after Hein and Kirwin are named the top junior enlisted and noncommissioned officer competitors at the Texas Army National Guard's Best Warrior Competition banquet May 13, 2016, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. The annual competition is an Army-wide competition that tests the physical and mentual endurance of soldiers. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia M. Lacy/Released)
Staff Sgt. Steven Hein, secruity forces airman 136th Airlift Wing, Senior Airmen Austin Kirwin, tactical air control party member, 147th Reconnaissance Wing, stand together after Hein and Kirwin are named the top junior enlisted and noncommissioned officer competitors at the Texas Army National Guard's Best Warrior Competition banquet May 13, 2016, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. The annual competition is an Army-wide competition that tests the physical and mentual endurance of soldiers. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia M. Lacy/Released)

AUSTIN, Texas -- The anticipation grew as the four airmen and soldiers stood at parade rest in front of a room filled with their peers, family members and leaders at the annual Best Warrior Competition banquet May 13, 2016, at Camp Mabry in Austin.

After the third drum roll and a few long pauses, the state’s Senior Enlisted Advisor Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon announced this year’s top finishers for the Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior Competition. Senior Airman Austin Kirwin and Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Hein earned the title best warrior and bragging rights for the next year.

“It’s an honor for our airmen to be recognized in the joint environment,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Pertuis, commander of the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard.

The Best Warrior Competition is traditionally an Army competition that tests soldiers’ physical and mental aptitude, but in 2013, the Texas Army National Guard integrated its Texas Air Guard counterparts. Since then, the Air guardsmen have competed with their Army comrades every year.

Kirwin, a tactical air control party member from the 147th ASOS, and Staff Sgt. Steven Hein, a security forces airman from the 136th Security Forces Squadron, 136th Airlift Wing, competed with about 60 other Texas Air and Army National Guardsmen, as well as Army reservists from the 75th Training Command and members from the Chilean armed forces during the four-day competition Feb. 4-7, 2016, at Camp Swift in Bastrop.

“Airmen are competing and accomplishing alongside their Army National Guard and Chilean counterparts, and once again, airmen take the title of best warrior in the state of Texas” Pertuis said. “Senior Airman Kirwin and Staff Sergeant Hein are great examples of the tough professionals that our Texas Air National Guard recruits and develops.”

Though this year was Kirwin’s first time competing, this is Hein’s second time competing for the title.

“I figured I’d give it another try,” Hein said. “It was a good experience. It’s fun. You get to meet some new people, experience new things and learn some new stuff.”

“It’s pretty impressive to make it twice in a row because he’s competed against all the guys in his wing and beat them out a second time to get there,” said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Shane Ruppel, BWC noncommissioned officer in charge, about Hein’s second appearance at the annual competition.

The competition tests competitors through a series of events, including urban warfare simulations, board interviews, marksmanship, land navigation, physical fitness tests, a road march, an essay, an obstacle course, and other warrior tasks and battle drills.

“The state of Texas leads the way in joint and international integration with our SPP programs and through the Best Warrior Competition,” Pertuis said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve with and lead these great airmen.”

Thursday, May 19, 2016 7:50:00 PM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

Texas training institute welcomes new commander 

Texas training institute welcomes new commander

Story by: Sgt. Josiah Pugh

Posted on: May 17, 2016

Sgt. Josiah Pugh Brig. Gen. Sean A. Ryan passes the colors from the 136th Regiment's outgoing commander, Col. Michael Adame, to the unit's incoming commander, Col. Carlton Smith, during a change of command ceremony held at the Camp Mabry Simpson Auditorium on April 14, 2016. The ceremony represents the change of responsibility from one commander to another. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Josiah Pugh)
Sgt. Josiah Pugh
Brig. Gen. Sean A. Ryan passes the colors from the 136th Regiment's outgoing commander, Col. Michael Adame, to the unit's incoming commander, Col. Carlton Smith, during a change of command ceremony held at the Camp Mabry Simpson Auditorium on April 14, 2016. The ceremony represents the change of responsibility from one commander to another. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Josiah Pugh)

A group of about fifty Texas Guardsmen gathered into the dimly lit Command Sgt. Maj. Simpson Auditorium on Camp Mabry April 14, 2016. Their purpose? To bid farewell to the 136th Regional Training Institute's outgoing commander, Col. Michael Adame and welcome the incoming commander, Col. Carlton Smith.

The 136th RTI trains more than 1,500 Soldiers per year with more than 45 different courses offered. Soldiers come from across Texas and from around the nation to advance their military career here.

Adame, who has served for 30 years and deployed with the RTI in 2004, spoke to the group from the stage and reflected on his time with the unit. "The most important thing I've seen here is the people. It's been an honor to serve with you."

In the military today, change of command ceremonies harken back to the militaries of the Middle Ages in Europe. The passing of the colors signifies the orderly transfer of responsibility from one commander to another. On the ancient battlefield, the colors critically marked the position of a commander within a battle. During the ceremony, the colors passed from the senior enlisted leader, who safeguards them, to the outgoing commander. The outgoing commander passes the colors to the higher headquarters commander, who in turn entrusts them to the incoming commander, symbolically transferring the responsibility of commanding the unit. The new commander finally returns the colors to the senior enlisted leader, signifying the beginning of a new chapter in the organization's leadership.

Adame expressed his wishes for his troops going forward. "Continue to be all you can be and train the force."

Smith, who deployed with the RTI in 2003, took the stage with pride on his face. He spoke to his new troops about what he hopes the future will hold. "I really want to take the opportunity to know what this regiment is about. I look to carry forward with what Mike has established."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 11:35:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Hall of Honor welcomes two new inductees 

Texas Hall of Honor welcomes two new inductees

Story By: Sgt. Michael Giles

Posted On: May 17, 2016

 Sgt. Michael Giles Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, Texas Military Forces adjutant general, inducts retired Chief Master Sgt. Johnny D. Jones into the Texas Military Forces Museum Hall of Honor at Camp Mabry, Texas, May 14, 2016. (Texas Army National Guard Photo by Army Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)
Sgt. Michael Giles
Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, Texas Military Forces adjutant general, inducts retired Chief Master Sgt. Johnny D. Jones into the Texas Military Forces Museum Hall of Honor at Camp Mabry, Texas, May 14, 2016. (Texas Army National Guard Photo by Army Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)

AUSTIN, Texas (May 14, 2016) -- The Texas Military Department celebrated the contributions of two lifetime senior enlisted members by inducting them into the Hall of Honor May 14, 2016, at Camp Mabry.

The two retired military leaders, Sgt. Maj. Elwood H. Imken of the Texas Army National Guard, and Chief Master Sgt. Johnny D. Jones of the Texas Air Guard, received recognition for long and impactful military careers when they joined the ranks of the nearly 100 members who have been inducted since the tradition began in 1980.

The Hall of Honor, a room in the Texas Military Forces Museum, displays portraits and histories of military members whose leadership played key roles in transforming the Texas Military Department in positive ways. Texas military regulations state that Hall of Honor nominees need to have demonstrated positive impact through pioneering efforts or by changing the "outlook and focus of the organization."

Imken's 49 years of combined military and civilian federal service included leadership roles in training, disaster relief, and community outreach missions such as Food for Families and Blue Santa. He said he learned early in his career that planning and program management were important for taking care of Soldiers, because training time for Guard Soldiers was limited.

"You knew you had to do good planning," Imken said. "If you didn't do good planning and task analysis on things, you couldn't do anything."

Imken's advice for young service members looking to support the military in positive change is to work to make things less complicated.

"The biggest thing is listen, learn, use common sense and keep things simple," Imken said.

Jones, a 38-year veteran of the Air Force and Air National Guard, served in Vietnam, Desert Storm/Shield as well as Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. His pioneering included breaking a record for transporting loads during Desert Storm and facilitating the emergency airlift of a 30-ton cooling tower by C-130, a feat that had never before been accomplished.

Jones said he was shocked to learn that his image and story would be placed on the wall in the Hall of Honor.

"Many times I've read the narratives and looked at the photos of the people on that wall," Jones said. "I never expected to be on that wall with them."

Hall of Honor inductees such as Imken and Jones have made the Air and Army National Guards far stronger than they used to be, said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the Adjutant General for Texas. He explained that leaders such as these have brought the Texas Military Department out of times when they were under-funded and under-equipped so that they can play key roles in national defense and domestic response.

"We owe our present conditions to them," Nichols said. "It is our honor to honor them, because they honored us by serving. We owe them that same honor to thank them for what they did for us."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 11:33:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Guardsmen support Emergency Tracking Network training 

Texas Guardsmen support Emergency Tracking Network training

Story by: 1st Sgt. Daniel Griego

Posted On: May 17, 2016

1st Sgt. Daniel Griego Spc. Victoria Diaz (center) of the Texas National Guard's Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) role plays as a disaster evacuee during a training scenario with the Texas Division of Emergency Management to test their new Emergency Tracking Network May 12 at the Round Rock Armed Forces Reserve Center. The scenario allowed the National Guard and civilian authorities to work together while also creating a training video product for use once the new tracking system goes online June 1. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Sgt. Daniel Griego/Released)
1st Sgt. Daniel Griego
Spc. Victoria Diaz (center) of the Texas National Guard's Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) role plays as a disaster evacuee during a training scenario with the Texas Division of Emergency Management to test their new Emergency Tracking Network May 12 at the Round Rock Armed Forces Reserve Center. The scenario allowed the National Guard and civilian authorities to work together while also creating a training video product for use once the new tracking system goes online June 1. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Sgt. Daniel Griego/Released)

The Texas Division of Emergency Management, part of the Department of Public Safety, is rolling out a new resource to help evacuees during disasters. As a longtime partner within the emergency response community, the Texas National Guard’s Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) supported a key effort May 12 in the system’s implementation by hosting a training simulation and instructional video project at its Round Rock Armed Forces Reserve Center.

“Today we are testing the ETN system,” said Sam Miller, the Critical Information Systems Response and Development Manager for TDEM. “We’re running through the steps and recording the process so that we can build a training video so that those who are going to be using the Emergency Tracking Network in the future would be able to watch the video to get a quick lesson before we implement it in real life.”

The network, which operates as both a web-based platform and a smartphone application, integrates capabilities that previously required four separate programs, allowing smoother accountability and tracking of citizens in need following a natural disaster.

“This is very innovative because it’s the first time that they’ve used an application like this and made it a cell phone-based application,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Nolan, the Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) chief of staff. “For us it was a great opportunity, just using the resources we have at hand to help them out with that particular problem and further our partnership with the [Division] of Emergency Management.”

The National Guard’s role in the event included providing support personnel, a suitable location, and resources to complete a scaled evacuation scenario and film the training video.

“This National Guard armory had all of the facets that we look for in an entry place and a shelter,” said Miller. “We also had the ability to load a bus. The pieces of the evacuation are simply just tracking the movement of people and assets and animals into vehicles and locations. This particular facility held all of them.”

Both the application and the video will be ready in time for the Texas hurricane season.

“We will have this product before June 1, and it will be available for the end users,” said Jaime Ovalla, CIS Developer for TDEM. “The important thing is we want to track individuals.”

Last month, JTF-136 (MEB) supported TDEM with a scaled display and guest speaker at the annual emergency management conference. This training event is just one of many each year that help to reinforce the strong bond between the two organizations. 

“They can depend on us to bring resources together in partnership with them when they need to do just about anything,” said Nolan.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 11:28:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas National Guard Chief Master Sergeant to be inducted to Hall of Honor 

Texas Air National Guard retired Chief Master Sgt. Johnny D. JonesAUSTIN, Texas – Texas Air National Guard retired Chief Master Sgt. Johnny D. Jones will be inducted into the Texas Military Department’s Hall of Honor for his extraordinary impact on the Texas Military, during a ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin, May 14, 2016.

Jones served in the U.S. Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard for more than 38 years. He enlisted into the Air Force as an aircraft loadmaster in November of 1969. Early in his career, he crewed C-141 and C-130 missions in Vietnam for 18 months, compiling over 300 combat missions with 575 combat flying hours, and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor as a young Airman 1st Class. He returned from Vietnam to serve as an instructor and evaluator loadmaster where his efforts resulted in superior combat readiness and an outstanding safety record.

Jones transferred to the Texas Air National Guard’s 136th Airlift Wing in 1978. Throughout his tenure at the wing, he served in the 136th Aerial Port Squadron, 136th Airlift Control Flight and the 181st Airlift Squadron. While the Aerial Port Squadron was activated during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, he and his crew shattered all previous Air Force records for tonnage moved in a 24-hour period.

As a testament to his “service before self” attitude, Jones served on the National Aerial Port Advisory Council, and as Vice Chairman of the 136th Airlift Wing Chief’s Council. As Chairman of the Enlisted Performance Feedback Working Group, he led the implementation of a feedback program in the 136th Airlift Wing two years ahead of the Air National Guard. He also co-authored ANGI 24-101, Air National Guard Aerial Port Program Instruction, as well as the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Aerial Port Self-Evaluation and Quality Control Program.

As well as striving to improve the Air Guard, Jones served his state and nation both at home and abroad, improving the lives of thousands in need.

In 1988, Jones supported the aeromedical evacuation of the Corpus Christi State School during Hurricane Gilbert and assisted in the emergency airlift of a 30-ton air conditioning cooling tower, a type of load that had never been airlifted on a C-130 before. The following year, he led a team to support Hurricane Hugo airlift operations to the U.S. Virgin Islands. His efforts resulted in the rapid airlift and deployment of a Hospital Unit, medical supplies, food, water and equipment.

In 2005, Jones deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom as the superintendent of transportation for the logistics directorate of the combined Air headquarters. There, he directed the airlift of over 105 tons of equipment increasing Air capabilities by 40 percent for Enduring Freedom's MQ-1 Predator strike mission.

Back home again, he served as the Deployed Aerial Port Superintendent for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita relief efforts at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (Belle Chase), New Orleans and Ellington Field in Houston, where his team set up a fully functioning aerial port to handle the massive influx of aircraft delivering troops and supplies.

As the 136th Airlift Wing Command Chief, Jones was the "pulse" of the enlisted force, where his insight, experience and renowned respect were invaluable in his role as a mentor for the wing commander, over 1,200 wing enlisted personnel, and the entire Texas Air National Guard enlisted force. He was an active member of the National Guard Association of Texas, co-chairing the Enlisted Breakfast programs, as well as ensuring enlisted issues were well represented during break-out sessions and business meetings. He was also an active member of the Silver Eagles, an organization of 136th Airlift Wing tenured and retired members who dedicate themselves to improving the quality of life for airman currently serving.
Chief Master Sgt. Jones’ tireless efforts and devotion to the Texas Air National Guard and the state of Texas for more than 38 years had a significant impact on the force that will undoubtedly continue far into the future.  His competence and outstanding contributions to the Texas National Guard reflect great credit on the Texas Military Department and the state of Texas.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016 11:07:00 AM Categories: Blog

Texas National Guard Sergeant Major to be inducted to Hall of Honor 

exas Army National Guard retired Sgt. Maj. Elwood H ImkenAUSTIN, Texas - Texas Army National Guard retired Sgt. Maj. Elwood H Imken will be inducted into the Texas Military Department’s Hall of Honor for his extraordinary impact on the Texas Military, during a ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin, May 14, 2016.

Imken’s military service spanned more than thirty-eight years from March 1967 through 2005. His career reached every echelon from Platoon through Division and every level of leadership, culminating as the Division Operations Sergeant Major for the 49th Armored Division and the 36th Infantry Division. In each capacity he demonstrated the highest degree of professionalism and dedication to improving unit readiness and taking care of the Soldier.
   
As Operations Sergeant Major for the 49th Armored Division and 36th Infantry Division, a position he held for over fourteen years, he has left a lasting mark.  He served as the Operations Sergeant Major for all four division warfighter exercises and approximately 30 other major exercises conducted by the Division.

He also served as the State Active Duty coordinator for the Division, directing the mobilization of Texas soldiers in over 100 state active duty missions, ranging from hurricane relief to the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery mission.

As the lead trainer for the Division, he helped thousands of Texas soldiers get the required schooling for their grade and specialty. During the 49th Armored Division's historic deployment to Bosnia he served as the Operations Sergeant Major for the Multi-National Division.

Following his retirement, he immediately began working for the Texas Military Department as the Chief Training Specialist. In addition to supporting the soldiers of Texas, Imken worked hard to improve the quality of communication and planning efforts with law enforcement agencies, political leaders and citizens throughout the state of Texas

As the Texas Army National Guard Chief Training Specialist for the Texas Military Department, he was integral in designing the All Hazard's Plan and statewide rehearsal of concept drills where services across the state met to rehearse the plan for a state response to natural disasters. It was his plans and integration of many key organizations that led to successful responses for Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ike and dozens of other droughts, fires and floods that affected Texas in the last 15 years.

In addition to his immense impact in domestic operations, Imken played a huge role in establishing and sustaining community outreach programs such as Food For Families, a program that provides food to stock pantries across the state of Texas. His planning efforts directly contributed to the success of the one-day food drive collection of 1,552,714 pounds of food in 2014 alone. Similarly, he is very involved in the planning and execution efforts of Blue Santa, another outreach program where he worked hand in hand with the Austin Police Department to provide thousands of toys annually to underprivileged children across the state of Texas. 

On top of this, each year he coordinates Texas Guard support for the annual dual weekend George Washington Birthday Celebration in Laredo, Texas, a huge community event with international impact. 

He was integral in creating the annual American Heroes Open House on Camp Mabry, which showcases the Texas Military Department's mission through static displays and dynamic demonstrations of past and present capabilities to the public, military members, governmental and non-governmental agency members.   His unremitting planning and coordination efforts enabled the Texas Military Department the ability to educate 20,000 guests each year.

He worked alongside the Texas Department of State Health Services to create an annual medical emergency preparedness exercise, Operation Lone Star.  Operation Lone Star provides hands-on training for the Texas Military Department medical personnel as well as providing valuable community health services to Texas inhabitants that may otherwise not receive medical care. Imken facilitated the planning and coordination necessary to execute the establishment of Medical Points of Dispensing along the Texas border.  The magnitude of this operation is so big that 12,000 border area residents attend annually, and over 100,000 have been cared for during the program's 12-year history.

Sgt. Maj. Imken’s tireless efforts and devotion to the Texas Army National Guard and the state of Texas for the last 49 years made a significant impact on the force that will undoubtedly continue far into the future.  His competence and outstanding contributions to the Texas National Guard reflect great credit on the Texas Military Department and the state of Texas.

Friday, May 6, 2016 11:15:00 AM Categories: Blog

Lone Star Gunfighters navigate challenges to produce F-16 pilots 

Lone Star Gunfighters navigate challenges to produce F-16 pilots

Story by: 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain

Posted: May 5, 2016

2nd Lt. Phil Fountain  Lt. Col. Bryan Carlson (right), an F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot and commander of the 149th Maintenance Group, visits with Chief Master Sgt. John D. Mead (left), the group’s maintenance operations flight superintendent, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, April 15, 2016. Carlson and Mead are members of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, which is currently operating at Luke while San Antonio’s Kelly Field undergoes runway repairs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain) 160415-Z-DJ352-001
2nd Lt. Phil Fountain 
Lt. Col. Bryan Carlson (right), an F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot and commander of the 149th Maintenance Group, visits with Chief Master Sgt. John D. Mead (left), the group’s maintenance operations flight superintendent, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, April 15, 2016. Carlson and Mead are members of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, which is currently operating at Luke while San Antonio’s Kelly Field undergoes runway repairs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain) 160415-Z-DJ352-001

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Arizona (April 15, 2016) – Each year, the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, trains F-16 Fighting Falcon student pilots for the Total Force – U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force Reserve. Their courses include: initial qualification training, instructor pilot upgrade training and senior leader re-qualification training.

This year, the Texas Air National Guard unit, whose members are known as the Lone Star Gunfighters, is overcoming unusual adversity to achieve their Air Force objectives.

The current challenges include a temporary relocation of operations from San Antonio’s Kelly Field to Luke Air Force Base, near Phoenix, to numerous maintenance issues affecting their aircraft fleet.

“Each year, in April, we come to Arizona to allow the students to be able to participate in a large force employment exercises,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Carlson, an instructor pilot and commander of the 149th Maintenance Group.

“It allows them to fly with other airplanes from other services and to fly beyond just a four-ship, to employ as an eight-ship and beyond, and to fly against multiple targets,” Carlson said. “And it allows them to drop heavy weights and live bombs.”

The trip to Arizona is not new, but the length of the stay is, Carlson said. Typically, the trip is a two-week temporary duty that incorporates the ANG unit’s annual training requirements, but now they have been in-place for nearly two months.

The annual trip is normally dubbed Coronet Cactus, and serves as a capstone, training event for the student pilots before they graduate and head off to their active or reserve component units. This year, the Gunfighters are calling the trip Super Cactus, due to their extended visit to the Grand Canyon State.

The temporary relocation is a result of ongoing repairs to Kelly Field, which are expected to be complete in May.

As a result of the relocation, the unit has had to adjust its training syllabus and integrate themselves into a new environment.

“We’ve had to figure out the nuances of operating at a location like Luke,” said Lt. Col. Kristian Thiele, an instructor pilot and the assistant director of operations for the wing’s 182nd Fighter Squadron. “We are competing with not only six other flying squadrons for airspace and range time, but also the Marine customers at Yuma, as well as Davis-Monthan and Tucson (units).”

“At home, we are the only user, typically, of our airspace, so we can drive our own schedule,” Thiele said. “Here, we’ve been at the mercy of their range airspace scheduling, so we’ve had some pretty wild shifts in takeoff times and where our days are from week to week. That’s been a challenge.”

But the mission goes on and the pilot training remains underway. However, a more serious threat to the unit’s training mission involves the structural integrity of some of their F-16s.

“We’re at a unique time, because our home station planes are going through a repair process that we haven’t had to do before,” Carlson said. “We’re operating with significantly less airplanes right now and still trying to be able to keep the student timeline relatively close.”

This is an issue for the Total Force, but mostly impacts Air National Guard units, which operate aging Block-30 F-16s, Carlson said. All of the Gunfighters’ two-seat training model aircraft were grounded last fall.

“It’s mainly a Guard problem,” Carlson said. “Right now, it’s only a D-Model, or two-seat, problem. But it affects the longeron, which is a main frame of the plane. Last November, we found a crack in a position of that longeron at the aft end of the canopy. The repair process takes about 21 days.”

Gunfighter maintainers are working with an aircraft depot team from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to work on the jets at Luke, Carlson said. After completing these repairs, the aircraft should be able to fly another 1,000 hours before further repair; afterward, they will have to undergo a yearlong repair process.

“We’re in historic times right now, we’ve never had to fly the airplanes that are still flyable at the rate that we’ve had to fly them,” Carlson said. “What ends up happening when you do that is: you compress the required maintenance that has to happen on those airplanes.”

To keep their training on pace, the unit reached out to other units to borrow available F-16s.

“We borrowed some jets from other Air National Guard units – from Vermont, Atlantic City and Alabama,” Thiele said. “We’ve just accepted some (active duty jets) from Hill (Air Force Base, Utah).” 

Unlike an agreement between active duty units, lending aircraft from the active component to the Air National Guard requires coordination between the Air Force major commands, the federal National Guard Bureau and the Texas Air National Guard’s leadership.

These borrowed aircraft are expected to allow the Gunfighters to get caught up on student production and get ahead going forward, Carlson said.

However, accepting the new aircraft is not as simple as it might seem.

“The front-end of accepting airplanes is a lot of work,” Carlson said.

“One, we have to gain it on the paperwork side, into the maintenance software system,” Carlson said, “and that takes several days to do that per airplane. Then, we physically go out and do inspections to make sure that it’s up to the standards.”

Further, the F-16s from Hill are a more advanced block than the Texas jets, Carlson said. This has required the aircraft maintainers, the avionics specialists in particular, to receive additional training to work on the Block 40 F-16s.

Even before receiving the aircraft, the Gunfighters have to send pilots and maintainers to the lending unit to pick up the aircraft for transport back to Luke.

This – in conjunction with the temporary relocation from Kelly Field to Luke – has created complexity for the Air National Guardsmen’s pay and benefits.

“I think anybody in this unit would say this is the most complex TDY that anybody has ever seen,” said Staff Sgt. John B. Solano, a military pay technician with the 149th Comptroller Flight. 

“Usually our mass TDYs are just two weeks,” Solano said. “Its two weeks there, two weeks back. There’s really not that extensive time for issues to happen, and if it did happen, it would get settled back home.”

Unlike their active duty counterparts, the Gunfighters have to manage through the complexity of a blended workforce of Active Guard Reservists, who are most similar to active duty airmen, dual-status, civilian technicians and traditional drill status Guardsmen.

“There’s a lot of ‘what ifs’ that we couldn’t answer until it happened,” Solano said. “We have individuals flying in and out of Luke to do other TDYs, which are also effecting their current TDY. We’re having to make multiple (travel) amendments to accommodate, to book plane tickets, rental cars, lodging at those duty locations, and in return, to get them back here.”

“Depending on where they’re lodging – whether they’re on or off-base – depends on how much per diem they get. So there’s also adjustments based on their status while they’re here,” Solano said.

Even with these challenges, Carlson said his maintainers are excited to accept the new aircraft.

“We pride ourselves on the cleanliness of our airplanes and the maintenance practices that we do,” Carlson said. “We are very fortunate in the Guard, we have continuity on airplanes. You have guys that have crewed the same airplane for 20 years. They know these airplanes, in-and-out.”

“There’s just a level of pride there that’s difficult to replicate,” Carlson said. “They’ll adopt these aircraft as if they were their own.”

Being away from home longer than expected can be a challenge, but the Gunfighter airmen have embraced the opportunities the trip presents.

“I think morale is really high,” Carlson said. “We’re able to focus on the mission. Another byproduct of that is, we’ve been able to get closer as a unit.”

“We spend a lot more time together, doing things together in the evenings and on the weekends, those are things we’re not able to do at home,” Carlson said. “Even though they miss being home for these months, I think that they cherish the time to build those bonds and to focus on the mission.”

In addition to the personal connections that are enhanced, there are professional benefits for the Gunfighters’ operation at Luke.

“We’re out of our comfort-zone,” Thiele said. “But I think that helps us, as pilots, not flying in our backyard all of the time. Not only for the student perspective, but also the instructors.”

Carlson said much the same from the maintenance standpoint.

“This gives us a great chance to get out of the comfort in our normal environment at home and act like we’re deployed,” Carlson said. “It also allows the maintenance personnel to pack up and operate out of a different location.”

The current student pilots are on track to graduate from their initial qualification course in June. Afterward, they are slated to go to units within the stateside Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe or Pacific Air Forces major commands.

“We continue to accomplish the 149th Fighter Wing’s federal mission,” Thiele said. “We’ve been able to – even with the aircraft issues we’ve had – continue the training role and get product out to the combat Air Force.” 

Thursday, May 5, 2016 11:38:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard