Posts From June, 2013

Doors opened for Texas students

"I feel prepared to handle the real world now," said Jessica Knofla, the class assistant corps commander, during the Texas ChalleNGe Academy Graduation at Iraan High School, in Iraan, Texas, June 22, 2013.
"I feel prepared to handle the real world now," said Jessica Knofla, the class assistant corps commander, during the Texas ChalleNGe Academy Graduation at Iraan High School, in Iraan, Texas, June 22, 2013. The academy is a youth challenge program, sponsored by the Texas Military Forces that targets students between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. (National Guard photo by Army 1st Lt. Martha Nigrelle)

Story by: 1st Lt. Martha Nigrelle


 IRAAN, Texas – Hundreds of family members cheered as 89 students marched into the Iraan High School gymnasium  on the morning of June 22, 2013. Coming from locations throughout the state of Texas, and each with their own troubled  past, these students were all celebrating the same achievement – graduation from the Texas Challenge Academy (TCA).

 The academy is located in the west Texas town of Sheffield, and is a Youth Challenge Program sponsored by the Texas  Military Forces. The program targets high school students between the ages of 16 and 18 who are high school dropouts  or are at risk of dropping out of high school. 

 TCA has the potential to significantly change people’s lives.

 According to the TCA leadership, each year up to 118,000 students drop out of high school in the state of Texas. A goal of  TCA is to help these students reclaim their lives through mentoring, education, physical fitness and volunteer service to  the community. After a five and a half month course of instruction, students graduate, and then spend the next 12 months  meeting with a mentor every week in order to maintain the positive changes in their life. 

 “I wasn’t even here for two weeks and I was trying to go home,” said Christopher Parkey, the class speaker. “I finally  manned up and I started doing great things. I made myself proud. For the first time my dad said he was proud of me…  But I am just one of 89 success stories here at TCA.”

 These students have a right to be proud, said Lauren Schulman, the academy’s commandant. “You have made the  journey from compliance to self-reliance” – indicating another goal of TCA, to help these students learn how to rely on  themselves.

 Col. Suzanne Adkinson, commander of the Joint Counter-drug Task Force and commencement speaker, spoke to the  students about choices and making the decision to better their lives. Opting not to stand behind the lectern; instead, she  chose to walk around the gym and speak directly to the students. 

 Adkinson reminded the students that sometimes life will present a situation that might not be fun, but is necessary to get  to the next step, making a comparison to household chores.

 “I hate to vacuum,” she said, “but I hate dirt even more.”

 Her solution? Put on some headphones, dance around and vacuum anyway. In life you have to work hard and “go get it yourself,” she said.

Corps commander, Joshua Tilley, a Waco, Texas, resident, said he is ready to do just that. Tilley said he appreciates the life skills he got while at TCA, especially learning how to stay calm and work through a problem.

While he said he has fond memories of the drill and ceremony competition and helping the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) build an obstacle course, he said he is looking forward to a future life serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Jessica Knofla, of Seabrook, Texas, and the assistant corps commander, said she was thankful that her mother encouraged her to participate in the program. She said TCA gave her the tools to take initiative and to find her voice. Knofla said she now feels prepared to handle the real world and is confident that she can push herself to achieve her dream of earning a degree in psychology, law, or filmmaking.

It is evident that this program had a positive effect on each of the students as they accepted their diploma.

“We learned to make our lives better here,” said Priscilla Lopez, one of the graduating students.

“A doorway has been opened for you here today,” said Adkinson, “Doors will continue to open for you. You just have to choose to go through that door.” 

As each student moved their graduation tassel to the left side of their mortar board, the TCA director Michael Weir congratulated the Class of 2013, and told them now was the time “to move from finish strong to carry on.”

Texas National Guard engineers clear the way

A Buffalo mine-protected vehicle follows along in a route clearance convoy training-mission at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, June 18, 2013.
A Buffalo mine-protected vehicle follows along in a route clearance convoy training-mission at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, June 18, 2013. The company cleared a route to ensure the safe passage of a key leader engagement during their practice missions, which were completed during their three-week annual training. The 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard, based out of San Angelo, Texas, is preparing to deploy early next year. (National Guard photo by Laura L. Lopez/Released)
 Story by: Laura Lopez

 CAMP BOWIE, Texas – As National Guard citizen-soldiers and airmen gear up for their required annual training, the men and women assigned to the 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG),  spent time at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, preparing for a route clearance mission in Afghanistan, where they’re  slated to deploy early next year. 

 The three-week annual training included learning about the different mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, obtaining the appropriate and necessary licenses, undergoing multiple safety briefings and spending time in a newly  built Virtual Clearance Training Suite (VCTS). The training also included four-to-five hour, full route clearance practice  missions, June 17-18, 2013, with different targeted areas of interest set as close to theatre conditions as able to be replicated forcing Soldiers to move beyond computerized simulators and learn more than just the different convoy configurations.

 “These training missions really drive home what these Soldiers are going out there to do,” said Capt. Kenneth Sweet, Commander, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “These Soldiers are  going out there to find explosive hazards so that vehicles that are not designed for that don’t find them.”

 Just one of a handful of route clearance mission teams within the National Guard and the only one within the TXARNG,  training and readiness remain at the forefront of the minds of commanders who will lead them, potentially into harm’s  way. A first deployment for about 50 percent of the Soldiers, the company’s executive officer believes that having the  resources and equipment readily available for them to train with is essential.

 “Just getting their hands on a Buffalo (mine-protected vehicle) and driving a Husky (tactical support vehicle) and stuff of  that nature is an experience many of these guys have never done before,” said 1st Lt. Corey Ebert, 454th Engineer  Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. 

 A multifaceted mission that provides the rest of the forces the ability to move freely around the battlefield, one soldier from San Angelo, Texas, working with the counter improvised explosive device integration cell planting the land mine simulators and roadside bombs for each practice-training mission received an eye-opening experience.

“Working with them places the shoe on the other foot and allows one to see what the enemy does and why,” said Spc. Joshua Morris, construction equipment mechanic, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “It’s kind of interesting knowing they (my fellow soldiers) are going to get hit, but at the same time you want it to happen so they can learn that muscle memory of going through the motions here, rather than over there.”

Focused on working as a team to successfully accomplish the task at hand, members of the engineer company were given a variety of different scenarios in which a roadside bomb or explosive device found them, as a means to force them to determine and discuss the best way to react to the situation. Additionally, commanders ended each scenario with a follow-up mission like a key leader engagement or the establishment traffic control points to further enhance their skill arsenal.

A resident of Dallas, Texas, who hopes to learn responsibility, strength in numbers and leadership, in addition to teamwork isn’t worried about being one of the only females assigned the deployment. 

“I was raised to be pretty strong and independent, so nothing really intimidates me,” said Pfc. Shannon Gatta, small arms repair, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “They are my comrades and someone who will be able to cover me in the battlefield and vice versa.”

Whether leading a convoy with a Husky tactical support vehicle designed to detect buried explosive hazards or assisting in the interrogation or neutralizing of a roadside bomb or explosive device one Big Lake, Texas, resident says the dream of deploying as a combat engineer on a route clearance mission will soon come true. However, the legacy he continues makes him honored to serve his country. 

“My grandfather was in the 36th Infantry Division in World War II and was in the Italy and northern African campaigns, so to be a part of the Texas Army National Guard like he was is a highlight of my career,” said Spc. Timothy Stout, combat engineer, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard.

As citizen-soldiers from a diverse range of professions, this San Angelo, Texas, based engineer company is honored to be one of last major combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) for the TXARNG in the foreseeable future and hope that the residents will come together, support the soldiers and their families, while understanding more about the missions and roles of the National Guard.

“This deployment (and all others) prove to everyone that the National Guard is not just something that can be used here at home or just used in the state of Texas; they are multifaceted, wear more than one hat and are a recognizable force to provide our active duty counterparts,” said Ebert.

The 454th Engineer Company will continue to train at various locations in Texas to include Fort Bliss in El Paso, before their scheduled deployment to Afghanistan in early 2014.

TXSG Emergency Shelter Drill - Odessa 2013

KOSA - Closer Look

ODESSA -- COL Chris de Socarraz, with the Texas State Guard, discusses the shelter training occurring this week in Odessa with Mike Barker from KOSA CBS 7 news.

The shelter exercise will includes participation from the Texas State Guard and American Red Cross, as well as representatives from DPS, Texas Department of Emergency Management, and local emergency management teams.

The Texas State Guard and American Red Cross will setup a shelter and operating and following guidelines with participants acting as clients.

Red Cross to Host 24 Hour Shelter Exercise June 7th-8th

Photo by: American Red Cross

Big 2 News Staff

American Red Cross

American Red CrossAmerican Red Cross Photo by American Red Cross MIDLAND -- The Permian Basin Area Chapter of the American Red Cross will partner with the 39th Composite Regiment of the Texas State Guard, local emergency management, and other non-profits to bring the first 24 hour shelter exercise to the Permian Basin. This event will be the first time that the 39th Composite Regiment of the Texas State Guard will participate in a local exercise outside of the annual training from Brownwood, Texas - this event will be a model for future trainings in local communities around the state.

"You can see how holding this exercise in the unit's home city can only help," said Stephanie Murphree, Executive Director of the Permian Basin Chapter of the Red Cross. "In a 'real-world' disaster guard units would be called on to support efforts in the affected areas. It only makes sense for these soldiers to train alongside individuals whom they may one day be working with in the case of an actual disaster."

This exercise will take place over the course of two days, and hosting 150+ volunteers overnight. The Guard members will be trained during the event in Disaster Preparedness, specifically, shelter operations and management. Red Cross will also be using this opportunity to train local volunteers in a variety of disaster roles, as well as educating the community residents in individual disaster preparedness. Recent events in Oklahoma and in West have created a swell of interest from Emergency Response groups throughout the region.

It's always best to be prepared for any emergency. This re-enactment will help ensure that area responders will be ready when called upon. If you would like to participate in the upcoming disaster preparedness drill as an actor, feel free to contact the Permian Basin Area Chapter at (432) 563-2267 or For those interested in becoming Red Cross volunteers, you may fill out an application online at

About the American Red Cross: The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly 40% of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization -- not a government agency -- and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit