Posts From June, 2016

Employment program connects Texas Guardsmen to job 

Employment program connects Texas Guardsmen to jobs

Story by: Capt. Jessica Jackson

Posted: June 27, 2016

 

The Job Connection Education Program is offered by the National Guard, and provides dedicated training and development specialists, and a skilled business advisor to assist participants in making their job connections.
The Job Connection Education Program is offered by the National Guard, and provides dedicated training and development specialists, and a skilled business advisor to assist participants in making their job connections.

AUSTIN, Texas — Twenty-two percent of Texas Army National Guard service members returning from operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism were unemployed in 2010 — eclipsing the national average by 9 percent.

“Due to the high unemployment rate of veterans, the National Guard Bureau created the Job Connection Education Program to tackle this issue,” said Shandra Sponsler, deputy branch manager, Texas Military Department Family Support Services. “Texas’ size of force, large deployments and high population areas made us the ideal candidate for the pilot program.”

The Job Connection Education Program helps both Army and Air Guardsmen and their spouses, who are unemployed or burdened with financial problems, find careers.

The Family Support Services of the Texas Military Department currently oversees the program.

“Our staff is here to help,” Sponsler said. “We have training specialists and business advisors on-hand to offer catered services to best match participants with future employers.”

The program focuses on providing one-on-one counseling, employment and education assistance, resume review, workforce training and online job search assistance.

Six years after the launch of the Job Connection Education Program, Texas veteran unemployment is down to 4.3 percent.

“Soldiers should take advantage of the free resources offered through the program,” Sponsler said. “This fiscal year, we’ve had 630 requests for information and help with employment, last fiscal year we were able to place 780 people in jobs. We will continue to diligently work with those who need assistance.”

With offices located at Fort Worth Sandage and Shoreview Armories, Grand Prairie, Houston and Camp Mabry — a training specialist is within reach and available to help.

“It’s very difficult to be a National Guard soldier and the difficulties in balancing your civilian life and military life has its own challenges,” said 1st Lt. Alejandro Tejo, Texas Army National Guard.  “I would like other service members to know that there are a lot of tools our there to help…help make you successful.”

Since its inception, the Job Connection Education Program has placed 3,715 applicants in jobs.

For more information on this program visit https://tmd.texas.gov/family-support-service

Monday, June 27, 2016 10:05:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Guardsmen, local authorities are ready to respond to Hurricane season 

Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)
Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)

Texas Guardsmen, local authorities are ready to respond to Hurricane season (3 of 4)

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted: June 24, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas – This has been a busy year for the Lone Star State with the recent record-breaking floods. Texas Guardsmen conducted more than 135 missions, rescuing more than 900 people and 310 pets May 29-June 12, 2016, after severe weather caused flooding to large portions of the region.

But the job doesn’t stop there. As Texas rolls into Hurricane season, the Guardsman must be trained and ready to react to emergency disasters when the state calls upon them.

“You have to be ready for whatever is coming at you, if you don’t entertain the training aspect of it,” said Matthew Geller, Task Force 1 Helicopter Search and Rescue Technician, “you’re looking at the risk being great, and you can’t sacrifice that much.”

This year, the Texas Military Department and first responders conducted a state-level hurricane preparedness exercise across various Texas cities, June 2-9, 2016. This is the third-annual exercise for Guardsman, but the first one to include outside civil agencies.

“Two years ago we started with just the Army and just our internal components in the Air Operation Center, said Shawna Wood, air operation superintendent at Camp Mabry. “Last year we started involving our interagencies such as, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Incident Awareness Association and outside agencies, the Air Force, and then this year the big step was Texas Department Emergency Management.”

Texas Military Department set up an Air Operation Center headquartered in Camp Mabry, Austin to coordinate the moving parts throughout the exercise along with over 11 state and local civil agencies.

“The Air Operation Center is a multi-agency air coordination center, and is hosted and managed by the Texas Military Department under the authority of the State Operation Center,” said Col. Tom Suelzer, director of operation for the Texas Air National Guard, and for the state he serves as the Air Operation Center director. “So when there is a state level or higher response, we’re tasked by the state to set up the Air Operation Center to help develop an air operation support strategy.”

The scenario was based on a fictitious Category 5 Hurricane “Tejas” which struck the Lower Rio Grande Valley, causing 1.1 million people to evacuate. In turn, Austin experienced widespread flooding due to the weather patterns.

Nearly 500 service members from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard, and Texas State Guard participated in the state-level exercise. 

Several even acted as role players for the medevac piece of the exercise. 
“For the past two years we’ve done search and rescue and on ground we’ve done aeromedical preparation,” said Wood. “But this was the first time we’ve actually moved the patients so this is a stepping-stone for what we’ve done the last couple years.” 

Having these types of trainings help Texan guardsmen and first responders stay ready for natural disasters.

“It’s been eight years since we’ve had any kind of major hurricane activity and a lot of key leaders up and down our change of command have changed, said Wood. “Our partnership with Texas Division of Emergency Management is very important so it’s building those relationships so that when the time comes we can put them into play.”

This is 3 of 4 Texas Hurricane Preparedness. 

Friday, June 24, 2016 10:08:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

War-games from the inside-out: Army journalists go behind the scenes in multinational training operations 

War-games from the inside-out: Army journalists go behind the scenes in multinational training operations
 

Story by: Sgt. Michael Giles
 

Posted: June 22, 2016

Photo By Sgt. Praxedis Pineda | Sgt. Michael Giles, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, interviews French Army Brigadier Gen. Eric des Minieres and British Army Col. Graham Livingston, commander and deputy commander of the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, during Exercise Swift Response 16 at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 21, 2016. The 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from Austin, Texas, participated in Exercise Swift Response 16 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 5 to June 26, 2016. The 100th MPAD's participation contributed public affairs assets to the JMRC public affairs mission as well as added training value to training units to enable them to rehearse their responses to the press. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)
Photo By Sgt. Praxedis Pineda | Sgt. Michael Giles, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, interviews French Army Brigadier Gen. Eric des Minieres and British Army Col. Graham Livingston, commander and deputy commander of the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, during Exercise Swift Response 16 at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 21, 2016. The 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from Austin, Texas, participated in Exercise Swift Response 16 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 5 to June 26, 2016. The 100th MPAD's participation contributed public affairs assets to the JMRC public affairs mission as well as added training value to training units to enable them to rehearse their responses to the press. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)

HOHENFELS, Germany (June 22, 2016) -- We stood together, eight Army journalists in a dimly lit multimedia center. Here, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center’s operational environment team plans intricate training scenarios for massive multinational training exercises. The walls had posters and security notices, but no windows, like a vaulted basement. We were in Bavaria, near the German village of Hohenfels, but separated from the German public by two security checkpoints, a locked external gate and front door, and the reinforced door that prevented any trace of daylight from sneaking into this room.

The operational environment team is the beast of the JMRC, and we were in its belly, learning the role that we would play in the incredibly complex narrative ahead. “You’re getting a look at some things you would have never seen as a public affairs person working in this exercise,” says Doug Boyd, one of the minds behind this scenario. 
We are a team of journalists with the Texas Army National Guard’s 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, and the adventure we’re about to undertake will involve soldiers from the U.S. and all across Europe. This is Exercise Swift Response 2016.

WE CAME TO ACCOMPLISH TWO MISSIONS

We came here to contribute our skills to two distinct missions: one in the real world as Soldiers, and one in the scenario as fictional characters. Our real-world mission reflected what we normally do as public affairs soldiers in uniform: we told the stories of military service members through our news-writing, photography and videos. We accomplished this mission by capturing photos and footage as more than one thousand paratroopers from seven countries floated to the ground before our very eyes. We gave leaders a voice as they described the training, and gathered stories about female perspectives on the operation, medics in the field, Special Forces operators and multinational collaboration. Many members of my team, including print photographer Sgt. Praxedis Pineda and videographer Sgt. Marline Duncan, agree this exercise gave us opportunities to perform our craft at a higher level. “I created some of my best work during this exercise because it exposed me to types of military roles and situations that I’ve never seen before,” Duncan said.

Our scenario-based mission was to help JMRC teach training units how to interact with the press. To this end, we put on civilian clothes and civilian attitudes and entered the scenario as civilian journalists on the battlefield. 

“During these exercises, Army journalists simulate the immediate and nuanced effects of media on the modern battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Zach West, officer in charge of our detachment. “The most realistic and valuable role-playing force-on-force exercises attempt to replicate this aspect of contemporary warfare as closely as possible.”

Capt. Christopher B. Bradley, the JMRC public affairs officer, explained that the presence of civilian journalists makes the training more complex for the trainees. “The purpose of the Army journalists replicating civilians on the battlefield is to prepare the rotational training units for the media complexity of the modern battlefield, and to provide feedback to commanders, staffs and Soldiers about the effectiveness of their media engagement operations,” Bradley said.

We played our roles realistically and did our best to add complexity—a major theme of Swift Response—to the training environment. We cajoled our way into occupied towns. We promised easy interviews and then asked tough questions. We refused to go away, even when it led to us being physically—sometimes fiercely—handled by security forces. And we kept asking tough questions.

This was why the Army wanted us in the scenario: This multinational group of soldiers could learn a great deal by having reporters with agendas in their environment, and we witnessed their education progress.

Toward the start of the exercise, I interviewed a British leader in scenario who was evacuating civilians from a town. I asked the leader if he had a message for the civilians who were counting on his support. He said he didn’t. “I’m here to do my job, and I’ll do my very best at my job,” he said, declining to offer anything resembling what a civilian would want to hear from a military force that was supposed to be there to help. Toward the end of the exercise, however, we saw the British and French leaders begin to proactively reach out to us so we could help spread their message.

“With you being part of the scenario, it definitely helped them start understanding that they needed to allow more messaging to go out,” said Sgt. Andrew Reddy, a public affairs specialist with the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Despite the scenario's focus on training the rotational units--not us--we learned a great deal about our own craft from our in-scenario experience. We learned to generate products faster. We learned new tricks. And we gained perspective on the influence that media can have in war.

WE PRACTICED GETTING NEWS OUT FAST

Our in-scenario work was published within the fictitious training world and not in the real world, so we could comfortably make mistakes that we would forever regret if we made them in real world stories. This allowed us to experiment and develop our ability to produce stories quickly.

Speed is important for a journalist, especially a reserve-component journalist who works only one weekend a month, said 100th MPAD print journalist Sgt. Adrian Shelton. “It’s important for M-Day Soldiers before the end of their drill, and it’s really important to report on the news while it is still news,” Shelton said.

Sgt. Jacob Sawyer, the JMRC broadcast noncommissioned officer in charge who works with Bradley to facilitate reserve component PAO activities, says that developing speed is a key focus of in-scenario training. “The thing with roleplaying civilian media on the battlefield is that we want you to try to do it as fast as possible,” Sawyer said. “The civilian media gets the news out that day, that hour.”

Sgt. Duncan, who also participated in Exercise Saber Junction here in 2014, explained that both exercises have made her a more efficient journalist. “I came here with a goal of being a better videographer with faster turnaround time, and that mission is complete,” Duncan said. “I spent more time in the planning phase so that way I could be better prepared when I went out to the field. I spend a lot less time capturing out in the field, and it allows me to come back and have a faster post-production time.”

WE LEARNED HOW NEWS-REPORTING AFFECTS WAR

Here’s the scenario: An imaginary nation called Atropia is experiencing internal conflict. United States and NATO forces arrive in Atropia to stabilize the government, while a bordering nation named Ariana lends support to Atropian rebels. Soldiers with JMRC’s 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment play Arianan Special Forces who attempt to help rebels overthrow the Atropian government. Soldiers with NATO forces play themselves as they hone their abilities to intervene and support nations that find themselves in such a situation. Multinational actors play civilians on the battlefield, and reserve component journalists play civilian journalists on both sides of the conflict.

As we played the game, we learned how our reporting can influence the social and political challenges that the military faces. We discovered how we fit into the overall scheme: Military leaders give orders, soldiers execute, the media reports, and public opinion changes.

“As we operate in these roles and watch the exercise unfold, we learn crucial lessons about the complex ways that media on all sides of a conflict fundamentally affect the environment and even the outcome,” Lt. West said.

We took pictures, wrote stories and made news videos that represented various perspectives within the conflict. The civilian and military training participants were able to access these stories and incorporate responses into their role-playing.

“Every single one of these towns has civilians that are in play,” Sawyer explained. “They have access to the internet that has your stories on it. All the stories you do as media impact the rotations because the commanders of these units have to worry about how they're being perceived on the battlefield.”

Our role-playing affected how we regard our profession in the real world. “The opposing point of view is something that people rarely think about,” said MPAD broadcaster Sgt. Mark Decker. “As journalists, we have to try to understand both sides of a story so we can project an unbiased view of what the situation is.”

“I was allowed to witness how the different military work together to get a mission done,” Duncan said. “My role as a civilian journalist helps me understand that the media has a big influence on what people think on different issues in the world.”

Duncan also appreciated how interacting with the international participants enhanced her ability to connect with the people she interviews. “It’s easy to establish rapport with my fellow U.S. Soldiers, but now that we’re here in a foreign country, what do I need to do to gain their trust?” she said. "To get the story out of them, you have to gain their trust. You have to drink the coffee with them. You have to connect with them before you go in to get the quote. That was my biggest take away. I found myself engaging into their thinking.”

WE CHALLENGED SENIOR MILITARY LEADERS (RESPECTFULLY)

We huddled beneath fluorescent lighting inside our temporary office, surrounded by topographical maps, multinational flags and black-and-white posters of soldiers in action in the JMRC training areas. I heard the word "volunteer" and my arm went up. Then, I realized that Capt. Bradley was asking for a team to interview JMRC's new command sergeant major, and I'd just volunteered myself and MPAD broadcaster Spc. Zachary Polka for the job.

As a Texas National Guard journalist, I had only interviewed senior leaders within the familiar confines of our smaller community at Camp Mabry. Now my teammate and I had to represent that community to the highest-ranking senior enlisted service member at JMRC. We rehearsed our questions, got coached by our team’s leaders, interviewed the command sergeant major, and received additional pointers from Capt. Bradley afterwards.

Two weeks later, in another dimly lit room, we prepared to interview the commander and deputy commander of the British and French Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (ACJEF). This time, we were in a town built for the training scenario. We were filming inside; even though the light would have been much better outside, it wasn’t safe. Just minutes earlier, a series of explosions had French soldiers jumping on top of us to shield us from any danger. So the interview would happen inside.

Even though we were journalists friendly to the ACJEF, the scenario's operational team gave us some challenging questions to ask these seasoned military leaders. As we directed a French two-star general and a British colonel where to sit, the situation reminded me of my concern while interviewing the command sergeant major: We had to remain humble, deferring to their respective positions, while also giving them a training opportunity via some tough questions. Miles away from my own chain of command, in a notional environment, I had the opportunity to practice interviewing key leaders in a difficult situation. Thanks to this adventure, if ever I face such a situation in real life, I will--at least to a small degree--be prepared.

My colleague Sgt. Decker agrees. “I wish I had this training prior to deploying to Afghanistan with a public affairs mission,” he said. “I believe I would have been better equipped to handle key leader engagements before being sent off to interview someone who required an interpreter in order to complete a story.”

WE BECAME A STRONGER TEAM

MPAD members agree that the training functions as a giant team-building exercise where people develop in their ability to trust and collaborate with each other as they succeed together. “This type of training provides an invaluable boost to unit morale and cohesion because it imbues our Soldiers with a level of confidence and subject-matter expertise that typical exercises can't really achieve,” said Lt. West.

Duncan described the team-building as a gradual process that results from working and eating together for twenty-one days straight. “Day in and day out I am working with the same people, and trust gets stronger,” she said. “At first there is a hesitation among the group, but I start to notice that people let their guard down to work together and to have a successful mission.”

Spc. Polka, the newest member of the MPAD, said that this training event painted a picture of the unit’s camaraderie that he would not have seen from just one weekend at drill each month.

“We’ve been able to hone our skills and build new and possibly lasting workable relationships side by side, hand in metaphorical hand,” Polka said. “It was a blast working with our partners, one print and one video, to accomplish our overall mission.”

As Exercise Swift Response 2016 winds down and multinational participants say goodbye to new friends, the MPAD races to finish products. Today, final products are turned in. Tomorrow, we clean the vehicles that we have driven around in the mud for three weeks; then we enjoy a single day of sightseeing before we go home to our spouses, children and full-time civilian jobs. We also return to our drills with our unit, where we don’t photograph thousands of parachutes or interview leaders of occupation forces, but tell the Army’s story just the same. Now we’ll be telling the story with new insights and strengths that we gained in our adventure together: faster, more confident, and more in touch with what it’s all about.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016 10:10:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Pflugerville resident promoted to Army Guard Colonel 

Adjutant General of Texas, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, is pleased to announce the promotion of Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. Theresa K. Cogswell, Chief Information Officer-Army, to the rank of ColonelCommentary by Michelle McBride

Texas Military Department Public Affairs

The Adjutant General of Texas, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, is pleased to announce the promotion of Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. Theresa K. Cogswell, Chief Information Officer-Army, to the rank of Colonel.

In a ceremony at Camp Mabry, in Austin, June 10, 2016, Col. Cogswell thanked her friends and family for their continued support and mentorship over the years, as well the command group for their trust and confidence at this new level.

“As I reflect back on my life and my military career to this point, I realize that the people who influenced me throughout my life were setting me up for success and the ability to one day stand here in front of you humbled and blessed to be given this opportunity,” said Cogswell.

Cogswell began her military career in 1990, in the United States Army Reserve then, in 1995, received an Army ROTC commission from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Her first assignment was to the 348th Quartermaster Company, Camp Humphreys, U.S. Forces Korea. From there she transferred to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where she served as the Battalion S4, 636th Forward Support Battalion, 101st Airborne (air assault) Division and later as the Division Petroleum Officer and the General Supply Officer for the 101st Division Support Command.

After completing the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course in 2000, Cogswell was assigned to the First Infantry Division in Germany where she deployed as a Company Commander in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005.

Cogswell transitioned to the Texas Army National Guard and served in the 36th Infantry Division and the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team where in 2009, she deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and served in the position of the Director of Support Operations for the 72nd Joint Area Support Group in Bagdad, Iraq. Currently, Cogswell serves as the Assistant Chief of Staff, G6, and the Chief Information Officer for the Texas Army National Guard. 

In addition to her Bachelor’s of Science from Ball State University, Cogswell also holds a Master of Business Administration from Webster University in Kansas City, Missouri. Her military schools include the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Strategic Deployment School, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, the Combined Arms and Services staff school, the Resident Command and General Staff College and she is currently in the U.S. Army War College.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 11:00:00 AM Categories: Blog

Arrowhead Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan as trainers 

Arrowhead Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan as trainers

Story by: Spc. Christina Clardy

Posted on: June 21, 2016

Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, climb the gangway as they deploy to southern Afghanistan June 11, out of Fort Hood, Texas, in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel. They will be joining Task Force Arrowhead as part of the Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) team whose mission is to work with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces at a corps level and higher. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, climb the gangway as they deploy to southern Afghanistan June 11, out of Fort Hood, Texas, in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel. They will be joining Task Force Arrowhead as part of the Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) team whose mission is to work with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces at a corps level and higher. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs) 

Soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division boarded an aircraft at Fort Hood, Texas, on June 11, on their way to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

The 45 Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard are headed to southern Afghanistan as part of the Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) team, and will join a component of senior leaders from the headquarters of the division who deployed the week prior.

"Our mission is to advise and assist the Afghan National Army and Uniformed Police at the corps level and above," said Lt. Col. Alba Melgar-C'de Baca, a plans officer from the 36th Inf. Div. and senior member of the team. "We will be breaking into three groups and are each going to different locations."

Each candidate for the mission was chosen from a list of volunteers, and were then assessed based on their civilian skills and military experience. More than half of the Soldiers are prior members of Security Forces Advisement Teams who have deployed to Afghanistan before.

"We have an amazing amount of talent in this group," said Melgar-C'de Baca. "We have police officers, coaches, teachers and border security agents, so our team run the gambit across the board with talented, motivated folks who all stepped forward and volunteered."

One of the team members is 2nd Lt. Jake Folgate, who works with at-risk teens at the Texas Challenge Academy in Eagle Lake, Texas. He’s excited to put his law enforcement education and experience into practice overseas. 

"I'm really enthusiastic and passionate about this mission," said Folgate, a 24-year-old graduate of Western Illinois University's Law Enforcement program. "I'm really looking forward to my first deployment and starting this mission with the Afghan Uniformed Police."

For many of the Soldiers, including Folgate, this will be their first deployment overseas. Although it's not necessarily a combat deployment, the team is excited and maybe a little nervous, said Melgar-C'de Baca. But they will have friends around them and no one is going alone, so I think that eases their minds a little bit.

"I know ya'll are the best trained, the best equipped, and are the finest Soldiers in the U.S. Army inventory, bar none, because you are all members of the 36th Inf. Div.," said the Assistant Division Commander for Support of the 36th Inf. Div., Brig. Gen. Rick Noriega, moments before the TAA members boarded the plane. "We wish you the best and salute you for who you are, and what you do. Make us proud.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 10:21:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Communication Soldiers critical to MIBT success 

Communication Soldiers critical to MIBT success

Story by: Spc. Christina Clardy

Posted on: June 21, 2016

Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Sgt. 1st Class Juan Martinez, the Tactical Action Center Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge and Pvt. Gerardo Romano, a truck driver with 36th Inf. Div., monitor the communications systems at the Tactical Action Center during the Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. Communications Soldiers provided equipment and support for the higher headquarters division staff which communicated with several Active and reserve component units. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Sgt. 1st Class Juan Martinez, the Tactical Action Center Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge and Pvt. Gerardo Romano, a truck driver with 36th Inf. Div., monitor the communications systems at the Tactical Action Center during the Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. Communications Soldiers provided equipment and support for the higher headquarters division staff which communicated with several Active and reserve component units. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs) 

Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, set up and provided division-wide communication channels during a Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise, June 4-18 at Fort Hood, Texas.

The Texas Army National Guard division serves as the higher headquarters during this Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training (MIBT) exercise for a brigade and several specialized units as they train to meet requirements for their annual training cycle. The exercise will be focused on maneuver-based, decisive action and will include critical gunnery training on various weapons systems. 

"The division's role in this exercise is to act as a higher headquarters for the [Brigade Combat Teams] and other units out in the field," said Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, commander of the 36th Inf. Div. "Many BCTs are in states that do not have a higher headquarters, so here they can train and practice working with one."

Preparation began months in advance as network, signal and communications teams from the 36th Inf. Div., planned and organized equipment and systems to support the two-week exercise. Nearly 5,000 Soldiers and nine units from the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, and the Texas and Mississippi National Guard participated in the training.

"In February, we had a full server refresh and rebuild," said Master Sgt. Brandon Horta, the 36th Inf. Div. Communications Noncommissioned Officer in Charge. "So we did a lot of network reengineering and reconfiguring of the Tactical Mission Command server." 

The command staff from the participating units had concerns about the connectivity of the Army Battle Command Systems required to track and control the moving pieces in the simulated battlespace. 

"Due to the varying fielding schedules, not every unit participating in this exercise had the same versions of the many systems we use to communicate," said Simpson. "Without the same versions, the systems cannot cross talk."

The various U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard units solved this by system tests, double-checking software consistencies and frequent conference calls with each other across six time zones for months in advance. According to Simpson, this early preparation was key for successfully setting up the MIBT and allowed the exercise to kick off with all the units on the same playing field communications-wise.

An advance party of mostly communications Soldiers arrived May 28, and began setting up more than ten types of transmitter and relay systems, the Army Battle Command System, a Tactical Mission Command server and various unit tracking systems.

"The biggest challenge when we got here was the unforgiving terrain [due to the recent severe flooding in and around Fort Hood]," said Horta. "Several units had to move locations and we had to adjust our communication relays and retransmissions sites to provide the best connections."

One site, manned by a dozen Soldiers in rotating shifts, maintained a FM radio retransmission antennae and a High Capacity Line-Of-Sight Radio dish. The dish is a tri-band antennae system that requires line of sight from dish to dish to provide faster data transfer for reconnaissance video and intelligence systems.

"It took us about a day to set up and sync the dish and the FM antenna," said Pfc. Stephen Lewis, a 24-year-old computer information specialist with Signal Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 36th Inf. Div. "The hardest part was keeping the antennas up and linked. The first week, it rain more than half the time we were up there making the ground soft and muddy."

Despite the challenges, the communication Soldiers were able to successfully provide the necessary systems connectivity allowing the operations centers, headquarters units and ground troops to remain in contact throughout the division's portion of the exercise.

For the 36th Inf. Div. staff, the MIBT exercise is the first step in preparing for the division's Warfighter 2018 rotation in eighteen months. Warfighter is multi-year preparation training event culminating in a simulated exercise that allows units from brigade to division to corps, to integrate command systems, and execute large-scale missions and operations.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 10:19:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Army National Guard Receives Excellence Award 

Texas Army National Guard Receives Excellence Award

Story by: Laura Lopez

Posted: June 21, 2016

Courtesy Photo | Army Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, Special Assistant to the Director of the Army National Guard, (left) presents Army Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris, Assistant Deputy Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard (center) and SFC Brenda Lopez, TXARNG G5 NCOIC (right), with the Army National Guard Communities of Excellence third place in the Bronze division at a ceremony held at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, May 23, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez)
Courtesy Photo | Army Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, Special Assistant to the Director of the Army National Guard, (left) presents Army Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris, Assistant Deputy Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard (center) and SFC Brenda Lopez, TXARNG G5 NCOIC (right), with the Army National Guard Communities of Excellence third place in the Bronze division at a ceremony held at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, May 23, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez)

AUSTIN, Texas– The 2016 Army Community of Excellence winners were recently announced by the Department of the Army, with the Texas Army National Guard earning third place in the Bronze division. 

An awards ceremony was held at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, May 23, 2016.

“This is a tremendous honor for the Texas Army National Guard and is truly representative of the 18,000 citizen-soldiers who serve state of Texas and the U.S.,” said Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris, Assistant Deputy Adjutant General-Army. “This is definitely an award that encompasses a group effort and, as such, enables us to better serve our fellow Texans.”

The ACOE Award honors the top Army, National Guard and Army Reserve installations which have achieved the highest levels of excellence in building a quality environment, outstanding facilities and superior services.

“The Texas Army National Guard departments have learned that ACOE is more than just a competition; it is about providing a common vocabulary that facilitates an environment of excellence and a continuous process for improvement,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brenda Lopez, G5-Organizational Excellence noncommissioned officer in charge, Texas Army National Guard. “We have also learned the importance of integrating our customers, partners, and workforce into organizational change processes that will have lasting impacts to our organization.”

The ACOE program is an Army Chief of Staff program that uses the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program Criteria for Performance Excellence – an internationally recognized integrated management system – to evaluate installations. The criteria ensures the leadership considers all stakeholders, tailors the post’s processes and resources accordingly, and employs visionary thinking through the application of proven business principles in six distinct, but integrated categories. Those categories include leadership, strategy, customer focus, measurement, analysis and knowledge management, workforce focus and operations focus. 

The TXARNG has competed in the annual ACOE competition since 1996. Since 2006, the TXARNG has placed in the rankings and been named a gold winner, nationally, six times.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 10:16:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Guardsmen partner with Czech Republic engineers 

Service members from the Texas National Guard's 386th Engineer Battalion, the 551st Multi Role Bridge Company, U.S. Army's 20th Engineer Battalion, and the Czech Republic 15th Engineer Regiment conduct a wet gap crossing during a operation rehearsal June 20, 2016, at Fort Hood, Texas, as part of a Multinational Lumberjack River Exercise. Through the States’ Partnership Program, the Texas Army National Guard currently works alongside the Czech Republic and Chile to conduct military operations in support of defense security goals. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)
Service members from the Texas National Guard's 386th Engineer Battalion, the 551st Multi Role Bridge Company, U.S. Army's 20th Engineer Battalion, and the Czech Republic 15th Engineer Regiment conduct a wet gap crossing June 20, 2016, at Fort Hood, Texas, as part of a Multinational Lumberjack River Exercise. Through the States’ Partnership Program, the Texas Army National Guard currently works alongside the Czech Republic and Chile to conduct military operations in support of defense security goals. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

Texas Guardsmen partner with Czech Republic engineers

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted: June 21, 2016

FORT HOOD, Texas – Engineers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 386th Engineer Battalion, 551st Multi Role Bridge Company, Czech Republic’s 15th Engineer Regiment and U.S. Army’s 20th Engineer Battalion conducted a Multinational Lumberjack River Exercise, June 21, 2016.

“This is the first time we have worked with an active duty engineer battalion in order to conduct a gap crossing exercise along with the foreign national soldiers,” said Texas Guardsman Lt. Col. Anthony J. Miles, commander for the 386th Eng. Batt.

The Texas National Guard is currently partnered with the Czech Republic and Chile under the State Partnership Program. Through SPP, Guardsmen conduct military-to-military engagements with multinational allies in support of defense security goals.

“It’s an honor to see Czech soldiers exercising alongside American soldiers,” said Petr Gandalovic, Ambassador for Czech Republic, during his visit to Fort Hood. “This is important because we all keep the same values and we all have to be responsible for each other, and the responsibility translates into capability of doing something real.”

Service members coordinated with each other to conduct a wet gap crossing. When a large body of water is blocking ground transportation, this is used to transport military supplies, personnel and or vehicles across a lake or river.

“The concept of the operation was to conduct rafting operations and project combat power across the far shore,” said Capt. Jacob Patterson an operations planner for the 386th Eng. Batt. 

During the exercise, soldiers worked on ground to free-launch bays and bridges into the lake, and conducted air operations to sling load a bridge, several bays and ramps.

“The aircraft is doing airdrops,” said Sgt. Randall McMorris, with the 551st MRBC, non-commissioned officer in charge for the shore portion of the exercise. “We have a landing zone up the road, and they will attach a ramp and boat and drop it in the water.”

Once all the equipment was in the lake, service members connected the bays and ramps to form a floating bridge. Each bridge is made up of five interior bays and two ramps, referred to as a seven float. 

“With that seven float you can push the heaviest piece of army equipment across, said Patterson. “We pushed M113’s, M2A2 Bradley’s, Up-Armored Humvee’s, a buffalo and a husky, which is a route clearance piece of equipment,” said Patterson.

Soldiers built, two bridges to transport equipment across the lake and used real-world conditions as practice for maneuver operations. 

“This year the water levels are much higher than they were last year,” said Patterson. “It’s about 5 to 10 ft. higher than what we experienced last year, so that in itself is a challenge because we’ve had to change the operation multiple times based on Mother Nature and what we were given to work with.”

Last year the Texas National Guard’s 386th Eng. Batt., went to the Czech Republic to conduct a similar exercise using the Czechs’ equipment. This year, they came the U.S.

“It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far,” said 2nd Lt. Josef Kurfirt a platoon leader with the Czech Republic’s 15th Eng. Reg. “The most valuable thing for us is for us to see this bridge, work with their equipment and vehicles, and compare technologies and procedures with them.”

The State Partnership Program has been successfully building relationships for over 20 years. The U.S. currently works with 76 nations around the globe.

“This is extremely important in today’s environment to be able to work with interagency and non-governmental organizations with multinational forces, to include our own,” said Miles. “It’s an excellent training opportunity because that’s how we fight overseas. We get rolled up and assigned to other active duty units so if we can practice that in a peacetime situation it makes it that much easier in a wartime situation.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 10:13:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

49 Texas youth receive fresh start through Texas National Guard's Texas ChalleNGe Academy 

49 Texas youth receive fresh start through Texas National Guard's Texas ChalleNGe Academy

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: June 18, 2016

Photo By 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy | Cadets pose for a picture before graduating from the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East June 18, 2016, in Altair, Texas. The graduates finished the 22-week residential phase of the alternative education program with some recovering high school credits, earning their high school diploma or GED or both. The ChalleNGe Academy is a Department of Defense-funded program through the National Guard and the Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce.
Photo By 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy | Cadets pose for a picture before graduating from the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East June 18, 2016, in Altair, Texas. The graduates finished the 22-week residential phase of the alternative education program with some recovering high school credits, earning their high school diploma or GED or both. The ChalleNGe Academy is a Department of Defense-funded program through the National Guard and the Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce.

EAGLE LAKE, Texas (JUNE 18, 2016) – Their faces beamed with pride as the spotlights illuminated them. Some tried to maintain their bearing as they sat upright, but smiles emerged from others as cheers from their families, friends and staff who supported them throughout the residential phase of the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East echoed in the auditorium.

The day had finally come. They were moments away from being Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East graduates during a ceremony June 18 at Rice Junior High School in Altair.
For the past 22 weeks, the cadets adhered to a strict, military lifestyle, waking up at 4:45 a.m. for physical training, attending classes during the day and turning in at 8:45 every night.

The 49 graduates have their own stories and different circumstances that brought them to the alternative education program, which is a Texas National Guard program under the Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce.

For some, it was a last option to reclaim their lives after a few bad decisions or life circumstances led them to dropout of high school or go down a wrong path and fall behind in their school work. 

But regardless of the reason for attending TCA, they all finished with a new lease on life, with several earning their GEDs or high school diplomas or both.

For Samantha Villarreal, 17, of Houston, it was a way for her to not give up on herself and accomplish something she said she thought wouldn’t happen.
Villarreal said she began smoking when she was in the ninth grade. At that time, she started to lose interest in school and wanted to dropout, but because her parents stressed the importance of receiving an education, she began to look for alternative ways to complete high school.

“Dropping out was never an option for me because my parents didn’t graduate,” she said, “so they wanted more for me.”

Into her 10th grade year, Villarreal said she continued to smoke and eventually began a home school program, which she attended for only about a month before quitting that, too.

“I realized I’m here doing nothing and I’m supposed to be doing my school work and I’m not,” she said about the home school.
After traditional high school and home school didn’t work, Villarreal said she began searching for military schools and found the Texas ChalleNGe Academy.
Villarreal went in to the academy missing credits from her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, but due to her work in the program, she was able to earn her GED and recover most of her credits. Now she only needs three more credits to earn her diploma.

Even though she has a GED, Villarreal said she plans to go back to school and earn her diploma and eventually join the military and go to college.
Andres Martinez, 17, of Brownsville, has a similar story.

Martinez said he started doing drugs and his mom wanted to get him out of that environment.

Martinez said his mom and brother began looking for bootcamps to enroll him. When she found TCA, he said he was open to the idea of attending. 
“I was pretty nervous,” Martinez said, “ but I believed in myself and that I was ready for it.”

While at TCA, staff awarded Martinez the position cadet first sergeant. Staff holds the cadet first sergeant accountable for both student companies.
“I felt proud of myself to know that they were faithful in me to do that position,” he said.

While at TCA, Martinez earned his GED and high school diploma and participated in the Commandant’s Challenge.

Martinez said he plans to join the National Guard and attend college with hopes of becoming a border patrol agent.
“I’m glad I took the opportunity to come here because it helped make me more responsible and take care of my stuff, myself and have discipline to not follow bad influences,” he said. 

Throughout the cycle, TCA cadets were able to meet with and work with Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce airmen and soldiers, who helped mentor them through the process.

TCA is a Texas National Guard-sponsored educational program to help at-risk youth between 16 and 18 years old get their lives back on track. The program is completely voluntary and requires a 17 and a half-month commitment.

All cadets must not have any felony convictions and be drug free at the time of entry.

The academy is broken down into the 22-week residential phase and a 12-month, post-residential phase.

TCA focuses on eight core components – academic excellence, health and hygiene, job skills, leadership and followership, life-coping skills, physical fitness, responsible citizenship and service to the community.

In addition to their schoolwork, cadets had the opportunity to participate in other programs like archery, student council, student leadership positions and the Commandant’s Challenge. Students also perform community service every Saturday and have the option to attend church and participate in intramural sports on Sundays.

TCA is a Department of Defense-funded program and receives 25 percent funding from the state. The program is free to Texas residents.
TCA’s West campus in Sheffield plans to graduate 57 cadets June 24 in Iraan.
Both TCAs will begin its fall cycle in July.

Saturday, June 18, 2016 10:26:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Visits Texas National Guard 

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Visits Texas National Guard

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena 

Posted: June 17, 2016

Photo By Sgt. Elizabeth Pena | Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush, Senior Enlisted Advisor, right, talks with service members of the Texas Army and National Guard, left, during a town hall meeting at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, June 17, 2016. The meeting was part of the visit from General Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Brush gave servicemembers words of advice on how to be good leaders for incoming soldiers and airmen. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
Photo By Sgt. Elizabeth Pena | Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush, Senior Enlisted Advisor, right, talks with service members of the Texas Army and National Guard, left, during a town hall meeting at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, June 17, 2016. The meeting was part of the visit from General Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Brush gave servicemembers words of advice on how to be good leaders for incoming soldiers and airmen. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena) 

AUSTIN, Texas – The Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank J. Grass visited the Texas National Guard headquarters at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, June 17, 2016, along with his senior enlisted advisor Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush. 

During the visit, they met with key leaders from the Texas Air and Army National Guards to discuss operations within the Lone Star State.

“This is the best thing we get to do,” said Grass, “we love getting out and seeing what happens on the ground. The real world is out here and what you do every day. We are very happy to be here.”

Grass currently serves as a military adviser to the President, Secretary of Defense and National Security Council and is the Department of Defense's official channel of communication to the Governors and State Adjutants General on all matters pertaining to the National Guard.

“Just about every trip I take, I find out something that I didn’t know the National Guard was doing around the world,” said Grass.

After an operations brief from Texas National Guard leaders, it was Grass’ turn to brief Texas service members and thank them for their hard work and dedication to country. Grass expressed to Texas Soldiers and Airmen what a great opportunity it’s been to understand the different roles within the Guard and to actually share that information with people at the Capitol and people inside the Army and Air Force.

“You have two state partners, both Czech Republic, as well as Chile, and what you do there is so great. It has become so valuable all the way to the President of the U.S.”

Grass and Brush held a town hall meeting to talk with service members about past, present, and future operations within the National Guard as well as the Guards’ State Partnership Program, which currently includes 70 unique security partnerships with 76 nations globally. 

“It could be any one of our units that are building that mission whether it’s the war fight, the homeland or the partnerships,” said Grass. “Think about what’s happening this year in Texas alone. And between those three missions, says how heavily you’re engaged…everyday there’s something happening.”

With this visit, Grass has officially visited all the states of America. “Fifty four states, territories and the District of Columbia and he saved Texas for last,” said Brush.

As a part of his Texas tour, the leaders went on to visit a local gym where Grass caught up with mixed martial arts fighter and Texas Guardsmen, Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy.

Lastly, Grass took a trip to Fort Hood, Texas, where he met with soldiers from the Mississippi and Kansas National Guard during their annual training.

Friday, June 17, 2016 10:29:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard