Posts From August, 2008

National Guard Troops drill ahead of Gustav

National Guard troops drill ahead of Gustav
KVUE News, Austin
Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration in advance of Gustav’s landfall. In Austin, National Guard troops were practicing for possible rescue situations.

Texas makes preparations in case Gustav strikes

Texas makes preparations in case Gustav strikes 
By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press Writer 
BEAUMONT, Texas — The possibility of Tropical Storm Gustav slamming into Texas as a powerful hurricane put the state and residents on alert Thursday as the deadly storm continued a path toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration for 61 counties in case Gustav arrives early next week along the coast, where some people Thursday were already filling up their gas tanks and stocking up on water and supplies.

Forecasters say the tropical storm could make landfall Tuesday anywhere from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. With top sustained winds just below hurricane strength, Gustav was projected to become a major Category 3 hurricane upon entering the warm and deep Gulf waters.

Authorities say Gustav has killed 67 people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

"I urge Texans along the coast to monitor this storm closely, heed warnings from their local leaders, and take necessary precautions to protect their families, homes and businesses," Perry said.

Hotels in East Texas filled up fast as Gulf Coast residents made plans to head north. Tourism officials in Tyler said that most of the East Texas city’s 2,200 hotel rooms are booked for the coming weekend and beyond.

"Flooded — the phone has not stopped ringing since yesterday," said Patty Boaz, a front desk clerk for America’s Best Value Inn and Suites in Tyler. "We’re getting bombarded."

Gustav’s possible path toward Texas caused Perry to suspend his planned trip to the Republican National Convention in Minnesota. He activated numerous state resources, including putting up to 5,000 members of the Texas National Guard on standby.

The Texas Department of Transportation used electronic signs along the highway to urge motorists to fuel up their vehicles.

In Beaumont, which bore the brunt of Rita when the Category 3 hurricane landed in 2005, all eight pumps at a gas station were busy Thursday afternoon with drivers reluctant to wait until the last minute to fill up.

"I’m more passive right now," said John Fisher, 45, a retired store manager filling up his car at the crowded station. "I’m going to wait and see what happens with the storm."

At a Home Depot, people were stacking up on water, plastic, gasoline cans and plywood.

Hal Miller, 50, bought five sheets of plywood to help board up his daughter’s home in Mont Belvieu although he wasn’t sure her house would be in the path of the storm.

"For her peace of mind, I’m going to board up her windows," Miller said.

In Houston, officials were monitoring the hurricane and had begun numerous preparations for the storm, said Joe Stinebaker, a spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

With Hurricane Katrina three years ago, Houston’s Astrodome had sheltered 25,000 of the estimated 250,000 evacuees who came to Texas from Louisiana.

Louisiana, Texas and Harris County officials have consulted and any evacuees would be moved inland rather than to Harris County, Stinebaker said.

He said it wouldn’t make sense to move people to a hurricane zone. Tropical Storm Hanna, which was named Thursday morning, is trailing Gustav’s path, and he said it would be disastrous if the storm followed evacuees to the Houston area.

At a Beaumont grocery store, Janice Espree, a homemaker, had three 24-packs of bottled water in her shopping cart, as well as some fruit.

She said she was just buying extra supplies in case the storm comes her way.

"I think most people here are prepared and are ready to leave if they have to, but some people, with the high gas prices, might have to ride the storm out," Espree said.

Federal Government Steps up preparations for Gustav

Federal Government Steps Up Preparations For Gustav
Release Date: August 27, 2008 
FEMAWASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is coordinating plans and preparatory activities of numerous federal agencies in close communication with state, tribal and local officials as Tropical Storm Gustav threatens to return to hurricane strength prior to impacting Gulf Coast states. All residents in the region are encouraged to make personal preparations. Information is available at on how families and individuals can best prepare before the storm.

FEMA and its federal partners are in close communications with states along its potential path in order to review plans, pre-station assets and personnel, and respond to any request for assistance. FEMA’s work with states using a Gap Analysis tool to determine in advance of storms where federal assistance is most likely to be needed has helped federal and state agencies to develop pre-scripted mission assignments and other contingency plans to help improve response and recovery efforts.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry puts Republican Convention Plans on hold

Texas Gov. Rick Perry puts Republican Convention plans on hold
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News 
Map of Storm PathGov. Rick Perry has suspended his plans to attend the Republican National Convention next week in St. Paul because of the potential problems that could be caused by the looming Tropical Storm Gustav, which is expected to grow into a hurricane later today.

The governor was to host the Monday kick-off breakfast of the Texas delegation, as well as a prayer meeting. He also had a prime speaking spot on the convention scheduled.

If Gustav diminishes or makes land-fall outside of Texas, the governor could still resume his political schedule.

Meanwhile, state preparations are underway to meet the potential destruction of Gustav. The governor has issued a disaster declaration for 61 Texas counties to allow emergency evacuations and national guard deployments, if they become necessary.

All Gulf States are in the projected path of the storm, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane as it reaches the warmer Gulf of Mexico waters, according to the National Weather Service.

National Situation Update: Thursday, August 28, 2008

National Situation Update: Thursday, August 28, 2008
Homeland Security Threat Level: YELLOW (ELEVATED)
FEMASignificant National Weather
Texas is planning for two contingencies: 1.) response to a CAT 3 hurricane or higher landfall strike and 2.) support of 40,000 to 50,000 evacuees from the State of Louisiana. The Governor has activated 5,000 members of the Texas Militia. 750 buses is en route to San Antonio and 300 ambulances have been requested. The State Operations Center (SOC) will transition to full activation on Saturday, August 30, at 9 a.m. EDT. The Governor is expected to request a pre-landfall declaration.

Texas State Guard receives training from SFA on GPS applications

Texas State Guard receives training from SFA on GPS applications

Charles Ashton, SFA geospatial trainer I, briefs Texas State Guard members on what they will be learning during a GPS training. The purpose of the training is to familiarize guard members with introductory GPS applications. The training will continue through Sunday.Photo by Tyesha Boudreaux/The Daily Sentinel
Charles Ashton, SFA geospatial trainer I, briefs Texas State Guard members on what they will be learning during a GPS training. The purpose of the training is to familiarize guard members with introductory GPS applications. The training will continue through Sunday.Photo by Tyesha Boudreaux/The Daily Sentinel

The Columbia Regional Geospatial Center at SFA is hosting two GPS applications trainings for the Texas State Guard.

The first training began Wednesday and will last until Sunday. The second training will begin Wednesday, Aug. 27, and will end Sunday, Aug. 31.

The purpose of the training is to familiarize 24 guard members with introductory GPS applications, according to Charles Ashton, SFA geospatial trainer I and graduate student.

Under the direction of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas State Guard is a voluntary force that is an emergency response asset to the state, Ashton said.

"We’re working with the Texas State Guard to have a unified and coordinated effort using GPS/GIS technologies during an emergency-response event," Ashton said. "And this is going to allow the guard to already have a familiarity and a working relationship with us so that in a time of an emergency we’re not all just discovering each other. We’ve already worked together, trained together and we have a process in place to help do area-damage assessment after an emergency event."

Areas that the training will cover include the usage of topographic maps and geospatial tools in emergency management.

On Friday, guard members will complete a field reconnaissance exercise in downtown Nacogdoches to see what kind of assets it has for an emergency response, Ashton said. An emergency operation center will also be put in place.

"That’s one of the first things you do," he said. "You get the EOC up, and you start coordination efforts of all the people involved."

On Saturday, the guard will complete a wide-area damage assessment at SFA that will simulate hurricane damage on campus, he said.

On the last day of each session, guard members will participate in a rescue, recovery and damage assessment field exercise on SFA property located at the corner of University Drive and Starr Avenue.

The Columbia Center completed the first GPS training, which was a trial run, with the Texas State Guard in December 2007, Ashton said. Since then, 150 guard members have been trained on GPS introduction applications. "Our commitment is to help the guard respond as much as possible to any emergency-response event," he said.

The "Third Branch" Contributes to newly established behavioral health services

The “Third Branch” Contributes to Newly Established Behavioral Health Services
Lt Col Greg Perry, 136th Airlift Wing, TXANG

Maj Richard Chaumier (TXSG, TMB) led the Behavioral Health Services at the Besteiro Middle School in Brownsville, Texas during OLS 08Photo by Photo by CPT J. Michael Spraggins PAO TXSG TMF
Maj Richard Chaumier (TXSG, TMB) led the Behavioral Health Services at the Besteiro Middle School in Brownsville, Texas during OLS 08Photo by Photo by CPT J. Michael Spraggins PAO TXSG TMF

Being a member of the Texas Air Guard, we sometimes feel overshadowed by the shear numbers of the Texas Army National Guard. So, I can only imagine the struggle it is for the Texas State Guard to be heard and find ways to contribute to the mission and capabilities of the Texas Military Forces. The Texas State Guard (TXSG) is one of three branches of the military forces that report to the Texas Adjutant General; they bring unique challenges and amazing attributes to the Texas Military Forces. The most glaring attribute is the truest spirit of volunteerism—except for rare circumstances like Operation Lone Star and being activated for disaster response operations like Hurricane Dolly, the members of the TXSG are pure volunteers. They give of their time, and yes even of their pocketbook, just to train, prepare and serve the citizens of the State of Texas.

Nowhere was this spirit of volunteerism more evident than the officer in charge of Behavioral Health Services at the Besteiro Middle School in Brownsville, Texas, this past week. Maj Richard Chaumier (TXSG) led the Behavioral Health Services that included Capt Allen Rush (TXSG), Capt Jeri Gates (TXARNG) and SSgt JoAnn Alonzo (TXARNG). Maj Chaumier boasted that he and his staff were rarely seen without “a smile on their faces”.

Some might question this abundance of good cheer while working long days in an improvised treatment facility away from just might make you question the state of mind of the Behavioral Health staff. However, when you visit with them, you quickly learn that their smiles serve two purposes. First, it’s the sincere expression of satisfaction from helping people--both the citizens of south Texas and their fellow members of the Texas Military Forces. Capt Rush put it plain enough about Operation Lone Star when he said, “We love doin’ this!” Second, smiles are a small but effective form of preventative care—worker stress levels are lower if people are smiling or even cracking jokes. The same holds true for those receiving care: every smiling face from the first greeting at the edge of the parking lot to the last person in the check-out process made a difference in what could be a very daunting experience for children and adults alike. Maj Chaumier believed it was part of their mission to “roam the hallways wearing out shoe leather” just to play with kids or check up on the caregivers.

Behavioral Health staff did more than smile and play with the children. Maj Chaumier was quick to point out that Lone Star was not the place to begin treatment for those in the local populace suffering from life’s stresses or signs of depression. However, being co-located with the Chaplain staff and the local community resources functions was ideal for referring citizens to resources they might have otherwise never considered.

When asked to provide an example of the value Behavioral Health brought to Lone Star, Capt Gates told us about a sole-provider mother with children referred to Behavioral Health by the medical screening staff. This mother was the eldest of her siblings whose father had died a few years back. This mother lacked what we all need—a support system. Capt Gates explained that the mother expressed relief just from her short visit—it gave her a rare opportunity to talk about her loss without the concern of burdening her younger siblings or children. Capt Gates was successful in referring this patient to local mental health resources and, hopefully, the positive experience at Lone Star will make her more likely to avail herself of those resources. Capt Gates explained that it is common for many of us to need reassurance that our reactions to stress and loss are “normal”.

Maj Chaumier said it was by chance that SSgt Alonzo brought her invaluable experience to his section. SSgt Alonzo was assigned to Behavioral Health as a translator, but she also brought years of experience from her civilian employment working in Child Protective Services. Maj Chaumier bragged about SSgt Alonzo’s interactions with both children and adults.

Colonel Marco Coppola (TXARNG) was happy to have Behavioral Health as an established section in his “Lone Star Treatment Facility” and equally pleased on how seamlessly the TXSG and TXARNG members blended together. He told Maj Chaumier in his morning staff meeting that the TXSG was welcome back next year and the only thing he wanted to change was to ensure the TXSG was billeted at the same location as his TXARNG members.

When Storm blow in, Texas military forces head out

When storms blow in, Texas military forces head out
Iuliana Petre - Killeen Daily Herald

Photo of Texas Flag waving
Aviators of the Texas Army National Guard’s 449th Aviation Support Battalion proudly display the Lone Star flag from the rotor blade of their UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter staged at the Weslaco Texas Municipal Airport during Hurricane Dolly.Photo by Photo by 1SG Lek Mateo, US Army

When back-to-back storms – Dolly and Edouard – recently threatened the coast of Texas and other parts of the state, Texas military forces were alerted to support first responders.

Although military forces – the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas State Guard – are never the first to provide emergency services, soldiers and supplies are moved to points of distribution to ensure that organizations like fire departments, emergency medical services, police, county sheriffs, deputies and judges, are available to support their communities.

“We always think it’s about everybody else,” said Col. Bill Meehan, the Texas military forces spokesperson.

A total of 950 soldiers were alerted to support Hurricane Dolly, and 675 were alerted to support Tropical Storm Edouard.

The first dispatch call for military forces comes from the governor’s Department of Emergency Management office in Austin, an organization that alerts military forces and determines troop and support allocations.

With no more than two or three days to prepare and pre-position assets, military forces remain on alert, ready to perform medical services, conduct search-and-rescue missions, transport and distribute supplies that will reach local residents and provide communications systems to help responders communicate with one another.

Spearheading operations is a command and control unit, the Standing Joint Inter-Agency Task Force, which is trained to work with civilian responders. It is headquartered in Austin.

For the recent storms, the majority of forces came out of Houston, San Antonio and the lower Rio Grande Valley, Meehan said. The forces included: from Houston, the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which provided the majority of soldiers for both Hurricane Dolly and Tropical Storm Edouard; three air wings, the 136th Airlift Wing from Fort Worth, the 147th Reconnaissance Wing from Houston and the 149th Fighter Wing from San Antonio; and soldiers from various other Texas State Guard units across the state.

Receiving an alert notification shortly after a natural disturbance’s first sighting and before it develops into a storm, units begin planning and preparing almost immediately so as to ensure that troops and supplies are in place when a storm hits.

Active-duty units are not called in for support unless a natural disaster grows increasingly difficult to manage at the state military forces level.

Setting a New Standard

Setting a New Standard
Cadet Micah Barnes, Operation Lone Star, 100th MPAD

Lt. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, the Adjutant General of Texas presented Texas State Guard (TXSG) Colonel Frank Stead, Medical Brigade, with the Texas State Distinguished Service Medal in Brownsville, Texas, for his outstanding performance during the last year’s Operation Lone Star 07 (OLS). Photo by CPT . Michael Spraggins PAO TXSG
Lt. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, the Adjutant General of Texas presented Texas State Guard (TXSG) Colonel Frank Stead, Medical Brigade, with the Texas State Distinguished Service Medal in Brownsville, Texas, for his outstanding performance during the last year’s Operation Lone Star 07 (OLS).
Photo by CPT . Michael Spraggins PAO TXSG

HARLINGEN, Texas (August 1, 2008) - Texas State Guard (TXSG) Colonel Frank Stead, Medical Brigade, received the Texas State Distinguished Service Medal in Brownsville, Texas, for his outstanding performance during the last year’s Operation Lone Star 07 (OLS).

OLS is a joint mission which is held annually between the Texas Military Forces (Texas Army National Guard along with Air National Guard and Texas State Guard) and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to provide basic health care and dental services to the underserved population living along Texas’ southern border from the lower the Rio Grand Valley to Laredo.

The award was presented by Lt. Gen. Charles Rodriguez, the Adjutant General of Texas during a luncheon held for important guests and visitors to OLS’s main operating facility, Besteiro Middle School.

Stead has shown the ability to not only execute, but to improve upon the task given to him from his superiors. “In addition to exceptional service to the Texas State Guard (TXSG), Frank had truly been the heart and soul of Operation Lone Star for a long time.” said Colonel Joel E. Henness, this year’s commander of Joint Task Force OLS.

The call to service had appealed to Stead ever since he was a graduate student at Ohio State University and was exempted from the Vietnam draft. This exemption increased his yearning to serve and protect this country, which inevitably led him to join the Texas State Guard. “I always wanted to serve since that time and I felt that this was my chance to do so after my retirement in Fredricksburg,” said Stead.

In February of 2003 Stead received his commission in the Texas State Guard, within the year he was the Logistics officer for Operation Lone Star. “Being the manager of the 11th largest public utility company in America the task was something I could handle.” In the following years, he continued to excel and by 2007 he was named operations commander.

During his tenure as commander, Stead took the opportunity to visit the people out in their own communities. The understanding resulting from these visits led to great innovation and improvement in the service provided by the Texas Joint Military Forces during the medical disaster training exercise.

He continued pressing the need for community interaction this year by sending out a mobile team to serve those trapped by flooding from the recent landing of Hurricane Dolly.

This emergency preparedness that OLS encompasses is familiar to him as the head of Emergency Management at the Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg, Texas. When you tie this together with his part-time work as an Emergency Medical Technician and volunteer fireman for Fredricksburg, we are very grateful to have had him as a leader of Operation Lone Star.