Posts in Category: Texas State Guard

Daughter of Tuskegee Airman makes Texas State Guard history

By WO1 David Brown, Texas State Guard

SAN ANTONIO - During World War II, Sgt. Percy Howard Payne was assigned to the support team of the 332nd Fighter Wing of the U.S. Army Air Corps, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen— America’s first black aviators. A generation later, the Payne family would again make military history, as Col. Paula Payne became the first black woman to serve in the rank of colonel in the Texas State Guard.

As part of the Tuskegee Airmen, Percy Payne worked in procurement and used his talents as a musician and entertainer to support troop morale as part of Operation Happiness. Serving at a time when the U.S. military was racially segregated, Percy Payne found himself denied leadership roles, as black Soldiers were denied entry into the officers corps. Frustrated with a system that denied advancement based on race, Percy Payne left the military when the war ended. Photo of Sgt. Percy Howard Payne

Undeterred by her father’s treatment, Paula Payne enlisted in the Virgin Islands Air National Guard after finishing her undergraduate and graduate education. According to Paula Payne, the decision was not well received by her father. 

“He told me ‘I just hope they treat you better than they treated me,’” said Paula Payne.

Describing herself as “a rolling stone”, Paula Payne described her career in the Guard as highlighted by travel and full of support from her superiors. Her first move was to Andrews Air Force Base after transferring to the District of Columbia National Guard. Upon arrival, she met a commander with a link to her family’s past military service. 

Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis was the commander of Paula Payne’s new unit, the 113th Fighter Wing, and also a native of Tuskegee, Alabama. According to Paula Payne, Davis took quick interest in her career development and coordinated for her to obtain a full time position with the Air National Guard. 

“When I arrived to the 113th, Lt. Gen. Russel asked ‘Why do you want to do weekend drills? We need some people for active duty at the Air National Guard Support Center and the National Guard Bureau!’” said Davis. 

Paula PayneDavis’ recommendation helped Paula Payne become the first enlisted airman to serve in the Chief of Chaplain’s Office at the Air National Support Center. The move also put Paula Payne on the path to joining the ministry. Payne went on the earn a masters degree in divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary, and direct commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

“I started all over again from the bottom of the officer’s ranks, separated from active duty, and transferred over to the Air Force Reserves as a chaplain candidate.” 

Paula Payne served in a variety of pastoral duties rotating between the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve following her commission,  until the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 called her back to full-time service as the Air National Guard’s first black female chaplain.  

Paula Payne’s first combat deployment led her to Balad, Iraq as part of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, a component of the 332nd Fighter Wing, her father’s former unit. Though prejudice kept Percy Payne from rising through the ranks, his daughter Paula was named the senior chaplain at Joint Base Balad. 

During her time in Iraq, Paula Payne described the attacks as non-stop, recalling one night when a mortar struck near her quarters.  

“You could hear the faint eeeee... boom, and it was close to my hooch, the housing location of the medical group. The rocket was launched in the middle of the night. I felt the thing hit the ground, PA-PUM. Then I heard ‘Nobody move, shelter in place!” said Payne.

An hour and a half went by as the Explosive Ordnance Team attempted to defuse the mortar. Paula Payne sheltered in place, praying.  Paula Payne sheltered in place, praying.

“I knew I was going to die if I stepped out that hooch and made one move.” said Payne. “Then came the sound of an explosion, the next thing I heard was someone shout for the chaplain.” 

Immediately, it was back to work for Paula Payne as she ran to the site where a young airman died attempting to save his fellow service members. 

“If it were not for him, it could have been me or anybody else. He was my hero,” said Payne.

Following her six months in Iraq, Paula Payne deployed to multiple assignments across Europe and the United States before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. Thinking of what life might hold next, she remembered the stories of her grandfather, who had grown up in Texas as the son of a Methodist preacher. It inspired her to pack her bags again, and this time, she and her twin sister Patricia Payne, an Army veteran, decided to relocate to Texas. According to Payne she sensed something waiting for her there.

Four years later, Payne took the oath of office becoming the first black female colonel to serve in the Texas State Guard. Payne had worked towards attaining that rank in both Air National Guard and Air Force reserve, but she was never selected.

“I had finally come to terms that the promotion was not God’s plan.” said Paula Payne. “Then the Governor signed the promotion order. When I die, my obituary will read, “Chaplain, Colonel, Paula M. Payne. Texas did that for me.” 

Paula M. Payne

The Texas State Guard: Woman Beyond the Uniform

Story by WO1 Kevin Farley, Texas State Guard

Captain Cyla Barron, of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) has been selected as a finalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition on October 11, 2020. As one of 25 finalists, she will be competing with contestants from the Army (8), Navy (7), Air Force (7), and Marines (2). Barron is the only contestant representing the TXSG. The competition, originally scheduled to be held in Florida, will be held virtually due to COVID-19. 

According to the Ms. Veteran America website: “The Ms. Veteran America competition highlights more than the strength, courage and sacrifice of our nation’s military women, but also reminds us that these women are Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Wives.” 

The purpose of the competition is to highlight the women beyond the uniform and was created to benefit The Final Salute, Inc., an organization established to help support homeless women veterans and their families.Captain Barron

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Barron has lived in Texas for approximately 12 years. Serving in the TXSG for almost seven years, Barron also served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a structural mechanic trained plane captain. 

“Initially, I did not want to be a part of [the competition] because I thought it was a pageant and that doesn’t fit who I am. However, once I found out that it was more of a competition with a good balance between pageantry and Veteran causes, I was on board,” said Barron. 

However, Barron had never heard of the event until a visit to the Veterans Affairs (VA) earlier in the year. 

“After an appointment at the VA, I was in line grabbing something to eat when I met a Vietnam Veteran. I was paying for my food and told him that breakfast was on me, thanking him for his service,” Barron said. 

Approximately six months later, the Vietnam Veteran, named Jim, located Barron via Facebook and informed her about Ms. Veteran America. 

Jim went on to tell Barron, “I never forgot what you did for me and it meant so much. You should run for Ms. Veteran America because you have a heart for veterans.” 

Still not very interested in the competition, Barron looked it up on the internet out of obligation. Then when she discovered that the Ms. Veteran America competition was focused on what she was already doing by supporting veteran causes, Barron had a change of heart. 

“My goal is to bring visibility to the causes that I believe are under-represented such as the struggles women face serving and outside of the uniform,” Barron said. “Additionally, I’m hoping to bring visibility to the Texas State Guard and other veteran causes that I am passionate about.” 

Barron serves as a volunteer for the Women Marines Association as President and founder of the Heart of Texas Austin Chapter, the OV-10 Bronco Association, PTSD Foundation of America, Patriot’s Hall, VFW Dripping Springs. She has also served as a Big Sister in the Big Sisters/Big Brothers of America, Drive a Senior and other volunteer organizations. 

The final competition will consist of interviews, questioning, gown presentation and talent. The questions will be focused on Women in Military History.

When asked how she is preparing for the competition, Barron stated, “I have been practicing my talent and studying a lot!” 

As a Texas State Guard woman who provides mission-ready military forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies, there is no doubt that Barron will be prepared for the final competition. 

 

 

Texas Medical Provider Mission highlights partnership between National Guard and Active Duty

Story by Mr. Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas – More than 1200 service members are partnering together from the Texas National Guard and the Active and Reserve components of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to support Texas hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gov. Greg Abbot has secured a partnership between the Texas National Guard and U.S. Army North that will provide local hospitals with medical professionals from the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas (left), converses with U.S. Army North Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson (right), during a visit to the Texas State Operations Center in Austin, Texas, July 16, 2020. While there, military and civilian leaders strengthened their partnership and discussed the joint military COVID-19 operation in support of federal efforts and the state. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to states in need as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of the whole-of-nation COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Col. Martin O'Donnell / U.S Army North Public Affairs)
Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas (left), converses with U.S. Army North Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson (right), during a visit to the Texas State Operations Center in Austin, Texas, July 16, 2020. While there, military and civilian leaders strengthened their partnership and discussed the joint military COVID-19 operation in support of federal efforts and the state. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to states in need as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of the whole-of-nation COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Col. Martin O'Donnell / U.S Army North Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, welcomed the additional healthcare providers that will be joining a Texas Military Department response that began in March 2020.

“By partnering with the Active duty and Reserve components, we will be able to provide this much needed support and relief to the Texas civilian healthcare workers who have been working tirelessly to care for the people of our great state,” said Norris.

According to Norris, the Texas National Guard already shares a strong working relationship with U.S. Army North. The San Antonio based U.S. Army North also provides defense support of civil authorities in times of need.

Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and the Joint Force Land Component Command, also pointed to the long-standing relationship between the Guard, Active Duty, and the joint force.

“This is a total force effort,” said Lt. Gen. Richardson. “Our joint service members are working determinedly to relieve stress on hospitals and to deliver care to communities in need.”

Maj. Gen. Norris, serving as the first female adjutant general of the state, and Lt. Gen. Richardson, serving as the first female commander of U.S. Army North, have both spent months working to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the nation.

“We are committed to assisting those in need as part of the ongoing whole-of-nation response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of FEMA,” said Lt. Gen. Richardson. “At the same time, we remain fully capable of conducting our primary mission of defending the homeland.”

Leading the effort on the ground will be Texas Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Thomas Suelzer. Appointed as the dual-status commander, Suelzer will provide direction to both Texas National Guard and federal service members.  The nomination and approval of the dual-status commander streamlines the process, ensuring a smoother and more effective collaboration of state and federal resources.

According to Suezler the dual status commander allows the governor to continue leading the response with both state and federal military assets. Under this structure, orders and guidance can simultaneously be received by the President.

“It is an incredible experience to work with our service members in this historic event. My position will allow for collaboration between orders directed by Governor Abbott and those by the President'” said Suelzer.  “I am proud to see how effortlessly our forces have integrated with each other.”

Among the medical staff is Maj. Tanya Island, of the 147th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard. Island is serving as the Joint Task Force Lone Star Surgeon where she works to position personnel and resources across the state.

Island represents what makes the Guard such a valuable tool for state response as she leverages both her civilian career as a nurse anesthetist and her military training to help her fellow Texans.

“This operation really opened my eyes as to how critical a role the National Guard has in this response,” said Island. “Since COVID-19 began we have coordinated over 320,000 tests and now we are standing up teams of medical professionals to backfill civilian hospitals.”

The 12 initial teams will consist of 100 medical staff, including doctors, nurses, medics and healthcare administrators from the National Guard, Active Duty forces and Military Reservists.

Current focus areas are Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, the Rio Grande Valley, and the Texas Coastal Bend. Suezler explained the mix of metropolitan and rural response areas highlight very different ways the Texas health system is strained. Cities like Houston and San Antonio are dealing with large populations that increase the communicability of the virus, while rural areas including the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Coastal Bend struggle to find medical providers in the sparsely populated region. 

In addition to the medical personnel mission in support of COVID-19, Guardsmen across Texas continue to staff mobile testing sites and provide decontamination of critical facilities.

“Our Guardsmen continue to serve their neighbors and local communities’ months after activation,” said Norris. “I want every Soldier, Airman, and their family members, to know how much their dedication means to the people of Texas.”

 

Damon Williams: Electrical/Computer Engineer on a Normal Day, Military Leader in a Crisis

By: WO1 David D. Brown, TXSG

AUSTIN, Texas - It is said that not all heroes wear capes, but some might say Damon Williams frequently trades in his employee’s badge for one, at least temporarily. The Texas State Guard (TXSG) deployed the Texas Tech grad to Houston during Hurricane Harvey in late summer 2017, and more recently deployed Williams yet again in support of COVID-19.

It was March 15, and the COVID-19 pandemic had reached the United States. While many began planning for modified work shifts or remote work to continue business, Sgt. 1st Class Williams was planning a different sort of work schedule. The TXSG notified Williams that he would be deployed to help prepare communities across the state for the pandemic’s spread.

"I got the message of my deployment and immediately reached out to my supervisor to have my projects covered or completed while away,” said Williams. “I also had to prepare my family for my absence as I was told that the COVID pandemic had grown to the point that we needed to prepare to provide medical support to civilians.”

Williams is the Operations non-commissioned officer for the 6th Brigade and oversees approximately 300 Soldiers who are providing medical support at local hospitals and testing locations, food distribution in support of local and state food banks, wellness checks for elderly home care patients, as well as warehouse support distributing medical supplies. This deployment, working in the Texas State Guard Emergency Operations Center and State Operations Center, would be for the long haul. Since then, Williams and his team have had minimal contact with their families for safety and health reasons. It’s a sacrifice, but it reflects the spirit of community service for which the TXSG has earned a reputation, selflessly assisting civilian authorities during emergencies and times of disaster.

“Throughout my tenure in the Texas State Guard, and as commanding general, I continue to be grateful for the men and women who make personal and career sacrifices to answer the call to duty on behalf of their fellow Texans,” said Maj. Gen. Robert J. Bodisch, Sr., Commander of the Texas State Guard. “Sgt. 1st Class Williams exemplifies such sacrifices and while doing so embodies the best of the Texas State Guard.”

A mission fully focused on the communities served by the Texas State Guard, it is the small things that keep these Soldiers going day in and day out.

“The thanks we get from doctors and nurses when we arrive with boxes of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), seeing people’s minds at ease after going to one of our testing centers…those are the moments we live for,” Williams said. “Although we can no longer accept hugs, a smile, a solid fist or elbow bump carries us through the 12-hour days.”

While deployed, Williams received the wonderful news that he and his wife are expecting a second child. Williams says he's especially grateful for the support he’s received from his employer by permitting him to attend training and to participate in deployments, which gives him a sense of security.

“My employer has been unwavering. There is no way I could be able to serve without my team members and co-workers. They have been amazing,” said Williams. “I have a lot of lunches to buy to thank them when I get back.”

With the state still in a partial reopening and the rise in case numbers and hospitalizations, it’s unclear when Williams will be back at work – or back home. At times, he admits, it has been hard to keep fear of the unknown at bay.

“Yes, we are scared. Scared for our brothers and sisters serving next to us, for those in the hospitals who are helping the sick, and for all the families being affected by this. But you can't let fear stop you. You have to push forward through that fear to help those that can't help themselves,” he said.

As Guardsmen and women continue their work on the front lines to help fellow Texans, one sees Williams’ commitment echoed in the actions of all who wear the uniform: “We are all prepared to serve as long as we’re needed.”

Texas Guard launches innovation unit

Story by Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

After over a year of preparation, the Texas Guard is officially launching the Texas Military Department Joint Innovation Unit: TMDx.

Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.

The original plan called for a live event at the Capital Factory in Austin, home to the TMDx flagship innovation hub. However, recent concerns over COVID-19 forced the program to do exactly what it was designed for – partner, innovate and come up with a solution. That partnership came in the form of a livestreamed event, hosted by Capital Factory and simulcast across multiple social media platforms, July 15.

The launch, hosted by Sean Duffy, VP of partnerships at Capital Factory, featured appearances by Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas; and Maj. Alex Goldberg, TMDx managing director.

TMDx will utilize the Texas Guard’s position as the largest state military force in the country to leverage partnerships in industry and academia throughout the Texas innovation corridor to develop a new framework for military problem-solving.

Pilot Training Next, a technology-focused pilot preparation course founded in Austin, along with partnerships in construction, software programs and 3D printing technology, was just one of the TMDx noted successes highlighted during the event.

Lengyel focused on the 3D printing program during his remarks as he noted that Texas had won the National Guard Bureau’s national innovation competition. The program will allow F-16 maintainers to print replacement parts for the F-16 fighter aircraft, shortening logistical delays for parts and reducing costs.

“No one innovates like the National Guard and especially not like Texans,” said Lengyel. “This same technology was also able to print personal protective equipment and ventilator parts that we can use during our COVID-19 response.”

Speed and the ability to respond quickly to growing threats is imperative.

“It all comes down to needing to move faster,” said Goldberg. “Our adversaries are moving faster – faster in space, faster in hypersonic and faster in fielding commercial technology.”

The growing presence of near-peer threats are considered to be outpacing the U.S. in innovation.

“The status quo is comfortable, but what works today to ensure our national security will not be good enough for the challenges on the horizon,” said Norris. “The military moves slower than we would like and are moving away from a ‘no because’ mindset to a mindset of, ‘How do we get to yes?’”

The program’s launch in Austin will be a first step, according to Goldberg, who shared plans for expansion to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth and El Paso.

A Crockett Signs Up to Serve Texas… Again.

Story by SSG Eric Walden, Texas State Guard

Every now and then when you meet someone, their name rings a bell, and before you know it you are asking “Oh are you related to….?” If you were to ask such a question of one of the newest recruits in the Texas State Guard (TXSG), a Private named Stephen Crockett, you'd be right in your hunch. Not long after Crockett was sworn into the 2nd Battalion, 6th Brigade of the TXSG at Camp Mabry in May, he was asked - and he confirmed - that he comes from a long line of Texas Crocketts, including a certain famous distant cousin who gave his all at The Alamo. 

Stephen descends from another "David" Crockett, too: "Davy's" grandfather, David, was massacred along with his wife in an attack by the Chickamauga Cherokee in 1777 at their cabin by near Crockett Creek in what is now called Rogersville, TN. The Cherokee also kidnapped a deaf and mute son named James and shot another son Joseph in the arm during the attack. The elder David Crockett was also the father of John Crockett: the father of the hero of the Alamo, and William Crockett from whom Stephen descends. 

The two brothers William and John ended up marrying sisters with the maiden name Hawkins (making Stephen a double cousin to Davy) who also happened to be cousins to Brigadier General John Sevier’s wife making them related by marriage to Sevier. The then-Col. John Sevier, who later became the first governor of Tennessee, fought with William and John Crockett as part of the “Overmountain men” at the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780, winning a major victory of the American Revolutionary war against British loyalists. It is also worth noting that William and John Crockett never forgot their kidnapped brother and found him 17 years later and bought him back from some Cherokee traders. Patriotism and loyalty seem to run deep in the DNA of the Crockett family, a trait that will serve Stephen well in the TXSG.

Being a distant relative of the Alamo hero was a point of teasing for a young Stephen Crockett growing up, listening to the ballad of Davy Crockett sung by his peers far too often (even though he had never seen the TV show). However, that relationship to Davy and its significance never really took hold in Stephen’s mind until he was much older. It was when he moved to Austin and visited the Capitol and saw the ‘Heroes of the Alamo’ monument featuring Davy Crockett on the Capitol grounds that he said it became a bit surreal. "I still have trouble sometimes wrapping my head around the level of importance or significance that is attributed to him, and realizing that it’s based on that statue in a lot of ways, positioning him as THE hero of the Texas Revolution,” Stephen Crockett says. "Even now, it’s humbling to think about that."

Stephen was born and raised in Texas and attended college at USC in Los Angeles where he earned his degree in civil engineering. Eventually making his way to Austin, Stephen began volunteering once a week as a driver for the “Meals on Wheels” program there. Stephen also had a strong interest in SCUBA diving and attained his Rescue Divers’ certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). He discovered the TXSG through a co-worker who was a guard member, who told him about the TXSG and its dive teams.

“I enjoy giving back, and I also love adventure and pushing my limits, and diving with the TXSG seems to fit right in with both of those things,” Crockett says. At 33 years of age, Stephen is not yet married so he has quite a bit of free time on his hands and wanted to find “interesting and fulfilling ways to spend the time that isn't wasteful.” Stephen also serves as a volunteer teaching English for the Refugee Services of Texas.

Stephen is not the only Crockett to continue the tradition of military service to his state and country. Stephen’s grandfather, Charles Richard Crockett (or Richard Charles as the family called him) joined the United States Air Force after graduating from the University of Arkansas, serving as a JAG Officer. He went on to practice law for over 50 years. Stephen also has two uncles who served in the armed services. James Crockett served in the United States Army and his brother Robert served in the United States Marine Corps. His 3rd great-grandfather, William Sevier Crockett, was a Private in Co. A, 5th Regiment, East Tennessee Infantry of the Union Army in the Civil War. His 6th great-grandfather, William Crockett, was an Ensign in the American Revolutionary War. Answering the call to duty appears to be a family tradition.

David “Davy” Crockett was a pioneer in the early days of our union. He joined the Tennessee militia and was active in fighting in the Creek War, but also showed his leadership by providing for the soldiers, and by hunting wild game for them to eat. He progressed into public service by becoming a commissioner in Lawrence Co., Tennessee, and was soon appointed Justice of the Peace by the state legislature in 1817. In March of 1818 he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 57th Regiment of the Tennessee Militia and in 1821 ran and won a seat in the Tennessee General Assembly. After an unsuccessful run for the United States House of Representatives, Crockett won the seat in 1826 and was re-elected in 1828. In 1830 he was the only member of the Tennessee delegation to oppose Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act, which cost him the next election. However, he ran again and served in Congress until 1835. 

On November 1st, 1835, Davy and three other men left for Texas to explore and find a homestead. On the day he left, witnesses remember him wearing his hunting suit and the famed coonskin cap. Crockett arrived in Texas in January of 1836 and swore his oath as a volunteer to Texas on January 14. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8th and by the 25th of February he had already entered the armed conflict with General Santa Anna’s Army. Bolstered by an early 90-minute victory against the Mexican Army, Crockett was sent by Lt. Colonel William Travis, along with two others, to find Fannin’s Texian reinforcements and led them back through Mexican lines to the Alamo on March 4th. On March 6th, just before dawn, the Battle of the Alamo began and within 90 minutes it was over; and all the defenders were dead. 

In the years since, Davy Crockett has become a larger than life figure, his name known around the world. His legacy has become part of Texas and American folklore. The name Crockett invokes the spirit of the citizen-soldier - a spirit that is alive today in the TXSG, a branch of the Texas Military Department with its roots stretching all the way back to Stephen Austin's first call-to-arms to defend Texas.  184 years later, the TXSG welcomes another Crockett, ready to serve Texas and his fellow Texans. 

A Fight on the Home Front: The TXSG Joins the COVID-19 Battle

By WO1 David Brown, Texas State Guard

History will record that in the spring of 2020, a silent, invisible killer attacked on the home front.  

Even before the Governor officially activated Texas Military forces on March 17, members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) were taking steps to get ready for what most could see coming: a statewide deployment to help combat COVID-19.   

Conceived as a state defense force, one could say the TXSG was built for a battle like this.  But not even veterans of past disasters could expect what fighting the coronavirus would entail.  

“Unpredictability and dealing with the unknowns - that’s the biggest thing,” CPT Cyla Barron explained. Barron has served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the National Guard, and in several different posts in the TXSG, including Battle Captain in the TXSG Emergency Operations Center (TEOC), during Hurricane Harvey.  Now Barron is back in the TEOC, the operational hub for the State Guard, monitoring oversized screens with the latest numbers of coronavirus cases, tracking potential hot-spots  and helping to coordinate the deployment of TXSG troops with liaison officers from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas Department of Emergency Management. 

“Harvey was fairly predictable.  We could see it coming and stay one step ahead.  Now (with COVID-19) we have to monitor and respond to a constantly changing deadly threat and at the same time protect ourselves from getting ill.” 

On another screen in the TEOC, Barron, Asst. Battle Captain WO1 Jon Gimble and Battle NCO SGT Travis Ross tracked the progress of a team of TXSG engineers, evaluating potential medical overflow facilities in northeast Texas.  The TXSG team was part of a Joint Engineer Task Force which included specialists from the National Guard and the State Construction Management and Facilities office.

“The TXSG brings added value in a situation like this,” said LTC Cecil Bell, the recently appointed Chief of Engineers for the TXSG.  In addition to serving in the TXSG, Bell is a Texas State Representative, and a licensed expert in water infrastructure construction. “If you’re an engineer in the State Guard, you have an advanced degree, you’re a working professional, you have licensed state certification; what we drill on is what we do in our day jobs.”   

As a practical demonstration of that added value, potential medical overflow facilities were evaluated using a checklist designed by a TXSG engineer, Bell said. “That’s part of the uniqueness of our role in this fight against COVID-19: we have a skill set that includes many years of real-world facility operations and maintenance know-how.”  His observation echoes the ideal of the highly trained citizen-solider at the core of the TXSG.  

Though proficient in and tested on FEMA best practices, PFC Patrick Mejia, a Guardsman based in San Antonio, could hardly have anticipated what the fight against COVID-19 would throw at him: a constant parade of oversized 18-wheelers bringing in and hauling out personal protection equipment (PPE) to the Texas Department of Emergency Management warehouse in the ‘Alamo City’.  

By day, Mejia works as a recruiter for the Texas ChalleNGe Academy, a tuition-free education program for teens disengaged with traditional school, sponsored by the National Guard. Since his deployment on April 3rd, Mejia has put his work and home life on hold to serve his fellow Texans in 7-day-a-week shifts, from 0400 to 1600.  His job involves warehouse logistics for items such as face masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, blankets, and other critical goods in short supply statewide.  

As soon as Mejia could get a new load of pallets numbered and labelled, notice would come in from the State Operations Center (SOC) in Austin to prepare for a pick-up.  Working alongside members of the Army National Guard and the Texas A&M Forest Service, Mejia and fellow Guardsman PVT Ricardo Espinoza would help load up shipments for delivery to hospitals, armories and local institutions in Lubbock, Dallas, El Paso, and all points in between.  

“Working in the warehouse, sometimes you feel like you’re in a bubble. It hurts because you know there are people who need this equipment, these are your neighbors and the numbers are growing,” Mejia said.  “And there’s the fatigue, the lack of sleep...then you see on the (TV) news a delivery being made to a hospital...and it’s like “hey! That’s my writing on the side of that pallet!”  

Farther east down I-10, SGT Eseil Hernandez and PFC Johnathan Williams of the TXSG 2nd Brigade were working in warehouse support operations alongside colleagues in the 1st Squadron, 112th Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard providing assistance to the greater Houston area. Facing time pressures to get critical medical supplies into the distribution chain, Guardsmen employed technology originally designed for shelter and evacuation missions. “I use the same equipment I trained with to scan people and their belongings (during evacuations) to keep track of essential medical supplies that can be quickly dispatched from our distribution point as needed,” Hernandez explained. 

“I don’t mind stepping away from my job to be of service to the community,” Williams added.  “It is about the oath I took when I enlisted.”

It’s about Texans helping Texans.  It’s about making a difference.

“At a time of unprecedented uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I could not be more proud of the men and women of the Texas State Guard,” said Robert J. Bodisch, Sr, Commanding General, TXSG.  “This is not a normal mission, but these are not normal times.  From our medical professionals, engineer teams, logistics and staging, operations and administrative personnel, and many others, the TXSG has proven once again we are always ready and able to answer the call to serve our fellow Texans.  We are also recruiting new members and those who need a purpose and a chance to belong to something greater than themselves.”

“It is exhausting, the long hours,” TEOC Battle Captain Barron concedes, “but it makes me so proud to be here, working alongside people who come from all walks of private life bringing their experiences to the table to help their Texas neighbors...there’s a true sense of camaraderie.” 

And one might add, even in these trying times, a sense of something more.  A sense of: Duty. Honor. Texas.

Soldiers of the Texas State Guard 2nd Brigade help the Chaplain in a time of need

Story by Chaplain Richard Brunk, 2nd Brigade, Texas State Guard
 

Soldiers of TXSG 2BDE help Chaplain
Soldiers of the Texas State Guard 2nd Brigade really stepped up for Chaplain Brunk.

In April I wrote: “Most everything about COVID-19 is awful. How can we have high morale during such a unique, ongoing and devastating crisis?”
Well, the following is a story about some of our 2BDE Soldiers lifting my family’s morale!

It started with a casual comment. I was speaking with Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich about ways to match up Soldiers with skills with Soldiers and their Families with needs. One Soldier said he could tutor Chemistry and Math for kids having to homeschool due to COVID-19. Another Soldier offered to help a Soldier with some damage at their home.

So, what was the casual comment? I mentioned that my wife and I had been busy picking up debris from a storm that ran through our community. While many of our neighbors lost 50- and 60-foot oak trees, we got away pretty easy. Our portable greenhouse had been flipped over and destroyed, so we had a lot of repotting to do, fortunately we saved most of the plants. We still had a big pile of branches as well as some tree limbs that needed pruned, along with some other cleanup work.

Illich said that he would come up Saturday morning to help and that he would bring his chainsaw. Saturday morning, he knocked on my door and told me that there might be a few more Soldiers coming to help. A few turned into ten, with chainsaws and loads of tools. Everyone was masked, gloved and following COVID-19 guidelines and safety rules.

In a few hours, I had a stack of firewood, dead and damaged trees and limbs cut away, and after a lot of hard work, a clear path to my fence for the first time since I moved in five years ago. Dangerous debris is now safely disposed of. We had no injuries, lots of hard work, great training on equipment and problem solving as entangled old fencing and posts were making the whole thing challenging.

My wife, Kathy and I are very thankful for the Soldiers of Second Brigade who volunteered their time: Pvt. Steven Kahla, Pvt. Tyler Frankum, Cpl. Michael Prior, Sgt. Danel Emert, Pvt. Sean Mai, Pvt. Eric Hoffman, 1st Lt. Matthew Bramanti, and Col. Edwin Grantham. Thanks also to Sgt. 1st Class Gordon, and Staff Sgt. Alberto Dominguez for their help in organizing volunteers.

We are blessed to have troops of all ranks, including Commanders and leaders, from the company level right up to the State, that care about each Soldier. You and your family are indeed the lifeblood of the TXSG and a huge resource for the State of Texas. Thank you!

Texas Guard mobilizes to respond to COVID-19

Story by Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard is mobilized throughout the state to help expand health care capacity during the COVID-19 threat.

Gov. Greg Abbott activated the Texas National Guard March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The activation included three joint task force brigades, the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and 176th Engineer Brigade, which will lead 10 general support units positioned across Texas. 

Texas Army National Guard troops set up a field hospital in response to COVID-19 April 1, 2020, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. Service members across Texas worked to set up Geographically Separated Units (GSU) to support local communities. (Texas Air National Guard Photo by A1C Charissa A. Menken)
Texas Army National Guard troops set up a field hospital in response to COVID-19 April 1, 2020, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. Service members across Texas worked to set up Geographically Separated Units (GSU) to support local communities. (Texas Air National Guard Photo by A1C Charissa A. Menken)

Abbott held a news conference with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, at the Texas State Capitol and said the Guard would provide medical, logistics, transportation and communication support for health care.

The Guard's primary role is expanding health care capacity in Texas. This includes increasing access to supplies and equipment, as well as staffing capacity and the number of available hospital beds.

Members of the 6th Civil Support Team headquartered at Camp Mabry in Austin examined donated personal protective equipment like N95 respirator masks and latex gloves to make sure the material was undamaged and effective.

Maj. Sean M. Thurmer, deputy commander of the 6th Civil Support Team, said the trust the state put in the team was earned during years of working alongside the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

"The 6th Civil Support Team has responded to many incidents in Texas and has developed relationships with response partners with whom they work," said Thurmer.

Effective equipment will be distributed to medical facilities and hospitals treating patients with COVID-19. By maintaining the adequate supply of this equipment, the Texas Military Department is ensuring medical providers can continue serving the public while also protecting themselves.

The Guard's 176th Engineer Brigade is also finding and equipping non-medical sites where patients can be treated if hospitals run out of room.

"While hospitals will remain the primary location to treat and care for those in need, we are ensuring that Texas is prepared for any possible scenario in which current hospital capacity is exhausted. This joint initiative with the Texas Military Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will expand the care capacity in communities across Texas," said Abbott.

The first of these sites will be the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, which can accept up to 250 patients with room to expand if needed.

Norris said members of the Guard are also working with local agencies to establish drive-through COVID-19 test sites throughout the state, equipped and staffed by local medical staff and logistics experts in the Guard.

"We are Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, we truly are your neighbors and are deeply invested in keeping our friends and fellow Texans safe," said Norris. "This is our home, too, and together we will get through this difficult time."

Texas State Guard’s "Young Heroes” Holiday Program Hits 100K Toys

Story By: WO1 David Brown, TXSG HQ Ass’t PAO

Texas State Guard members met with the CEO and VIPs of fiveBelow at the fiveBelow Gateway Station, Burleson, Texas, December 21, 2019. fiveBelow is a sponsor for the Texas State Guard - Young Heroes of the Guard Toy Drive.
Texas State Guard members met with the CEO and VIPs of fiveBelow at the fiveBelow Gateway Station, Burleson, Texas, December 21, 2019. fiveBelow is a sponsor for the Texas State Guard - Young Heroes of the Guard Toy Drive.

AUSTIN, Texas -- This past Christmas, one of the most popular and best-known outreach programs of the Texas State Guard reached a new benchmark.  During the 2019 season, the Texas State Guard (TXSG) Toy Drive collected over 100,000 toys, which brought a smile to the faces of hospitalized and homeless children across the Lone Star State.
 
Sgt. First Class John Gately, the Young Heroes of the Guard Toy Drive Coordinator for the last 6 years, reports that the final tally by Christmas Day was 104,604 toys, with a retail value of over $500,000.  Since its inception in 2009, Young Heroes of the Guard has collected and distributed more than 349,000 toys.
 
This is an all-time record for the 11-year-old project, founded by TXSG Chaplains. The initial success of the Toy Drive in North Texas captured the attention – and the imagination – of officials at TXSG Headquarters, who, for Christmas 2014, expanded the program statewide.  Last Christmas, children’s’ hospitals and shelters from Galveston to El Paso received toys collected through this program.

Making this effort even more remarkable is the enormous amount of logistical support work put in by individual citizen-Soldiers of the TXSG.  In addition to their routine Guard duties and their obligations to their own jobs and families, some organizers, such as Lt. Steven Coder of Godley, Texas, put in six to eight hours a day from mid-October up to Christmas Eve. Lt. Coder’s work included organizing the many moving pieces that make such a project successful.

“When you give that child a toy and you watch her face light up”, Coder says, “you’ll understand why we do it.  This toy drive brings such joy—not just to the kids, but to everyone involved, and it lasts long after the holidays.” 

More recently, the program has developed a partnership with the retail store “fiveBelow working together to bring hope and joy to Texas communities. For the third year in a row, members of the TXSG took up positions outside “fiveBelow ” stores across Texas, asking shoppers to make a toy donation on their way out.  Other members of the TXSG, including their families and supporters in the community, set up collection boxes outside businesses and churches.  Hess Corporation, the energy company with offices in Houston, donated 3,000 of its famous toy trucks to the effort.

In early December, the toys were gathered at local armories, sorted into age groups, and distributed to hospitals and shelters across Texas.

When asked, will it be possible to match the spectacular success of the 2019 TXSG Toy Drive next December? 

Coder sighs and cracks a knowing smile.  “We’re already getting to work on that!”