Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Military Department as State Active Duty: The Heroes Next Door

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Photo By Sgt. Amberlee Bouverhuis | A Guardsman assist a young guest to attach a helmet while at the Texas Military Department Open House and American Heroes Air Show on Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 21, 2018. This annual event is an opportunity for the public to interact with thier local Texas National Guard and State Guard. 

TX, UNITED STATES

04.22.2018

Sgt. Amberlee Bouverhuis

 

AUSTIN, Texas - Camp Mabry opened its doors to the public during its annual Texas Military Department Open House and American Heroes Air Show April 21-22 2018. During the event organizations State Active Duty mission was highlighted.

“ For a state active duty mission, we respond to a multiple of things whether it be forest fires, flooding, winter events, whenever we have ice or snow and of course hurricanes,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Cornitius, Command Senior Enlisted Leader for the Texas Military Department. “It’s a state support piece, so we can help Texans, which is what we are here for.”

The Texas National Guard and State Guard is composed of service members that the State Governor can activate to State Active Duty status in response to natural, man-made disasters or Homeland Defense missions.

Recently the Texas Military Department responded to the Governor's call for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, assisting local services in rescue and aid to those affected by the disaster. Two Soldiers with 551st Multi-Role Bridge Co., 386th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade out of El Campo, Texas, were present at the open house to share their stories about their role in the relief effort.

“We went out on the first day after Harvey hit to the nearby communities of Katy, Texas.” said Sgt. Robert Matthews.

“It was a challenge to see the loss, but we saved a lot of people and the lives are what matters.” said Sgt. Willie Wallace.

Opportunities for service members to share their stories with the public is why Cornitius says the open house is important.

“It’s a chance for us to showcase the tools, equipment, and the soldiers and airmen available to help the state and our citizens” said Cornitius. “The citizens of Austin get to come out and look at what we have and how we are supporting them.”

This two day event hosted over 5,000 guests, who were able to see and interact with Texas Military service members and learn about their State Active Duty capabilities.

From combat boots to a crown, Texas Guardsman named Mrs. Texas Galaxy

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Photo By Sgt. Steve Johnson | Texas Army National Guard soldier and Mrs. Texas Galaxy, Staff Sergeant San Juanita Escobar poses for photos at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, Mar. 30, 2018.

TX, UNITED STATES

04.04.2018

Story by Sgt. Steve Johnson

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

AUSTIN, Texas - The southernmost tip of Texas falls into what is colloquially known as “The Valley.” No one really knows why it’s called this since the actual Rio Grande Valley proper consists of just the four counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties and the nearest mountains are hundreds of miles away. The land is flat, tropical and the home of a predominantly, Hispanic population.

It was there, in what she calls the “blink-and-you'll-miss-it” town of Premont that Texas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. San Juanita Escobar took the first steps that would both change her life and the lives of hundreds of young women in Texas and around the world.

These first steps consisted of beauty pageants in the nearby and even smaller town of Concepcion, where pageant competitions are the source of longstanding family rivalries, and defending a title is a matter of honor. Back then no one anticipated that this south Texas girl from the Valley would rise to the title of Mrs. Texas Galaxy.

“Pageants were always something that my family did,” Escobar said. “We had the crown for years, so it was something you just did when you reached a certain age. After that, I competed in several smaller, regional pageants and county fairs.”

Those pageants led to small, local modeling jobs and eventually to auditions in California. But as much as Escobar dreamed of getting out of the small town she lived in, she decided this was not the path she wanted to follow. Commitments at home made her decide to decline the audition call-backs.

“At the time, I wasn’t going to pick up and move to California,” she said. “I had sports, school and my friends that were more important to me. I also didn’t want to do that to the rest of my siblings, so I put all that on the back burner.”

So Escobar stayed in Premont, filling every spare moment of time with studies, volleyball, basketball, cross-country, tennis, and band until one day during her senior year she was approached by a recruiter from the Texas Army National Guard. 

Then everything changed, and it changed in a matter of days. 

“When the National Guard recruiter came and talked to me, and explained the education benefits, I was sold and it became a matter of ‘how fast can we do this?’” Escobar said. “So I met my recruiter on Tuesday and I was enlisted by Friday.”

Naturally, the abruptness of Escobar’s decision came as a quite a shock to friends and family. But while joining the military was a leap into unknown territory for Escobar and her family, the lure of education and travel while still being able to serve close to home was irresistible to the 17 year -old.

“I never really knew much about the military,” she said. “When they told me I could serve part-time, serve my country, still make a change in the world, better my community and still get my education, that’s really what made the National Guard stand out from the other services.”

In July of 2008, Escobar finally left the small towns of her childhood for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“I’m very competitive. I always want to win and be the best, so I used that as my driving force,” she said.

Basic Training was not without some challenges for Escobar. This was her first time really being away from her home and her family. Without them, she had to discover and nurture new internal strengths to help her get through some of the tougher moments on her path to becoming a soldier.

“My strength to continue was knowing that this was something that I truly wanted,” she said. “I knew it was going to change my life for the better and I knew it would make my family proud.”

When she graduated in November of that year, Escobar returned to Texas and was assigned to the 368th Engineer Battalion, in Corpus Christi. There she worked in personnel administration, processing paperwork for other soldiers to deploy. It was also while there that she quickly began to feel like it wasn’t enough.

“I was there for maybe two drills before I started seeing that all my friends were deploying and I really loved the National Guard active life, so I volunteered to deploy,” she said.

By this point many might look for a chance to relax, but Escobar was looking for a chance to be on the move again. She had been home for about six months when an opportunity came up to deploy to Djibouti, Africa with 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment as a member of the security forces for a civil affairs team.

While in Africa, the future Mrs. Texas Galaxy saw a problem, and in a move that would come to be a hallmark of her military career, she decided to help solve it.

“While I was assigned to the civil affairs team, I helped create the Women’s Initiative Program in Ethiopia,” Escobar said. “Because of how high the school dropout rate is for young women, we developed special groups to go to different villages and orphanages to educate and empower them to speak to their political figures and to also inform other women about different political and medical issues.“ In many parts of Africa, women are routinely subjected to discrimination and violence by virtue of tradition or customs. Escobar’s team was engaged to address these issues head on through a combination of education and strength.

“The women always felt alone, like it was them against everyone, so we brought groups together for school and we would teach them that if males don’t want to help them, they can help each other,” she said. “That effort fostered an environment of empowerment for them and let them know that their internal strength could be used to benefit each other.”

The first groups started with 20 girls who were between the ages of 18 to 23, but would eventually reach out to thousands of girls of all ages. The Women’s Initiative Program also worked closely with the Improving the Quality of Primary Education program and the National Women’s Coalition Against HIV and AIDS, to reach even further. When then Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno heard about the program he expanded it, leading to an outreach in 13 different countries that focused on teaching women to advocate for themselves.

When that mission was over, Escobar returned home and eventually became a recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard so she could continue to change young people’s lives the way her own life was changed. It was here that she again saw a specific problem that she felt she could solve.

“When I was a recruiter, my motivation was that I knew where I started and I know where I’m at now and I just want to tell people that there’s going to be light if that’s what they choose, if they choose to turn their challenges into a positive,” Escobar said. “When I would talk to students, the females would always say ‘Oh, I’m too girly to serve in the military,’ or they would worry they weren’t going to be able to ‘be girly.’”

So she did what any recruiter would do in that situation. She started doing pageants again.

“I started doing beauty pageants again and then I would go into schools and show them a pageant picture but I would be there in uniform and I would say that ‘you can’t tell me you can’t do this.’ It was after that I started seeing more of an ‘I can do this’ attitude,” Escobar said.< /p>

Going back in the pageant world after travelling the globe as a Soldier gave Escobar a unique perspective. She drew on those experiences and prepared as rigorously as she would for a military mission, using the training and confidence she gained while serving to make her an even tougher and more determined competitor. After three years, Escobar left the recruiting world to dedicate more time to school but was still competing in pageants.

On March 10th, 2018 she was crowned Mrs. Texas Galaxy. The Galaxy Pageant system ends with the Galaxy International Competition in Orlando, Florida. In July she will represent Texas against dozens of competitors from all over the world. Despite this potential for international celebrity, her primary focus remains serving those in need.

As Mrs. Texas Galaxy, she focuses on highlighting suicide prevention for veterans and spreading awareness. And as a Texas Guardsman she focuses on helping others around the world and specifically her fellow Texans.

“As a member of the National Guard I have been able to go to multiple countries but I have also been able to serve stateside,” said Escobar. “I saw the impact of what it meant when our soldiers went in to help during Hurricane Harvey, and how much our citizens appreciated that. To me that’s important because these are our friends and family. Who is going to take care of them better than us, ourselves?”

Texas Guardsmen cultivate multinational partnerships through competition

BASTROP, TX, UNITED STATES

03.03.2018

Story by Spc. Gerardo Escobar

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

BASTROP, Texas — Texas Guardsmen and service members from the Chilean and Czech armed forces battled to earn the title of the 2018 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Feb. 28 - March 3, 2018 at Camp Swift near Bastrop. 

The joint competition provided an opportunity for cultural exchange as well as enhanced military capabilities in a friendly but competitive environment. 

"With our state partnerships, the Czech Republic and Chile, we trade technical expertise, leadership and values on how they may operate and how we may operate with tactics and techniques," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kristopher Dyer, Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Texas Army National Guard.

This year’s best warrior competition brought together 28 candidates who competed in nine rated events that closely imitated real-life and combat situations. 

"Everything within the competition is scenario based to where they would be able to participate in a combat environment or a real-world exercise," Dyer said. "We put them in mental and physical fully blown tests to see how they react under pressure and stress.”

The importance of the relationship between the Texas National Guard, the Czech and Chilean armed forces is being able to predict the thoughts and processes of a partner nation, allowing them to work in unison, Dyer said. 

The inclusion of foreign forces is part of the TMD State Partnership Program, which is partnered with the Czech Republic and Chile. The program facilitates cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level.

For Staff Sgt. Juan Domingo Silva, a Marine with the Chilean Navy, this was his first time participating in a multinational event. 

“The physical aspect has been challenging but we’ve trained for similar events in Chile,” said Silva. 

The competition meant much more than just winning, it meant representing his country and learning to adapt to a different environment and culture, Silva said.

The program provided Chilean service members with a bilingual sponsor to help with the language barrier during the competition. 

“The culture exchange experience has been valuable,” said Texas Army National Guard Spc. Manuel Najera, Alpha Company, 536th Brigade Support Battalion. Najera served as Silva’s sponsor.

“The most challenging part has been adapting to the Chilean-Spanish dialect,” Najera said. 

Sgt. Jan Hronek, a Czech Republic service member also said interacting with other multinational service members increased his cultural awareness.

“This competition has shown me the similarities between forces and how they operate,” said Hronek. “I feel proud to serve and represent my country abroad.”

The competition enabled competitors to refine their skills and learn from their counterparts.

“At the end of the day this is an event that brings Texas together with two separate countries that we are partnered with,” Dyer said. “Together they learn from each other and benefit from training and different techniques and ways that we can lead our Soldiers and operate in the environments that we are in.”

The winner of the competition will be announced at a banquet in April. Competitors from both Chile and the Czech Republic will be invited back for the ceremony.

Texas National Guard Soldiers earn Expert Infantryman Badge

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Photo By Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore | A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa receives his Expert Infantryman Badge during the badge ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Feb. 2, 2018. After two weeks of training and five days of testing, 50 Soldiers completed the process to earn the coveted special skills badge that requires Soldiers to perform an Army Physical Fitness Test, day and night land navigation, a 12-mile forced march, and 30 individual tasks covering weapons, medical, and security patrol skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore)

CAMP LEMONNIER, DJIBOUTI
02.06.2018
Story by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore 
Combined Joint Task
Force - Horn of Africa

After five days of testing, 50 U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) completed the process to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Feb. 2, 2018.

Established in 1944, the EIB is an award designed to build and maintain esprit de corps within U.S. infantry units as well as recognize infantrymen and Special Forces Soldiers who have demonstrated the discipline and mastery of skills critical to being an infantry Soldier.

Beginning with 184 candidates, the 50 successful EIB earners made this iteration’s pass rate roughly two percent better than the Army’s overall 2017 EIB pass rate of 25 percent as reported on the website of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCOE) in Fort Benning, Georgia. 

“It’s the badge that shows you are an expert in your field,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Petty, Task Force Bayonet senior enlisted leader and EIB board president. “That means a lot for us in the infantry because that’s where you start – with the individual task … to build those teams, squads, and platoons.”

The badge can be awarded to Soldiers who hold an infantry or a Special Forces military occupational specialty (MOS), with the exception of Special Forces medical sergeant, and who meet all the physical and administrative requirements and can complete the qualification process.

However for these Soldiers, obtaining the EIB had a few more obstacles that needed to be navigated even before the process began.

“Being forward deployed, there are a lot of challenges that we face, most notably a supply shortage,” said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Jonathan Hendrix, 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment assigned to Task Force Bayonet, CJTF-HOA and EIB noncommissioned officer in charge of lanes. “We were able to work with a lot of different partner units.” 

Hendrix worked with the Expeditionary Military Facility to get supplies needed to train and conduct the EIB process. He also worked with the leaders of Battle Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division to see how many EIB holders they had assigned to CJTF-HOA to act as cadre during the process. According to Hendrix, the most notable partnership he had was working with U.S. Navy Seabees to build the training grounds used to hold the majority of the EIB process.

“There were several different Seabee units we worked with directly to help us with a lot of the infrastructure - the tables, the platforms, camouflage nets, moving containers around,” Hendrix said. “Without them, we really couldn’t have pulled this thing off. It was absolutely incredible how willing they were each and every time we asked for more. They were always on top of it, ready to help us out at any opportunity.”

Once the training area was completed, a team from the MCOE - who the Battle Company leaders had been in contact with even before Task Force Bayonet arrived at Camp Lemonnier - came out to validate the EIB course and cadres to not only ensure the integrity of the badge is upheld but also grant the Soldiers opportunity to pursue it in a deployed location.

“It was important for us to do that here,” Petty said. “As Guardsmen, we don’t get that opportunity very often at home, so getting the opportunity to do it here was very important to our Soldiers and the force itself, because it makes an infantryman better.”

To earn the EIB, eligible Soldiers must complete four phases. The first phase requires EIB candidates to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test with a score of 80 percent in each event. Candidates are not allowed to retest this portion.

The second phase consists of land navigation exercises, in which candidates must locate three out of four points in both day and night scenarios. If candidates receive a “GO” for this phase, they are allowed to move onto phase three.

The third phase consists of individual testing stations. It requires candidates to pass 30 weapons, medical, and patrol tasks to specific standards. The tasks are chosen from a possible 45 tasks, with several tasks being required to be included in each EIB qualification. Candidates who receive more than two “NO-GOs,” or a double NO-GO on the same station, during this phase are eliminated from the EIB process.

Finally, the fourth phase requires candidates to complete a 12-mile forced march. Candidates must complete the march while carrying 35 pounds in three hours or less, and then immediately complete the tasks associated with “Objective Bull” in 20 minutes or less. For Objective Bull, candidates must evaluate a casualty; apply a tourniquet to control bleeding, and transport the casualty. If a candidate fails to meet the time requirements or perform the procedures in the proper sequence, they are not allowed to retest and are eliminated from the EIB process.

Out of the 50 recipients of the EIB, four members were “true blue.” This distinction means they passed the entire process without having to retest on any part.

“Pinning the badges on these Soldiers is one of the best times of my career, and I’ve been in a long time,” Petty said. “Getting to see those young privates, specialists, and even the sergeants who have been working so hard to get here - this is some of them second or third time trying to get their EIB - that made me feel especially proud for them.”

 

Soldiers from Task Force Bayonet prepare for the Expert Infantryman Badge

DJIBOUTI

01.26.2018

Courtesy of Tech. Sgt. Michael McGhee

Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa

 

Task Force Bayonet has nearly 200 U.S. Army​ Soldiers from 3rd Battalion 144th Infantry Regiment "Fourth Texas" and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division onboard Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti​, Africa, are going through a rigorous training course to obtain the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB). The EIB is a coveted special skills badge that requires infantry Soldiers to pass a five-day evaluation that consists of an Army Physical Fitness Test, day and night land navigation, a 12-mile forced march, and 30 individual tasks covering weapons, medical, and security patrol skills.

(Video Imagery provided by U.S. Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Michael McGhee)

Texas ChalleNGe Academy takes care of soldiers on the road to Hurricane Harvey

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Members of the 1st Armored Division’s 127th Aviation Support Battalion en route to Joint Base San Antonio stand together at the Texas ChalleNGe Academy, where they were provided with food and lodging when last minute challenges required them to find a place to stay in West Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. The task force, heading to San Antonio to refuel aircraft engaged in hurricane rescue efforts, intended to make the trip in one day, but unexpected challenges lengthened the journey and led them to the ChalleNGe Academy, which was able to put them up for the night. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Aaron Oliver, 176 Engineer Brigade)

Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, Texas Military Department

AUSTIN, Texas – Eleven military vehicles, including 5,000-gallon fuel tankers and trailers carrying 2,500-gallon tankers, merged onto I-10 for the 550-mile trek to Joint Base San Antonio, where they would refuel aircraft dedicated to rescuing Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Enthusiasm was not at an all-time high as these 29 active-duty soldiers from the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade took to the roads the morning of Aug. 30, 2017.

“Morale was mixed when leaving on the convoy from Fort Bliss,” said Sgt. Michael McGrady, a squad leader with the Combat Aviation Brigade's 127th Aviation Support Battalion. “Obviously there was the unknown of where we were going to stay, and we didn’t know where we were going. But we are soldiers and keep ourselves resilient to accomplish the mission.”

The hope was to complete the trip in one day, but this proved unfeasible. Had they been able to maintain their maximum speed of 45 mph, they would have arrived in San Antonio that evening. Instead, as the sun started to descend, they found themselves still pushing through the high plains of West Texas.

Choices for how and where to spend the night were limited, and the urgency with which they departed on this mission prevented them from thoroughly planning for such a contingency, explained Capt. Jess Baca, with the 127th’s support operations section.

“Letting them drive through the night to San Antonio was not an option,” Baca said. “It would take far too long in tactical vehicles. We can’t do that to our soldiers.”

Hotels weren’t an option either, Baca explained. There weren’t many around. So she began researching nearby churches and schools for a sheltered floor where the team could sleep in their cots and eat their preserved field rations.

Fortunately, her search led her to the Texas ChalleNGe Academy, a National Guard-run educational facility able to provide beds, showers, hot food, and space to park the 11 wheeled behemoths.

Any other week, the Texas ChalleNGe Academy would have been full of teenagers working to develop into strong adults. With program oversight provided by the Texas Military Department’s Joint Counterdrug Task Force, the ChalleNGe Academy houses, trains and mentors students for 5 1/2-month cycles. Fortunately for soldiers en route to San Antonio, the Academy’s west campus in Sheffield was on a cycle break, leaving the beds, showers and dining facility available for unexpected guests.

Aaron Oliver, program director for the west campus, said that when he received Baca’s call, he didn’t hesitate to accommodate her soldiers.

“We made that happen,” said Oliver, who is also a captain in the Army National Guard’s 176th Engineer Brigade. “In a span of just a few hours, my staff made sure that the bays were clean, the DFAC manager was able to verify that we had enough chow for this company-sized element, and we got it done.”

Most of the soldiers arrived after 9 p.m. and then local community members surprised them with a generous gift. 

“Somebody in the community got wind of it somehow and a couple community members showed up with 30 pizzas and several platters of cookies,” Oliver said. 

Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Resmondo, the 127th’s support operations section sergeant major, said thanks to the hospitality they received, the soldiers were safer, more rested, and more ready to perform their functions in the hurricane relief efforts. 

“It beats going on a 24-hour mission to try to get down to San Antonio, eating MREs and getting rest on the side of the road,” Resmondo said. “It really helped. It probably made things a lot more safe than trying to push through.”

McGrady said the hospitality they received was the answer to the stymied morale.

“Having some hot food along with baked goods, and cold water after a long drive was a great relief and helped everyone relax.”

The warmth and professionalism the ChalleNGe Academy staff showed the members of the 127th reflected the high quality of service they provide to their students, explained William Pettit, a retired Air Force colonel and the TCA state youth programs director.

“It does not surprise me that TCA employees extended hospitality to these active duty soldiers in the same way that they routinely take care of and develop their cadets,” Pettit said. 

Pettit also asserted that the interest in supporting fellow military personnel reflected the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration that the Texas Military Department promotes in its programs.

“As a Department of Defense-funded program, we were pleased to have the opportunity to support these soldiers who were deploying to help Texans deal with and recovery from Hurricane Harvey.”

Joint, Total-Force Team Soars to New Heights

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Photo By Senior Airman Stormy Archer | Airmen from the 26th Aerial Port Squadron attach an A-22 cargo bag with 2,000 pounds of “relief supplies” to the cargo hook of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flown by Soldiers from Texas Army National Guard Company C, 2-149 Aviation during Operation Alamo Evacuation Nov. 18, 2017, at Martindale Army Airfield, Texas. 36,000 pounds of cargo and 27 passengers were transported as part of the sling load and medical evacuation exercise.

Story by: Col. Kjäll Gopaul,

Deputy Director, Air Force Personnel Operations Activity

 

The deceptively cool morning skies over Martindale Army Airfield had started their climb to 90 degrees Fahrenheit as a joint, Total Force team of Texas Army National Guard Soldiers, Air Force Reserve Airmen, and an Active Duty pathfinder team prepared for their own climb into the heavens on wings of titanium.

Their mission, dubbed OPERATION ALAMO EVACUATION, was simple in its definition, but far-reaching in its demonstration for how components of the armed services can flawlessly converge on an objective and excel in its execution.

The exercise scenario took place November 18 at Martindale Army Airfield and simulated Airmen from the 26th Aerial Port Squadron receiving airdropped relief supplies from the 136th Airlift Wing in a remote part of Southwest Asia.  The Airmen then re-rigged the loads for sling load evacuation and pinpoint delivery by the Soldiers of Company C, 2-149 Aviation, to the relief supply recipients in the impassable mountains overlooking the drop zone.  The Soldiers subsequently conducted no-notice “alert” 9-line medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) responses in support of the scenario’s follow-on operations that afternoon, and flew the Airmen as MEDEVAC actors from Martindale Army Airfield to Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis and back.

 “We started the morning with an aircraft safety brief and rehearsals for our hookups,” Senior Airman Justin King, 26th APS ramp operator, said as he described the morning’s activities. “Once things got going, the UH-60 Black Hawks came in two at-a-time, picking up the sling loads for a simulated relief supply drop-off.  It was exciting to do something that is part of the aerial porter job, yet not part of our everyday norm. This was a great experience! Now we’ve all conducted live sling loads, and understand how they can benefit our future operations wherever we go.”

During the exercise each two-person hook-up team on the ground stood beneath a helicopter while it hovered overhead, then attached the load to the aircraft’s cargo hook.

“It was neat watching the Soldiers bring their aircraft in over us,” Air Force Second Lieutenant Matthew Gonzales, 26th APS officer in charge of the passenger terminal, added. “It’s also intimidating as a huge helicopter approaches the load with the blades spinning, the rotor wash was incredible.  I didn’t think that it would be that powerful, or that someone would really be needed to stand behind and brace the hook-up person, but I’m glad they were there.  This was an awesome opportunity. I just received my commission last week, and I haven’t done anything like this in my 10 years in the Air Force.  This is my first drill weekend at the 26 Aerial Port Squadron, and this type of training instills military pride, develops a joint mindset by working with other services, and aligns with the chief of staff of the Air Force’s vision on joint operations.”

Chief Master Sergeant Joe Gonzalez, 26th APS operations superintendent, served as the pick-up zone NCO in charge (PZ NCOIC) and remarked on the opportunity this mission afforded his Airmen. 

“As the PZ NCOIC, I participated in the mission planning and supervised the safe execution of hook-ups at the touchdown points,” he said. “It was great see our Traditional Reservists get outside the normal garrison training environment and onto a flight line with the Army National Guard Soldiers. As aerial porters, we deploy downrange, and don’t always know what we’ll be asked to do; so we have to work with what’s there.  Likewise, this mission gave us valuable experience with less familiar tasks. We rigged A-22 cargo bags and conducted sling load training with live helicopters, something that that most aerial porters rarely do before deploying.  This was especially valuable as our unit approaches its deployment window.”

Offering an aviator’s perspective of the sling load hook-ups, Army First Lieutenant Christian Lubbe, Texas ARNG Company C, 2-149 Aviation, aeromedical evacuation officer and platoon leader for the Sustainment Platoon, commented, “The ground crews were very proficient and clearly had been trained to be familiar with the task at hand. I was impressed at the rate which we were accomplishing the iterations.  The aircraft would leave and the ground teams were ready to hook the next load.”

He particularly noted the joint benefit, “From an inter-service standpoint, it’s amazing to have a team of Airmen here with us. This is my first type of training like this, and I hope to do more in the future.”

Army Sergeant Tiffani Smith, Texas ARNG Company C, 2-149 Aviation, flight medic, echoed that the morning sling loads were well coordinated from beginning to end.

“It was well-thought out process, executed well, and served as a good refresher for me,” she said. “I thought that the visual cues with the ground marking panels and hook-up teams’ colored safety vests were helpful.  It allowed me to see when the hook-up team was ready, and where to aim the aircraft as we approached the load.” 

She noted the inter-service camaraderie demonstrated during her safety brief to the Airmen that morning carried over to their MEDEVAC flights as passengers that afternoon.

“They were all eager and professional,” she said. “During the safety brief, they were focused and paid attention.  I think it’s because we’re all familiar with American military operations.  We just came back from Kosovo, and working with other nations presents different challenges.  Today’s team was calm, cool, and collected.  They were prepared, and followed directions very well so we could focus on the mission.”

In keeping with its exercise name, OPERATION ALAMO EVACUATION witnessed the sling load evacuation of more than 36,000 pounds of cargo and the medical evacuation of 27 MEDEVAC actors.  Both of the leaders of the participating Texas Army National Guard and Air Force Reserve units emphasized that the day’s mission had value far beyond these tactical measures of accomplishment.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Moore, 26th APS commander, underscored that the mission of the exercise aligned with his unit’s warfighting mission.

“Our primary mission at the 26th APS is to train and provide combat ready aerial porters,” he said. “This joint opportunity let us exercise some of our more unique support requirements that we normally wouldn't see outside of a deployed location.   More importantly, it provided our younger Airmen the opportunity to build and understand inter-service relationships with a key mission partner, the Army. It was exciting to see this come together, and to reinforce our ability to provide Rapid Global Mobility.”

Offering his key leader perspective, Lieutenant Colonel José Reyes, Texas ARNG Company C, 2-149 Aviation commander, remarked how beneficial the training was for both developing technical proficiency and inter-service relationships. 

“This was a tremendous opportunity for our units to work together,” he said. “I challenged my staff to plan the most efficient training with aircrew and aircraft sequencing.  Integrating the Air Force hook-up teams and pre-rigged loads improved the process, allowing faster iterations.  We trained 12 pilots, six crew chiefs, and four medics. To put that many crews through training with only two aircraft in such a short amount of time speaks volumes for the value of inter-service cooperation.”

Reyes remarked that the success of the day’s exercise shows a promising future for joint operations.

“We’re building a relationship,” he said. “We’ve established an association, successfully executed this mission, and now we can plan on future opportunities to reinforce our Joint, Total-Force partnership.”

HEALING AFTER HARVEY: One soldiers Journey through the great storm of 2017

SWEENY, TX, UNITED STATES

11.01.2017

Story by: Staff Sgt. Bethany Anderson

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

SWEENEY, Texas - As a mother and Texas Army National Guardsman, I have had first-hand experience with wildfires, tornadoes, ice storms, snow storms and earthquakes, but Harvey was my first hurricane.

What could have been an ugly and terrible life changing event for my little girls was turned into a beautiful adventure.

As Texas Guardsmen from across the state geared up to serve Texas citizens, I was preparing to evacuate my family from our home. Not knowing where we’d go, how long we’d be gone, weighed me down like a ton of bricks. But I was not about to unnecessarily put my three little girls in harm’s way.

While we loaded food and clothes into the cars, I asked my 3-year-old daughter, Kayden, and my 5-year-old daughter, Alex, to make sure they picked up everything off the floor in case water got inside while we were away.

“Is the house going to sink, Mommy?” Kayden asked, peering up at me with her beautiful big blue eyes.

“Sort of,” I replied. “Now, please go pick up your things off the floor.” Alex and Kayden darted off to their rooms and I continued to pack.

I was gathering up the last of our belongings when I heard Alex and Kayden talking in the hallway. “I love you, one would say. “Be safe,” the other would say. “I’ll miss you… we’ll be back soon.”

I peered out of the doorway to see my two babies hugging door frames and kissing the walls of our house. When they reached me, I could barely hold back my tears.

I evacuated my family around six o’clock on the evening of Monday, August 28, 2017. With my mother’s help, we loaded up my three daughters and three dogs into the car. My mother, whose flight back to California out of Houston was canceled, drove my husband’s truck containing our food, water, some valuables, and clothes. My husband, JD, who was working in Brownsville, looked for someone who could house our dogs.

The drive from Sweeny to San Antonio took us almost seven hours; a drive which normally takes three.

My 13-year-old daughter, Emily, argued with Alex while Kayden made animal noises and sang at the top of her lungs and one of the dogs whined and howled. The madness inside our car seemed to mimic the madness outside the car while I gripped the steering wheel and strained to hear the GPS.

I took a deep breath, focusing on the road as another violent gust of wind rocked the car. What used to be open fields of green were now angry oceans of flood water stretching out as far as I could see. It seemed as if our Toyota 4Runner was precariously skimming over the thin ribbon of road that cut through the massive expanse of water. I have driven through a lot of intense situations as a mom and as a Soldier, but this was, by far, my most stressful drive ever.

We arrived at the hotel in San Antonio around one o’clock in the morning, August 29, 2017.

Despite being mentally and emotionally drained, sleep did not come easy. Kayden’s little fingers were gripped around my index finger and Alex’s head rested gently on my shoulder while I listened to Emily sleep on the couch. My family was safe; but instead of feeling relieved, the uncertainty of our situation gnawed at me. With a heavy heart and my stomach in knots, I finally drifted to sleep.

Warm sunshine poured through the windows of our hotel room the next morning. Alex and Kayden hopped up in bed and exclaimed, “It’s not raining! Can we go home now?” I was both amused and disheartened. “No, girls. It’s still raining at our house. It’s not safe to go back.”

I spent the next two weeks answering the same question, and each time my answer never failed to produce a look of disappointment on my children’s faces.

We relocated three times and had to relocate the dogs twice. Each time we left the dogs with someone else, Alex’s heart would break and she’d sulk into my arms desperately fighting back tears.

I spent every day checking the weather, skimming through Facebook for information and watching Brazoria County press conferences for updates. I hated not being able to tell my children when we would go home. I didn’t even know if we’d have a home to go back to.

Anxiety, guilt and frustration came to me in waves, but I held it all; my girls needed to feel safe. They couldn’t see Mom disappear into her emotions.

Disappointing my children wasn’t the only thing on my mind. I had a couple part-time jobs and had recently started my own business to help pay the bills. Even though my husband was still working, Harvey’s relentlessness put every stream of income I had in limbo. Our family was already struggling to keep our finances afloat, and this certainly wasn’t going to help.

When I first received a message from my unit asking if our family was financially affected by the storm, I didn’t respond. Thousands of other people were much worse off than we were; it didn’t feel right asking for help. But my mom reminded me of all the times that we were able to help other people.

“You and JD have helped financially support others when they needed it,” my mom said. “You need to give others the opportunity to bless you.”

I replied to the text and let my unit know our family’s situation.

While our story is filled with tears and frustration, it is also filled with kindness, hope and gratitude. I have never been on the receiving end of so much generosity, support and encouragement.

When I first heard the phrase ‘Texans serving Texas,’ I only thought of myself as a Texas Guardsman, serving the citizens of Texas and the United States. I never thought it would mean Texas Army National Guard Soldiers serving my family.

Peers and leaders in the 71st Troop Command reached into wallets, without hesitation, and gave money, gift cards, toiletries and toys to my family, many of whom had never seen my face or heard my name before. Letters, gift cards and care packages also arrived from friends of Soldiers.

“This is like Christmas!” Alex shouted in excitement as she reached into a box of toys.

My children were filled with joy and laughter as they played with their new treasures. I was, and still am, both overwhelmed and humbled by the support my family and I received from my fellow service members.

One of my responsibilities as a Public Affairs NCO is to help tell the Army story. My unit, the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, even found a way for me to support the Texas Military Department’s mission in response to Hurricane Harvey, despite my situation. I had Soldiers from my team spread out all over the state of Texas working long, hard hours to make sure people knew who the Texas Army National Guard was and what we were doing to help. It is difficult to be a leader and stand on the sidelines, but my unit empowered me to dig in and help my Soldiers be successful.

While my unit was doing everything they could to ensure the safety and well-being of my family, my business partners from all over the country flew into action. They took up donations and sent our family care packages with activities for the girls, home made cookies and gift cards. Another business partner sent a care package of supplements to help with my daughter’s digestive health problems.

We were even able to explore some fun places, as many businesses (like the aquarium) were opening their doors to Harvey evacuees free of charge. I didn’t have to stress over where dinner was coming from, and I didn’t have to confine my children to a hotel room for two weeks because we didn’t have money for gas. Every penny we received was used on gas, groceries and bills. The monetary and physical gifts my family received were in exact proportion to what we needed, exactly when we needed it. No more, no less.

On Saturday, September 9, the roads cleared and the sun broke through the clouds, so we headed home.

JD had driven up from Brownsville to help me get our family back to the house. We hadn’t seen our home in almost two weeks and didn’t know what to expect, but we were hopeful.

The closer we got to home, the more destruction and devastation we saw. Sheet rock, furniture and appliances were already sitting outside of houses. Trees, bushes and buildings were coated with thick brown mud. Some of the trees and bushes were tangled up with mattresses, chairs and trash. My 13-year-old daughter, Emily, noticed her best friend’s house had fallen prey to the flooding.

Our home was spared, for the most part. The menacing waters of the flooded San Bernard River came within just a few short feet of touching our home. Our master bedroom, bathroom and closet will need repairs from water damage caused by a leak from the first few days of the storm.

We are truly blessed to have so little to repair when so much of our neighborhood and community lost everything.

Whether in uniform, or out of uniform, I am a Texan serving Texas. I’m working to raise money to buy new playground equipment for Kayden’s daycare that lost everything in the flood.

Alex and Kayden sorted through all their belongings so they could share their clothes and toys with children who have none. Emily spent her free time with our church youth group helping people clean up wherever they could. So many people helped us after we evacuated and we’re going to do everything we can to help too. Only good things can come from helping others.

The road ahead for our family is going to be a difficult one. But we know that we won’t have to travel that road alone, or more than one day at a time. The recent events of the last three weeks have shown me that I have the strongest support networks a person could hope for.

I am a better person because of this experience and I will be able to bless others because of it. There are too many people who helped to list them all, but I will never forget and will always cherish their generosity.

There is a lot of uncertainty in our near future, but I am certain that everything’s going to be just fine.

Heroes of Harvey

HOUSTON, TX, UNITED STATES

10.01.2017

Story by Staff Sgt. Bethany Anderson

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

HOUSTON -- Hurricane Harvey carved a path of destruction through countless communities in southeastern Texas for days, after making landfall with an estimated 130 mile per hour winds near Rockport, Texas, August 25, 2017. While storm winds, rain and flood waters brought chaos and tragedy to the area, Texas Guardsmen partnered with local, state and federal first responders, bringing life-saving support and supplies to Texans in need.

Months before Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast, the Texas Military Department worked with state and federal partners to plan a concept operation to rehearse inter-agency coordination and joint training. All of the training for Texas National Guard units would be put to the test before, during and after Harvey left its mark on Texas.

“While we don’t want to have to put our training to the test during a tragedy, our citizen-guardsmen remain prepared to help save lives and property, when called,” said Texas Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Patrick M. Hamilton, Dual Status Commander for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

The Texas Military Department began strategically mobilizing Texas Army, Air and State Guardsmen as Harvey entered the Gulf of Mexico and approached the Texas coast. While the storm raged on, they worked with state and federal agencies through a phased approach to put the appropriate military resources in the right place at the right time.

“We are here to help our communities,” said Hamilton. “Working alongside our partner agencies and local first responders, we focused on deploying Guardsmen and resources where they were needed to save lives.”

Within three days of Harvey’s landfall, 12,000 Texas Guardsmen were working around the clock to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. It was the first time in since World War I that the entire force was mobilized at once.

The first priority was search and rescue. Zodiac boats, high-profile vehicles, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft from Texas and across the country were deployed in response to emergency conditions in affected areas.

Guardsmen from across the United States, partner first responders and service members from both active and reserve components waded through waters with boats and high profile vehicles. Overhead helicopter crews worked to airlift Texans stranded on rooftops, while Airmen in C-130s evacuated numerous people to safety.

Texas State Guardsmen were waiting with dry blankets and a smile, for displaced Texans at shelters across the state where evacuees would be identified and reunited with loved ones. Integrating seamlessly into Harvey relief operations, Texas Guardsmen helped with everything from search and rescue to critical life support, logistics support and safety operations.

Texas Guardsmen conducted hundreds of air and ground missions, performing more than 16,000 rescues and evacuating more than 18,000 people and 1,200 animals. As part of the complex inter-agency and joint operation, state and federal partners performed thousands of additional evacuations and rescue operations.

“This is what we train for,” said Hamilton. “And we’re proud to stand by our civilian partners, first responders and volunteers to serve the citizens of Texas.”

The Texas State Guard, an all-volunteer force, supported Harvey relief efforts with 17 boat teams for search and rescue operations and eight Electronic Tracking Network teams to help evacuees locate loved ones checked into shelters. In addition, the 41 Texas State Guard shelter teams sheltered more than 26,000 evacuees and more than 700 animals in 15 shelters across the state.

On Sept. 1, The sun broke through clouds, stopping what seemed like Harvey’s never-ending stream of rain a, causing flood waters to recede. As the threat from severe flooding began to dissipate, Texas Guardsmen switched their focus to supporting recovery and stability operations.

Texas Army and Air National Guardsmen immediately began constructing temporary hospitals and emergency clinics to aid medical first responders until hospitals regained power. Inside Texas Military Department medics worked side-by-side with civilian doctors to assess and treat those injured in the storm.

“There’s been some pretty serious injuries,” said Texas National Guard Spc. Sergio Villarreal, 1-143rd Infantry Regiment, “It’s great to see civilians and military working hand in hand.”

Thousands of families and individuals were stranded and without clean drinking water for days after Harvey passed over their cities. To provide Texas families in need of basic necessities, the Texas Military Department managed approximately 30 points of distribution in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. Guardsmen, working with volunteers from all over the country, distributed food, clean water, hygiene, baby and pet products to more than 100,000 Texan families in cities from Corpus Christi to Beaumont as part of the relief operations.

Texas Military Department chaplains provided emotional and spiritual support to service members and first responders, while simultaneously coordinating with local churches to get much needed supplies to affected Texans. Soldiers from Texas and Ohio worked together to deliver and feed hay to stranded livestock, helping to preserve the local agriculture and economy.

“This is the way I serve my country. I’m here helping people out,” said Texas National Guard Pfc. Jonathan Galindo, 3-133rd Field Artillery, who worked as a member of a POD team in Orange. “You know, the water is high, they’re not able to get out of their homes. It’s great we’re able to provide for them here.”

The mission of the Texas Military Department is to provide the Governor and the President with ready forces in support of state and federal authorities at home and abroad. When they were called upon, the men and women from the Texas Guard were ready and answered that call with a passion to help people.

“Hurricane Harvey left great destruction in its path, and the recovery process will take many years,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The Adjutant General of Texas. “However, the Texas Military Department’s response to Hurricane Harvey, alongside our partners, saved lives and helped many Texans take the first step towards rebuilding.”

Maintenance Soldiers keep the Hurricane Harvey rescue and recovery effort moving forward

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Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | Sgt. Jennifer Bruner from Claremore, Okla. and Pfc. Thunder Sharp from Perkins, Okla., both with the 700th Brigade Support Battalion, Oklahoma National Guard, check for a short in the wiring of a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle at the Beaumont Regional Staging Area in Jefferson County, Texas, Sept. 9, 2017. The 700th BSB is coming in to relieve the Combined Maintenance crew.

BEAUMONT, TX, UNITED STATES

09.10.2017

Story by Sgt. Ariel Solomon

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

In disaster response operations, Soldiers depend on their vehicles to rescue stranded people and bring supplies to those in need. Flooding along the Gulf Coast of Texas following Hurricane Harvey placed significant strain on even the hardiest of military vehicles. 

During these operations, Army mechanics and vehicle maintainers work around the clock to do their part to keep the rescue and recovery effort moving.

“You can tell some of these guys have been living in their trucks for three or four days,” said Sgt. Michael Shupak of the 736th Component Repair Company, Texas National Guard. “We put them in cots, give them drinks, food from the dining facility, whatever they need to be comfortable while we work on their trucks. When we’re done, they’re on the road again.”

The most common issue causing trucks to break down is water diluting the various oils used to lubricate moving parts within the vehicles, which makes parts break, bearings seize or engines overheat. When this happens, the vehicle is “deadlined” and unable to be sent back out on missions.

“The Soldiers are going above and beyond the capabilities of the vehicles when fording water,” said Sgt. Feraz Hosein with the 736th CRC, a native of Saginaw, Texas. “To rescue people, they have to do what they have to do.”

The Soldier’s Creed states that “I will always place the mission first,” and it doesn’t matter if their mission is rescuing civilians at the risk of damaging trucks or repairing those vehicles before preparing their own sleeping area.

“There wasn’t anything set up for us when we arrived and there were six vehicles that needed repairs,” said Sgt. Derwood Smelley with the 112th Quartermasters, Texas National Guard, a native of Hallsville. “We got to work before we got our own tent setup. We were up until 2 a.m. getting those trucks working.”

These Soldiers, from several different units, received the call and in a few days they came together as a team to accomplish their task. In total, the combined maintenance crew has repaired more than 40 vehicles, some of which are being sent immediately to Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. 

“Overall, it was a really good mission and we accomplished a lot,” said Hosein. “We pushed to the limit, working 24 hours a day, late at night and everyone did awesome.”