Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

National Guard conducts transfer of authority with Active Duty components

Story by Captain Leyda Ocasio-Kanzler, Joint Task Force - Guardian Support Public Affairs Officer

MCALLEN, Texas – Members of the Georgia Army National Guard deployed as part of Joint Task Force- Guardian Support to form Task Force Volunteer in support of United States Customs and Border Protection. 

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Tritten shakes hands with Georgia Army National Guard Capt. Guy Serapion at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Tritten shakes hands with Georgia Army National Guard Capt. Guy Serapion at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)

Task Force Volunteer is the fifth task force to join Joint Task Force- Guardian Support since its inception in April 2018.

Task Force Volunteer conducted pre-mobilization deployment training at Fort Stewart, Georgia. They assumed responsibility for the mission upon the transfer of authority from the 317th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Rio Grande Valley Sector assistant chief patrol agent Vaughn Horne speaks to National Guard members at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Rio Grande Valley Sector assistant chief patrol agent Vaughn Horne speaks to National Guard members at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)

The mission of Task Force Volunteer is to work alongside our law enforcement partners to enhance security efforts by serving as a force multiplier enabling our partners to better provide the necessary manpower to deliver frontline law enforcement.

Georgia National Guard 1st Lt. Ashton Griffith serves as the Task Force Volunteer executive officer. He, answered the call to be a part of JTF-GS while on a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. 

“This is a great opportunity not only for myself but for my soldiers as well,” said Griffith. “Everyone is excited to do this mission.”

Georgia Army National Guard Capt. Guy Serapion briefs National Guard and U.S. Border Patrol members at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Georgia Army National Guard Capt. Guy Serapion briefs National Guard and U.S. Border Patrol members at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)

This partnership between Georgia and Texas offers Guardsmen and women a chance to not only work together, but it also provides an opportunity for them to understand how federal law enforcement works and potentially pursue a civilian career with U.S. Border Patrol.

“This mission was something to help further their career,” said Griffith. “They’ll also have the time to learn more about the military and how we can work with Texas and the border patrol.” 

National Guardsmen and U.S. Border Patrol Agents discuss the transfer of authority responsibilities at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
National Guardsmen and U.S. Border Patrol Agents discuss the transfer of authority responsibilities at the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters, Edinburg, Texas, Nov. 1, 2019. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)

The unique skills and resources that the Georgia National Guard provides will continue the mission to provide civil support with ground and aerial forces supporting USCBP to enhance the Department of Homeland Security in the five USCBP five sector in Texas.

The Texas National Guard stands ready to serve Texas and the United States with partnerships like these.

At the Forefront of Fitness

Our Interview with Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Benjamin Magby

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

Sgt. Magby training. (Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)
Sgt. Magby training. (Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)

Sgt. Benjamin Magby, Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, is no stranger to fitness. As a calvary scout in the Texas Army National Guard, he also maintains status as a competitive powerlifter with a deadlift max of 515 lbs. and a total max of 1,200 lbs. This lifestyle requires a strict regimen of physical fitness and allows him to maintain his peak performance both as a powerlifter and as a warrior in the Texas Army National Guard.

Magby likens the structure and format of powerlifting to the sort of fitness requirements that a well-prepared Soldier must maintain. He believes that his career as a powerlifter prepares him for the battlefield.

Sgt. Magby completing "The Murph Challenge", a CrossFit workout in honor of the late Navy LT and Medal of Honor recipient Michael P. Murphy. Participants in the Murph Challenge are encouraged to complete the workout while wearing 20-pound armor plates. (Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)
Sgt. Magby completing "The Murph Challenge", a CrossFit workout in honor of the late Navy LT and Medal of Honor recipient Michael P. Murphy. Participants in the Murph Challenge are encouraged to complete the workout while wearing 20-pound armor plates. (Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)

“In powerlifting, one does not win simply by mere strength alone,” said Magby.

While the amount of weight lifted is certainly a key factor, proper form and execution is equally essential. The synergy of power and form as seen in powerlifting has a direct parallel to resiliency and lethality on the battlefield, as exemplified by the fact that in combat, a Soldier must employ proper technique in tandem with force.

Magby takes great pride in operating at a peak level of physical fitness. When asked for his motivation to maintain physical wellness, Magby responds that being in the best possible physical shape directly correlates with the Army value of duty. 

“It’s my duty and responsibility to maintain the standard required of a Soldier to perform on the battlefield,” said Magby.

As a non-commissioned officer and leader, he believes it’s his duty to lead by example and model to his Soldiers what the expectations of physical fitness are and what steps are required to reach and exceed those expectations.

In order to serve as a role model for his fellow Soldiers, Magby constantly looks for new challenges to conquer. In November, he participated in a charity ruck march to support the Texas Airborne Alliance during which he rucked 42 miles in 24 hours.

“It was one of the most physically challenging activities I have ever participated in,” Magby said.

Sgt. Magby and Cpl. Garrett Thompson completing the "42 in 24" Ruck March in support of the Texas Airborne Alliance. (Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)
Sgt. Magby and Cpl. Garrett Thompson completing the "42 in 24" Ruck March in support of the Texas Airborne Alliance. (Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)

Despite numerous opportunities to leave the ruck march, Magby nevertheless persisted and completed the forty-two miles in stride. Having risen to the occasion, Magby exhibited superior physical fitness and led by example.

When asked about the Army Combat Fitness Test, Magby expressed excitement for the Army’s evolution in assessing Soldiers’ holistic wellness. He believes these changes to the Army physical fitness program will result in fewer battlefield injuries and a force that exhibits increased resiliency and agility.

“You are not going to be able to walk in one day and max [the ACFT] out,” said Magby. “But with continuous conditioning, every Soldier will be able to succeed.”

Magby looks forward to the ACFT becoming the official Army fitness test of record because the complex motions required for each event remind him of powerlifting and also have direct parallels to activities that a Soldier may need to perform in combat.

In discussing the importance of a holistic wellness program, Magby acknowledges the importance of emotional and spiritual health in maintaining peak resiliency. These facets of fitness are all equally important, and spiritual health is especially significant for Magby, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Here, he finds inspiration for personal growth in his spirituality.

His spiritual health “gets him through hard times” and centers him during periods of stress and adversity, improving his quality of life in the civilian world and as a Guardsman, as well.

Rucksack. (Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)
(Courtesy Photo: Sgt. Benjamin Magby)

Magby’s holistic spiritual, physical and emotional wellness provides a system of support to ensure that he can balance the many demands he faces as a citizen-Soldier. 

One does not need to be a professional powerlifter, a fitness guru or a nutrition expert to reach his or her fitness goals. By setting and meeting goals for fitness as Magby has, every member of the Texas Army National Guard can be the best citizen-Soldiers they can be.

 

National Guard competition showcases its elite

Story by Specialist Miguel Ruiz, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, TXARNG

AUSTIN, Texas – The sun has yet to shine for another few hours, its hovering around 30 degrees Fahrenheit and Best Warrior competitors are running on merely four hours of rest as they crowd the starting line of a makeshift running trail at a National Guard training center in Bastrop County.

Despite little recovery time from the pains and injuries from the previous day’s events, roughly 40 Soldiers and Airmen from the Texas National Guard endure their next task, marching (or running) a 12-mile course while carrying a weighted pack in full military uniform. 

Soldiers with the 36th Infantry Division showed their strength and knowledge in the Best Warrior competition at Camp Swift, Bastrop, TX. The winning Soldier and NCO will go on to the active duty Best Warrior Competition. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Soldiers with the 36th Infantry Division showed their strength and knowledge in the Best Warrior competition at Camp Swift, Bastrop, TX. The winning Soldier and NCO will go on to the active duty Best Warrior Competition. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs) 

The course is unlit with no indication of how far a competitor has traveled. Large and loose gravel exposes weak ankles and is unforgiving of thin boot soles. The winding, hilly trail is a grueling challenge for any experienced trail runner.

Nevertheless, the competitors persevered placing one foot in front of another, fighting mental and physical discomfort, in a race to the finish line against their peers in the Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior Competition.

TMD BWC competitors are hand selected from Texas’ 24,000 Guardsmen and are representatives of their respective units within the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard.

The annual competition showcases TMD’s most capable Soldiers and Airmen and promotes a lethal, capable and well-rounded fighting force that serves both Texas and the United States for stateside emergency responses or overseas deployments in addition to their year-round training initiatives.

“It’s challenging and rewarding. You can’t fully anticipate what to expect to run into, whether it’s board (interview with senior leaders) questions, mystery events, or running into brush and trees during the night land-navigation course,” said Staff Sgt. Josh Pittman, a combat engineer with the 840th Mobility Augmentation Company and a competitor in 2018’s TMD BWC. “You have to be ready for anything and everything.”

Best warrior competitions take place nationwide on state, regional and national levels and are sponsored by various National Guard or active Army organizations. No one competition is identical to another but what is for certain is that each competition lasts for several days, throughout the night, and will push competitors to the brink of their physical and mental limitations by way of enduring continuous and stressful tasks, exams and challenges.

“Every competition had at least an interview board, ruck march, ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test), day and nighttime land-navigation courses, various warrior-task challenges and various live-shooting events,” said Spc. Hunter Olson, the overall national winner of the National Guard Best Warrior Competition, first runner up in the All-Army national-level BWC, and an infantryman with the 1-175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland National Guard.

“The competition is difficult for the average Soldier, mostly due to the cumulative fatigue the competition can inflict,” said Olson. “There were days where competitors traveled over 18 miles with weighted rucksacks.”

Traveling long distances while carrying 40 pounds or more of gear may be only one piece of a competitor’s pain puzzle.

In 2018’s TMD BWC, competitors competed in a nighttime land navigation course where they were tasked with locating markers, spread hundreds of meters apart in Central Texas woodlands, using only a compass, a map, and moonlight. They were not afforded the luxury of using flashlights or lamps.

Competitors traveled by foot up and over thick vegetation and through creek beds with only victory in mind as it continued to rain and temperatures hovered near freezing. The last competitor to complete this portion of the competition crossed the finish line around midnight, leaving roughly four hours of downtime before the ensuing 12-mile ruck march (run).

“The night land navigation portion of BWC was challenging. Starting late at night after going through multiple events all day was mentally and physically demanding,” said Sgt. Zachary Schindler, a 2018 TMD BWC competitor and a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System Gunner with the 4-133rd Field Artillery Regiment. “The weather and conditions of that course immediately put everyone at a disadvantage.”

By this point in the competition cuts, bruises and full-body fatigue began to set in because only hours before the nighttime navigation course, competitors had just completed a grueling obstacle course and an intensified version of the Army Physical Fitness Test which included a four-mile run. All of these events are held back to back.

Perhaps a more invisible deterrent to BWC victory, other than physical exhaustion or injury, is the mental strain and uncertainty that many competitors face as these competitions near their end.

It is not uncommon to hear from competitors that they feel nervous before a particular event or are skeptical of their ability to perform. However the competitors’ resiliency in the heat of battle usually reigns supreme, as was the case for Sgt. Noe Ochoa, a 2018 TMD BWC competitor and a cyber analyst in the TXARNG.

“The obstacle course was my toughest event because of my fear of heights so I prepared myself mentally by taking every opportunity to climb high structures and get used to the feeling,” said Ochoa. “It paid off. I was able to scale the confidence climb in a personal-record best!”

BWC competitors like Ochoa are representative of the resiliency and readiness that all Texas Guardsmen possess.

Despite the individual-based nature of each event, competitors found ways to come together to lift the morale of one another which helped individual performance and created lasting friendships by the end of the BWC, said 2018 TMD BWC competitor Sgt. Schindler.

“The competition is designed to test you as a warrior. And you will be pushed to your limits under conditions you may not be accustomed to,” said Schindler. “All the competitors were great and pushed others along at every event. No one was ever truly alone.”

Faced with intense competition, difficult tasks, and harsh conditions, BWC competitors perform at a high level and all Guardsmen should consider competing says the 2018 overall winner of the National Guard BWC.

“While winning is a good goal, the high-level training that BWCs offer should be a big motivator to competitors,” said Olsen. “If you are goal-oriented and motivated, take the chance to better yourself!”

Supporting Guardsmen and Families from Deployment to Retirement

Story by Andrew R. Smith, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

Soldiers and Airmen attached to guard and reserve elements constantly have to balance military service, a fulltime job, education and family life.  At times this combination of tasks may seem overwhelming.  Fortunately, services exist to assist these hard working service members and their families.  While most of these people know about benefits such as tax free shopping at the Post Exchange and the education benefits of the GI Bill, there exists an entire support system that offers services far beyond those.Citizen soldier for life logo.

The Family Support Services center offers everything from entertainment functions to education classes and benefits workshops so families will be well versed in what benefits they have and how to best use them. 

“Family Support Services offers cradle to grave assistance for guardsmen and civilian employees,” said Shandra Sponsler, Deputy Branch Manager of Family Support Servicer on Camp Mabry. “We offer pretty much everything but pay and MOS training for Soldiers. Even as Soldiers reach retirement age we have programs like resume writing and interviewing classes and the ‘Citizen-Soldier for Life’ program to guide them as they move past the military.”

Citizen-Soldier for Life is an Army National Guard program that offer career readiness support and financial training to National Guard members, their families, veterans and retirees.  They offer events to help those veterans find jobs in the civilian work force as well as professional networking.

The Soldier Support Service Center, located at Camp Mabry, in Austin, also offers services for retired persons, such as issuing new I.D. cards and copies of military records for retirees and dependents. 

Family Support Services also works with many local partners like Hero’s Night Out, Combat Combined Arms, Operation Homefront USA and the YMCA to put on local events to educate service members and families and provide services. Many of these events are aimed at entertaining and providing a sense of community for the children of deployed service members.

“Some of our most useful and most popular services are Tricare healthcare for service members and families, behavioral health counselors and assistance with Veterans Administration benefits,” said Staff Sgt. Jean-Pierre Sanders, noncommissioned officer in charge of Yellow Ribbon programs at the Family Support Services Center.

The Yellow Ribbon program is another major benefit available to veterans that assists with the cost of education at select universities and trade schools.

“One service I would suggest people take advantage of is our Yellow Ribbon events.  At these events we have information about all of our available resources.  Beyond the obvious ones, there some unseen benefits,” said Sanders. “I often see family members of deployed service members meet with other families, share stories and advice and network with one another.  The support they offer each other us something unique and valuable.”

Even organizations like the Army Air Force Exchange (AAFES) who run the Post Exchange (PX) is opened to all active and retired service members as well as 100 percent disabled veterans and families of all eligible groups. PX restraints are open to all. A portion of all AAFES profits go back to troops through donations to Morale and Welfare Recreation Programs.

Many of the support services such as the counseling are available over the phone 24-hours a day year round. Offices are located all over Texas in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Weslaco, Tyler and El Paso.

More information about these services can be found at https://tmd.texas.gov/tmd-family-support-services

New Year, New Goals: Total Force Wellness

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

Members of the Senior Enlisted Leader Conference learn new events to be included in the Army Combat Fitness Test during a training exercise held at Camp Mabry, Texas on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Members of the Senior Enlisted Leader Conference learn new events to be included in the Army Combat Fitness Test during a training exercise held at Camp Mabry, Texas on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

With the start of the new fiscal year, agencies government-wide are re-evaluating goals and priorities in order to best answer the call of their missions. The Texas Military Department is no different, and moving into fiscal year 2020, TMD Senior Enlisted Leader Chief Master Sgt. Michael E. Cornitius has outlined his vision to improve total force wellness to increase resiliency for every Soldier, Airman and State Guardsman within the Texas Military Forces.

“Being healthy” isn’t just about eating right and getting exercise. Cornitius wants to ensure that the force is healthy mentally, spiritually and physically. All three of these building blocks are critical to maintaining a force that is lethal, resilient and ready to answer the call at any time. Maintaining this standard of total fitness is not an individual endeavor. Every Texas Guardsman is in the fight together as one force. 

“The Texas Guard operates like a family, and just as members of a family encourage each other to be the best version of themselves, each member needs to hold one another accountable,” said Cornitius.

Members of the Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference participate in a joint Army, Air Force, and State Guard physical training at Camp Mabry, TX on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Members of the Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference participate in a joint Army, Air Force, and State Guard physical training at Camp Mabry, TX on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

As a military organization, TMD rightfully places a great deal of energy and effort in maintaining superior physical fitness. However, the importance of mental and emotional well-being is often overlooked. Emotional health is key to maintaining a resilient and lethal force, and ignoring this component of total force wellness can be just as detrimental as skipping PT. 

Balancing life as a citizen-Soldier within the Guard is not an easy task. Between family commitments, military requirements and the challenges of civilian employment, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Cornitius believes that tackling the cause of these emotions can allow for increased wellness in the force by going back to the root and really helping people understand that they have a purpose, whether it’s in the military, in society, in their family or wherever else. Cornitius adds that it is his mission to be the support network for those people who have expressed a desire to improve their emotional health. 

In tandem with emotional health, Cornitius wants to enter the new fiscal year with an increased understanding of spiritual health and the resources available to the men and women of the Texas Military Department. All components of TMD have chaplains on staff who are equipped to talk through any spiritual challenges one might face. While speaking to a chaplain might appear to be intimidating at first, Cornitius reminds Guardsmen that chaplains are just normal people.

Physical wellbeing has been and always will be a critical component of total force wellness. Across the Department of Defense, all branches of service are looking towards the future and developing innovative methods to keep the force agile, healthy and lethal. These changes are very palpable within the Army given the transition to the Army Combat Fitness Test. However, all branches are undergoing a renewed interest in physical health. The ACFT will be a superior metric to determine a Soldier’s comprehensive physical fitness by evaluating complex actions that have direct parallels to skills required to succeed in the force. Cornitius understands that while at first the ACFT may seem daunting, the test will actually provide benefits beyond athleticsm by increasing camaraderie within the force. 

A U.S. Air Force chaplain's cover rests on a table as a service member discusses faith-related concerns during a religious service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman)
A U.S. Air Force chaplain's cover rests on a table as a service member discusses faith-related concerns during a religious service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman) 

“You can encourage each other, whether it be on the deadlift, whether it be on the leg tuck, no matter what it is,” said Cornitius. “You're going to have at least four people there that can help each other, so that's what I like about it.”

TMD is determined to provide the resources to ensure all of its members excel physically. Part of this initiative is introducing the Volt App, which utilizes artificial intelligence to customize workout routines to the needs of each individual. This app will allow troops to not only meet, but also to exceed fitness goals. TMD is also constructing a consolidated gym at Camp Mabry to allow for improved physical training. Finally, TMD is ensuring that units across the state of Texas have access to equipment that will prepare them for both fitness tests and the battlefield.

Life as a citizen-Solider within the Texas Military Department can be challenging. TMD is the premier military force in the country, and the demands of military service can push individuals to the limits of their physical and emotional abilities. However, with this great challenge comes a great reward in better preparing TMD members to be equal to the task, whether at home during a natural disaster or on the battlefield. Cornitius is certain that a refreshed interest in total force wellness will improve mental, spiritual and physical health, which will in turn allow TMD to be the most agile and resilient force of its kind. The most important point to remember, according to Cornitius, is that no one is in the fight alone. 

“TMD is dedicated to being built around taking care of our people,” said Cornitius. “You are heard, and we are there.”

 

Texas Guard Special Forces Soldiers awarded Medals by the Czech Republic

Story and Photos by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena, Texas Military Department

A Czech Republic soldier prepares to present awards during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, marking a successful six-month tour to Western Afghanistan. During the ceremony, Special Forces Soldiers from the Czech Republic and Texas Army National Guard received awards, distinctions and badges of honor as an appreciation for their successful service abroad and excellent representation of their homeland. The Texas Military Department and the Czech Republic have participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Partnership Program cooperation since 1993 with the Nebraska National Guard, in support of the U.S. European Command Theater Security Cooperation Strategy. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
A Czech Republic soldier prepares to present awards during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, marking a successful six-month tour to Western Afghanistan. During the ceremony, Special Forces Soldiers from the Czech Republic and Texas Army National Guard received awards, distinctions and badges of honor as an appreciation for their successful service abroad and excellent representation of their homeland. The Texas Military Department and the Czech Republic have participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Partnership Program cooperation since 1993 with the Nebraska National Guard, in support of the U.S. European Command Theater Security Cooperation Strategy. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)

Prostejov, Czech Republic -- Special Forces Soldiers assigned to the Texas Army National Guard were awarded the Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic, at a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, for their efforts supporting their Czech Allies during a recent combat deployment to Afghanistan as part of Operation Resolute Support.

Resolute Support is a NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. The Resolute Support mission is currently comprised of 17,000 personnel from 39 NATO Allies and partners.

"The ceremony was a dedication to the end of a successful mission that was conducted in Afghanistan,” said the deputy commander of the Czech Republic’s Special Operations Forces. “It is important for everyone to understand how special it is for us to have our U.S. brothers here with us. My Czech operators that served side-by-side with the [Texas] operators felt the cooperation was extraordinary and wanted to express gratitude."

During their deployment, the Texas Guardsmen, assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), partnered directly with Czech SOF for six months in Afghanistan’s Western region where they worked hand-in-hand for one shared goal - protecting their homelands.

A Texas Guardsman assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), presents a U.S. Army Combat Infantryman Badge to a Czech Republic Special Forces soldier during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019.
A Texas Guardsman assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), presents a U.S. Army Combat Infantryman Badge to a Czech Republic Special Forces soldier during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019.  Army photo by SSG Elizabeth Pena.

"It is not common for Czech to give foreign service members this [Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic] decoration," said the Czech deputy commander. "They are here not because of me, or my boss, or my boss' boss. They are here because of the brotherhood that was born in the battlefield of Afghanistan. It is because of operators here in this unit that were deployed, had someone next to them from the United States that they could rely on."

This combined effort stems from a 24-year relationship between the Texas Military Department, Nebraska National Guard and the Czech Republic as part of the U.S. State Department’s State Partnership Program, based on military-to-military engagements with all components from the Czech Republic and Texas.

"It was great for us to take that partnership that had been developed over the years and put it together in a mutual deployment," said the detachment commander of the Texas-based 19th SFG (A) Special Forces team. "The Czechs went on approximately 30 missions with us, so that is a lot of time spent on a daily-basis planning, rehearsing and executing and it just validated that our special operations brotherhood is more than just our regiment, it expands across our NATO partners."

Those who have participated in the State Partnership Program have seen the direct correlation between investing in the relationship with their Czech counterparts during peacetime and the effectiveness created between NATO Allies in combat.

"There's a plaque I have with pictures of the teams working together across all of those missions," said the American detachment commander. "This directly demonstrates the strength of the state partnership from each program, even in places as distant as Afghanistan, the U.S. Army, the Texas Army National Guard and the Czech Republic can work hand in hand for mutual goals and benefits."

Czech Republic Air Force Maj. Gen. Jiri Verner, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of Czech Armed Forces Command, presents the Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic to Texas Guardsmen assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, hosted by their State Partner, Czech Republic. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
Czech Republic Air Force Maj. Gen. Jiri Verner, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of Czech Armed Forces Command, presents the Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic to Texas Guardsmen assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, hosted by their State Partner, Czech Republic. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)

This deployment was just one of many examples of how the Texas and Czech Republic’s partner-unit preparation, through U.S. support and engagement, is a strengthened capability and improves interoperability every day, whether it is training at home station or combat missions abroad.

"I am so proud of these Texas Guardsmen," said Texas Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas. "Their efforts to work in close collaboration with our Czech partners and go the extra mile exemplify the type of Soldier we all strive to be. Our long campaign in Afghanistan has required our troops to be highly adaptable professionals at all times. The 19th SFG (A) continues to stay true to our mission and values in this war fight, bringing honor to themselves and those of us back home."

 

This article was initially posted to DVIDS on October 28, 2019.

Saving a Life In a Moment's Notice

Story by Brandon Jones, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

It was just another hot summer night for Texas Army National Guardsman Spc. Matt Oldham as he worked his civilian job, the overnight shift as a security guard at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, when an out-of-control car careened into a nearby building and burst into flames as he watched. Oldham knew he had to help. He ran to the burning car.

It wasn't too long ago, though, that Oldham walked the halls of Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas, figuring out what to do next with his life. Oldham says life can be pretty tough in a small town. Between classes, social pressures and uncertainty about college, he found a passion that stuck with him for a lifetime and helped him navigate the crash that night, as he put his military training to use. Oldham's desire to serve his country has always been his number one priority. 

Oldham says that spirit of service comes from three generations of men in his family. Oldham's great grandfather, James Oldham, served in the U.S. Navy as a Seabee during World War II. His grandfather, Sgt. Bob Oldham, served multiple tours in Vietnam, receiving a Bronze Star for combat valor and a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. Oldham's father, Sgt. Mark Oldham, spent time in Germany during the Cold War, in South Korea and at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. 

Spc. Matt Oldham and fiance Emma Sonck pose during a red carpet event hosted by Collin College. (Courtesy Photo: Army.com)
Spc. Matt Oldham and fiance Emma Sonck pose during a red carpet event hosted by Collin College. (Courtesy Photo: Army.com)

"The stories my family told me about serving were a life guide for me,” Oldham said. "I can't imagine a future without it."

It was just 20 days after his high school graduation in 2015 when Oldham joined that family tradition. He's now a SAW gunner in the 144th Infantry Regiment out of Seagoville, Texas, and his family couldn't be any prouder.

"When you realize the magnitude of the organization you have joined, it makes you want to grasp on to every piece of knowledge and apply it to your life," Oldham said.

Oldham deployed to the Horn of Africa from 2017-2018 after joining the National Guard. He describes the deployment as an opportunity to be a well-rounded Soldier. During his deployment, Oldham says he and other Soldiers learned airbase defense, patrols and general theater security.

"It's hard to imagine what you would do in a situation like that," Oldham said. “You try to push past it mentally, even though it's training because a real-life situation can be hard."

But Oldham had no idea he would put the skills learned during his deployment to the Horn of Africa to the test this past July. Oldham was three hours into his shift as a security guard for the Dallas Holocaust Museum when a loud sound forced him out of his seat. The sounds of glass breaking and tires screeching echoed in his ears as he made his way to see what was happening. As he got closer, Oldham noticed a man had crashed his vehicle into a downtown office building across the street from the museum, and the man's vehicle was now on fire.

Two Dallas Police Officers were already trying to do everything they could to save the man from the burning car. The entire front end of the man's SUV crunched against broken glass and bricks from the building, and the impact had trapped the man between the building and the car, according to Oldham. 

"I had to act and participate in the rescue anyway I could," Oldham said. "If that were my family member, I would want someone to do the same."

Firefighters respond to a crash near the Dallas Holocaust Museum where Spc. Matt Oldham works as a security officer. (Courtesy Photo: Robert McMurrey, Twitter)
Firefighters respond to a crash near the Dallas Holocaust Museum where Spc. Matt Oldham works as a security officer. (Courtesy Photo: Robert McMurrey, Twitter)

Oldham reached for his tourniquet, something he learned to carry at a first aid course he took during Initial Entry Training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He also took a Combat Lifesaver course his battalion medics taught. As part of the CLS class, Soldiers learned to use tourniquets, Israeli bandages, litters, chest seals, nasopharyngeal airways and more. Oldham recalled all of his training as he examined the driver for injuries.

"I could see several broken bones mostly in his feet and arms," Oldham said. "There were injuries to his chest as well. We were aware that this was a hazardous situation, and we needed to act fast."

As flames from the car intensified, Oldham could feel the sweat drop from his face and heat radiate throughout his body. He says he didn't think for a second about how he and the officers were putting themselves in harm's way. Oldham applied a tourniquet to the man's right foot as he helped pull him from the car.

"He seemed to be conscious even though he didn't say much," Oldham said. "I wanted to make sure he knew we were going to do everything we could to try to save him."

Seconds turned into what seemed like minutes during the rescue. The man was taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries. Dallas Police arrested the man for driving under the influence after the crash. Oldham feels everyone involved is fortunate the situation turned out as well as it did. Oldham says he was at the right place at the right time.

While Oldham insists he was just doing his job, Oldham is receiving awards to honor his heroism. The Dallas Holocaust Museum awarded him with The Lifesaver Award, and he's also receiving an award from his unit.

"When people walk up to me now they're saying I don't know if I would have been able to do that," Oldham said. “Life is short. It could all be over in an instant. I'm grateful for everyone one involved that night."

As he walks by the office building where the crash happened, all Oldham sees now are repairs. He wonders if he could have done more that night.  

While some may consider Oldham a hero, he doesn’t see himself as one. Instead, he thinks of the generations of men in his family that served before him. 

"If I could hear the words ‘well done’ by any of them, that's all I need," Oldham said.

 

Spc. Matt Oldham assists a fellow member of the infantry in weapons training
during a deployment to Arta, Djibouti. (Courtesy Photo: Spc. Matt Oldham)

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Dispatch on page 10.

The Nervous System of Texas Guard Operations

Story and Photos By: Caitlin Rourk, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

 
Sgt. Kory Colvin, left, and Maj. John Pearson, right, monitor real-time updates in the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center, Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas. The JOC serves as a link between partner agencies and Texas' 24,000 Guardsmen and civilians.
Sgt. Kory Colvin, left, and Maj. John Pearson, right, monitor real-time updates in the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center, Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas. The JOC serves as a link between partner agencies and Texas' 24,000 Guardsmen and civilians.

AUSTIN, Texas - Managing information flow for a part-time force, operating in an environment where incidents often occur with no advance warning, requires round the-clock monitoring and coordination. For the Texas Military Department, which has more than 24,000 service members and civilians in its ranks, dozens of agency partners and a dual federal and state mission, its Joint Operations Center plays that critical role.

The JOC is the hub of information flow during both steady state operations, where it oversees the daily battle rhythm of the nation’s largest state military organization, and major incidents to which the Texas Military Department responds, be it tropical or winter weather, floods, wildfires and other civil support and law enforcement operations.

“We are able to communicate with all the major commands and units. We should be able to very clearly tell anyone who walks in—most notably, the Texas Adjutant General—what is available,” Staff Sgt. Kimberly Eastburn, a JOC battle NCO, said. “If the TAG wants to send out a certain number of aviation assets, we know exactly where those are and what is possible since we get those fed to us. The JOC has all the information to handle anything the state needs.”

The JOC has four key charges. First, it ensures timely and accurate communications with TMD components, the National Guard Bureau and interagency partners. Second, the JOC maintains situational awareness, which aids leaders in decision-making, alerts leaders to take action and assists in appraising the effectiveness and efficiency of operations and activities. Third, the JOC provides mission command to TMD forces that are mobilized in support of Domestic Support of Civil Authorities. Finally, it maintains historical documentation.

Located at the Joint Force Headquarters building at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, the JOC’s design maximizes accessibility of information and serves as a central collaborative gathering place for TMD personnel and interagency partners during incident responses. Large television screens stream cable news network feeds, screens project real-time numbers and information and Soldiers sit behind computer monitors and phones, acting as a switchboard to units in the field.

In July, TMD renamed the JOC for Sgt. Maj. Elwood H. Imken, a longtime figure in the agency who passed away in 2018. Imken was instrumental in creating TMD’s JOC, and TMD leaders recognized how fitting the dedication would be. Eastburn says she immediately saw the parallels between the JOC and Sgt. Maj. Imken, as both were—in their own unique ways—at the heart of the agency.

“The JOC is the hub of what’s happening in the Texas Military Department. Sgt. Maj. Imken was the hub of almost everything that was happening at Camp Mabry at one time or another in any capacity he served,” Eastburn said. 

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Eastburn, left, and Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Staha, right, discuss a potential unit mobilization in response to flooding at the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Eastburn, left, and Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Staha, right, discuss a potential unit mobilization in response to flooding at the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Like most Texas Guardsmen, Hurricane Harvey was the biggest mission of which Eastburn has ever been a part. She says working in the JOC when the governor mobilized the full Texas National Guard gave her greater appreciation for what an unprecedented undertaking it was and how much coordination was involved to accomplish it.

“The coordination and ability to respond and make that happen when it did is because the JOC is so heavily involved. We have the information, from what the State Operations Center needs, to what the Department of Public Safety needs,” said Eastburn. “Our partners know us, and we are the intermediary when a State of Texas Assistance Request, or STAR, goes out. We push the STAR and call out for mission-ready packages, and we know exactly how much it will cost because of all the past experience and events of what’s happened here.”

Capt. Jacob Schreyer, a JOC battle captain, explains that the JOC maintains an especially close relationship with full-time staff at units. Once the JOC receives the STAR, which allows Texas municipalities to request resources from TMD and other agencies for disaster and civil support responses, Schreyer and his team immediately make contact with units well before they are activated. The JOC explains the mission and helps leaders marshal their rosters, something that can be challenging for M-Day leaders who simply cannot be fully engaged on day-to-day unit operations. 

Facing the constraints of a largely part-time force, Eastburn says the JOC’s role in supporting readiness and ensuring accurate and timely information flow cannot be understated.

“As far as readiness, we know what we’ve got. We know where the people are. Overall readiness, without the JOC, it would be really hard,” Eastburn said. “We are the communication hub for everything the TAG wants, everything NGB wants, all the way down to the units. Without that, we just have so many different ways the information would flow down and potentially be miscommunicated.”

Battle captains and NCOs man the JOC every day of the year. While the JOC has set core hours, someone on staff is always on-call. More substantial incidents can prompt leaders to initiate the Adaptive Battle Staff, a construct that scales a staff size when responding to a natural or manmade disaster. The ABS has full-time personnel and traditional Guardsmen who come in on State Active Duty orders and different levels that dictate the number of SAD personnel and types of shifts and hours, ranging from Level IV, normal conditions, to Level I, maximum readiness.

“We are postured and ready to turn to 24-hour coverage, with 12-hour shifts and daily shift change briefs, if the agency is in an event response that requires increased manning,” Schreyer said. “We can flip back at a moment’s notice.”

In the months ahead, the JOC will modify how it displays information to maximize impact. Schreyer adds that the JOC is also working toward even greater integration with all three TMD components, including implementing a new system that better synchronizes with the Texas Air National Guard and having liaison officers more regularly present at the JOC.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Dispatch on page 6. 

Sgt. Maj. Elwood H. Imken-A Life Well Lived

Story by: Brandon Jones
Texas Military Department Public Affairs

Sgt. Maj. Imken Photo

AUSTIN, Texas- Once in a while, you’ll cross paths with someone who will make you smile, laugh, and push you to the best of your abilities. It is almost impossible to forget someone like that.  If you ask family and friends of retired Sgt. Maj. Elwood H. Imken he fits the description in every way.  Imken passed away last year, but, his story is one people will tell for generations. To commemorate his service, the Texas Military Department will honor him again during a special dedication ceremony.

Growing up in Pflugerville and attending college at Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now known as Texas State University), Imken is a homegrown Texan. In March 1967, he boldly stood up for God and country and joined the Texas Army National Guard.

Imken's five decades-long service to the military would take him to places some Soldiers could only dream of. His career reached every echelon from platoon to division and every level of leadership, culminating as the Division Operations Sergeant Major for the 49th Armored Division and the 36th Infantry Division. From directing the mobilization of Texas Soldiers in state active duty missions to overseeing all four division warfighter exercises, Imken's work showed a love for his job. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bob Marshall knows a thing or two about Imken's service.  They met in 1980 when Imken was with the 124th Cavalry Regiment. The two remained friends until Imken's death. "E.H. had a way of looking out for people regardless of your command level. It really made you humble yourself and get the job done," said Marshall. " He was also one heck of a hunter and fisher. I'm going to miss that tenacity he had."

Community outreach was another important value for Imken. He worked for outreach missions like Operation Blue Santa and Food for Families. Imken said he learned early in his career that planning and program management were important for taking care of Soldiers. His efforts didn't go unnoticed especially from the organization he signed up to serve with so many years ago. 

On May 14, 2016, The Texas Military Department inducted Imken into its Hall of Honor. The Hall of Honor, which was established in 1980, recognizes outstanding service and leadership of individuals serving as members of the Texas Military Department in a state or federal status. A room in the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, displays portraits and histories of military members inducted into the Hall of Honor.  His desire to serve others and give back on a much larger scale, characterized his career. It was this induction that allowed the organization to give back to him.

One Soldier who knows Imken's compassion for the men and women in uniform is retired Texas Army National Guard Col. Guy Schultz.  Col. Schultz is a close friend of Imken and coordinator with the Military Funeral Honors Team so he is happy to see his friend get this kind of recognition. "His work and life will have an impact for generations to come,” said Schultz. “However, when he took the time to know you, it was easy to recognize him as a great mentor who always strived for the best.”

Now three years after his Hall of Honor induction, the honors for Imken, and his legacy, continue even after his death. On July 12, 2019, the Texas Military Department will rename its Joint Operations Center as the Sergeant Major E.H. Imken Joint Force Headquarters-Texas Joint Operations Center. Imken was instrumental in the creation of the Joint Operations Center by using his extensive network to aid in disaster response efforts.  The Adjutant General of Texas, Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, will speak at the dedication ceremony for her dear friend.
“I imagine that a few things surprised him, and it’s appropriate that we rename our JOC in honor of him,” said Norris.

Imken's family and friends will tell you his life of service shaped the Texas Military Department to always be ready to serve.  The recent JOC dedication is one more to note that ‘E.H. Imken had a life that was well lived! If you are visiting Austin and have the chance to stop by our museum to view the Hall of Honor, please do so. We are proud of our rich heritage at the Texas Military Department and honored to remember one of our own who crossed our path and lit the way for future generations. We also want to remember and honor all those who have had a lasting impact on us and who shaped who we are as “Texans Serving Texas.”