Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Guardsman and 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau retires to Texas

By Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas- On Friday, August 28, 2020 Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas hosted the retirement ceremony for Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau.

The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)
The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)


The ceremony was conducted outdoors at historic site of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. COVID-19 mitigation efforts were in effect at the ceremony, but despite the limitation in audience size, there was no limitation of gratitude and respect for Lengyel’s service.

Speaking at the ceremony, Lengyel expressed admiration and pride in the service and dedication of all men and women in the National Guard.

“One of the most impressive things about all of the men and women who serve in our military and who put on this uniform, is that none of us knows what the uniform will ask of them. You may deploy multiple times, you may serve domestically, but that is what we signed up for.”

Lengyel sought to focus additional attention onto the service members of the National Guard: “Let’s take a moment to acknowledge what we all have done together as Soldiers and Airmen in service of our country. As Guardsmen though, we not only serve our country, but we also have served in our states and our communities.”

Lengyel exits the military after nearly four decades of service to the Air Force and the Air National Guard. He served in various operational and staff assignments, primarily as an F-16 Instructor Pilot and Weapons Officer. His experience in the F-16 includes tours in Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, United States Air Forces in Europe and the Texas Air National Guard.

He has commanded a fighter squadron, operations group, air expeditionary group and the Air National Guard Readiness Center.

Lengyel is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours primarily in the F-16. Additionally, Lengyel served as the Senior United States Defense Official; Chief, Office of Military Cooperation; and Defense Attaché, Cairo, United States Central Command, Cairo, Egypt.

Prior to his assumption of command as the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Lengyel was the vice commander of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, the “Gunfighters,” who performed an fly-over above the Alamo in honor of Lengyel’s service to the Wing and to the United States Military.

Throughout his command, Lengyel dedicated his service to improving the quality of life for all the service members under his responsibility, as well as focusing on maintaining readiness and agility within the Guard.The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)

Lengyel’s command has seen the Guard usher in a new era as a strategic reserve force, which is relied upon by both federal and state partners for a variety of mission sets.

Under his tenure, Lengyel has seen National Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed in support of every United States Geographic Combatant Command.

Lengyel has also presided over one of the Guard’s most active periods of domestic support operations. From large scale hurricane response efforts like those seen after Hurricane Harvey, to the broad and varied mission sets in the response to COVID-19, to protection of liberty, life and property during the June 2020 civil disturbance, Lengyel has ensured that the Guard was ready to meet the call. As of his retirement, 180,000 Guardsmen were on some form of active duty order.

Because of Lengyel’s tireless dedication, and his advocacy of Guard issues to both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, the National Guard has seen respect and admiration unlike any other era. True to the National Guard motto, Lengyel’s leadership truly has established a force that is always ready and always there.
Norris praised Lengyel’s lifetime of leadership and service:

“The same fighting Texas spirit that was displayed here at the Alamo centuries ago lives on throughout the entire Lengyel family, and especially through Gen. Lengyel’s decades of service to Texas and the United States.”

At the ceremony, Lengyel received numerous accolades from state and federal leaders, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who praised all that Lengyel has accomplished for the State of Texas. Lengyel also received the Texas Superior Service Medal from Norris, as well as the Defense Superior Service Medal.

These awards add to Lengyel’s numerous decorations over the years, including: Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, and many more.

Reflecting on the totality of his service within the National Guard, Lengyel said: “I never intended to be Chief of the National Guard Bureau, but I will never trade in my experience for anything in the world.”

Communication is key with Task Force Texas

Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Kornegay, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

AUSTIN, Texas - Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel.

CPT McCann and his team are responsible for support of the command, control, communications, cyber requirements and development processes that ensure joint interoperability.

"Our job is to make sure our people can reach the outside world," said McCann. "We handle communications and control through phones, internet, and computers. We have a team here that monitors the networks that allows information to flow from top to bottom and vice versa.” 

Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel.
Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel. 



CPT McCann’s 24 years of commitment to the Signal Corps, a U.S. Army branch dedicated to communication and information systems management, instilled within him the significance of clear communication.

"Proper information flow allows our commanders to make the best decisions,” McCann said. "It allows them to put soldiers where they need to be to support the civilians who need them right now.”

McCann appreciates the opportunity to serve his fellow Texans.

"I’m proud,” said McCann. “I’ve been doing this a long time and it gives me a great sense of purpose. It’s a different type of mission versus deploying somewhere. But this is very important to the nation and to the state of Texas. I’m honored to be able to step in and support.”

CPT McCann and his team accepted the challenge to keep Task Force Texas connected with multiple state agencies for the COVID-19 response.

“There’s always an uncertainty when it comes to working with new agencies,” said McCann. “It’s about how best to make things fit and putting the puzzle pieces together correctly. In no time at all, things began to work very smoothly.”

His prior experience with TMD’s Hurricane Harvey response afforded McCann with the necessary wisdom to better serve the citizens of Texas and the United States.

"While they’re both large, they are two very different operations. Both missions share the same goal and that is to mitigate suffering. That’s what we’re going to do here however we can.”

Texans serving Texas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Operation Guardian Support Soldiers Volunteer in the Laredo Community

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. De'Jon Williams, Texas Air National Guard

LAREDO, Texas – Along the south Texas border Guard Members put in many hours of their off time to serve the communities they now call home.

Although many of the soldiers and airmen assigned to the border mission are far from their homes, they have still found a way to give back the new communities they now call, home.

Texas National Guard members come together to volunteer their time in their new local community in Laredo, Texas.

“I actually feel like I’m more a part of the community around me,” said Master Sgt. Brian Franck. “I’m constantly trying to recruit people to volunteer and give back to the community down here in Laredo.”

Franck started the mission August 2019 and quickly got to work, looking for opportunities to help the community.

September, he began volunteering at the Laredo Animal Protective Society (LAPS).

“I was informed about a volunteer opportunity at LAPS,” said Franck. “I talked to some other Soldiers I work with and we started walking dogs and volunteering. I then informed the Laredo Company and my platoon about this opportunity.”

Franck went on to say the Company sent out an email about two volunteer opportunities, he then pushed the email to his fellow soldiers and they then began volunteering at many other companies throughout the Laredo area.

November 2019 was the second volunteer opportunity he had, but first with the local Habitat for Humanity (H4H).

“I was told on Veteran’s Day they were going to start building a house for a Texas veteran,” said Franck. “So, I showed up, found out I was the only one representing the National Guard down here to help start building on the veteran’s home. From that day habitat started to coordinate with me on their build days and needing volunteers.”

Franck and his team helped H4H build two homes since he began volunteering.

“After this point, the company sort of appointed me as the volunteer point of contact,” Franck said. “I was informing them of events and being there if a Soldier said they would be there to introduce them to the organization staff.”

Franck has worked hard to recruit 36 other soldiers in his company to help in the Laredo community. Together they have logged more than 1,600 hours of volunteering.

“I got started through Master Sgt. Franck,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Frost. “I heard about the volunteer programs that we can get involved with here in Laredo. He was the man people said to go to. I’ve been working with LAPS and Habitat for Humanity whenever I can.”

Frost, who is a squad leader with Team Laredo went on to talk about how much he enjoys volunteering at LAPS and helping with the animals.

“I take Tyson out to North Park because they have a dog park there,” said Frost. “He’s a brindle Pit Bull with tiger like stripes. I picked him because pits have a bad rap and he’s done great with me in public.”

Even a pandemic has not stopped these soldiers from continuing to do their part. Despite COVID-19, soldiers in Laredo still do their part to help the community.

“COVID-19 has made it, first where we could not volunteer,” said Franck. “Then for habitat only five volunteers at a time, but for the past months if we are staying away from the general population and working on projects, a small group of us can be there to volunteer. COVID-19 has put a damper on volunteering, but it has not stopped our soldiers from being able to give back to the community of Laredo.”

Team Laredo Soldiers continue to work with these organizations despite the recent pandemic. COVID-19 has not lessened the spirit of Franck who continues to put in time with these organizations.

“Honestly, I wish people would go back to the way it used to be,” Franck said. “Where we were not so focused on ourselves, per se, but more focused on helping each other. When people come down on these missions, they can experience what’s going on in the communities and be a part of the communities because while you’re down here, this is your home.”

Franck went on to say that he’s thankful for the opportunity to work with these organizations, without them and their volunteer programs this would not be possible.

Texas National Guard Soldier gives back to her community

Story by Staff Sgt. De'jon Williams, Texas Air National Guard

WESLACO, Texas – The National Guard is a volunteer force of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen who give their one weekend a month and two weeks a year to service.

One Texas National Guard Soldier serving with Operation Guardian Support (OGS) along the south Texas border, gives back to her community as a Citizen-Soldier and volunteer.

Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla, a combat medic specialist (68W), continues to give back to her local community with her volunteer efforts.

"I feel like I'm capable of helping others," said Quintanilla. "Why not? I have all my limbs; I have everything; some people need a little more help than others."

U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla hands markers to a student at Pharr-San Juan- Alamo Early College High School in San Juan, Texas Jan. 31, 2020.
U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla hands markers to a student at Pharr-San Juan- Alamo Early College High School in San Juan, Texas Jan. 31, 2020.

Wanting to give back and helping others started after hearing some shocking information from her younger sister, who was being bullied. She felt the need to speak up and do her part to help her sister and other young people.

She volunteered with local schools through the Helping Everyone Achieve Respect (H.E.A.R.) program speaking with local high schools about bullying.

She said it started with her sister telling her that she was getting bullied; this was information she did not like hearing. She went on to say that she went out to local high schools, conducted surveys and PowerPoints as to why it is not OK to bully.

Quintanilla went on to say that after putting in that effort, her sister felt a lot better. She did it for her and was she proud it made a change.

Her call to action did not stop there; she also volunteered with the Pharr Fire Department.

"I felt like I had too much downtime," Quintanilla said. "I was like, 'OK, I can do something.' I've always liked to be busy. I'm on the go and always have something to do. For example, firefighting was a great way to keep my fitness up and help people out in a way and have connections. It was just fun overall and it made me feel good."

Quintanilla has completed more than 150 hours with the fire department, 130 hours with H.E.A.R. She was able to earn her Certified Nurse Aide License after volunteering 40 hours at a local nursing home. Quintanilla has also volunteered her time with the U.S. Border Patrol at a community service event at the local Boys and Girls Club, helping get school supplies to less fortunate children. Overall, she has accumulated more than 500 hours of volunteer time in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla (left), a combat medic specialist poses for a photo with fellow volunteers.
U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla (left), a combat medic specialist poses for a photo with fellow volunteers.

"She's a great Soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Murrell, "She has a great work ethic, always striving to make herself better. She's one of the few that I've always seen constantly giving up her time to make herself and everyone else better."

Murrell, who is Quintanilla's platoon sergeant, went on to describe her volunteer efforts as constant. Saying she has come to him multiple times about what she can do to make her community better and what she can do to make herself better.

Moving forward, Quintanilla plans to go back to school to finish her bachelor's degree and join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

"I decided to go to school, do ROTC and become an officer," said Quintanilla. "I'm going into the ROTC program and sign my contract this August after I get off mission. I'm looking at it as a good way to become a lieutenant and motivate my troops to become volunteers."

Many OGS Soldiers along the south Texas border have gone above and beyond answering the call to service to continue to volunteer and give back to their communities, Quintanilla is no exception.

"I thank God every day for giving me another chance to be here," She said. "There is a quote 'you make a living by what you get, and you make a life by what you give,' I live by this every day volunteering as a way to give my gratitude for having a chance to be here."

Texas Guard launches innovation unit

Story by Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stern Reality Check: How the legacy of a fallen Soldier reminds us to do our best

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

CAMP MABRY, Texas⁠—Wade Slack was once a kid who loved hunting and video games. He was devoted to his family. And, he dreamed of becoming a Soldier.

As he approached adulthood, he quickly realized his dream, enlisting in the Army months prior to his graduation from high school. Wade died shortly after his 21st birthday, in the line of duty on May 6, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit.

His younger brother, Andrew Slack, recalled how the news of his death put an end to his own childhood, forcing him to face adult realities.

“I had been up to no good, doing my own thing,” he said. “I didn’t really think anything of the military. It didn’t really occur to me that people die overseas every day.”

“It was a stern reality check when we had those government employees show up at my mom’s house,” Andrew said.

Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)


Things didn’t get easier for Andrew or his family through the years that followed. His father, a Veterinarian much beloved by the local community in Waterville, Maine, died of a heart attack a year and a half later. Before another two years had passed, one of his sisters, who was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, took her own life.

“Today is a culmination of what the circumstances of my young adult life produced,” Andrew said on May 6, 2020, the 10th anniversary of his brother’s death.

Now a first lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard, a platoon leader in the 111th Engineer Battalion, and a liaison officer for Joint Task Force 176’s COVID-19 response mission, Andrew reflects on how these tragic events shaped his values and beliefs about Soldiering and leadership.

“As terrible as that was to accept in the beginning, as well as the deaths that followed within my family within the next four years, it puts things into the perspective of not taking things for granted, and not wasting time,” said Andrew, who applied this lesson to his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he was preparing to take on the role, he heard through the grapevine that liaison officers tend to feel useless, only answering phones day in and day out.

Regardless of whether that may have been true for anyone who had held a similar position in the past, Andrew seized the opportunity to develop himself and contribute significantly to the mission.

“I looked around at the collective knowledge in the room, realizing how much I didn’t know, and realized that you’re only useless if you don’t take advantage of a situation,” said Andrew, explaining that his eagerness to learn led to increased opportunity and responsibility. “I quickly went from dialing in phones, to successfully emulating the battle captain position, to being assigned in mission analysis of 176th Task Force construction objectives.”

Andrew’s insistence in seizing all the opportunities in his role aligns with the philosophy his brother demonstrated with his actions, to “Love what you do, and do it to its fullest.”

His brother had enlisted in the Army with the goal of disposing of explosives intended to kill service members or local civilians. Despite the obvious dangers involved in this profession, Wade had his heart set, and after basic training, he completed the 37-week explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training that is challenging enough to wash out 75 percent of the class.

“He knew what he wanted to do,” Andrew said. “He executed just that to EOD standard.”

On the tenth anniversary of his death Joint Task Force 176 finished the daily brief with silence and reverent words about Spc. Wade Slack. Col. Robert Crockem, the task force’s commander, said remembering fallen Soldiers can help us stay careful and not become complacent.

“We have to be aware of what we’re doing at all times, and not take for granted that things are always going to work out,” Crockem said. “It brings a sobering reality to the fact that we’re in the military, and the military can be a dangerous business.”

Texas National Guardsmen prepare to sanitize nursing homes

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard

CAMP MABRY, Texas—Texas Military Department service members prepared to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in long-term care facility COVID-19 disinfection operations on May 8- 9, 2020, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176 convened at the task force’s headquarters to receive personal protective equipment and sanitizing kits on May 8, 2020. The following day, they received training from the National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team on how to safely don and doff protective gear, as well as how to administer the disinfectants.

“This mission is important to protect our most vulnerable population,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Warth, battle captain with the Texas Military Department’s Joint Task Force 176, who explained that National Guard disinfection teams will work in support of Texas Division of Emergency Management efforts to sanitize facilities where occupants have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We will go in and ensure that residents are protected,” Warth said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Spc. Precious Watkins, a Texas Army National Guard culinary specialist assigned to Joint Task Force 176, said this mission hits close to home for her as an individual with elder relatives who have endured various significant health issues.

“In the class today we talked about how people who have had strokes or heart attacks are more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Watkins said. “That’s a little scary for me.”

As part of their preparation, the Soldiers received a day of training from the Texas National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team.

Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations officer with Joint Task Force 176, said National Guardsmen are capable of quickly learning and executing such tasks because their dual-footing in the military and civilian life makes them well-rounded and adaptive.

“Not only are they Army Soldiers and Air Force Airmen, but they’re also civilians who do a lot of different things,” Ammerman said. “They’re able to get out there and truly do whatever the State of Texas asks them to do.”

Mobile Testing Command Center coordinates mobile COVID-19 testing in Texas

Story by Second Lieutenant Daniel Martinez, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard

ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas -- Members of the Texas Military Department and other civilian agencies continue coordinating mobile COVID-19 testing throughout Texas from the Mobile Testing Command Center May 3, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

The MTCC is responsible for mobilizing missions to remote areas of Texas for COVID-19 testing by coordinating the logistics of each mobile testing team, while also ensuring all military members remain safe throughout the operation.

The MTCC was initiated on April 18, 2020, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott’s goal to develop a plan for reopening the state. The TMD is collaborating with multiple civilian agencies to bring that mission to fruition.

Each mobile testing site tests between 40-200 individuals daily. There are currently 50 mobile testing site teams. Each team consists of 5 medics, 17 support members, as well as support from community leaders, such as EMS workers and government officials.

The TMD has conducted over 12,000 tests from every corner of the state.

“The data coming out has demonstrated that our medics are following proper testing protocols. Considering the nature of a field-testing site in Texas, weather conditions and the challenges of a mobile mission, this is a huge win for our teams and for our state,” said Maj. Tanya Island, the Mobile Testing Command Center Surgeon, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard.

“We have been able to increase the volume of samples in a short amount of time while having the operational flexibility of being mobile. This directly supports the Governor’s efforts to plan for the future of our great state. ”


Mobile testing teams start and end their day at different locations throughout the state. They rely on guidance from the MTCC on where to go for testing each day.


“Traveling to each community has been a positive experience. The civilians we test, mayors and other public officials all greet us with kindness and thank us for serving,” said Senior Airman Tennelle Anderson, a 147th Medical Group Aerospace Medical Technician. “It is evident that we are impacting the great state of Texas as we have received the highest turnout numbers from our testing. It has encouraged me and strengthened my faith seeing our nation come together to help each other during this challenging time. I'm proud to be a part of history and will continue to do everything I can until we have defeated the invisible enemy.”


Inter-agency collaboration has been essential to completing the mission because there is currently a shortage of medical supplies. Mobile testing teams will arrive to a specific location and meet civilian agencies who coordinate with regional partners to meet any equipment shortfalls to ensure all Texans get the testing they need.


The components of the COVID-19 testing kit must be kept refrigerated. The inter-agency team has developed a distribution system that combines civilian and military personnel. It is one of the critical elements of the mission.


The agencies involved with the MTCC are the Texas Military Department, Department of State Health Services, Agrilife Extension Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife division, Department of Public Safety, Texas Engineering Extension Service, Texas Department of Emergency Management, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

 

Putting Soldiers back to work

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas—She was a hardworking server in a small-town Texas country store. Less than a year out of high school, she paid her bills and saved for the future by working double shifts whenever she could. 

Army National Guard Pfc. Tori Stricklin, a human resource specialist with the 176th Engineer Brigade, updates the Joint Task Force 176 personnel status roster at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2020. Pfc. Stricklin is one of several service members who normally serve on a part-time basis, but were activated to full-time duty after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their full-time employment. “In the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” said Col. Robert Crockem commander of Joint Task Force 176. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.” (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Pfc. Tori Stricklin, a human resource specialist with the 176th Engineer Brigade, updates the Joint Task Force 176 personnel status roster at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2020. Pfc. Stricklin is one of several service members who normally serve on a part-time basis, but were activated to full-time duty after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their full-time employment. “In the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” said Col. Robert Crockem commander of Joint Task Force 176. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.” (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)



“I like to make sure that I have all my ducks in a row,” said 18-year-old Tori Stricklin. “Even if I don’t necessarily need the extra hours, I’ll go ahead and do it. You never know what life is going to throw at you. For example, the coronavirus.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to threaten the economy, her ability to pay her bills suddenly seemed uncertain. The store initially stayed open, taking to-go orders, but the outlook wasn’t good.

“Because of the coronavirus, things started to head downhill pretty quickly, and I wasn’t quite sure where things were going to go,” Stricklin said.

“Without tips, there’s only so much you can make.”

Then she got a call asking her if she wanted to help out with the Texas Military Department’s COVID-19 response. Gov. Greg Abbott had mobilized several units of Army and Air National Guardsmen, as well as the Texas State Guard to support the basic needs of Texans through the pandemic. One of these units was Task Force 176, which included members of Stricklin’s unit, the176th Engineer Brigade.

Stricklin, now a private first class, enlisted in the Army National Guard when she was 17, and began working as a human resource specialist in the 176th’s personnel section as a traditional part time Guardsman. So when she received the offer to activate full-time for the COVID-19 response, she jumped at the chance knowing she could avoid being unemployed during a time of uncertainty.

“About two days after I got that call, my store had shut down, so I would have been without a job,” said Stricklin.

While the primary purpose of the activation is to protect Texans against the spread of COVID-19, it also created an opportunity for part-time service members to keep working, said Col. Robert Crockem, commander of the 176th Engineer Brigade.

“We’re in the business of taking care of Texans,” Crockem said. “Right now, we’re supporting Texans by distributing the medical supplies they need, and helping to provide increased hospital bed space and medical capabilities.”

“But in the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” Crockem continued. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.”

One of the first teams of Texas Military Department personnel to activate following Gov. Greg Abbott’s order was Joint Task Force 176’s General Support Unit 4, a team of engineers with the 840th Engineer Mobility Augmentation Company.

“We had to mobilize and assemble at the armory within 12 hours with a 34-person unit,” said 1st Sgt. Denton Humphrey, first sergeant with the 840th, explaining that “after getting the call the evening of March 18, the team was assembled and fully mission-capable by 8 a.m. the following morning.”

With the majority of this first group being made up of college students, Humphrey said that it was a good opportunity for them to earn money and serve their state by building medical facilities and supporting food bank operations.

“Now we can provide them with some income and the availability to work on their online classes,” Humphrey said.

When additional personnel were needed, half of the next wave of activated individuals were struggling to stay employed due to the pandemic.

“Very specifically, we combed the unit for Soldiers who had lost a job due to the COVID-19 and those were our first choice,” Humphrey said.

Matthew Faulkenberry, a corporal in the Texas Army National Guard, is another hard working Texas whose livelihood was put in jeopardy by the pandemic. Over the last few years, he had established himself as the informal project manager for both the office and the warehouse at a construction company.

“I made a lot of connections through there,” Faulkenberry said. “It led me to accepting another job with my official title as project manager.”

He gave his two weeks’ notice, and in two weeks, he was without a job. COVID-19 had struck, severely impacting employment in several industries, to include the construction sector. The company still wanted him as a member of their team in the future, but for the time being, they wouldn’t be able to keep him busy or give him a steady paycheck.

“The company called me and said, ‘you still have the job, but you don’t have a job,’” Faulkenberry said.

He immediately assessed his finances to determine how much he would need to earn to keep the bills paid, and then focused on getting back to work. What kind of work he did was less important to him than it was for him to fulfill his obligation to support his family.

“I started reaching out for jobs that I was overqualified for, but I needed to have income for my family,” said Faulkenberry. “I applied at Whataburger and McDonalds just because I needed something.”

Fortunately, the National Guard was able to put him to work. Faulkenberry previously served part-time as a reconnaissance sergeant in the 176th Engineer Brigade. He heard that his unit was looking for volunteers to help with the COVID-19 response, and he seized the opportunity.

“I’m thankful for that,” Faulkenberry said. “It’s very good for me because I have a family to take care of. I have a daughter and a wife, and the income I’m bringing from here helps me make sure they have a roof over their head.”

Since the Texas Military Department initiated the COVID-19 response, Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard, Airmen with the Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guardsmen have been working to meet the basic needs of their fellow Texans. Their efforts have included construction in support of medical facilities, distribution of medical supplies and even preparing and distributing meals in support of food banks. Helping to meet these employment needs is just one more way the activation is about serving the common good in Texas, said Humphrey.

“As Guard members, it’s beneficial for them both ways, whether we’re protecting them and we’re working with the public to protect the public,” Humphrey said. “Texans supporting Texans--that’s what we do.”