Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Guard, reservists and civilians partner at Operation Lone Star

Texas Guard, reservists and civilian partner at Operation Lone Star

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: July 28, 2016 

Lt. Col. John Hsu, a dentist in the 804th Medical Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves, Operations Chief for Dental Services, prepares to treat a patient at an Operation Lone Star site in Pharr, Texas, July 27, 2016. Service members from the Texas State Guard worked alongside Soldiers from the 804th Medical Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Department of State Health Services, Remote Area Medical volunteers, Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), City of Laredo Health Department, Hidalgo County DHHS and U.S. Public Health Services during Operation Lone Star (OLS), a week long real-time, large-scale emergency preparedness exercise in La Joya, Pharr, Brownsville, Rio Grande City and Laredo, Texas, July 25-29, 2016. OLS is an annual medical disaster preparedness training exercise, uniting federal, state and local health and human service providers, that addresses the medical needs of thousands of underserved Texas residents every year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)
Lt. Col. John Hsu, a dentist in the 804th Medical Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves, Operations Chief for Dental Services, prepares to treat a patient at an Operation Lone Star site in Pharr, Texas, July 27, 2016. Service members from the Texas State Guard worked alongside Soldiers from the 804th Medical Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Department of State Health Services, Remote Area Medical volunteers, Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), City of Laredo Health Department, Hidalgo County DHHS and U.S. Public Health Services during Operation Lone Star (OLS), a week long real-time, large-scale emergency preparedness exercise in La Joya, Pharr, Brownsville, Rio Grande City and Laredo, Texas, July 25-29, 2016. OLS is an annual medical disaster preparedness training exercise, uniting federal, state and local health and human service providers, that addresses the medical needs of thousands of underserved Texas residents every year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas -- Texas Guardsmen and U.S. Army Reservists worked alongside civilian partner agencies to provide necessary medical care to underserved Texas residents during Operation Lone Star, July 25-29, 2016 in La Joya, Pharr, Brownsville, Rio Grande City and Laredo.

Operation Lone Star is a large-scale emergency preparedness exercise that unites local, state and federal medical service and disaster response agencies.

“The hands on training has been great,” said Capt. Edith Cardwell, 804th Medical Brigade, U.S. Army Reserves. “Most of our training is notional. Here we have real-live patients instead of mannequins.”

Medical sites were set up in local schools providing immunizations, hearing and vision examinations, sports physicals, diabetic screening, blood pressure screening, dental services and behavioral health services.

The exercise first began in 1998, following an outbreak of tuberculosis in the Rio Grande Valley. Over the years, it has grown into one of the largest disaster preparedness exercises of its kind, in the country. As well as, providing annual training to disaster response agencies, Operation Lone Star ensures that thousands of Texas residents receive medical services, they may not receive otherwise.

“We are creating a ring of public health safety,” said Eduardo Olivarez, chief administrative officer for the Hidalgo County Department of Health and Human Services. “Because of this training, we are prepared for any future outbreaks. We know exactly how long it will take us to immunize a large number of people and what resources we will need to do that.”

For the first time, more than 100 soldiers from the 804th Medical Brigade joined experienced medical providers from the Texas Military Department, the Department of Public Safety, Department of State Health Services, Remote Area Medical, Cameron County Department of Health and Human Services, City of Laredo Health Department, Hidalgo County Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Public Health Services.

They weren’t the only ones new to the team. The inaugural class of the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley medical school volunteered their time to assist patients, physicians and administrative specialists with the operation.

On only their third day of medical school, the students arrived at Operation Lone Star, ready to learn.

“They teach us the ‘see one, do one, teach one’ model,” said Sonya Rivera, one of the students. “So that’s what we are doing here.”

This year the students are observing and helping wherever they can, said Rivera. Each year, as they learn more, they hope to be able to ‘do one’ and provide hands-on medical care. Eventually, their goal is to be able to teach others.

“If you can do that, then you have mastered it,” said Rivera.

Side by side, Guardsmen worked with Reservists, civilian medical experts and students, a seemingly well-oiled team, after only a few days.

In the past three years, there were 119,683 services given at Operation Lone Star providing approximately $12 million of support to Texas residents in the Rio Grande Valley said Maj. Gen. Jake Betty, commanding general of the Texas State Guard.

“If a disaster ever occurs, it’s great to meet our colleagues in this environment; we can learn a lot from each other.” said Col. Jonathan MacClements, a physician in the Texas State Guard. “We are all on the same team.”

Texas Army National Guard Capt. Jessica Jackson contributed to this article.

STARBASE Houston hosts inaugural camp for students

STARBASE Houston hosts inaugural camp for students

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: July 22, 2016

STARBASE Houston students pose with instructors and 147th Reconnaissance Wing Commander Col. Stan Jones at the end of the location's weeklong STEM camp at Ellington Field July 22, 2016. About 20 students attend the STEM camp. Starbase is a Department of Defense program to motivate students to explore science, technology, engineering, and math. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy)
STARBASE Houston students pose with instructors and 147th Reconnaissance Wing Commander Col. Stan Jones at the end of the location's weeklong STEM camp at Ellington Field July 22, 2016. About 20 students attend the STEM camp. Starbase is a Department of Defense program to motivate students to explore science, technology, engineering, and math. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy)

HOUSTON – They constructed birdhouses and tested its strength, they designed their own unmanned aerial vehicles, they sent rockets flying through a tube in the classroom, they discovered the properties of materials created with nanotechnology and assessed the solubility of different materials and learned how global positioning systems worked.

For one week, 20 Houston-area students took a hands-on approach to science, technology, engineering and mathematics during the STARBASE Houston’s inaugural STEM camp July 19-22, 2016, at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston.

“This is our first year doing this camp because we wanted to thank Ellington Field for all the support they provided to us for the 20 years we’ve been here,” said Loraine Guillen, STARBASE Houston program director, during the graduation July 22.

“Another reason is because I’ve bumped into people and they don’t know that STARBASE is here and that we exist.”

For five hours each day, the students engaged in various experiments to help them understand scientific principles, such as Newton’s Laws, Bernoulli’s principle, nanotechnology, navigation, aviation and mapping.

“This is a lot more hands on and it helped me learn better,” said Jaden Enloe, 12. “They told us how to do it and I learn best that way. I need to see it to visualize it, so it was cool to work with.

Enloe, who will enter the seventh grade this year, said the program also helped the students learn to work together.

During the graduation ceremony, former STARBASE student Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Alicea delivered a few words to the students and guests.

“I was always grateful to the STARBASE program because I felt that it was one of the first pillars in my life and development,” she said.

Alicea attended the STARBASE program in Puerto Rico, which is sponsored by the Puerto Rico National Guard.

“Take all your STARBASE experiences and take it to school and share them,” she said. “Don’t forget them.”

The Texas National Guard sponsors STARBASE Houston, a Department of Defense program. The program hosts more than 50 classes throughout the school year, to include public schools, home schools and parochial schools, Guillen said.

The curriculum is based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and is aligned with the state education standards.

The purpose of STARBASE to expose youth to the technological environments, while allowing them to engage with civilian and military role models on military bases and installations.

Texas Army National Guard welcomes first female combat engineer

Texas Army National Guard welcomes first female combat engineer

Story By: 1st Lt. Jolene Hinojosa

Posted on: July 22, 2016

Photo By 1st Lt. Jolene Hinojosa | The Texas Army National Guardsmen welcomed Spc. Rachel Mayhew into its ranks as the first female to be awarded the 12B combat engineer military occupational specialty. Mayhew graduated June 17, 2016, from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, during a rigorous two-week MOS transition course that included the High Physical Demands Tests which includes a series of tasks geared toward combat engineers to ensure force capability and readiness. Mayhew is a native of Fort Worth and is assigned as a combat engineer with the 840th Mobility Augmentation Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade. (Photo by U.S. National Guard 1st. Lt. Jolene Hinojosa)
Photo By 1st Lt. Jolene Hinojosa | The Texas Army National Guardsmen welcomed Spc. Rachel Mayhew into its ranks as the first female to be awarded the 12B combat engineer military occupational specialty. Mayhew graduated June 17, 2016, from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, during a rigorous two-week MOS transition course that included the High Physical Demands Tests which includes a series of tasks geared toward combat engineers to ensure force capability and readiness. Mayhew is a native of Fort Worth and is assigned as a combat engineer with the 840th Mobility Augmentation Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade. (Photo by U.S. National Guard 1st. Lt. Jolene Hinojosa)

AUSTIN, Texas – Spc. Rachel Mayhew, 26, native of Fort Worth, became the first female in the Texas Army National Guard awarded the 12B combat engineer military occupational specialty (MOS). 

“It was an absolute honor to serve with the Engineers,” said Mayhew. “The guidance and mentoring I received helped prepare me for a change. 
I wanted a career path with progression, promotion and growth. That is exactly what I found in becoming a combat engineer.” 

Mayhew graduated on June 17, 2016, from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, during a rigorous two-week MOS transition course that included the High Physical Demands Tests (HPDT) and include a series of tasks geared toward combat engineers to ensure force capability and readiness. 

Prior to attending the reclassification course Mayhew served in the Texas National Guard for seven years as a 74D chemical biological radiological nuclear specialist. In 2011, she deployed to Afghanistan with the 236th Engineer Company.

Since the push to integrate the military into a gender neutral standard, the military has used HPDTs to collect data on newly-proposed MOS-specific standards.

“I've never been treated any differently for being a female in uniform or encountered a lower standard,” said Mayhew. The instructors worked very hard to keep things fair across the board. Every soldier was treated the same and we all knew what we had to do to accomplish the mission.” 

Mayhew successfully completed a 12-mile tactical foot march, prepared a fighting position, employed hand grenades and transported a casualty to immediate safety. All four tasks, plus eight others, are designed to paint a picture of the real-life conditions that could be encountered on the battlefield. 

“The timed road march is the most challenging task I've endured in my career. However, I've never been more proud of myself than when I reached that finish line,” said Mayhew.

Among the 25 students that attended the course, four fellow Texas Guardsmen attended the course alongside Mayhew. 

While Mayhew was the first female Texas Guardsmen to complete the course, she shared her journey with four other female soldiers from different states. 

“We had a strong group of female Soldiers in our class. They were able to pull their own weight and did everything alongside us,” said Fort Worth native Spc. Carlos Flores, 840 Mobility Augmentation Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade. 

The two-week training was one of the first reserve component courses to integrate the HPDT standards into graduation requirements.

“We are among the first in gender-integration training. The instructors were very professional and did everything they could to make the training as realistic as possible and to minimize outside distractions,” said classmate and Brownwood native Sgt. 1st Class Stormy Barnum, readiness non-commissioned officer, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade. 

Through HPDTs, gender integration and the mid-Missouri heat, Mayhew and her fellow classmates have proven they have what it takes to join the proud Corps of Engineers. 

“You really felt a sense of accomplishment after completing the HPDT tasks,” said Mayhew. Even though the work days were long and exhausting, morale and soldier care remained at an all-time high, which I think are the two crucial parts to any mission.” 

Mayhew is currently assigned as a combat engineer with the 840th Mobility Augmentation Company based in Weatherford, Texas. Company Commander Capt. Aaron McConnell of the 840th Mobility Augmentation Company, says he is happy to welcome Mayhew into his company. 

“Spc. Mayhew is a good soldier and I am glad to retain her,” said McConnell. To me, it is more about what you can do as a soldier than what your gender is. We treat everyone on our team the same.” 

“These are my brothers, my family,” said Mayhew. “All my battle buddies are very accepting and encouraging of my decision to become a Combat Engineer. The knowledge these soldiers have of their job is impressive and inspiring. I want to soak up as much of it as I can so that I can be proficient as a 12B and lead my future Soldiers and peers in the right direction as well.”

Texas Communications Team is ready to save lives

Texas Communications Team is ready to save lives 

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted on: July 22, 2016

Left, Senior Airman Jeremy Vance, right, Tech Sgt. Christopher Dorriott, set up a mobile sattelite dish as part of the Texas Interoperability Communications Package, during a Hurricane evacuation exercise in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, June 7 -10, 2016. The TICP provides commincation capabilities for the command and control center during emergency disasters. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)
Left, Senior Airman Jeremy Vance, right, Tech Sgt. Christopher Dorriott, set up a mobile satellite dish as part of the Texas Interoperability Communications Package, during a Hurricane evacuation exercise in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, June 7 -10, 2016. The TICP provides communication capabilities for the command and control center during emergency disasters. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

HARLINGEN, Texas -- Having the immediate communication assets during emergency situations gives military and first responders the ability coordinate and save the lives of local citizens. Texas Air National Guardsmen put their quick response skills action using the Texas Interoperability Communications Package, during a Hurricane evacuation exercise in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, June 7 -10, 2016.

“We have 14 TICPs and they could be sent to any type of scenario,” said Brian Attaway, director of J6. “They can support our own command and control purposes, or the state requests them to go support another agency. They’ve done fires and hurricanes; they’ve supported police departments and supported Texas Task Force 1. In this case, our TICP was assigned to the Air Guard that they needed to use in Harlingen.”

Texas Guardsmen and active duty Air Force worked with state and local first responders at the Valley International Airfield to transport mock patients through military and civilian aircraft. Within one hour of arrival, the four-man team set up the TICP to give key leaders the ability to coordinate those operations. 

“If you’re out in the middle of nowhere and a tornado touches down and you’ve got no cell phone, no power, no light, no anything we can roll up with our generator power and establish mobile satellite communications, and that’s pretty significant,” said Texas Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Lonnie Dunkin, a cyber transport specialist with the 149th Mission Support Group, out of Lackland Air Base, San Antonio.

For the exercise, the TICP provided satellite, Internet and phone services. Airmen also set up a mobile satellite dish to the portable network control center and extended services via cable router, said Dunkin. These services supported the tactical air control Party.

The tactical air control party is made up of Air Force personnel, who work alongside the Army on ground to provide airspace deconfliction and terminal control of close air support.

The TICP trailer comes equipped with many different assets.

“It has more than just phones and Internet,” said Attaway. “It has computers on board, WI-FI, a printer a fax, and it’s got an antenna tower, and radios, which are connected, to our network. All the radios are for our purposes and for interoperability with other agencies. We can also stream video.”

Additionally, the TICP can provide communication means for local citizens stuck in disaster situations.

“We can set up five or six terminals and that would allow for any user to come up and check their bank accounts or email, and send out a message to friends and family letting them know they’re okay,” said Dunkin. 

The TICP was first implemented during the 2008 hurricanes Ike and Gustav. Since then, the package has deployed to hurricanes, fires and various other support missions across the state,” said Attaway.

“During Hurricane Ike we got tasked by the state to go help the Pasadena Police Department, as it was completely down,” said Attaway. “They had no phones they had no radios, the hurricane had completely wiped them out. So we sent a TICP down and to PPD and the people had to call the TICP to reach the police. They were announcing on the radio ‘you cant call 911 you have to call this phone number.”

The command and control center, based out of Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, currently maintains the TICPs for the state. 

“We hand receipt them out to Army Guard, Air Guard and even State Guard who have them throughout the year and then when we have a big exercise or state emergency we send the nearest one that’s available,” said Attaway.

Disaster response exercises like these give Texas Guardsmen and local and state authorities the experience to handle situations should a real-world emergency occur. 

“In my opinion, communications is the bread and butter of successful operations,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Christopher Dorriott, noncommissioned officer in charge of the exercise training for the 149th Fighter Wing, based out of Lackland. “If they need to go on search-and-rescue missions, if they need to go medevac somebody out, or work with local law enforcement, there has to be somebody who can branch those organizations together so they can properly coordinate and get people where they need to go.”

This is four of the four Texas Hurricane Preparedness series.

Texas Guardsmen contribute to medical relief effort

Texas Guardsmen contribute medical relief effort

Story by: Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton

Posted: July 20, 2016

 

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexandra Denio, 136th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard, medical technician, checks the current prescription on a patients classes during the Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training mission in Norwich, N.Y., July 20, 2016. The mission is a 10-day real world training exercise, providing medical, dental, optometry, and veterinary services at no cost the community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton)
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexandra Denio, 136th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard, medical technician, checks the current prescription on a patients classes during the Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training mission in Norwich, N.Y., July 20, 2016. The mission is a 10-day real world training exercise, providing medical, dental, optometry, and veterinary services at no cost the community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton)

In an effort to provide medical relief, nine members from the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, deployed to Chenango County, New York, to support The Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training mission July 20, 2016. The mission began July 15.

The 10-day real-world joint training exercise, ending July 24, allows for military service members to practice their skills in preparation for wartime operations while also providing a needed service to underserved communities.

“This is my first humanitarian mission and it has been such a great experience so far,” said Lt. Col. Harry Moore, 136th Medical Group public health preventative medicine officer. “Essentially, there aren't enough medical providers in the area and the population is greatly underserved. The services we provide are at no cost to the community and the patients have shown so much appreciation. We can really see the benefit that these services are having on the civilian population.”

Services are comprised of quality dental, optometry, veterinary, and medical services. In Chenango County, there is approximately one dentist to every 3,000 patients. With a population of more than 50,000, the understaffed medical field and lack of medical insurance have increased the overall need for assistance and is extremely beneficial to the community.

“We also provide health and nutrition education, as well as have a pharmacy to provide up to two weeks worth of medicine for patients in our care,” Moore said. “Our physicians can also give patients referrals for follow-up care and additional medication once their prescriptions run out. This ensures that they have the ability to maintain their health long-term.”

In 2015, the mission was able to help more than 4,000 residents in Chenango County. To better serve the community this year, the facilities have expanded to two locations, one in Norwich and one in Cortland. The separation will allow for an easier and more efficient method of dispersing medical services to individuals within the region. The goal for 2016 is to maintain or expand their patient outreach from 2015, continuing to offer necessary services. A huge contributor to the effort is the Chenango County United Way.

“I’ve been at the United Way for 17 years, and we’ve never done anything that’s as impactful as this project,” said Elizabeth Monaco, Chenango United Way executive director. “As chaotic as the process is to get to this point, I’m already sad about when it’s going to end. It’s life changing—for me too—as much as it is for the people we are serving. It does so much for the community.”

The United Way is the lead agency for the IRT and raised more than $40,000 to contribute to this effort. The organization’s mission is to assist with national income, education and health deficits, which tie in well with the overall project. Along with their executive committee, they recruited and trained more than 500 volunteers.

“There is something broken,” Monaco said. “There is a need that is not being fulfilled. Even with Obamacare and other programs that are set up, there are people who are unserved and it’s just not ok. If people don't have basic healthcare then they cannot accomplish other things. We have to do something to address it, and this effort is a step in that direction.”

Employment program connects Texas Guardsmen to job

Employment program connects Texas Guardsmen to jobs

Story by: Capt. Jessica Jackson

Posted: June 27, 2016

 

The Job Connection Education Program is offered by the National Guard, and provides dedicated training and development specialists, and a skilled business advisor to assist participants in making their job connections.
The Job Connection Education Program is offered by the National Guard, and provides dedicated training and development specialists, and a skilled business advisor to assist participants in making their job connections.

AUSTIN, Texas — Twenty-two percent of Texas Army National Guard service members returning from operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism were unemployed in 2010 — eclipsing the national average by 9 percent.

“Due to the high unemployment rate of veterans, the National Guard Bureau created the Job Connection Education Program to tackle this issue,” said Shandra Sponsler, deputy branch manager, Texas Military Department Family Support Services. “Texas’ size of force, large deployments and high population areas made us the ideal candidate for the pilot program.”

The Job Connection Education Program helps both Army and Air Guardsmen and their spouses, who are unemployed or burdened with financial problems, find careers.

The Family Support Services of the Texas Military Department currently oversees the program.

“Our staff is here to help,” Sponsler said. “We have training specialists and business advisors on-hand to offer catered services to best match participants with future employers.”

The program focuses on providing one-on-one counseling, employment and education assistance, resume review, workforce training and online job search assistance.

Six years after the launch of the Job Connection Education Program, Texas veteran unemployment is down to 4.3 percent.

“Soldiers should take advantage of the free resources offered through the program,” Sponsler said. “This fiscal year, we’ve had 630 requests for information and help with employment, last fiscal year we were able to place 780 people in jobs. We will continue to diligently work with those who need assistance.”

With offices located at Fort Worth Sandage and Shoreview Armories, Grand Prairie, Houston and Camp Mabry — a training specialist is within reach and available to help.

“It’s very difficult to be a National Guard soldier and the difficulties in balancing your civilian life and military life has its own challenges,” said 1st Lt. Alejandro Tejo, Texas Army National Guard.  “I would like other service members to know that there are a lot of tools our there to help…help make you successful.”

Since its inception, the Job Connection Education Program has placed 3,715 applicants in jobs.

For more information on this program visit https://tmd.texas.gov/family-support-service

War-games from the inside-out: Army journalists go behind the scenes in multinational training operations

War-games from the inside-out: Army journalists go behind the scenes in multinational training operations
 

Story by: Sgt. Michael Giles
 

Posted: June 22, 2016

Photo By Sgt. Praxedis Pineda | Sgt. Michael Giles, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, interviews French Army Brigadier Gen. Eric des Minieres and British Army Col. Graham Livingston, commander and deputy commander of the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, during Exercise Swift Response 16 at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 21, 2016. The 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from Austin, Texas, participated in Exercise Swift Response 16 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 5 to June 26, 2016. The 100th MPAD's participation contributed public affairs assets to the JMRC public affairs mission as well as added training value to training units to enable them to rehearse their responses to the press. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)
Photo By Sgt. Praxedis Pineda | Sgt. Michael Giles, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, interviews French Army Brigadier Gen. Eric des Minieres and British Army Col. Graham Livingston, commander and deputy commander of the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, during Exercise Swift Response 16 at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 21, 2016. The 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from Austin, Texas, participated in Exercise Swift Response 16 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 5 to June 26, 2016. The 100th MPAD's participation contributed public affairs assets to the JMRC public affairs mission as well as added training value to training units to enable them to rehearse their responses to the press. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)

HOHENFELS, Germany (June 22, 2016) -- We stood together, eight Army journalists in a dimly lit multimedia center. Here, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center’s operational environment team plans intricate training scenarios for massive multinational training exercises. The walls had posters and security notices, but no windows, like a vaulted basement. We were in Bavaria, near the German village of Hohenfels, but separated from the German public by two security checkpoints, a locked external gate and front door, and the reinforced door that prevented any trace of daylight from sneaking into this room.

The operational environment team is the beast of the JMRC, and we were in its belly, learning the role that we would play in the incredibly complex narrative ahead. “You’re getting a look at some things you would have never seen as a public affairs person working in this exercise,” says Doug Boyd, one of the minds behind this scenario. 
We are a team of journalists with the Texas Army National Guard’s 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, and the adventure we’re about to undertake will involve soldiers from the U.S. and all across Europe. This is Exercise Swift Response 2016.

WE CAME TO ACCOMPLISH TWO MISSIONS

We came here to contribute our skills to two distinct missions: one in the real world as Soldiers, and one in the scenario as fictional characters. Our real-world mission reflected what we normally do as public affairs soldiers in uniform: we told the stories of military service members through our news-writing, photography and videos. We accomplished this mission by capturing photos and footage as more than one thousand paratroopers from seven countries floated to the ground before our very eyes. We gave leaders a voice as they described the training, and gathered stories about female perspectives on the operation, medics in the field, Special Forces operators and multinational collaboration. Many members of my team, including print photographer Sgt. Praxedis Pineda and videographer Sgt. Marline Duncan, agree this exercise gave us opportunities to perform our craft at a higher level. “I created some of my best work during this exercise because it exposed me to types of military roles and situations that I’ve never seen before,” Duncan said.

Our scenario-based mission was to help JMRC teach training units how to interact with the press. To this end, we put on civilian clothes and civilian attitudes and entered the scenario as civilian journalists on the battlefield. 

“During these exercises, Army journalists simulate the immediate and nuanced effects of media on the modern battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Zach West, officer in charge of our detachment. “The most realistic and valuable role-playing force-on-force exercises attempt to replicate this aspect of contemporary warfare as closely as possible.”

Capt. Christopher B. Bradley, the JMRC public affairs officer, explained that the presence of civilian journalists makes the training more complex for the trainees. “The purpose of the Army journalists replicating civilians on the battlefield is to prepare the rotational training units for the media complexity of the modern battlefield, and to provide feedback to commanders, staffs and Soldiers about the effectiveness of their media engagement operations,” Bradley said.

We played our roles realistically and did our best to add complexity—a major theme of Swift Response—to the training environment. We cajoled our way into occupied towns. We promised easy interviews and then asked tough questions. We refused to go away, even when it led to us being physically—sometimes fiercely—handled by security forces. And we kept asking tough questions.

This was why the Army wanted us in the scenario: This multinational group of soldiers could learn a great deal by having reporters with agendas in their environment, and we witnessed their education progress.

Toward the start of the exercise, I interviewed a British leader in scenario who was evacuating civilians from a town. I asked the leader if he had a message for the civilians who were counting on his support. He said he didn’t. “I’m here to do my job, and I’ll do my very best at my job,” he said, declining to offer anything resembling what a civilian would want to hear from a military force that was supposed to be there to help. Toward the end of the exercise, however, we saw the British and French leaders begin to proactively reach out to us so we could help spread their message.

“With you being part of the scenario, it definitely helped them start understanding that they needed to allow more messaging to go out,” said Sgt. Andrew Reddy, a public affairs specialist with the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Despite the scenario's focus on training the rotational units--not us--we learned a great deal about our own craft from our in-scenario experience. We learned to generate products faster. We learned new tricks. And we gained perspective on the influence that media can have in war.

WE PRACTICED GETTING NEWS OUT FAST

Our in-scenario work was published within the fictitious training world and not in the real world, so we could comfortably make mistakes that we would forever regret if we made them in real world stories. This allowed us to experiment and develop our ability to produce stories quickly.

Speed is important for a journalist, especially a reserve-component journalist who works only one weekend a month, said 100th MPAD print journalist Sgt. Adrian Shelton. “It’s important for M-Day Soldiers before the end of their drill, and it’s really important to report on the news while it is still news,” Shelton said.

Sgt. Jacob Sawyer, the JMRC broadcast noncommissioned officer in charge who works with Bradley to facilitate reserve component PAO activities, says that developing speed is a key focus of in-scenario training. “The thing with roleplaying civilian media on the battlefield is that we want you to try to do it as fast as possible,” Sawyer said. “The civilian media gets the news out that day, that hour.”

Sgt. Duncan, who also participated in Exercise Saber Junction here in 2014, explained that both exercises have made her a more efficient journalist. “I came here with a goal of being a better videographer with faster turnaround time, and that mission is complete,” Duncan said. “I spent more time in the planning phase so that way I could be better prepared when I went out to the field. I spend a lot less time capturing out in the field, and it allows me to come back and have a faster post-production time.”

WE LEARNED HOW NEWS-REPORTING AFFECTS WAR

Here’s the scenario: An imaginary nation called Atropia is experiencing internal conflict. United States and NATO forces arrive in Atropia to stabilize the government, while a bordering nation named Ariana lends support to Atropian rebels. Soldiers with JMRC’s 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment play Arianan Special Forces who attempt to help rebels overthrow the Atropian government. Soldiers with NATO forces play themselves as they hone their abilities to intervene and support nations that find themselves in such a situation. Multinational actors play civilians on the battlefield, and reserve component journalists play civilian journalists on both sides of the conflict.

As we played the game, we learned how our reporting can influence the social and political challenges that the military faces. We discovered how we fit into the overall scheme: Military leaders give orders, soldiers execute, the media reports, and public opinion changes.

“As we operate in these roles and watch the exercise unfold, we learn crucial lessons about the complex ways that media on all sides of a conflict fundamentally affect the environment and even the outcome,” Lt. West said.

We took pictures, wrote stories and made news videos that represented various perspectives within the conflict. The civilian and military training participants were able to access these stories and incorporate responses into their role-playing.

“Every single one of these towns has civilians that are in play,” Sawyer explained. “They have access to the internet that has your stories on it. All the stories you do as media impact the rotations because the commanders of these units have to worry about how they're being perceived on the battlefield.”

Our role-playing affected how we regard our profession in the real world. “The opposing point of view is something that people rarely think about,” said MPAD broadcaster Sgt. Mark Decker. “As journalists, we have to try to understand both sides of a story so we can project an unbiased view of what the situation is.”

“I was allowed to witness how the different military work together to get a mission done,” Duncan said. “My role as a civilian journalist helps me understand that the media has a big influence on what people think on different issues in the world.”

Duncan also appreciated how interacting with the international participants enhanced her ability to connect with the people she interviews. “It’s easy to establish rapport with my fellow U.S. Soldiers, but now that we’re here in a foreign country, what do I need to do to gain their trust?” she said. "To get the story out of them, you have to gain their trust. You have to drink the coffee with them. You have to connect with them before you go in to get the quote. That was my biggest take away. I found myself engaging into their thinking.”

WE CHALLENGED SENIOR MILITARY LEADERS (RESPECTFULLY)

We huddled beneath fluorescent lighting inside our temporary office, surrounded by topographical maps, multinational flags and black-and-white posters of soldiers in action in the JMRC training areas. I heard the word "volunteer" and my arm went up. Then, I realized that Capt. Bradley was asking for a team to interview JMRC's new command sergeant major, and I'd just volunteered myself and MPAD broadcaster Spc. Zachary Polka for the job.

As a Texas National Guard journalist, I had only interviewed senior leaders within the familiar confines of our smaller community at Camp Mabry. Now my teammate and I had to represent that community to the highest-ranking senior enlisted service member at JMRC. We rehearsed our questions, got coached by our team’s leaders, interviewed the command sergeant major, and received additional pointers from Capt. Bradley afterwards.

Two weeks later, in another dimly lit room, we prepared to interview the commander and deputy commander of the British and French Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (ACJEF). This time, we were in a town built for the training scenario. We were filming inside; even though the light would have been much better outside, it wasn’t safe. Just minutes earlier, a series of explosions had French soldiers jumping on top of us to shield us from any danger. So the interview would happen inside.

Even though we were journalists friendly to the ACJEF, the scenario's operational team gave us some challenging questions to ask these seasoned military leaders. As we directed a French two-star general and a British colonel where to sit, the situation reminded me of my concern while interviewing the command sergeant major: We had to remain humble, deferring to their respective positions, while also giving them a training opportunity via some tough questions. Miles away from my own chain of command, in a notional environment, I had the opportunity to practice interviewing key leaders in a difficult situation. Thanks to this adventure, if ever I face such a situation in real life, I will--at least to a small degree--be prepared.

My colleague Sgt. Decker agrees. “I wish I had this training prior to deploying to Afghanistan with a public affairs mission,” he said. “I believe I would have been better equipped to handle key leader engagements before being sent off to interview someone who required an interpreter in order to complete a story.”

WE BECAME A STRONGER TEAM

MPAD members agree that the training functions as a giant team-building exercise where people develop in their ability to trust and collaborate with each other as they succeed together. “This type of training provides an invaluable boost to unit morale and cohesion because it imbues our Soldiers with a level of confidence and subject-matter expertise that typical exercises can't really achieve,” said Lt. West.

Duncan described the team-building as a gradual process that results from working and eating together for twenty-one days straight. “Day in and day out I am working with the same people, and trust gets stronger,” she said. “At first there is a hesitation among the group, but I start to notice that people let their guard down to work together and to have a successful mission.”

Spc. Polka, the newest member of the MPAD, said that this training event painted a picture of the unit’s camaraderie that he would not have seen from just one weekend at drill each month.

“We’ve been able to hone our skills and build new and possibly lasting workable relationships side by side, hand in metaphorical hand,” Polka said. “It was a blast working with our partners, one print and one video, to accomplish our overall mission.”

As Exercise Swift Response 2016 winds down and multinational participants say goodbye to new friends, the MPAD races to finish products. Today, final products are turned in. Tomorrow, we clean the vehicles that we have driven around in the mud for three weeks; then we enjoy a single day of sightseeing before we go home to our spouses, children and full-time civilian jobs. We also return to our drills with our unit, where we don’t photograph thousands of parachutes or interview leaders of occupation forces, but tell the Army’s story just the same. Now we’ll be telling the story with new insights and strengths that we gained in our adventure together: faster, more confident, and more in touch with what it’s all about.

Arrowhead Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan as trainers

Arrowhead Soldiers deploy to Afghanistan as trainers

Story by: Spc. Christina Clardy

Posted on: June 21, 2016

Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, climb the gangway as they deploy to southern Afghanistan June 11, out of Fort Hood, Texas, in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel. They will be joining Task Force Arrowhead as part of the Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) team whose mission is to work with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces at a corps level and higher. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, climb the gangway as they deploy to southern Afghanistan June 11, out of Fort Hood, Texas, in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel. They will be joining Task Force Arrowhead as part of the Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) team whose mission is to work with Afghan National Defense and Security Forces at a corps level and higher. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs) 

Soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division boarded an aircraft at Fort Hood, Texas, on June 11, on their way to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

The 45 Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard are headed to southern Afghanistan as part of the Train, Advise and Assist (TAA) team, and will join a component of senior leaders from the headquarters of the division who deployed the week prior.

"Our mission is to advise and assist the Afghan National Army and Uniformed Police at the corps level and above," said Lt. Col. Alba Melgar-C'de Baca, a plans officer from the 36th Inf. Div. and senior member of the team. "We will be breaking into three groups and are each going to different locations."

Each candidate for the mission was chosen from a list of volunteers, and were then assessed based on their civilian skills and military experience. More than half of the Soldiers are prior members of Security Forces Advisement Teams who have deployed to Afghanistan before.

"We have an amazing amount of talent in this group," said Melgar-C'de Baca. "We have police officers, coaches, teachers and border security agents, so our team run the gambit across the board with talented, motivated folks who all stepped forward and volunteered."

One of the team members is 2nd Lt. Jake Folgate, who works with at-risk teens at the Texas Challenge Academy in Eagle Lake, Texas. He’s excited to put his law enforcement education and experience into practice overseas. 

"I'm really enthusiastic and passionate about this mission," said Folgate, a 24-year-old graduate of Western Illinois University's Law Enforcement program. "I'm really looking forward to my first deployment and starting this mission with the Afghan Uniformed Police."

For many of the Soldiers, including Folgate, this will be their first deployment overseas. Although it's not necessarily a combat deployment, the team is excited and maybe a little nervous, said Melgar-C'de Baca. But they will have friends around them and no one is going alone, so I think that eases their minds a little bit.

"I know ya'll are the best trained, the best equipped, and are the finest Soldiers in the U.S. Army inventory, bar none, because you are all members of the 36th Inf. Div.," said the Assistant Division Commander for Support of the 36th Inf. Div., Brig. Gen. Rick Noriega, moments before the TAA members boarded the plane. "We wish you the best and salute you for who you are, and what you do. Make us proud.”

Communication Soldiers critical to MIBT success

Communication Soldiers critical to MIBT success

Story by: Spc. Christina Clardy

Posted on: June 21, 2016

Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Sgt. 1st Class Juan Martinez, the Tactical Action Center Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge and Pvt. Gerardo Romano, a truck driver with 36th Inf. Div., monitor the communications systems at the Tactical Action Center during the Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. Communications Soldiers provided equipment and support for the higher headquarters division staff which communicated with several Active and reserve component units. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Sgt. 1st Class Juan Martinez, the Tactical Action Center Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge and Pvt. Gerardo Romano, a truck driver with 36th Inf. Div., monitor the communications systems at the Tactical Action Center during the Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. Communications Soldiers provided equipment and support for the higher headquarters division staff which communicated with several Active and reserve component units. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs) 

Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, set up and provided division-wide communication channels during a Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training exercise, June 4-18 at Fort Hood, Texas.

The Texas Army National Guard division serves as the higher headquarters during this Multi-Echelon Integrated Brigade Training (MIBT) exercise for a brigade and several specialized units as they train to meet requirements for their annual training cycle. The exercise will be focused on maneuver-based, decisive action and will include critical gunnery training on various weapons systems. 

"The division's role in this exercise is to act as a higher headquarters for the [Brigade Combat Teams] and other units out in the field," said Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, commander of the 36th Inf. Div. "Many BCTs are in states that do not have a higher headquarters, so here they can train and practice working with one."

Preparation began months in advance as network, signal and communications teams from the 36th Inf. Div., planned and organized equipment and systems to support the two-week exercise. Nearly 5,000 Soldiers and nine units from the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, and the Texas and Mississippi National Guard participated in the training.

"In February, we had a full server refresh and rebuild," said Master Sgt. Brandon Horta, the 36th Inf. Div. Communications Noncommissioned Officer in Charge. "So we did a lot of network reengineering and reconfiguring of the Tactical Mission Command server." 

The command staff from the participating units had concerns about the connectivity of the Army Battle Command Systems required to track and control the moving pieces in the simulated battlespace. 

"Due to the varying fielding schedules, not every unit participating in this exercise had the same versions of the many systems we use to communicate," said Simpson. "Without the same versions, the systems cannot cross talk."

The various U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard units solved this by system tests, double-checking software consistencies and frequent conference calls with each other across six time zones for months in advance. According to Simpson, this early preparation was key for successfully setting up the MIBT and allowed the exercise to kick off with all the units on the same playing field communications-wise.

An advance party of mostly communications Soldiers arrived May 28, and began setting up more than ten types of transmitter and relay systems, the Army Battle Command System, a Tactical Mission Command server and various unit tracking systems.

"The biggest challenge when we got here was the unforgiving terrain [due to the recent severe flooding in and around Fort Hood]," said Horta. "Several units had to move locations and we had to adjust our communication relays and retransmissions sites to provide the best connections."

One site, manned by a dozen Soldiers in rotating shifts, maintained a FM radio retransmission antennae and a High Capacity Line-Of-Sight Radio dish. The dish is a tri-band antennae system that requires line of sight from dish to dish to provide faster data transfer for reconnaissance video and intelligence systems.

"It took us about a day to set up and sync the dish and the FM antenna," said Pfc. Stephen Lewis, a 24-year-old computer information specialist with Signal Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 36th Inf. Div. "The hardest part was keeping the antennas up and linked. The first week, it rain more than half the time we were up there making the ground soft and muddy."

Despite the challenges, the communication Soldiers were able to successfully provide the necessary systems connectivity allowing the operations centers, headquarters units and ground troops to remain in contact throughout the division's portion of the exercise.

For the 36th Inf. Div. staff, the MIBT exercise is the first step in preparing for the division's Warfighter 2018 rotation in eighteen months. Warfighter is multi-year preparation training event culminating in a simulated exercise that allows units from brigade to division to corps, to integrate command systems, and execute large-scale missions and operations.

Texas Army National Guard Receives Excellence Award

Texas Army National Guard Receives Excellence Award

Story by: Laura Lopez

Posted: June 21, 2016

Courtesy Photo | Army Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, Special Assistant to the Director of the Army National Guard, (left) presents Army Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris, Assistant Deputy Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard (center) and SFC Brenda Lopez, TXARNG G5 NCOIC (right), with the Army National Guard Communities of Excellence third place in the Bronze division at a ceremony held at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, May 23, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez)
Courtesy Photo | Army Maj. Gen. Richard Gallant, Special Assistant to the Director of the Army National Guard, (left) presents Army Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris, Assistant Deputy Adjutant General of the Texas National Guard (center) and SFC Brenda Lopez, TXARNG G5 NCOIC (right), with the Army National Guard Communities of Excellence third place in the Bronze division at a ceremony held at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, May 23, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez)

AUSTIN, Texas– The 2016 Army Community of Excellence winners were recently announced by the Department of the Army, with the Texas Army National Guard earning third place in the Bronze division. 

An awards ceremony was held at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Virginia, May 23, 2016.

“This is a tremendous honor for the Texas Army National Guard and is truly representative of the 18,000 citizen-soldiers who serve state of Texas and the U.S.,” said Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris, Assistant Deputy Adjutant General-Army. “This is definitely an award that encompasses a group effort and, as such, enables us to better serve our fellow Texans.”

The ACOE Award honors the top Army, National Guard and Army Reserve installations which have achieved the highest levels of excellence in building a quality environment, outstanding facilities and superior services.

“The Texas Army National Guard departments have learned that ACOE is more than just a competition; it is about providing a common vocabulary that facilitates an environment of excellence and a continuous process for improvement,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brenda Lopez, G5-Organizational Excellence noncommissioned officer in charge, Texas Army National Guard. “We have also learned the importance of integrating our customers, partners, and workforce into organizational change processes that will have lasting impacts to our organization.”

The ACOE program is an Army Chief of Staff program that uses the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program Criteria for Performance Excellence – an internationally recognized integrated management system – to evaluate installations. The criteria ensures the leadership considers all stakeholders, tailors the post’s processes and resources accordingly, and employs visionary thinking through the application of proven business principles in six distinct, but integrated categories. Those categories include leadership, strategy, customer focus, measurement, analysis and knowledge management, workforce focus and operations focus. 

The TXARNG has competed in the annual ACOE competition since 1996. Since 2006, the TXARNG has placed in the rankings and been named a gold winner, nationally, six times.