Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

From fires to floods, Texas National Guard helicopter crews are always ready to serve

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: October 29, 2015

1st Lt. Alicia Lacy  A Texas Army National Guard Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk hoists a member from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1 during a search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014. The joint, interagency exercise simulated emergency response following a hurricane, with members from the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1, the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety integrating to form a joint response team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy/ Released)
1st Lt. Alicia Lacy 
A Texas Army National Guard Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk hoists a member from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1 during a search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014. The joint, interagency exercise simulated emergency response following a hurricane, with members from the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1, the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety integrating to form a joint response team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy/ Released)

AUSTIN, Texas - After six days of fighting wildfires, Texas Army National Guardsman Sgt. Steven Nesbitt thought he was going home. Then the call came in – they were needed for floods.

“There’s not much to think about when the call comes in,” said Nesbitt, a helicopter crew chief and standardization instructor with the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “Just get your assets ready.”

Texas Guardsmen supported a total of seven wildfires in central Texas, Oct. 15-20, 2015, dropping more than 1 million gallons of water on the fires and saving hundreds of homes from destruction. As quickly as the fires had come, they were gone. 

The day after the fires, it rained so much that several areas in Texas experienced flash flooding. 

Switching gears from firefighting to swift water rescue operations, the same pilots and aircraft took to the skies, once again, to support local first responders and serve Texans in their time of need.

“The Department of Emergency Management calls us whenever the local and state resources are exhausted and need extra help, whether it be fire, floods or hurricanes,” said Col. Michael Dye, commander of the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility, Texas Army National Guard. 

Defense support to civilian authorities is the official title the military uses when referring to this type of mission. Each National Guard unit has both a DSCA mission, working alongside local, state and federal partners to support domestic operations, and a combat mission. 

Primarily, these guardsmen train to support Texans at home during wildfires, hurricanes and flash flooding, as well as, combat operations overseas; they even support the Department of Homeland Security with aerial interdiction along the Texas-Mexico border. 

“We are constantly training throughout the year in order to remain proficient in these mission sets,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Cordero, a pilot for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “So when we have an incident like we did, where we are fighting fires and the mission set changes and it’s time to go and respond to a flood event, we’re ready, that’s what we do.”

The combat aviation unit is equipped with several types of aircraft, UH-60 Blackhawks, CH-47 Chinooks, LUH-72 Lakotas and AH-64 Apaches, each with different capabilities, but each that can support a variety of missions.

“We bring a valuable dimension to the fire and search and rescue missions,” said Dye. “There are a lot of situations where ground crews cannot get to a location and the only way to get rescuers or fire suppression to an area is with aviation assets.”

Helicopter crews train regularly with first responders from the Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Task Force One. The training the unit does with these and other partners helps prepare them for this diverse mission set. 

“When the call came in to respond to the flooding, we just reset our aircraft,” said Cordero. “We removed the bucket we used to fight fires and our Task Force One partners came in and equipped the aircraft with their rescue basket, medical equipment and anything they needed to rescue individuals from rapidly rising water.”

Training and experienced helicopter crews work together to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

“My crews bring a high level of experience and dedication to mission accomplishment,” said Dye. “They have learned over the years to anticipate when events will occur and are prepared when the call comes in for support.”

And even though it doesn’t happen every year, crew members say battling different natural disasters back to back is not unheard of in Texas.

“In 2005, we were on the way home from fighting fires in the Davis Mountains, out in west Texas, and we got moved to respond to Hurricane Rita,” said Nesbitt. “Texas is a big state to protect – a lot of dry areas and a lot of wet areas.”

But regardless of what Mother Nature throws at Texas, the men and women of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade say they are ready to support.

“We are strategically located throughout the state in order to respond to that DSCA mission, wherever it may be,” said Cordero.

Providing this support to local first responders and helping their fellow Texans is what drives most guardsmen said Nesbitt.

“That’s what motivates us,” he said. “Protecting the citizens of Texas.”

National Guard engineers ready to rescue

Story by: Sgt. Michael Giles

Posted: October 25, 2015

Sgt. Michael Giles  Members of the Texas National Guard's 236th Engineering Company stand ready within Light Medium Terrain Vehicles to engage in flood rescue operations in Huntsville, Texas, Oct. 25, 2015. Members of the 236th Engineering Company, part of the 111th Engineering Battalion, mobilized to Corsicana and Hunstville, Texas, to stand ready to respond to any rescue needs caused by the rainstorms resulting from Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)
Sgt. Michael Giles 
Members of the Texas National Guard's 236th Engineering Company stand ready within Light Medium Terrain Vehicles to engage in flood rescue operations in Huntsville, Texas, Oct. 25, 2015. Members of the 236th Engineering Company, part of the 111th Engineering Battalion, mobilized to Corsicana and Huntsville, Texas, to stand ready to respond to any rescue needs caused by the rainstorms resulting from Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas —"Everybody here, myself included, is ready to do what we have to do," said Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Frawley, a squad leader in the National Guard's 236th Engineering Company. He traveled with his team from Lewisville, Texas, to Corsicana, and then to Huntsville, anticipating a need for flood rescue operations.

Spc. Steven R. Hankins, an engineer who helped rescue upward of 30 people during the storm of May 2015, has a lot of experience with these sorts of disaster missions. He said that they are equipped to rescue flood victims because of how their trucks are built. Their height and weight allows them to navigate in deep and flowing water, and they are airtight enough to almost entirely submerge for up to 15 minutes. They rescue people by driving toward the houses, vehicles, and even trees where they are stranded, and pull them on board.

"We pulled a man out of a tree after water had surrounded his car," Hankins said. "This man popped his trunk, climbed out the back and up a tree. Luckily, we could get to him."

This team of citizen-soldiers, led by 1st Lt. Clayton C. Harrison, consists of military-trained engineers, plumbers, and electricians, many of whom have participated in multiple flood rescue operations.

"Some people really get stuck in jams," said Sgt. Charlie W. Brown. "Sometimes we're the only people who can get to them. I love what I do."

The ability of the 236th to rescue also comes from their readiness to be where they need to be. These citizen-soldiers were called up on Oct. 23, 2015, and activated for days of swift water movements throughout central and east Texas. They traveled to Corsicana the following morning, where floodwater derailed a train and neighboring guardsmen rescued a reported 14 civilians from homes and vehicles.

"We're out here, we're ready and we're prepared," Harrison said. "The people of Texas are much safer because units like the 236th anticipate needs and prepare to respond." 

Later that day, they drove in a convoy of six vehicles to Huntsville, Texas, where they stood by at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in case they were needed. The following morning, it was determined that the risk in Huntsville was low enough that it was safe to depart. 

"We try to minimize risk, but there's always risk when dealing with mother nature," Harrison said. "In the end, it's a good thing we didn't have to go out today."

Texas Guardsmen fight fires in Bell County, save 200 homes

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Post: October 21, 2015

A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk drops 660 gallons of water on the Comanche Fire in support of firefighting operations in Bell County, Texas, Oct. 19, 2015. Texas National Guard helicopter crews, supporting Texas A&M Forest Service, responded to six wildfires across central Texas Oct. 14-21, 2015, saving hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black/ Released)
A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk drops 660 gallons of water on the Comanche Fire in support of firefighting operations in Bell County, Texas, Oct. 19, 2015. Texas National Guard helicopter crews, supporting Texas A&M Forest Service, responded to six wildfires across central Texas Oct. 14-21, 2015, saving hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black/ Released)

BELTON, Texas – Texas Guardsmen helped save close to 200 homes, while supporting firefighting operations in Bell County, Oct. 20, 2015.

After almost a week of battling the Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop, four Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawks were rerouted to take on a second fire and support ground troops in suppressing the Comanche Fire, just off of Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

“When we arrived on scene, we knew we needed air support and a large volume of water to fight the fire,” said Rhea Cooper, assistant chief, North Branch, Instant Response, Texas A&M Forest Service.

The forest service requested National Guard support and four aviation crews were sent to help.

“We were going out to the Hidden Pines Fire,” said Texas Army National Guard pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “As soon as we landed, we were directed to the Comanche Fire.”

The fire covered approximately 50 acres and was in close proximity of almost 200 homes.

“It wasn’t too big,” said Black. “But it was threatening a lot.”

Ground crews made up of several local fire departments and members of the Texas A&M Forest Service were already on the ground working to put out the fire. As the fire moved through, it left behind hot spots and smaller fires, all of which ground crews were working to extinguish as quickly as possible, said Black. Ground crews also used bulldozers to create firebreaks in attempts to stop, or direct, the fire.

Toward the end of the day, Black’s crew was called to a smoky area on the northeast side of the lake, by the marina.

“There were some really huge flames,” said Black. “We rushed up and were able to put them out; we definitely saved some houses there.”

Cooper estimates that the four helicopters dropped almost 396,000 gallons of water; an effort he claims was instrumental in putting out the fire.

“The Texas National Guard was absolutely necessary to the operation,” said Cooper, who said he was also impressed with the crews’ ability to maneuver their aircraft in such a small space. “Fifty acres is a relatively small space to operate four helicopters and they were able to do it very safely.”

For Texas National Guard pilots, this type of mission is not new. 

A part of the Guard’s mission statement is to provide the governor and the president with ready forces to support state and federal authorities at home and abroad, and they have done just that on many occasions.

“Our unit has been on many fires in the past,” said Black. “And I’ve also been on the other side of it.”

In 2011, Black’s company was mobilized to deploy when the Bastrop County Complex fire hit. Because they were mobilized, that company was unable to support the fire, but fortunately, many other firefighting assets were, to include their sister Texas National Guard aviation companies.

“I live in Bastrop,” said Black. “And those guys saved my house.”

Being able to pass on the favor is important to Black.

“It’s such a good feeling to have your house saved and then to be able to save someone else’s house and property – the feeling is indescribable,” said Black. “It makes me proud to do what I do.”

That feeling seems to be mutual.

“I’m really proud of the hard work our Guardsmen have done all over Central Texas to support firefighting operations and serve our fellow Texans,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, Domestic Operations commander, Texas Military Department.

Helicopter crews responded to six wildfires across central Texas during the week. Partnered with local fire departments and the Texas A&M Forest Service, they helped save hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property.

“It was very rewarding to help – it makes you feel good,” said Black. “Helping people and saving houses.”

Texas National Guard fights Bastrop wildfire

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: October 16, 2015

Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility helps fight wildfires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)
Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon
A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility helps fight wildfires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)

BASTROP, Texas -- The Texas Army National Guard’s aviation assets joined the fight to help its neighbors in Bastrop County battle a wildfire that ignited Oct. 13, 2015.

Since the initial request Tuesday evening, the Guard supported local officials and the Texas A&M Forest Service to help suppress the Hidden Pines fire that, as of Friday, has burned more than 4,500 acres of land and destroyed about 40 structures.

The TXARNG provided two UH-60 Black Hawks from the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility and two CH-47 Chinooks from Grand Prairie to support fire suppression efforts, with two additional UH-60 Black Hawks on standby from the Guard’s San Antonio facility.

As of 8 p.m. Thursday, the four TXARNG aviation crews flew nearly 50 hours and dropped nearly 700,000 gallons of water that they loaded into their Bambi Buckets from local lakes and ponds.

Bastrop County officials said the fire is 25 percent contained, but weather conditions may change that.

“The fire has spread and the wind has picked up today, so we’re bringing in more assets,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Schmidt, a line pilot from the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility, said Thursday morning.

The scene was too familiar to some area residents, aviators and Texans who remember the Bastrop County Complex fire just four years earlier that burned more than 34,000 acres of land not too far from the heavily-wooded Hidden Pines area where the fire continues to burn.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Drew Segraves, an instructor pilot from the Austin facility, said he remembers crews from the facility who helped battle the 2011 fire.

With the devastating Bastrop County Complex fire still fresh on their minds, TXARNG aviation crews continue to provide aerial fire suppression efforts.

Guardsmen mentor El Salvador, Honduran forces to counter organized crime

Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego

Posted: October 14, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion stand with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts following their four-month mentorship training program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 1, 2015. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations. (Courtesy photo by Texas Army National Guard/Relesed)
Courtesy Photo 
Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion stand with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts following their four-month mentorship training program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 1, 2015. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations. (Courtesy photo by Texas Army National Guard/Released)

Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion recently trained with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts for a four-month mentorship program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations.

Recently, Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, traveled to El Salvador and Honduras for several missions as part of a joint task force mentoring program with local and national law enforcement.

The missions, held May to September 2015 as part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership, were designed to focus training and mentoring for El Salvadorian and Honduran forces in order to enhance their capabilities to detect, disrupt, and detain persons involved in illicit trafficking within their respective regions. The Texas Guardsmen assisting the effort were designated Task Force Coyote.

“TF Coyote’s particular mission was to facilitate, through instruction, the better development of the intelligence production flow and the analysis of human reporting,” said Capt. Kurt Clawson, the intelligence officer for the 72nd IBCT.

Thirty-seven Guardsmen volunteered to participate in this series of missions, and were selected for their experience and language proficiency crucial to the success of the mentorship program. Many of them have specific experience in U.S. agencies such as Counterdrug, U.S. Customs, Border Patrol, local and state law enforcement, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. These backgrounds contributed immensely to the value of the training. 

“The focus of the overall mission was to develop intelligence training that gave students an overview of the intelligence environment, while practicing their analytical skills,” said Clawson. “The mission requirements varied by country and TF Coyote even differentiated instructional topics between the two trips to El Salvador.”

The task force’s teams targeted key communities and coordinated schedules with the partner nations to maximize the reach and potency of the operation.

“Our teams are well-trained and proud to be representing the Texas Army National Guard in El Salvador and Honduras,” said Lt. Col. Robert Eason, commander of the 72nd BSTB. “We get to learn from each other and these events are a great opportunity for our Soldiers.”

The training focused three main aspects of combating organized crime: Intelligence Support Operations; Surveillance and Reporting Operations and Procedures; and Intelligence Targeting and Superiority. While the main focus was on intelligence, the teams used the U.S. Army’s train-the-trainer approach to not only teach the mentees relevant skills, but also to equip them to be able to teach others in their departments and agencies. 

“Any beneficial CTOC training helps our entire hemisphere and helps relations overall,” said Clawson. “The training was mutual because presenting the U.S. Army way of doing things, you learn how foreign militaries try to accomplish the same mission set.”

The mentees received detailed classroom instruction, scenario-based training, and proficiency certification before moving forward to the next advanced topic. The Guardsmen also shared vital experience in force protection, personnel recovery, anti-terrorism, and medical and casualty evacuation practices.

“Our troops conducting these missions really enjoy the opportunity to work with members of the army of our partner nations,” said Eason. “Very few units get to do this; this training will greatly increase our Soldiers’ capabilities and the capabilities of our partner nations.”

Due to the security situation, Task Force Coyote conducted the training on the Army’s Signal School’s Headquarters’ compound. The culminating training event involved pattern analysis, evaluating summaries, and developing targeting packets.

“The preparation and presentation of even the limited intelligence process allows for good training,” said Clawson. “We always learn better when we are responsible for teaching concepts to others. Through their comments, all the countries respected the training due to the quality of product and presentation provided by the 72nd military intelligence Soldiers.”

Rescue conference recognizes TexasGuardsmen with service award

Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego

Post: October 14, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 receive the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, October 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas. (Texas National Guard Photo by Texas State Guardsman Staff Sgt. Timothy Pruitt/Released)
Courtesy Photo 
Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 receive the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, October 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas. (Texas National Guard Photo by Texas State Guardsman Staff Sgt. Timothy Pruitt/Released)

Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 received the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, Oct. 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.

The Texas National Guard is no stranger to emergency response and community support. From hurricane relief to wildfires, citizen Soldiers have stepped up and served in times of need. Recently, those efforts received special recognition when the 16 crew members of the Texas Guard’s four rescue air crews were honored with the prestigious Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue for their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.

The award, presented during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference, hosted by the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals, recognizes the tireless efforts of the 16 crew members and their interagency cooperation with fellow recipients from Texas Task Force 1.

“This is not an individual award,” said CW5 Matthew B Reynolds, the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Command Chief Warrant Officer. “This is a situation where quality training involving many people and many hours allows the mission to go smoothly. Through coordination, the Texas Military Forces and Texas Task Force 1 are provided funding, time and equipment to become a coordinated "Mission" aircrew.”

The award recognizes excellence in the field of flood and swiftwater rescue and is presented for several categories, including outstanding achievement, program development, special commendation, swiftwater rescue incident, and lifetime achievement. The Guardsmen were honored with the rescue incident award for their late spring helicopter operations.

“Together with Texas Task Force 1 and its rescue swimmers, we train as a crew monthly in preparation for events like the one for which we received the award,” said CW4 John Silva, call sign Alamo 07 and the pilot in command. “Through training and hard work we work as a team responding to incidents that need our services and successfully and safely conduct our operations.”

Although the two units have been involved in independent rescue missions in the past, this was the first real-world demonstration of their coordinated, interagency effort. The results of this partnership were beyond expectations. Together, the teams performed 132 rescues during the flooding period in May. 

“In the 90s and 2000s, the National Guard did not work with Task Force 1,” said Reynolds. “We just placed a rescue net beside the stranded personnel and hoped they could get in. Since then, we have come a long way with the integration between our two agencies. We provide professional, quick reaction aircrews throughout Texas, consisting of highly trained aircrews and rescue swimmers.”

The teams both bring to the table years of experience and expertise that were instrumental in the successes of May’s flood rescues.

“It is important to note that aircrews from Texas Military Forces have been performing these operations in response to natural disasters for many years,” said Silva, “and that countless lives have been saved by professional crews and people both in the air and on the ground. I see this award as recognition for all of the people involved and the decision to put the teams together. I'm honored to be a part of that team.”

The awards presentation was just one event in the four-day conference, held Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at the Century Center in South Bend, Indiana. The annual gathering brings together members from all disciples of the water rescue community to promote safety, training best practices, and risk management.

Also present during the ceremony was Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, the commander of the Texas Military Forces’ Domestic Operations Task Force and senior military officer in charge of the rescue efforts.

"It's a great honor to be recognized by an international organization that looks at swift water rescue efforts around the world,” said Hamilton. "To be that extensively recognized is humbling and shows that Texas is doing all the right things in preparation for future swift water rescue events."

What struck the Texas Guardsmen most was the international attention garnered by their actions and the acknowledgement of just how immense the rescue community is. 

“Because this is a civilian award, it has special meaning to the Military crewmembers,” said Reynolds. “It is job recognition from an entity that is outside our normal channels. Being recognized by the Civilian Swiftwater Rescue community is a memorable event for all of us.”

For the award recipients, who included pilots, crewmembers, and divers, the May floods were simply one aspect of a big picture of what it means to be a citizen Soldier.

“Within 24 hours I had flown an airplane for the National Guard as my duty on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I was flying a UH60 Black Hawk on state active duty for the rescue of an elderly man who would otherwise have died in San Marcos,” said Silva. “Along with Alamo 11, we evacuated more than 20 floodwater victims in Wimberley who were surrounded by water. When I got home to the ranch that night after a long day, I found a cow with a breached calf in a pasture who needed assistance delivering.”

Reserve soldier finds unexploded ordnance during multi-component range road project

Courtesy Story: 176th Engineer Brigade (TXARNG)

Posted: October 08, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Texas-based Army engineers unearthed an 81-millimeter mortar round during a multi-component range road project, July 12, 2015. Active-duty soldiers from the 79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group based in Fort Hood, Texas responded and detonated the mortar using C4 explosives. The 17-mile roadway construction is a 25 day project, 6-30 July, along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center in Brownwood, Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo Courtesy of 111th Engineer Battalion)
Courtesy Photo 
Texas-based Army engineers unearthed an 81-millimeter mortar round during a multi-component range road project, July 12, 2015. Active-duty soldiers from the 79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group based in Fort Hood, Texas responded and detonated the mortar using C4 explosives. The 17-mile roadway construction is a 25 day project, 6-30 July, along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center in Brownwood, Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo Courtesy of 111th Engineer Battalion)

BROWNWOOD, Texas – A U.S. Army Reserve engineer soldier got more than he bargained for when he unearthed unexploded ordnance (UXO) while participating in a multi-component roadway construction project at the Camp Bowie Training Facility, July 12, 2015. 

“I was grading down the road and I felt the vehicle shift a little,” said Sgt. Dwayne Goodell, horizontal construction engineer, 277th Engineer Company, 980th Engineer Battalion, 420th Engineer Brigade, U.S. Army Reserve (USAR), based in Camp Bullis, Texas. 

Looking down the sergeant saw what caused the unexpected movement; his heavy equipment vehicle blade struck a teardrop-shaped green metal tube with fins. The object was a fully intact 81-millimeter mortar round. The highly explosive projectile is used by the military to destroy vehicles, structures, and equipment from a distance of three to four miles away. 

“I saw the fins, and I was like, ‘here we go again,’” said Goodell. “The mortar popped up, it spun a couple times in the air, and then it hit the ground.”

Locating the mortar was an unmistakably-unnerving feeling for the combat veteran. And Goodell had reason to worry. UXO can remain dangerous for years, or even decades, after failing to detonate. Exposure to the elements can cause the explosives inside a UXO to destabilize, making it respond unpredictably to shock or impact.

Fortunately for Goodell, the round came to rest without detonating. 

“I didn’t think it was going to go off, because of how long it had been here, so I stopped the equipment and got off,” said Goodell. “I got a good distance away and called the NCO that was with us, and then we did the UXO report.”

The Army has well-defined procedures for dealing with UXOs, beginning with safeguarding the area. 

“I went down and set up a cordon, another Humvee rolled up with the NCOIC and he set up the outer cordon on top of the hill, so that we would have visibility over the area,” said Goodell. 

Several staff personnel overseeing the roadway construction project reacted to the UXO find. 

“I looked over at the battalion commander and asked ‘Sir, did he just say UXO?,’” said Maj. Ed Zook, operations officer, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG). 

“When the find was confirmed soldiers in the Tactical Operations Center followed protocol and called for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team,” said Zook.

“EOD soldiers are highly prized for their knowledge of explosives and munitions. Although we, as Army engineers, routinely deal with explosives, the EOD are the experts when it comes to disposing of ordnance quickly and safely,” said Capt. Michael Fellers, headquarters commander, 111th Engineer Battalion, TXARNG. 

The nearest EOD team was located at Fort Hood nearly 100 miles from the Camp Bowie Training Facility. Unsure of how quickly the team would be able to make the trip, the 111th and 277th made preparations to keep the area protected indefinitely. 

Fortunately, the active-duty soldiers from the79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group (EOD) team were on the scene in about two hours. 

“Response from Fort Hood was excellent,” said 1st Sgt. Lucia Estrada, 277th Engineer Company, USAR. “We appreciated the speedy arrival.”

When dealing with UXOs, the EOD teams have the option of disarming the ordnance or destroying the device. After viewing the mortar, the EOD professionals determined to detonate the mortar where it was found using C4 explosives. 

After placing the charge, the EOD team joined Goodell on the hill several hundred meters away. The honor of detonating the mortar fell to the man who found it. Goodell triggered an M-81 firing device and was rewarded a second later with a thunderous blast. 

“It was pretty cool,” said Goodell. 

The 17-mile roadway construction is a 25-day project, 6-30 July, along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center. The multi-component project planned and led by 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG) included active duty soldiers from the 36th Engineer Brigade based in Fort Hood, Texas and U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from 420th Engineer Brigade headquartered in Bryan, Texas.

The road to a Texas Guard Warfighter, part 1 of 3

The road to a Texas Guard Warfighter, part 1 of 3

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted: September 17, 2015

Sgt. Elizabeth Peña 
Texas National Guardsmen of the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, conduct a command post exercise at the Round Rock Armed Forces Reserve Center, Sept. 11-13, 2015, as a ramp up to their Warfighter Exercise scheduled for Nov. 2015 at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

ROUND ROCK, Texas - The Soldiers of the Texas Army National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade serve their state and country with two necessary and complementing missions. Stateside, they help their fellow Texans during emergencies with search and extraction, decontamination, and medical triage capabilities. Overseas, they fulfill the Army’s mission to fight and win our nation’s wars through security and maneuver support operations.

This wartime mission requires extensive preparation and practice to achieve proficiency. Their barometer of success is the Warfighter Exercise, a three-week command and control simulation that tests and evaluates a headquarters’ coordination and methods of battle. Although their validation is not until November, the brigade’s journey to success begins months in advance, with command post exercises at its home station.

“This allows us to have trained soldiers, competent in their tasks and skills with coordinating efforts by other sections throughout the organization,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Esparza, the Brigade Information Services Technician. “It takes intensity. To be part of the MEB, you have to challenge yourself and Warfighter is a challenge we are definitely taking on.”

The command post exercises, held in July and September 2015, serve as preparatory rehearsals and proofs of concept for what they’ll encounter when they travel to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in November. The two exercises give the 136th MEB an opportunity to achieve unity of efforts across staff teams by allowing Soldiers, officers and enlisted alike, to define their individual roles and responsibilities and gain a better understanding of Warfighter as a whole.

“The feedback that we are getting on some of our products is great,” said Cpt. Carl Wilson, the brigade’s deputy logistics officer. “The collaboration with the advisors and trainers from the 101st will have long-lasting effects not just here and now, but further down the road in Kentucky.”

During the second command post exercise, held September 11-13, the Guardsmen teamed up with their active-duty counterparts from Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division in field services, current operations, fires supports, knowledge management, and logistics to better understand the procedures and practices that will ensure a successful Warfighter.

“Everyone here wants to be part of a team,” said Esparza. “Anything you want to learn, you will be given opportunities to cross-train. We welcome anyone to come in and see how they can fit in and start working with direction and motivation.”

This is the first Warfighter for the 136th MEB since their deployment in 2012. Although this is not a mobilization, it still requires vast amounts of support, including supplies, maintenance gear, and transportation of equipment and Soldiers. The logistics section serves as the primary advisor for these tasks.

“Approximately 200 Soldiers from the brigade will be participating in Warfighter,” said Wilson, “requiring about 350 cases of MREs and a water buffalo that holds 400 gallons of water. Generators, HMMWVs, and LMTVs will be transported to Fort Campbell in late October prior to the main body movement.”

Crucial to mission success, communication support was another key element in learning how best to respond to the demands of a fast-paced, tactical environment. The brigade’s computers, telephones, and other electronic equipment requires 7,000 ft. of ethernet cable for the more than 500 different connections.

“We have to monitor networks, communication channels, information systems, and tactical systems,” said Esparza. “It is the architecture we build from the ground up at any location.”

The brigade is no stranger to self-sustaining operations through extensive practice with their Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter system in isolated areas without infrastructure. This command post exercise demonstrated once more the 136th MEB’s ability to establish a tactical footprint and execute their support mission.

“The way we prepared for this weekend was getting the personnel ready,” said Esparza, “as well as the communication pieces, the logistical support, cables, wires, and any other supplies we might need in order to make this happen.”

The Guardsmen will complete their final preparations in October before moving out November 4th for Fort Campbell. There, they will use the skills, products, and battle methods developed at their command post exercises during these summer months to achieve success at their culminating evaluation.

“Without this CPX, we could not perform well in Kentucky,” said Wilson. “I know for a fact they are setting us up for success.”

Task Force Alamo trains Honduran army

Story by: Maj. Randall Stillinger

Posted: August 27, 2015

Maj. Randall Stillinger  First Lt. Raymond Bayane (right) observes two Honduran soldiers practice a 'fireman’s carry' during a training exercise in Tamara, Honduras. Bayane is with the San Antonio-based 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, which is conducting the training to enhance the Honduran Army’s ability to counter transnational organized crime (CTOC). 36th Infantry Division Soldiers of the Texas Army National Guard are spending four months in Central America creating a knowledgeable and trained force that is able to detect, disrupt and detain illicit trafficking across the region. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger)
Maj. Randall Stillinger 
First Lt. Raymond Bayane (right) observes two Honduran soldiers practice a 'fireman’s carry' during a training exercise in Tamara, Honduras. Bayane is with the San Antonio-based 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, which is conducting the training to enhance the Honduran Army’s ability to counter transnational organized crime (CTOC). 36th Infantry Division Soldiers of the Texas Army National Guard are spending four months in Central America creating a knowledgeable and trained force that is able to detect, disrupt and detain illicit trafficking across the region. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger)

TAMARA, Honduras – Soldiers from the San Antonio-based 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment are spending an extended summer working with and training Honduran military forces at a remote base two hours Northwest of the capital city of Tegucigalpa. 

 The four-month mission, which started in May, is meant to enhance the host nation’s ability to counter transnational organized crime by creating a knowledgeable and trained force that is able to detect, disrupt and detain illicit trafficking across Central America.

 The over 50 members of Task Force Alamo, which is commanded by Maj. Rodney Kelley, were selected because they bring unique capabilities to the mission. 

 In addition to combat experience, these citizen-soldiers of the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team brought with them expertise and experience that was gained from civilian careers in related fields. Members of the task force include Austin police officers, a U.S. Marshall, a firefighter, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, and employees of the Bexar County Sherriff’s Department.

 These Texas National Guard Soldiers also bring an added benefit to the training environment: the ability to speak Spanish fluently.

 Kelley said, “This group of Soldiers is exceptionally prepared for the mission in Honduras. The fact that 65 percent of our Soldiers are bilingual improves the quality of training because much is lost when an interpreter is used.”

 “The civilian experiences that they bring to the training are an added bonus that is hard to replicate,” Kelley said. 

 Officially known as the Republic of Honduras, the country has suffered from many years of political instability and one of the highest crime rates in the world. Although there have been improvements, it remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Adding to the problem, nearly 28 percent of the 8.1 million people are unemployed despite an increase in trade with the United States, the country’s largest trading partner. 

 The rigorous training process builds U.S. partner nations' capability to conduct border control operations along with a series of related tasks. Subject matter experts from the U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security are also brought in during each three-week rotation to focus on certain specialties. 

 Week 1 includes both rifle and pistol marksmanship, close quarters training, troop leading procedures and cordon/search operations.

 Week 2 focuses on border enforcement, arrest/detainment, patrolling in an urban environment, working entry control points and utilizing terrain models for military operations.

 Week 3 includes a field training exercise that pushes the students to utilize all the training they’ve received, but also focuses on operational security and how to use the 9-line format to call in medevac support. 

 Col. Cesar Rolando Rosales Zapata, commander of the military base in Tamara and also commander of the 2nd Infantry Airborne Battalion Transported, praised the joint training: 

 “We’re receiving great feedback from the soldiers and they are looking forward to putting their training into action in different parts of the country, along the border and on the coast.”

 “I also enjoy seeing the camaraderie that is shared between the U.S. and Honduran soldiers as they compete in soccer and volleyball,” Rosales said.

 Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, commanding general of the 36th Infantry Division, said, “I’m extremely proud of Task Force Alamo and the great work it’s doing in Honduras.” 

 Simpson and Command Sergeant Major John Sampa visited the Soldiers in July to witness the training, identify potential opportunities for future rotations, meet with Honduran officials, and to thank the soldiers for their dedication and professionalism.

 “These citizen-Soldiers have stepped up to volunteer, they’ve adapted to a new environment, and they’re having a tremendous impact on the Honduran people,” Simpson said. “This highly-successful mission is yet another example of the versatility that National Guard soldiers provide on the world scene. I couldn’t be prouder.”
 

Texas-based Engineer Brigades embrace Army Total Force Policy to complete a 17-mile road construction project

Story by: Capt. Maria Mengrone

Posted: August 22, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Soldiers from the 420th Engineer Brigade pose for a photograph while participating in a 25-day roadway construction project spanning 17 miles along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center in Brownwood from July 6-30, 2015. (Texas National Guard courtesy photo by 111th Engineer Battalion/Released)
Courtesy Photo 
Soldiers from the 420th Engineer Brigade pose for a photograph while participating in a 25-day roadway construction project spanning 17 miles along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center in Brownwood from July 6-30, 2015. (Texas National Guard courtesy photo by 111th Engineer Battalion/Released)

BROWNWOOD, Texas – Army Engineers from across Texas came together during a 25-day roadway construction project spanning 17 miles along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center in Brownwood, Texas, from July 6-30, 2015. 

 The multi-component project was planned and led by 111th Engineer Battalion “Roughnecks”, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG). The multi-component element included active duty soldiers from the 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade based in Fort Hood, Texas and U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from the 980th Engineer Battalion, 420th Engineer Brigade headquartered in Bryan, Texas. 

 While informal, a relationship between the three Texas engineer brigades has existed for some time. Recently, the Army adopted a “Total Force Policy” that encourages regionally aligned units from all components of the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment – Active, National Guard, and Army Reserve - to plan and execute multi-component training in order to maximize resources and gain efficiency. 

 “The project included multi-component Soldiers who had never met before; they planned and resourced this project remotely, months before execution. Elements came together at all levels with little to no friction. It’s been about getting the mission done – expanding engineer collective capability,” said Maj. Matthew D. Calton, 111th Engineer Battalion commander. 

 “It is reassuring to observe the caliber of Officers, Warrant Officers and NCOs that exist within our Engineer Regiment,” said Calton. 

 The range road construction project was divided into three major sections with each assigned to specific component. Horizontal engineer soldiers completed excavations, cut and fill, hauling and borrow site operations, while vertical engineer soldiers focused on round and box culvert installations, and headwall construction. Soldiers with other engineer skill sets were task organized to further the mission.

 “Within each major route section there are critical path sub-tasks,” said Capt. John Veracruz, construction officer, 111th Engineer Battalion. “Among these were improving trafficability of the route by decreasing the grade of two large hill sections, building new sections of road and installing three concrete-cable low-water crossings.”

 At the height of the project, the 111th Engineer Battalion accounted for 646 soldiers with significant representation from four separate engineer battalions (62nd, 111th, 386th, 980th) and elements from 3rd Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division and the 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 72nd Infantry Brigade, 36th Infantry Division Engineer Battalions. 

 “The quality of training is unprecedented, officers are getting training to plan, NCOs are getting training on complex problem solving and soldiers are getting significant equipment training opportunities; it’s rare to have so many diverse components and engineer capabilities working within a multi-phased project,” said Calton. 

 Soldiers from across all components now have a better understanding of how the Army Total Force Policy can be implemented.

 “The support has been fantastic,” said Capt. Jacob Niewold, commander, 68th Engineer Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade. “We don’t usually get this kind of training by staying at Fort Hood.” 

 “I’ve never had an opportunity to work with National Guard but it’s great that we are able to help each other,” said active-duty soldier, Spc. Joshua M. Green, horizontal construction engineer, 68th Engineer Company. “If there was something we couldn’t figure out the guard Soldiers would come out and help and we would help them too.”

 “This is good training, we’re learning our MOS, many of our Soldiers are fresh out of basic training and we are doing a real-world project,” said U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Lucero Rios, interior electrician, 808th Engineer Company, 980th Engineer Battalion, 420th Engineer Brigade, USAR. “We started something here and I would definitely want to come back and see the finished product.”

 For those not familiar with Camp Bowie and its expansive training areas. Camp Bowie covers nearly 9,000 acres with weapons ranges and various training facilities, barracks, administrative areas and a dining facility. Although Camp Bowie has expanded in recent years by adding post infrastructure, barracks, and training facilities, upgrades to the transportation infrastructure were lacking. The construction on Camp Bowie sought to address that need.

 “This project provides emergency access to all training areas, which is something we didn’t have before. It also allows soldier access to all training areas with the finished road serving as a firebreak,” said Lt. Col. Jamey L. Creek, chief of Plans and Operations, Training Center Command, 71st Troop Command, TXARNG. “We train primarily National Guard Soldiers but active-duty, reserve, Marines and a host of other governmental organizations train here too, so everyone will benefit from the improvements.” 

 Resourcing for the project came from multiple Texas National Guard directorates that included the Construction and Facilities Management Office, the Army G-4 and Training Center Garrison Command. The investment in building material and fuel exceeded $700,000. 

 A key component of the project was the planning and synchronization of logistics through scheduled bulk fuel deliveries and three weekly trips to draw rations from Fort Hood, Texas. Additionally, early procurements of field sanitation, equipment repair parts, and prepositioning of building materials facilitated logistical requirements. 

 “The total number of soldiers fed peaked at 646 on day 12 of the 25 day annual training. We had more than 300 pieces of transportation and heavy engineer equipment and fuel consumption topped 50,000 gallons,” said Maj. Jimmy C. Horst, logistical officer, 176th Engineer Brigade, TXARNG. “I believe the greatest reward, from a logistical standpoint, is the success of including all three Army components into one training event.” 

 All Army engineers, regardless of their component, are bonded by a culture of cooperation and collaboration that has grown stronger over the last 14 years of conflict. With the relationships further codified by regional alignment and the Army Total Force Policy, the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment is leading the way. The Camp Bowie Range Road project is a shining example of Army Total Force Policy implementation, and is a snapshot of what is possible when the components work together. 

 “Going forward, if there is a national incident or another training opportunity, those lines of communication have been absolutely tested, they’re in place and they have been validated; we have proven the concept of the Army Total Force Policy,” said Calton. 

 “Essayons!” – Let us try.