Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

36th Infantry Division honors Fort Hood 'Hug Lady'

Story by: Maj. Randall Stillinger

Posted: Feb 24, 2015

Maj. Randall Stillinger A Soldier from the 1-112th Cavalry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, receives a hug from Elizabeth Laird before boarding a plane at Robert Gray Army Airfield on Sep. 13, 2015. Laird is commonly known as “The Hug Lady” and is at Fort Hood for almost every arriving and departing flight. The 1-112th deployed to Egypt as part of the Multinational Force and Observers mission, which enforces the 1979 treaty between Israel and Egypt. (36th Infantry Division photo by Maj. Randy Stillinger)
Maj. Randall Stillinger
A Soldier from the 1-112th Cavalry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, receives a hug from Elizabeth Laird before boarding a plane at Robert Gray Army Airfield on Sep. 13, 2015. Laird is commonly known as “The Hug Lady” and is at Fort Hood for almost every arriving and departing flight. The 1-112th deployed to Egypt as part of the Multinational Force and Observers mission, which enforces the 1979 treaty between Israel and Egypt. (36th Infantry Division photo by Maj. Randy Stillinger)

FORT HOOD, Texas – The 36th Infantry Division Commander and Command Sgt. Maj. honored Elizabeth Laird at Fort Hood’s Robert Gray Army Airfield Feb. 13, 2015.

Soldiers of the 1st of the 112th Cavalry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, were on hand as Maj. Gen. Les Simpson and Command Sgt. Maj. John Sampa presented a plaque and a dozen yellow roses to Laird, who is well known within the military community as “The Hug Lady.”

For almost 12 years Laird has been going out to hug Soldiers as they boarded flights bound for war zones. After checking in at the terminal, each Soldier receives a hug on their way into the waiting area.

Simpson told the departing 36th Infantry Division Soldiers that regardless of the weather, regardless of the circumstances, she comes out to see troops go, and then to see them return.

“She doesn’t get paid to do that. She really cares about you,” Simpson said.

The certificate presented by Simpson reads “Your unending love, support and care for our deploying soldiers means more than you will ever know. Your steadfast, faithful commitment, regardless of the time of day, does not go unnoticed. Thank you for always being there to send us off, and for being the first one to welcome us home.”

The 83-year old Laird has a long history of service and employment with the U.S. military. She enlisted in the Air Force in 1950 on her 18th birthday as a cook, but also played trumpet in a band. 

After military service, she was employed by the Army as a stenographer, secretary and then as a computer analyst. She’s been in the Fort Hood/Killeen area for the last 42 years. These days, when she’s not hugging troops, she’s helping others with their taxes.

During the early days of the global war on terrorism, Laird started volunteering at Fort Hood with the Salvation Army and was involved in the mobilization and deployment process. One day in 2003, she was invited to come over and shake the hands of deploying Soldiers as they boarded a bus.

Laird recalls the day that started it all: “This one Soldier hugged me. There was another Soldier behind him in line and I just had to hug him,” Laird said. “It just snowballed from there.” 

She is now personally notified of each departing and returning flight, and is given the opportunity to speak to each group of Soldiers before they board the plane. She even has her own “III Corps Hug Lady” business card. 

When asked what motivates her to come out for every flight, Laird said, “I just want to thank our Soldiers for what they do. Without our military, we wouldn’t be here.” 

“I just want to say ‘thanks, thanks, thanks,’” Laird said.

Even during this interview, a young 1st Cavalry Division Soldier politely interrupted so he wouldn’t miss his opportunity to hug the iconic Hug Lady. He was getting ready to board a flight to the National Training Center in California, but he had received his first hug on his way to Afghanistan a few years ago.

“You want a hug?” Laird asked him.

“Yes ma’am,” the Soldier replied enthusiastically. He received his hug and the interview continued.

The 36th Infantry Division command team was at Fort Hood to send off the 1-112th Cavalry Regiment as they left for Egypt as part of the Multinational Force and Observers mission, which was created during the 1979 treaty between Egypt and Israel. 

First Lt. Josue Munoz of Grand Prairie, one of the Soldiers deploying with the 1-112th, had received a hug from Laird during a previous deployment and appreciated her being there once again.

“The fact that she’s still out here makes me feel good that there are people that support what we do,” Munoz said. “Having just one person do what she does makes a world of difference.”

Laird’s health has been a concern recently and is usually the only thing that prevents her from coming out for flights. She spent the ten days prior to the 1-112th Cavalry’s departure in the hospital, but immediately got right back to doing what she loves best. 

“As long as the Lord will allow me, I’ll keep doing this," Laird said. "Each of them are special.”

Texas general embraces international goodwill

Sgt. Michael Vanpool Isela Flores, a senior at Martin High School in Laredo, Texas, holds the Texas state flag at parade rest during the International Bridge Ceremony in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 21. The ceremony commemorates the bonds between the United States and Mexico and features a series of abrazos, or embraces, between representatives of the two countries in the center of the bridge. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Vanpool, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs/Released)
Sgt. Michael Vanpool
Isela Flores, a senior at Martin High School in Laredo, Texas, holds the Texas state flag at parade rest during the International Bridge Ceremony in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 21. The ceremony commemorates the bonds between the United States and Mexico and features a series of abrazos, or embraces, between representatives of the two countries in the center of the bridge. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Vanpool, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs/Released)

Story by: Sgt. Michael Vanpool

Posted: Feb 22, 2015

LAREDO, Texas – Standstill traffic is not uncommon on the Lincoln-Juarez International Bridge linking the United States and Mexico. On the morning of Feb. 21, there were no cars, but still scores of people still standing.

At the middle of the bridge, Americans and Mexicans waited together for the ceremony to begin. National anthems were sung. Prayers were said. Speeches were delivered. But the crowd was waiting for what came next.

Dignitaries from both countries walked to the center of the bridge to exchange abrazos, or embraces, with their counterparts and to show their neighborliness during the International Bridge Ceremony, part of the 118th George Washington Birthday Celebration in Laredo, Texas. 

Two children from each country, dressed in historical clothes, began the ceremony by meeting in the middle of the bridge, embracing (or abrazando), and exchanging each other’s flags. 

After the children, dignitaries begin exchanging their abrazos, including Brig. Gen. Orlando Salinas, the deputy assistant adjutant general for the Texas Army National Guard. At the middle of the bridge, Salinas met and exchanged an abrazo with Mexican General de Brigada Georges Andre Van Lissum Gomez.

“Having this opportunity to meet the general and being that military liaison between the two countries is always a good opportunity to learn from each other,” Salinas said.

Following the abrazo, Salinas escorted his counterpart to the American side. Tradition dictates that the Americans invite the Mexicans to the city of Laredo. For the past few decades, they have been treated to a parade that gathers thousands of people.

“Our ability to meet with and continue military relations with the Mexican army is of paramount importance as we work towards the safety of not just the nation, but also the state of Texas,” Salinas said.

The abrazo was a part of Salinas’s role as the honorary air marshal of this year’s Washington’s Birthday celebration. The prior week, he oversaw the Stars and Stripes Air Show Spectacular.

Salinas commanded the 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, based in the Rio Grande Valley. Many of his Soldiers were from Laredo, a city known for rallying around its service members throughout the years. This was especially true when they deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. 

“Laredo has always held a special place in my heart,” Salinas said. “Laredo’s support of the men and women in uniform is some of the best support I’ve ever seen.”

The tradition of abrazando, or embracing, on the bridge began in 1898. It started as a simple sign of goodwill between neighbors and now represents the shared heritage of the sister cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.

“For those of us who live on the border,” said Veronica Castillon, President of the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association, “the International Bridge Ceremony is a reminder that Laredo and Nuevo Laredo share more than a river. We share family, business and a cultural heritage that bind us as one community.”

The cities also recognized their shared lineage as former members of the Republic of the Rio Grande, an independent nation that lasted 294 days in 1840. The sisterhood of the two cities remains, as does the short-lived country’s flag. Throughout the ceremony, the three-starred, red, white, and black flag joined the signature six flags of Texas in honor of their unique history.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, delivered the keynote speech at the event. He said that the goodwill exchanged between the sister cities has reinforced a strong neighborly bond, rich with patriotism.

For the city of Laredo, the George Washington Birthday Celebration is a month of festivities, with events ranging from parades and pageants to air shows and fireworks.

The celebration evolved over the years, from a patriotic memorial of America’s first president to a celebration that unites the sister cities. The meetings between civil and military officials from both sides of the bridge aim to honor their mutual histories.

Texas cavalrymen begin peacekeeping mission in the Sinai

Story by: Sgt. Thomas Duval

Posted: Feb 19, 2015

Sgt. Thomas Duval Maj. Gabe Simonds, commander for 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry Regiment addresses an audience during a Transfer of Authority Ceremony held on the Multinational Force and Observer's South Camp in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt Feb. 19, 2015. The 1-112th Soldiers relinquished command of the U.S. Security Battalion to Soldiers from the 4th Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
Sgt. Thomas Duval
Maj. Gabe Simonds, commander for 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry Regiment addresses an audience during a Transfer of Authority Ceremony held on the Multinational Force and Observer's South Camp in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt Feb. 19, 2015. The 1-112th Soldiers relinquished command of the U.S. Security Battalion to Soldiers from the 4th Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

EL GORAH, Egypt - The cavalry has arrived and as their unit motto suggests, they are "Rarin to Go." Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 112th Cavalry Regiment assumed command of the U.S. Army Security Battalion from the Fort-Hood based 4th Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, during a transfer of authority ceremony held on the Multinational Force and Observer’s South Camp in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Feb. 18, 2015.

The ceremony marks the 60th rotation of U.S. Soldiers to deploy in support of the MFO’s peacekeeping mission and comes during a time when much of the world’s focus has shifted to the region. The Army National Guardsmen from Bryan, Texas, will be responsible for the security of a number of remote out posts along the Sinai Peninsula and Red Sea and will look to build upon the success’ of their predecessors. 

The 4th Squadron, 3rdd CR will redeploy to Fort Hood having reached a number of milestones along the way. During their time in the Sinai, the 3d CR Soldiers brought the U.S. back to the podium in a number of physical competitions across the MFO to include taking home the Commander’s Cup in the coveted Force Skills Competition. The Soldiers from the "Longknife Squadron" also achieved success from an operational standpoint by patrolling more than 107,000 miles, conducting more than 375 sling-load missions across the Strait of Tiran and transporting almost a million pounds of cargo.

The Texas Army National Guard will pick up where their active-duty battle buddies left off.

Their experience as trained Cavalry Scouts will be required in the manning of multiple response teams on both of the MFO’s North and South camps while accomplishing the overarching mission of observing and reporting compliance of the Camp David Accords Peace Treaty. To accomplish their mission, the Soldiers will have a lot of help along the way as the 1-112th will work closely with service members from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom, Uruguay and the Republic of the Fiji Islands.

Although grasping the reigns of the multi-echelon mission is a daunting task for many, Maj. Gabe Simonds, 1-112th commander, said he and his team are ready for the challenge. 

“The Multinational Forces and Observers have been quietly and professionally serving as welcomed guests for 32 years now,” said Simonds. “It is truly a privilege to be here in the Sinai and we look forward to working with our partners in the MFO…we are ready to stand our posts!”

--READERS NOTE--
The Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) is and independent peacekeeping organization which is headquartered in Rome and based in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Created by agreement between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of Israel it is comprised of military members and from 13 nations. Australia, Canada, Colombia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of the Fiji Islands, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, the United States and Uruguay contribute contingents to make up the MFO's Force.

TXMF Museum honored with Texas Star Award

Story By: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: Feb 12, 2015

Courtesy Photo The Texas Military Forces (TXMF) Museum’s living history detachment portrays Texas Civil War veterans during a reenactment commemorating the Battle of New Market Heights in Henrico County, Virginia, Sept. 26, 2014. The detachment, which covers numerous time periods and pays tribute to the Texas military and the service and sacrifices made by Texas veterans, received a Texas Star award from the Texas Living History Association for its living history program in a ceremony held in Dallas, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo courtesy Jeff Cantrell, TXMF Museum)
Courtesy Photo
The Texas Military Forces (TXMF) Museum’s living history detachment portrays Texas Civil War veterans during a reenactment commemorating the Battle of New Market Heights in Henrico County, Virginia, Sept. 26, 2014. The detachment, which covers numerous time periods and pays tribute to the Texas military and the service and sacrifices made by Texas veterans, received a Texas Star award from the Texas Living History Association for its living history program in a ceremony held in Dallas, Jan. 24, 2015. (Photo courtesy Jeff Cantrell, TXMF Museum)

DALLAS – The Texas Living History Association awarded the Texas Military Forces Museum a Texas Star for outstanding contributions to the field of living history, in a ceremony held at the Dallas Heritage Park, Jan. 24, 2015.

The museum’s living history detachment, made up of more than 50 volunteers, participates in reenactments and living history programs spanning numerous time periods, from the War of 1812 to the Vietnam War. Each program or reenactment that the detachment participates in pays tribute to a piece of Texas Military Forces history.

“It’s a great way to reach out to the public,” said Jeff Hunt, the TXMF Museum curator.

The Texas Living History Association was founded in 2012 by living history enthusiasts and professional historians in Texas to help advocate for living history around the state and encourage participation and interaction between fellow enthusiasts and historic sites that have living history programs said Jim Lauderdale, president of the Texas Living History Association.

Steve Draper, director of the 1st Cavalry Museum, located at Fort Hood, and a member of the Texas Living History Association, nominated the TXMF Museum for this distinguished honor. 

“I nominated them because they are one of the few organizations in Texas that primarily do 20th and 21st century history,” said Draper. “The Texas Military Forces Museum has been doing it for a long time. The reviews are that they do an outstanding job – that warrants some recognition.”

There are hundreds of living history programs across the state, from the Alamo’s Texas Revolutionary living history program to groups portraying life in Texas during the 17th century. 

“The Texas Star Award is awarded to the best living history site or group nominated,” said Lauderdale. “The TXMF Museum was nominated based on the outstanding Muster Day event they put on every year and the many other interpretive programs they have done.”

The TXMF Museum hosts programs and reenactments at Camp Mabry in Austin several times a year, but also travels to numerous places across the country, to include the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

“What’s different about us is that most places only focus on one time period,” said Hunt. “We’re the only museum program that I know of that deals with different time periods.”

The museum conducts approximately one living history program a month. They traditionally cover three separate events in May, their busiest month – a Vietnam display in Temple, the Close Assault reenactment and weapons display honoring the history of the 36th Infantry Division during World War II, at Camp Mabry in Austin and the reenactment of the Battle of Palmetto Ranch, the last battle of the Civil War in Brownwood. 

“I am exceptionally proud of this award because it speaks to the dedication of our volunteers,” said Hunt. “They are the backbone of the whole thing. They love history and want to support the men and women of the Texas guard today and our veterans.”

The TXMF Museum’s Muster Day is held annually during the TXMF Open House at Camp Mabry and traditionally hosts displays and presentations from every military campaign the Texas Military has participated in since the Texas Revolution through the Vietnam War, to include a World War II reenactment with World War II aircraft and several 1940’s Army tanks. 

This year’s TXMF Open House and Muster Day will be held at Camp Mabry, April 18-19. For more information on this event or other upcoming museum events please visit https://tmd.texas.gov/upcoming-events or http://texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org/.

Same but different: Texas Air and Army National Guard compete for 'Best Warrior'

Courtesy Story

Posted: Feb 2, 2015

BASTROP, Texas – This year’s 2015 Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition brought out 35 guardsmen from both the Texas Army and Air National Guard who competed here to determine who would be the best of the best Feb. 5-7.

“The Best Warrior Competition is a big deal for Texas and the Texas Military Forces,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon, TXMF senior enlisted adviser. "It is one of the biggest joint events we have involving actual soldiers and airmen. This event allows the soldier and airman to compete with each other in both physical and mental challenges.”

The competition demonstrated the knowledge and skills of the guardsmen in seven events, spanning three days. The first day started with an essay, testing their aptitude, writing abilities and critical thinking and how well the soldiers and the airmen express their thoughts. Following the writing skills, the competitors met with a panel of senior enlisted leaders who barraged them with a series of questions pertaining to their military tasks.

“We are from the same Texas Military Forces,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Kevin O’Gorman, state command chief for the Texas Air National Guard. “When we deploy in a joint environment, we work together side-by-side and we need to foster that early on. This competition brings camaraderie and jointness, even though soldiers and airmen do things differently.”

Day two started with a twilight land-navigation course, starting at 5 a.m. and finishing after daybreak. Once again, the soldiers and airmen battle-tested their skills in using a map and compass to plot the points and discover hidden flags throughout the course. 

Shortly after completing land navigation, the competitors went to the weapons-qualification range, then on to the 11 Army warrior task lanes, where both Army and Air Force participants demonstrated their ability to disassemble and reassemble weapons ranging from a 9 mm pistol to an M2 machine gun, as well as testing in combat-first-aid techniques.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Hein, 136th Security Forces Squadron, and member of the Richardson Police Department, finished first during the land navigation course, coming in at 1 hour and 29 minutes, finding three of four flags. 

“It’s been a privilege to come out here and contend with the best,” said Hein. “It’s definitely good to come out here to compete and learn from the other guys like the Army and other guys in the tactical control party.”

Many of the competitors felt that the first day of the competition was the most challenging and exhausting. It included the mile-long obstacle course, containing nine stations with rigorous calisthenics in between obstacles, a six-mile ruck march and finished with three mystery events. The total course spanned eight miles as each competitor attempted to conquer each event with a go or no-go while carrying a 35-pound ruck sack on their back.

“The BWC is tougher than all the races I’ve competed in,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Candice Wade, a veteran competitor in the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Races, about the Best Warrior Competition. “The Best Warrior Competition is in a much higher level ... dealing with a land navigation course, eight types of weapons, combat casualty care, an obstacle course, ruck march and various physical events. I can say that this is absolutely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

Among the spectators present were Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general for Texas, and Maj. Gen. Edmundo Villarroel Geissbuhler, Chilean army liaison officer, who were both here to observe the competing guardsmen.

“There are two competitions going on here,” said Nichols. “One is the competition between Army and Air Force. The other is between the soldiers so we can send forth the best soldier in a national competition and be the best in the U.S. Army. This is a big deal to us.”

Geissbuhler strolled though the courses, closely observing each station, cheering on the soldiers and airmen racing through the obstacles.

“We have a lot of contact with the Texas Military Forces, both in the Air Force and Army,” said Geissbuhler. “This state partnership began in 2008 and there are a lot of activities we do together. I received an invitation to come here today and I’m very glad to be here.”

Texas and Chile are part of the State Partnership Program, using military-to-military relationships between the U.S. and Chile to increase military capabilities and interoperability. 

When asked if the Chileans have this type of competition amongst their military forces, Geissbuhler said, “We do have this competition in Chile, it is part of our training. We have been approved to send four competitors here to the BWC next year and compete among the TXMF. We will be sending two soldiers and two airmen and hope to do well.”

By the end of the three-day event, the competitors seemed both mentally and physically exhausted. 

“I’m here to do my best, not just as a woman, but as a soldier,” said Sgt. Wendy Farris, 149th Aviation Battalion, one of the four female competitors. “This was really exciting. I’ve learned a lot and grown in the process. I’m devising my plan for next year’s competition.”

There were 22 Army and 13 Air Force competitors, coming from all parts of Texas. Most of the competing guardsmen were drill status guardsmen. They also serve Texas as police officers, firefighters, physical strength trainers and other professionals. 

The overall winners for the competition will be announced at an award ceremony April 11, 2015.

Top Guard leadership recognizes benefits of joint competition

Story by: Sgt. Suzanne Carter

Posted: Feb 7, 2015

Sgt. Suzanne Carter Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk W. Conley, the Army National Guard command sergeant major, talks with the range control officer at the M203 Range at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, during the 2015 Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition Feb. 7, 2015. Conley visited the competition to offer encouragement to competitors who each diligently trained during their off-duty days to prepare for the challenges they would face. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Suzanne Carter)
Sgt. Suzanne Carter
Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk W. Conley, the Army National Guard command sergeant major, talks with the range control officer at the M203 Range at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, during the 2015 Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition Feb. 7, 2015. Conley visited the competition to offer encouragement to competitors who each diligently trained during their off-duty days to prepare for the challenges they would face. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Suzanne Carter)

BASTROP, Texas --The grey sky and brisk wind did not keep leaders from supporting their troops during the final day of the Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition 2015 at Camp Swift.

One leader in particular traveled halfway across the country to cheer on the Soldiers and Airmen contending to reach the top.
"I'm really pleased that the leadership of the Texas National Guard has allowed me the opportunity to come out here and see these great men and women compete," said Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk W. Conley, the command sergeant major of the Army National Guard. "I couldn't say yes fast enough because every day out of [Washington] D.C. is a great day." 

Conley said that Texas has a unique strategy for selecting the Best Warrior by including Air Guardsmen in a traditionally Army National Guard only event.

"You're one of the only states that I know of that has a joint competition with both Soldiers and Airmen competing with and against each other," he said. "This brings the National Guard together… We learn about our Soldiers and Airmen, what they do. It breaks down barriers." 

Events like this joint Best Warrior Competition showcase the readiness of Texas' top Guardsmen and women, reflecting the long history of the National Guard as the "force of choice in homeland defense," Conley said.

"Since 9/11, we have become more operational than we've ever been in our history," he said. "We want to make sure that the investment that our nation and our states have placed in our [service members] is maintained."

Conley said that he spends as much time as he can drilling with and visiting units across the country in order to get the best sense of what the Soldiers and their noncommissioned officers need to continue to be the "best led, best trained, and best equipped National Guard in our history."

Marksmen compete in annual pistol match

Story By: Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem

Posted: Feb 6.2015

Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem Second Lt. Brian Street, 147th Civil Engineer Squadron assigned to Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, checks his target at the Governor's 20 Pistol Match Jan. 24, 2015, at Camp Swift, Texas
Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem
Second Lt. Brian Street, 147th Civil Engineer Squadron assigned to Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, checks his target at the Governor's 20 Pistol Match Jan. 24, 2015, at Camp Swift, Texas

CAMP SWIFT, Texas - Sharpshooting Airmen, Soldiers and Texas State Guardsmen competed for a chance to be dubbed “best shot in the state” during the annual Adjutant General Governor’s 20 Pistol Match Jan. 23-25 at Camp Swift, Texas.

The top shooters from four separate competitions go on to comprise the team for the Governor’s 20. These shooters include the top eight in pistol, the top eight in rifle, the top two in machine gun, and the top two in sniper – 20 marksmen in all.

Because each team needs a certain amount of new shooters, Ellington Fields’s base marksmanship co-founder, 2nd Lt. Brian Street, said he’s always looking for fresh faces.

Street, who has now received both the pistol and machine gun tabs for finishing in the top percentile and is planning to compete in this year’s sniper and rifle competitions, encourages newcomers not to get discouraged their first time out.

“I thought I was a pretty good shot because I was coming off of active duty, and I always made expert,” said Street, recalling his first rifle match. “I got out here, and I got the humility beat into me. I didn't even finish some courses of fire. It was a train wreck through the whole weekend.”

Street has come a long way since that first self-proclaimed debacle in 2007 and asks those wanting to try it out to contact him.

One of this year’s newest recruits, Staff Sgt. Michael Oberts, a combat arms instructor assigned to the 147th Security Forces Squadron, decided to take full advantage of the opportunity. Besides wanting to see how he fared among the best in Texas, Oberts said that military members wanting to try their hand at sharpshooting just makes sense.

“As a member of the Armed Forces, you should be somewhat proficient with a weapon, seeing as you may have to use it to protect yourself and others or government property.”

Same but different: Texas Air and Army National Guard compete for 'Best Warrior'

Courtesy Story

Posted: Feb 2, 2015

BASTROP, Texas – This year’s 2015 Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition brought out 35 guardsmen from both the Texas Army and Air National Guard who competed here to determine who would be the best of the best Feb. 5-7.

“The Best Warrior Competition is a big deal for Texas and the Texas Military Forces,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon, TXMF senior enlisted adviser. "It is one of the biggest joint events we have involving actual soldiers and airmen. This event allows the soldier and airman to compete with each other in both physical and mental challenges.”

The competition demonstrated the knowledge and skills of the guardsmen in seven events, spanning three days. The first day started with an essay, testing their aptitude, writing abilities and critical thinking and how well the soldiers and the airmen express their thoughts. Following the writing skills, the competitors met with a panel of senior enlisted leaders who barraged them with a series of questions pertaining to their military tasks.

“We are from the same Texas Military Forces,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Kevin O’Gorman, state command chief for the Texas Air National Guard. “When we deploy in a joint environment, we work together side-by-side and we need to foster that early on. This competition brings camaraderie and jointness, even though soldiers and airmen do things differently.”

Day two started with a twilight land-navigation course, starting at 5 a.m. and finishing after daybreak. Once again, the soldiers and airmen battle-tested their skills in using a map and compass to plot the points and discover hidden flags throughout the course. 

Shortly after completing land navigation, the competitors went to the weapons-qualification range, then on to the 11 Army warrior task lanes, where both Army and Air Force participants demonstrated their ability to disassemble and reassemble weapons ranging from a 9 mm pistol to an M2 machine gun, as well as testing in combat-first-aid techniques.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Hein, 136th Security Forces Squadron, and member of the Richardson Police Department, finished first during the land navigation course, coming in at 1 hour and 29 minutes, finding three of four flags. 

“It’s been a privilege to come out here and contend with the best,” said Hein. “It’s definitely good to come out here to compete and learn from the other guys like the Army and other guys in the tactical control party.”

Many of the competitors felt that the first day of the competition was the most challenging and exhausting. It included the mile-long obstacle course, containing nine stations with rigorous calisthenics in between obstacles, a six-mile ruck march and finished with three mystery events. The total course spanned eight miles as each competitor attempted to conquer each event with a go or no-go while carrying a 35-pound ruck sack on their back.

“The BWC is tougher than all the races I’ve competed in,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Candice Wade, a veteran competitor in the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Races, about the Best Warrior Competition. “The Best Warrior Competition is in a much higher level ... dealing with a land navigation course, eight types of weapons, combat casualty care, an obstacle course, ruck march and various physical events. I can say that this is absolutely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

Among the spectators present were Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general for Texas, and Maj. Gen. Edmundo Villarroel Geissbuhler, Chilean army liaison officer, who were both here to observe the competing guardsmen.

“There are two competitions going on here,” said Nichols. “One is the competition between Army and Air Force. The other is between the soldiers so we can send forth the best soldier in a national competition and be the best in the U.S. Army. This is a big deal to us.”

Geissbuhler strolled though the courses, closely observing each station, cheering on the soldiers and airmen racing through the obstacles.

“We have a lot of contact with the Texas Military Forces, both in the Air Force and Army,” said Geissbuhler. “This state partnership began in 2008 and there are a lot of activities we do together. I received an invitation to come here today and I’m very glad to be here.”

Texas and Chile are part of the State Partnership Program, using military-to-military relationships between the U.S. and Chile to increase military capabilities and interoperability. 

When asked if the Chileans have this type of competition amongst their military forces, Geissbuhler said, “We do have this competition in Chile, it is part of our training. We have been approved to send four competitors here to the BWC next year and compete among the TXMF. We will be sending two soldiers and two airmen and hope to do well.”

By the end of the three-day event, the competitors seemed both mentally and physically exhausted. 

“I’m here to do my best, not just as a woman, but as a soldier,” said Sgt. Wendy Farris, 149th Aviation Battalion, one of the four female competitors. “This was really exciting. I’ve learned a lot and grown in the process. I’m devising my plan for next year’s competition.”

There were 22 Army and 13 Air Force competitors, coming from all parts of Texas. Most of the competing guardsmen were drill status guardsmen. They also serve Texas as police officers, firefighters, physical strength trainers and other professionals. 

The overall winners for the competition will be announced at an award ceremony April 11, 2015.

Guardsmen demonstrate new side of chemistry for students

 

Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego

Posted: 15-Jan-15

Photo of Soldier and students
Master Sgt. Daniel Griego
Members of the Texas National Guard's 6th Civil Support Team provide demonstrations of their procedures and equipment for chemistry students from Hill Country Christian School of Austin at Camp Mabry Jan. 15, 2015. The intent of the visit was to provide high school students with real-world applications of chemistry in the areas of emergency response and special operations. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Daniel Griego/Released)

AUSTIN, Texas – For the members of the Texas National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team, community outreach is a regular part of their mission. From showcasing their capabilities at the Texas Emergency Management Conference each year to setting up a fundraising booth at the Camp Mabry American Heroes Air Show, they have a long history of meeting their neighbors while serving the state. Recently, they made a new connection in the area by inviting chemistry students from a local high school to tour their facility and learn about the real-world applications of science in responding to hazardous material incidents.

“We’re providing an opportunity that we don’t often get, to interact with high school students, more importantly, high school chemistry students,” said Lt. Col. William Phillips, commander of the 6th CST. “Hopefully, they’re going to understand that chemistry is more than just a subject by seeing the professionals who they’ve have the opportunity to interact with today who apply chemistry on a daily basis.”

The event, held Jan. 15 at the CST’s headquarters on Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, allowed students from Hill Country Christian School of Austin to learn about hazardous compounds, try on chemical suits, and simulate testing procedures used by the CST during response operations. 

“It has made me a lot more interested,” said 10th-grader Stephen Fritschle, “seeing how they do this stuff in real life and how it applies to real life. It’s actually given me a greater interest for chemistry in general and how cool it can actually be.”

The day was as much about demonstrating the value of a strong science background as it was communicating the mission of the unit. The CST, first organized in 1999, serves the state of Texas by supporting local first responders with detection, identification, and monitoring capabilities when an area is compromised by hazardous chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive contaminants. 

“There is another side of special operations that is highly trained and very specialized,” said Phillips, “and something that is not a traditional military unit’s task and purpose. That’s what the CST is, that’s what the CBRNE response enterprise is.These are Soldiers who have a very in-depth education requirement that they have to apply in hazardous environments and working in the unknown.”

Education was a recurring theme of the visit, as the Guardsmen of the CST imparted to the students the importance of academics and training in their career field. 

“One of the things that is challenging as a chemistry student is understanding how the concepts that you learn in the classroom are related to real-world experience,” said Meredith Wermel, the Hill Country Christian School of Austin chemistry teacher. “So getting them to actually be able to see how some of the compounds that they’re learning about in class could be analyzed by instruments and then actually be contained is a great opportunity.”

The members of the CST were especially enthusiastic about the chance to share their mission with the next generation of scientists and service members. For some, it was the field trip they would have wanted to take in high school.

“I wish I had this opportunity when I was at LBJ,” said Staff Sgt. Carolina Dilger, a survey team member with the 6th CST. “My military career absolutely would have started here.”

The CST plans to conduct more tours like this in the future as they continue their efforts to support and educate the community. 

“I feel like I have a deeper understanding. I love seeing how it is applied,” said 10th-grader Emma Astad. “I’m really happy I came.”

36th Infantry Division families board Snowball Express

Photo of Major General Lester Simpson and child
Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, 36th Infantry Division commander, chats with Jason Thomas in the overhead baggage compartment during a charter flight from Fort Hood. Jason is the son of Staff Sgt. Ryan J. Thomas, who died while serving in the U.S. Air Force. The flight is part of the Snowball Express, a non-profit organization that brings the families of fallen members of the military to the Dallas/Fort Worth area each December. Each of the nine American Airlines charter aircraft were decorated for the mission and the standard in-flight rules were somewhat relaxed for the kids. (36th Infantry Division photo by Maj. Randy Stillinger/Released)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Family members of service members boarded a special flight Thursday with an important mission: provide hope and new happy memories to the children of military fallen heroes who have died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

Several family members of 36th Infantry Division Soldiers were among the special “VIPs” that participated in this year’s Snowball Express, which brought over 1,600 to Fort Worth for this annual event.

Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, commander of the 36th ID, boarded one of nine American Airlines charter planes at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. In San Antonio, the charter plane, which was decorated in Christmas lights and garland, picked up the family of Sgt. Christopher Loza, who died in 2009 while serving with the 1-124th Cavalry Regiment in Iraq.

Upon arrival in San Antonio, Simpson greeted Amelia Gonzalez, the mother of Sgt. Loza, and Iliana Loza, his daughter, in the airport terminal. They then boarded the flight as it continued on to Fort Hood/Killeen before the last leg back to the D/FW airport. 

Simpson, of Rowlett, said, “It’s important to show the kids that they are still part of our military family and ensure they know we haven’t forgotten about them.” 

“It’s an honor to board this flight and be a small part of the Snowball Express, an organization that gives special attention to our Gold Star families while honoring our fallen military heroes,” Simpson said.

During the weekend, the families were treated to a number of different events, including a visit to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, a trip to the Sheriff’s Posse Ranch in Weatherford, the annual talent show featuring the kids themselves, a show by magician David Hira, and a performance by actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band in a hangar at the Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base. Sinise, who is involved in several military causes, regularly supports the Snowball Express and its Gold Star families.

The highlight for many is the traditional Walk of Gratitude, which gives local residents the opportunity to come out, line the streets of Fort Worth, and show their appreciation for the sacrifices of the fallen and their families as the procession goes by. Red, white and blue balloons were then released into the sky by the families with messages to their loved ones. 

Melanie Mason brought three of her four daughters back to Fort Worth for the weekend of fun and remembrance. She is the wife of Staff Sgt. Luke Mason, who died when the helicopter he was on went down in Southern Iraq in September, 2008. 

Staff Sgt. Mason was deployed with 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, the division’s General Support Aviation Battalion, which is headquartered in Grand Prairie. The family has participated in the Snowball Express each year since the accident that took his life.

Mason, of Springtown, said that her family benefits from Snowball Express as they see that they are not alone in their loss. 

“The girls have made some very close friends over the past few years,” Mason said.

As the Snowball Express travels around the Dallas/Fort Worth area during the weekend, they are escorted by local police and the ever-present Patriot Guard Riders. Citizens line the streets with signs and cheer in a show of support. American flags fly from overpasses and veterans stand at attention to salute the convoy of buses as they pass. 

“I really like when we go places and see people standing along the road waving,” Mason said. “I like knowing they are there for us, and that they are there to honor our heroes.”

Mason’s daughter, Sarah, age 10, said that her favorite experience of the weekend was seeing all the animals at the Fort Worth Zoo. 

American Airlines is the lead sponsor of the Snowball Express as it donates the charter airplanes and airline tickets that bring all the families together. Other sponsors include Neiman Marcus, the Airpower Foundation, Dallas Fan Fares and Armed Forces Insurance, among many others. 

For more information on the Snowball Express, go to www.snowballexpress.org .

Read more: 36th infantry division families board snowball express