Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Texas National Guard responds to winter weather

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: December 30, 2015

A soldier from 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard responds to the southwest blizzard in the Texas Panhandle.
Courtesy Photo
A soldier from 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard responds to the southwest blizzard in the Texas Panhandle.

AUSTIN, Texas - Teams of soldiers from the Texas National Guard came to the aid of Texans as the onslaught of winter weather immediately following the Christmas holiday left parts of the Texas Panhandle covered in snow and ice.

From heavy rains and thunderstorms with potential flooding to blizzard conditions and tornadoes, the devastating weather that hit Sunday impacted many North Texas residents, with tornadoes leaving 11 dead.

With the winter storm imminent, the Texas National Guard dispatched soldiers Saturday to prepare to respond and assist, prepping their vehicles and winter kits to aid residents who may be impacted, said Capt. Luke Reynard, the military district coordinator for the Texas disaster district 1 region.

“What we saw most is high winds and really low visibility,” Reynard said. “The snow was coming in and blowing so hard it was causing whiteout conditions.”

Because of the low visibility, the Texas Department of Transportation shut down Interstate 40.

The guardsmen partnered with the Texas Department of Public Safety and TxDOT to assess the road conditions, clear roads and assist travelers who may have been stranded.

“Sunday morning I was working directly with DPS, and what we found was that DPS didn’t have a lot of eyes on the road as far as conditions,” Reynard said. 

As a result, the guardsmen became the eyes on the road to survey road conditions as teams were sent west on Interstate 40 to the New Mexico border, east on Interstate 40 to the Oklahoma border and northeast on State Highway 60 toward Pampa.

As the guardsmen navigated the icy roads with little to no visibility, they were able to rescue more than 100 residents and assisted about 65 other stranded motorists by providing blankets, food and water, according to information from the Texas National Guard’s joint operation center.

Reynard said one of the biggest challenges were the snow drifts.

“We can have 3 inches of snow and you’ll encounter a snowdrift 6-foot tall,” he said. “We had a storm dumping about 5-10 inches of snow with 35-40 miles-per-hour sustained winds.” 

Eventually, DPS was able to launch its helicopter and perform route recon near Friona, while TxDOT cleared up the roads making them passable by Monday evening, ending the National Guard’s mission.

“We are proud and grateful we have a team that is so dedicated to helping Texans in these dire times,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general – Texas. “We couldn’t have completed this mission without the dedication of our soldiers and their families for allowing them to serve the great state of Texas.”

Texas Guardsman raises 25,000 toys for sick children

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted On: December 21, 2015

Texas State Guard Staff Sgt. Williams, 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, stands amongst donated toys at Dell's Children Hospital in Austin, Texas, Dec. 19, 2015, as part of the annual "Young Heroes of the Guard" program. Williams led toy drive operations for 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment and collected more than 25,000 toys to be delivered to sick children all over Texas. (Texas State Guard photo by Col. Joseph Jelinski/ Released)
Texas State Guard Staff Sgt. Williams, 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, stands amongst donated toys at Dell's Children Hospital in Austin, Texas, Dec. 19, 2015, as part of the annual "Young Heroes of the Guard" program. Williams led toy drive operations for 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment and collected more than 25,000 toys to be delivered to sick children all over Texas. (Texas State Guard photo by Col. Joseph Jelinski/ Released)

AUSTIN, Texas - Santa’s Texas State Guard elves brought holiday cheer to the Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Dec. 19, 2015, as Staff Sgt. James “Damon” Williams, 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment and a group of Texas State Guardsmen unloaded thousands of toys from trucks and proceeded to fill the hospital’s amphitheater with toys.

In 2009, the Texas State Guard started the Young Heroes of the Guard program, with the hopes of collecting enough toys to distribute to every pediatric patient in every children’s hospital in Texas during the Christmas season, and leave a year’s worth of toys behind.

That first year, they collected more than 2,000 toys and by 2014, they collected almost 23,000 toys across the state.

This year, Williams leading the toy drive efforts for his battalion, just one of the many units participating in the State Guard’s toy drive, collected more than 25,000 toys.

“We want to help everyone in need,” said Williams.

Starting in March, Williams coordinated a three-prong approach to collecting toys.

“I start my toy drive operations in March,” said Williams. “My goal is to submit the application for support the day they are first accepting letters so that my request is the first one on the pile and hopefully the first one to be considered.”

Williams and his team of State Guard volunteers work with local companies and major corporations to coordinate donations until October.

“Then we deploy toy drive operations,” said Williams.

In true military fashion, Williams coordinates one team to man large donation boxes at designated drop off points, another team to stand outside major retail stores and advertise the toy drive and collect donations, and a third team to handle other donations.

“I have a calendar of all our operations to make it easy for soldiers to find dates and times that would be conducive for them to help,” said Williams.

After meeting the Battalion’s goal of 11,000 toys, Williams and his team decided to keep going.

“Staff Sgt. Williams took the lead for the battalion and just went with it,” said Lt. Col. Cendy Brister-Antley, commander of 1st Battalion. “You can give him something and he will run with it. He has contacts like you wouldn’t believe!”

For Williams the drive to bring joy to children staying in hospitals hits close to home.

“I spent time in the hospital as a child,” said Williams. “It was one of the most difficult times of my childhood. That’s what drives me, that memory of what it was like.”

Hospital staff members will give these toys to hospitalized children, siblings of hospitalized children and children of hospital patients throughout the entire year.

“Our goal is to give them enough toys to make it through the entire year,” said Williams.

Units are assigned to local hospitals. For 1st Battalion, that means Dell Children’s Hospital.

“Last year they got 6,000 toys and started running out in October,” said Williams. “That was our incentive to boost our toy collection.”

Meeting their original goal of 11,000, and then some, they should meet this goal.

The battalion delivered more than 10,000 toys to Dell Children’s Hospital and have given the remaining toys to State Guard units across Texas, to help support toy drive effort statewide.

“It was a planned operation,” said Brister-Antley. “To blow away the State Guard.”

Despite the large piles of toys and the competitive spirit of the unit to outdo last year’s numbers, being able to give back to the community and bring joy to children is what means the most to these guardsmen.

“We delivered more than 10,000 toys to Dell Children’s Hospital,” said Brister-Antley. “I saw pride in my Soldiers, pride in the accomplishment of giving back.”

For Williams, it’s about bringing joy to a child’s life.

“I had a large pink stuffed dog that one of the girls was eyeballing. I walked over to her and asked her if she could give the dog a good home. She grabbed it and seemed really happy,” said Williams. That’s why we do it – for the smiles and the happiness we can bring to the kids.

Next year, Williams said he hopes to collect 50,000 toys.

For more information on the Texas State Guard toy drive, please visit their website http://www.txsgtoydrive.org/. To see more photos from the toy drop off at Dell Children’s Hospital, Dec. 18, 2015, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/texasmilitaryforces/albums/72157662483102302

Chemical soldiers train for dual mission

Story by: 1st Lt. Matthew Verdugo

Posted: December 9, 2015

1st Lt. Matthew Verdugo Soldiers from the 436th Chemical Company, 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, decontaminate a volunteer at the San Marcos municipal airport during a simulated plane crash exercise, Nov. 16, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Matthew Verdugo/Released)
1st Lt. Matthew Verdugo
Soldiers from the 436th Chemical Company, 6th CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, decontaminate a volunteer at the San Marcos municipal airport during a simulated plane crash exercise, Nov. 16, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Matthew Verdugo/Released)

BASTROP, Texas – National Guardsmen of the 436th Chemical Company conducted dual-mission training exercises at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, and San Macros, Texas, during their annual training period Nov. 13-18, 2015.

The soldiers practiced their traditional warrior skills at Camp Swift, Texas, in areas such as land navigation, security clearing, basic rifle marksmanship, machine gun familiarity, reacting to improvised explosive devices, and physical fitness. This training is essential to maintaining a state of readiness and deployability in support of the citizens of Texas and civil authorities at home or abroad. 

“It is always important to return to basics and improve upon warrior tasks and drills that lay the foundation for everything we do as soldiers,” said 1st Sgt. Dianne Overshown, first sergeant for the 436th Chemical Company. “In many cases, our Soldiers can bring valuable insight from their civilian careers to enhance the training the unit receives in the field.”

The 436th Chemical Company’s core mission is to decontaminate friendly units that have come under a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack in theaters of operation. In addition, the unit specializes in the reconnaissance of CBRN threats and the surveillance of biological dangers. However, their basic Army fundamentals are the foundation that allows the unit to excel in their more technical responsibilities.

“It was fascinating to see some of our soldiers with law enforcement backgrounds take the lead on room clearing and marksmanship,” said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Snyder. “Training like this really gives the soldiers confidence for future, more complex operations.”

Experienced leaders shared their lessons and best practices with subordinates throughout the week, refining team skill sets in reacting to IEDs, clearing buildings, and weapon familiarization. Each drill reinforced the common themes of teamwork and cooperation. 

“It was great to shoot rounds down range and learn from our experienced sergeants some of the finer points of marksmanship,” said Spc. Zacharias Trigo. “I never realized the infinite number of situations that could present themselves during the clearing of a building and how all team members must work as one.”

The service members also practiced mass casualty decontamination operations as part of their FEMA Region VI Homeland Response Force mission. The HRF mission calls for Guardsmen to augment first responders during stateside natural or man-made disasters requiring specialized decontamination capabilities.

“Our unit has the unique challenge and privilege of being able to help our fellow citizens in a time of crisis,” said 1st Lt. Luis Lopez, 436th Chemical Company commander. “We train, hoping that a day like that never materializes. It is training like this that makes it real for everyone involved.”

The 436th Chemical Company additionally participated in a simulated downed plane scenario at the San Marcos Municipal Airport alongside area first responders and other elements of their National Guard battalion, the 6th CBRN Enhanced Force Package. The exercise simulated dozens of casualties and the release of toxic elements in and around the crash site. The chemical soldiers practiced setting up the decontamination infrastructure and conducting mass causality decontamination while wearing personal protective equipment.

“Exercises like this really bring to light the responsibility our unit has to help our fellow citizens survive such a potential tragedy,” said Staff Sgt. Vanessa Stange. “I am amazed by the professionalism of the area first responders and how our soldiers are performing under stress.”

In addition to the simulated plane crash, 436th Chemical Company soldiers were certified during a three-day course as hazmat operators and recognized by the National Guard Bureau as qualified to perform their decontamination duties. This gives the troops an academic component to augment their practical application exercises throughout the year.

“Having two missions is a lot of work, but it is rewarding and feels good that we can help,” said Spc. Katty Gracia. “I can’t wait until the next annual training.”

Texas Guardsmen stand battle ready after Warfighter (Part 3 of 3)

Texas Guardsmen stand battle ready after Warfighter (Part 3 of 3)

By Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Brigade General John E. Novales II, Deputy Commanding General of the 101st  Airborne (Air Assault) Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, visits Texas Army National Guards' 136th MEB during the Warfighter exercise on November 10, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)
Brigade General John E. Novales II, Deputy Commanding General of the 101st  Airborne (Air Assault) Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, visits Texas Army National Guards' 136th MEB during the Warfighter exercise on November 10, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

Texas Guardsmen from the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, based out of Round Rock, Texas, exercised their combat readiness skills during a three-week Warfighter at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, just in time to get home for Thanksgiving.

The 136th MEB went to Fort Campbell November 5-22 in support of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) for the real-time scenario spanning three fictional countries in the Middle East. The purpose of Warfighter is to test a unit’s battle skills and ensure it is fit for overseas combat.

“This is our available year, so generally that is when you are going to see a brigade assigned to a warfighter exercise,” said Col. Scott Mac Leod, commander of the 136th MEB. “It’s part of the [Army Force Generation] cycle, which means, theoretically, that if an overseas contingency requirement occurred, it’s possible that the 136th MEB could be assigned to deploy in support of that assignment.”

During the exercise, each participating brigade or division is assigned an observer team to help guide them in the right direction.

“We pretty much just coach. We don’t control anything,” said Lt. Col. Randy Spell, chief observer coach/trainer for the Mission Command Training Program. “If y’all have a process that needs some improvement or you have some gaps within that process, we help you through them with a doctrinal example for a way that we have seen successful.”

Warfighter is a great opportunity for soldiers to exercise their duty roles while training to respond quickly to incidents and short-term objectives within a full-scale scenario.

“There were priorities of work for our unit in support of the division,” said Mac Leod. “Protection of critical assets, security and clearance of all of the routes within division area, providing security forces to the base defense clusters, as well as the employment of tactical combat force to find fix and destroy level three threats that might appear in the rear area.”

These real-life scenarios gave the brigade’s combat veterans a chance to mentor their less-experienced team members on the best plans and procedures, should a real-world contingency occur.

“I’ve been on six deployments and I can tell you that most of the things we are doing here, just from the tactical side, are things that I think about, worry about, address, fix and react to on the battlefield,” said Maj. George Hurd, chief of operations for the 136th MEB. “Having the whole brigade be exposed to these systems, whenever we go forward and the next time we deploy, is one less roadblock we have to worry about.”

Throughout the three weeks, the 136th MEB demonstrated the greatest proficiency in staff communication and ensuring everyone knew the status of the conflict at any given moment through the live battle tracker.

“Our common operational picture put us in a position to follow the [division] commander’s intent. So basically the tools that the staff developed from the beginning to the mid point put them in a position to help me know if, when and what to decide so they supported my decision cycle. By increasing the rate at which they were able to do that, it enabled us to work more rapidly to solve the problems we were encountering.”

For some of these soldiers, this is as close to a deployment as they have experienced.

“The thing that I really got out of it was getting to see how the 136th MEB interacts with other units around it,” said Spc. Shane Wilson, an intelligence analyst with the 136th MEB. “The MEB has a unique role, which the Army is trying to test and trying to figure where it belongs. [It] was pretty interesting to see how the staff functions and how complex it really is.”

The 136th MEB was distinguished as the only National Guard outfit participating in the Warfighter, joining the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and one of its subordinate brigades, the 101st Sustainment Brigade.

“There is no question that y’all have come a long way,” said Spell. “We are very proud of you; we feel like we are integrated as a part of your staff. National Guard, active duty, it doesn’t matter. We all respond to one fight."

When the 136th MEB isn’t training for their overseas mission of area support operations, they are back home in Texas where they are custodian of the FEMA Region VI Homeland Response Force mission. There, they train alongside first responders and civil authorities to combat the threat of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosive incidents throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

“There is a lot of what we do here that can be run over to our Defense Support of Civil Authorities,” said Hurd. “One is having to make swift timely decisions. I’m looking forward to taking these products home. I’ve got a lot of good examples of ways to better synergize our efforts.”

These vigilant guardsmen can return home with confidence knowing they are fit for the fight.

“I’m immensely proud of our soldiers, said Mac Leod. “Everyone here is just a little bit sleep deprived, a little bit worn out but they’ve got a lot to be proud of. We came here, we wanted to do well tactically and technically but we also wanted to represent Texas, and I think we achieved that objective.”

Texas Soldier realizes dream

Texas Guardsman realizes dream

Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon

Post: November 19, 2015

Angeline SanchezAUSTIN, Texas - Growing up in a family full of service members, Angeline Sanchez knew to take charge and lead fellow recruits through the 2nd Regiment’s, Texas State Guard, Regional Basic Orientation Training, gaining her the title of honor graduate of Class 001-015 at the class’s graduation ceremony held in Austin, Texas, Sept. 18, 2015.

Sanchez began her journey in the military long before she ever joined. Growing up around her U.S. Army father, stepfather, mother and U.S. Marine Corps grandfather had a profound impact on her life.

“My stepfather was a drill sergeant and when he’d come home wearing that big round brown hat, I knew that was something I wanted to do,” Sanchez said. “I loved the structure and the uniform, so my goal ever since was to join the military and serve.”

Even before she was old enough to join, she began researching jobs and the minimum placement scores needed for each. Then when her older brother joined the U.S. Army she knew she had found her calling.

“My brother joined as a medic and when he was home he’d show me his gear, which I thought was really cool,” Sanchez said. “When he came back from deployment he showed me pictures and told me stories about how he helped people and fellow soldiers in Iraq as a combat medic; and I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.”

When she turned 18, Sanchez took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, was sworn into the U.S. Army and shipped out on Valentine’s Day, 2012.

“I remember the six-hour ride to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, feeling excited and saying to myself, ‘I made it, I made it.’” Sanchez said. “When we finally arrived at the base my heart was pumping. Then the drill sergeant got on the bus and began ordering us to get our stuff and get off! It was exciting.”

Sanchez, along with other new arrivals, was placed in the reception platoon while they waited for the next training cycle to begin. There, she did not take any time off and was placed in leadership roles, such as barracks lead and marching the platoon.

“We were marching to breakfast chow one morning and it was my goal that day to lose my voice calling cadence,” Sanchez said. “I was in the back of the formation when the drill sergeant stopped everyone and called me to the front of the platoon and said, ‘this soldier has a voice ten times bigger than her body.’ From that point on, I was known as Mighty Mouse.”

Her time at Fort Sill would be short lived however. A childhood illness, that was all but gone, resurfaced and brought to the drill sergeants’ attention. 

“One night they called me down to report to the drill sergeant that was on duty,” Sanchez said. “He looked right at me and said, ‘Private Sanchez, you can’t stay here, because of your asthma,’ right then I broke down crying.”

Sanchez said she was devastated and returned to Texas with no plan, since the only thing she had ever wanted to do was now not an option.

“I didn’t have a backup plan; my plan was to do twenty plus in the Army,” Sanchez continued. “I fell in and out of jobs; I was too distracted, I didn’t have the drive for anything.”

Then one day while picking up her partner at Camp Mabry in Austin, Sanchez spotted, what she thought, was a soldier out of uniform crossing the street. She looked over at her partner and asked why he was wearing a Texas flag on his sleeve.

“She told me that he was in the Texas State Guard,” Sanchez said. “I immediately began researching what that meant. We went to lunch and I couldn’t put my phone down. I had multiple screens open, reading what they were about.”

She began calling numbers on the website to get more information on joining until she got a hold of Staff Sgt. John Gately, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge (NCOIC) of the communications section for the Texas State Guard.

“I talked to her on the phone and explained that the State Guard is designed to help the citizens of Texas in times of need, whether it be a man-made or natural disaster,” Gately said. “I also told her that we are an all volunteer force that specializes in shelter operations, search and rescue, medical assistance and the manning of points-of-distribution when called on by the governor during those emergencies.”

Since the TXSG mission is in Texas and requires no overseas deployment, Sanchez discovered that her asthma would not be a problem and that she could once more have the opportunity to put on the uniform and serve. She signed up shortly after and began drilling with her unit while waiting for the next RBOT class to begin.

“RBOT is a basic introduction to the Texas State Guard,” Staff Sgt. Curtis Rust said, lead instructor for 2nd Regiment’s RBOT. “We go over first aid, land navigation, military customs and courtesies, drill and ceremony and communications skills. We want to take the overall knowledge of what the Texas State Guard is and does, and take that to build upon.”

At RBOT, Sanchez quickly reverted back to her time at Fort Sill and took charge.

“My time at the reception platoon taught me to step up when they needed someone to volunteer,” Sanchez said. “I made it to formations before time, got up a little early and got my squad up and ready for the day and, of course, called cadence every chance I got.”

Sanchez’ performance was again noticed by instructors.

“She was very motivated, took ownership and had a drive-forward attitude,” Staff Sgt. Jason Rogers said, an instructor with the 2nd Regiment’s RBOT. “She was engaged with everyone else’s efforts in the training, cheering them on and pushing them to make it through.”

By training’s end the instructors came together and overwhelmingly voted Sanchez as the honor graduate for the class. And in a ceremony full of friends and family she was asked to stand and be applauded.

“It was amazing, my mother came in from out of town to see me,” Sanchez said. “She was there with me when I was going through my depression for not being able to complete Army Basic Training. I had never graduated from anything before, so when she came to see me here, she had tears in her eyes and then to find out I was honor graduate… it topped it all and made her proud.”

Sanchez now drills with the 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment in San Antonio and looks forward to her career in the TXSG.

“I feel so much better now, this is the happiest I’ve ever felt in my life,” Sanchez said. “When I first went to basic at Fort Sill, I had that awesome feeling you get when you put on your uniform and take charge. And now, in the State Guard, I have it again.” 

Texas Guardsmen are Warfighter ready

Story by:  Sgt. Elizabeth Peña​

Posted: November 9, 2015

Texas Guardsmen are Warfighter ready
Sgt. Elizabeth Peña
Spc. John Volkmer, a satellite operator with the 625th Signal Company of the Texas National Guard's 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, ensures his equipment is ready during the Warfighter exercise Nov. 12-22 at Fort Campbell, Ky. For this brigade, headquartered out of Round Rock, Texas, Warfighter tests coordination and methods of battle through a command and control simulation. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Texas boots hit the ground running Nov. 5, 2015, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as approximately 200 soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade engage a three-week, combat-oriented training event known as Warfighter.

“Warfighter is an opportunity for a division, in this case the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to conduct main combat operations,” said Col. Scott Mac Leod, commander of the 136th MEB. “It also enables its brigade combat teams and functional and multi-functional subordinate brigades to exercise their tasks as part of main combat operations.”

For this brigade, headquartered out of Round Rock, Texas, Warfighter tests the headquarters’ coordination and methods of battle through a command and control simulation.

“In this scenario, the enemy is the Arianans,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Johnson, the brigade’s noncommissioned officer in charge of current operations. “They are after the oil infrastructure in Atropia, and we are sent in after the United Nations’ resolution to [push] out the Arianans and secure the oil fields. The 136th MEB are here supporting the 101st Airborne Division through assured mobility and survivability.”

Warfighter features a number of Army units conducting their combat validation, with the MEB just one of many brigades supporting Fort Campbell’s Air Assault division. The 136th MEB is distinguished as the only National Guard outfit participating. In the scenario, the brigade deploys with battalions of military police, engineers and support companies as it would in a real-world mobilization.

“Working with active duty components is the same as working with National Guard units or Reserve units,” said Sgt. Mikael Lopez, the 136th MEB intelligence team leader. “Soldiers are soldiers wherever you go. We train together. We deploy together.”

Soldiers from the 136th MEB spent months gearing up for the exercise. In September, they engaged in a condensed, three-day command post exercise in anticipation for Warfighter. This gave soldiers the chance to exercise their duty roles and prepare for what would be expected in Kentucky.

“We had a nice, long train up,” said Lopez. “I feel very confident in my team; I have good soldiers. We have a great chain of support up top and our peers are very strong.”

While stateside, the 136th MEB is custodian of the FEMA Region VI Homeland Response Force mission, designed to combat the threat of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosive incidents. Warfighter allows these versatile Guardsmen to also train on their overseas combat mission.

“The HRF has a great reputation, and now this is a great opportunity for us to come and do what we call a green mission,” said Mc Leod, “and to practice those tasks that are common to an actual overseas scenario.”

The 136th MEB will use Warfighter to exercise mission command in maneuver support and area support operations. 

“We’ve met with the 101st and we are getting a lot of positive feedback on our setup and the way we are operating things,” said Johnson. 

The Warfighter scenario runs Nov. 12-22, with the preceding week dedicated to preparations and battle drills.

“I am extremely confident in our troops,” said Mac Leod. “Today, we completed the combined arms rehearsal. I think that we are all proud to be here and represent the Texas Army National Guard and to put a strong foot forward.”

National Guard Gunfighter Fly-in competition unites seven Apache helicopter states

Story by:  Spc. Elizabeth Smith

Posted: November 9, 2015

Gunfighter Fly-In
Spc. Elizabeth Smith
Spc. Ryan Santana, a member of the Arizona National Guard, arms an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter for the Utah Army National Guard for the inaugural Gunfighter Fly-In in preparation for the gunnery event.

MARANA, Ariz. – The Arizona National Guard is hosting the inaugural Gunfighter Fly-in at Silverbell Army Heliport here Nov. 1 to Nov. 6. Seven of the eight states in the National Guard that operate the AH-64D Apache helicopters—Arizona, Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah—sent two of their best company-grade crews and maintenance support personnel to participate in the four-day event.

The crews are competing head-to-head in the Gunfighter Fly-in competition, which includes a variety of graded flying and gunnery scenarios: manned unmanned teaming with the small unmanned aerial system, a live fire exercise at the Goldwater Gunnery Range, performance in the simulator and a written gunnery skills test. 

The top team will receive an award for its performance and bragging rights for its home state. 

“We welcome competition,” said Capt. Ben Hickman, Commander of 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion with the Texas Army National Guard. “That’s one of the things about being a gunfighter. We all have type-A personalities and so we look forward to getting to compete but at the same time the underlying thing of this is to integrate with other units.” 

The Gunfighter Fly-in is an opportunity to share tactics, techniques and procedures, best practices and lessons learned throughout the National Guard Apache community. The competition also builds a unity of effort among National Guard Apache helicopter states. 

“This is a great opportunity to network with your peers,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Leonard Vidalez of 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion Texas Army National Guard. “Everybody has experiences and knowledge to share with one another; it’s just more information for your tool kit to use at a future date or implement at the very next mission.” 

The vast amount of skills and experience throughout the National Guard Apache community are invaluable to the Total Force. 

“We have the same skill sets, we have the same capabilities, same abilities, so we’re a key enabler and contributor to the active component fight, both for foreseen and unforeseen events across the globe,” said Col. Christopher Baril, the 98th Aviation Troop Command and Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site Brigade Commander.

The presence of Apache assets in the Army National Guard continues the guard’s ability to conduct training and is critical to the safety of deployed forces.

“Apaches are vital because in times of war or having to go solve a problem overseas with our active duty counterparts we need to be manned and equipped the same way so that there is synergy on the battlefield once we get there,” Baril said.

The Gunfighter Fly-in isn’t just about the lessons shared, the skills gained or the experience traded. It also has a little bit to do with the competition that brings these units closer together and makes the overall experience more effective for training purposes.

“It’s a competition but you wish everybody the best and you want everybody to be safe,” Hickman said. “We’re a close-knit community; we’re a very small community. When we come together we’re one team. We’re one family.”

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.”