Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Camp Mabry teams up with Austin Police Department to train for active shooter events

Camp Mabry security officer Gilbert Gonzalez, and members of the Austin Police Department's Counter Assualt Strike Team (CAST), secure work spaces during an active shooter training scenario at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, March 19, 2014.
Camp Mabry security officer Gilbert Gonzalez, and members of the Austin Police Department's Counter Assault Strike Team (CAST), secure work spaces during an active shooter training scenario at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, March 19, 2014. Base security officers and employees trained with the Austin Police Department to rehearse active shooter scenarios to better prepare for such an event. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)

Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon

 
 

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – As the sound of blanks fired in the hallway, personnel ran out, jumped through windows or sought  cover from the active shooter coming through their workspace. Fortunately, this was only a training exercise held at Camp  Mabry in Austin, Texas, March 19, 2014.

 The training scenario was designed to help Camp Mabry’s security department better coordinate with the Austin Police  Department’s Counter Assault Strike Team (CAST), as well as prepare the base’s employees should anything like this ever  occur. 

 Sandi Valdespino, a civilian case manager with the Texas Medical Command, felt this was a great exercise not only to  prepare the personnel here, but also to make them aware of the realistic threat.

 “People always down play things like this, especially since we’re on a base working side by side with military members,”  Valdespino said. “It’s important for us to know what to do. The knowledge gained here will empower them greatly.”

 Valdespino also shared how a fellow employee took the training seriously and physically put planned escape measures to  the test.

 “When the exercise started, we all ran into my office and closed the door as previously planned,” Valdespino continued. “Right then, Sgt. Ahmad Ofogh began to actually drag a large filing cabinet to block the door. He said he wanted to see if he could actually physically do it if the time came.”

The exercise put Camp Mabry’s security officers to the test as well; they are the first response for any type of emergency on the installation. Officer Ian McPherson, day shift supervisor, knows training like this is crucial for his team.

“The realism of the training helped us identify our strengths and weaknesses,” McPherson said. “We know it’s just pretend, but it got our blood pumping and adrenaline up. Working with CAST added another level of reality, which also allowed us to have an outside organization critique our tactics so that we can either better them or reinforce what we were doing well.”

By days end, Austin Police Department’s CAST and Camp Mabry security officers and employees went through seven scenarios, each time discovering new ways to react to an active shooter event. Spc. Danielle Schrag, a case manager with Texas Medical Command, describes the value this has for everyone involved.

“To see the CAST and our security officers go through these scenarios together is comforting,” Schrag said. “It not only gives me confidence in their abilities to respond to an active shooter, but makes us, the employees, aware of something like this happening; and therefore better respond and help ourselves till they arrive.”

 

Texas National Guard engineers say farewell to loved ones

The 454th Engineer Company colors are cased during a mobilization ceremony at the McNease Convention Center in San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 19, 2014.
The 454th Engineer Company colors are cased during a mobilization ceremony at the McNease Convention Center in San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 19, 2014. The San Angelo based engineer company will be deploying to Afghanistan to perform route clearance mission patrols and is the only company of this type within the Texas Army National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Private 1st Class Shannon Gatta/Released)

Story by: Pfc. Shannon Gatta, 454th Engineer

Company Public Affairs
 

 SAN ANGELO, Texas - Leaders with the Texas Army National Guard, together with friends and family, said goodbye and  good luck to members of 454th Engineer Company during a mobilization ceremony at the McNease Convention Center, in  San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 19, 2014. 

 The approximately 100 soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, will provide route  clearance missions with convoys and dismounted patrols, in order to detect and interrogate buried roadside bombs and other  explosive devices. 

 Just one of a handful of route clearance mission teams within the entire National Guard and the only one within the Texas  Army National Guard, the company has a potentially dangerous mission to ensure the remainder of the forces can move  freely around the battlefield. 

 “Our mission stands out as unique and vital one for the stability and safety of the Afghani people,” said Staff Sgt. Melissa  Wofford, medic noncommissioned officer with the company. “We are one of very few route clearance units in the country and  the very first to deploy with females like myself. I’m here to do the job that is needed and to support and protect my [fellow]  soldiers as well as to carry out the mission at hand.” 

With hundreds of loved ones attending the deployment ceremony to wish their loved ones well, friends and family arrived to the Concho Valley from across the state and even as far away as another country. For the only son of retired Army veteran Sgt. 1st Class Steven Alsept and his wife, the trip from Yongsan, South Korea, not only showed support for their son, Lt. Raymond Alsept, but came with advice on the eve of his first deployment. 

"[He said] listen to my NCOs," Lt. Alsept explains. "I have the final decision in our platoon but it's the NCOs that sway the decision [for me] tremendously."

Along with the focused training that each individual has received for their military occupational specialty, all of the soldiers have been through various trainings to include gunnery, medical, combative, explosive and field training in the past few months to be well-prepared for any mission given. 

This deployment to Afghanistan will mark the first overseas mission for the San Angelo-based company and an opportunity to represent the state of Texas.

“This multifaceted mission allows the National Guard’s citizen-soldiers to prove how diverse it is and be a recognizable force alongside our active duty counterparts,” said Capt. Eric Leatherman, commander of the company. 

The traditional formation of soldiers, casing of the colors, and a final salute from leadership to the company commander signified their mission a-go and served as a reminder of the absence, from friends and family, which lies ahead. 

Guest speakers, such as U.S. House of Representatives Congressman Mike Conaway, Col. Patrick Hamilton, Domestic Operations commander, Texas Military Forces, Col. Tracey Norris, 176th Engineer Brigade commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Leonard, 111th Engineer Battalion command sergeant major, were among those who came to show their gratitude and encouragement for those soldiers and their families.

The company will undergo further training at Fort Bliss in El Paso before leaving for Afghanistan this spring.

Texas National Guard teams up with Austin’s National Charity League, Inc. to help women vets find jobs

Daniel Esquivel, a designer from Project Runway's Season 11, gives advice on a potential career outfit to Amanda Negrete at the Military Women in Transition event here at Camp Mabry Feb. 16, 2014.
Daniel Esquivel, a designer from Project Runway's Season 11, gives advice on a potential career outfit to Amanda Negrete at the Military Women in Transition event here at Camp Mabry Feb. 16, 2014. Esquivel donated his time and gave away a career outfit he designed to an attendee. Chapters from the Austin area National Charity League, LLC., Texas Military Forces and Austin Human Resources Management Association worked together to host the career event for military women and dependents.

Story by: 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy

 

CAMP MABRY, Texas - Be proactive, be prepared and take advantage of all the resources available.

As a recruiter who works to help veterans find jobs, Leslie Goodman said that’s advice she wants all military members to know and practice when transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce.

Goodman was one of several employers, recruiters and organization representatives at the Texas National Guard and National Charity League, Inc.’s Military Women in Transition event Feb. 16, 2014, at Camp Mabry.

Organizers of the event touched on several aspects of the job search and career enhancement process, which included social media, resume reviews and mock interviews.

Goodman said one of the biggest challenges for military members transitioning to a civilian career is that there aren’t enough military occupational specialties that directly translate into a civilian occupation.

“They have the discipline and training, but not the job skills,” Goodman added. “It’s difficult to take a service member who worked with artillery to apply those skills to a career in the civilian sector.”

Although some career fields in the military don’t directly convert into a civilian career, the basic skills gained from military service can give veterans an advantage.

Lisa Young, Annie Worthen, and Jennifer Grier, all U.S. Army veterans, said they can capitalize on the foundational skills they learned in the military - discipline, attention to detail, how to remain focused on the task, and always completing the mission.

Those are all qualities employers look for, Goodman said.

Goodman also stressed that service members should always be prepared when interviewing.

Many job seekers don’t know to research the company, the company culture, or the interviewer prior to going to a job interview, Goodman said. By doing their homework, jobseekers can have an edge.

In addition to doing research and planning for the future, Goodman said it is important for service members to take advantage of the programs the military offers its members like the G.I. Bill and eArmyU.

Worthen had the opportunity to perform a mock interview with Goodman, where she said she learned helpful information that can aid in her own career search.

Worthen was pleased with the event and the honest feedback she received.

“This event is great because the information they’re giving us, we didn’t know,” Worthen said.

Members from the Austin chapters of the league, Texas Military Forces Family Support Services and Operation Homefront conceived the idea for the event after a brainstorming session. As a result, the group recognized a lack of transitioning services for military women.

“Our organization has a national initiative, Service from the Heart, focused on supporting military members and their families,” said Julie Ballard, Hills of Austin chapter president. “There were transition services for men, but none that focused on the unique needs of women.”

After spending 12 years in the Army, Young said she appreciated the clothing closet and the opportunity to speak with hair and makeup experts.

“We’re so used to wearing a uniform everyday, so they’re teaching us what to wear,” Young said.

The clothing closet allowed attendees to choose from new or gently-used business attire and receive advice from hair and makeup professionals, which featured Daniel Esquivel, a designer from season 11 of “Project Runway” and season 3 of “Project Runway All Stars.”

Esquivel, whose father served in the U.S. Air Force, said he was happy to give back to the community.

Esquivel gave fashion advice and raffled one of his designs to an attendee, which will be tailored to fit her.

Organizers said the event was successful because it presented options for women veterans and dependents, as well as providing an opportunity for teens in the league to engage with and serve military members - something that doesn't happen often.

“We can see this happening again,” Ballard said. “But we will always bend toward the greatest need.”

Fort Hood honors Texas National Guard maintenance shop

Sgt. Michael Shelby, Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site (MATES), Texas Army National Guard, works on a heavy equipment transporter, while using a drip pan to maintain leaking gear oil.
Sgt. Michael Shelby, Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site (MATES), Texas Army National Guard, works on a heavy equipment transporter, while using a drip pan to maintain leaking gear oil. Drip pans are one way MATES enforces environmental policies. MATES was recognized more than 48 other battalion size or larger units located at Fort Hood by Fort Hood's Directorate of Public Works for outstanding environmental stewardship Feb. 11, 2014. Fort Hood, Texas.

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 FORT HOOD, Texas - The Texas Army National Guard Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site, or MATES, was honored  Feb. 11 at Fort Hood during the Hood Hero award ceremony, for outstanding environmental stewardship. 

MATES was recognized over 48 other battalion size or larger units located at Fort Hood by Fort Hood’s Directorate of  Public Works (DPW) explained Glenn Collier, Environmental Protection Specialist at Fort Hood. The DPW conducts regular  environmental inspections at these maintenance facilities. Based on results from these inspections, environmental  protection specialists determine who will be recognized for outstanding environmental stewardship.

 “MATES was selected as a result of a continued commitment to upholding environmental standards and policies. They  don’t just get cleaned up and look pretty for inspections, they stay that way all the time,” Collier said.

 Don Melton, Regional Environmental Specialist for the Texas Military Forces, explained that the environmental management  system follows policies and guidance set at the federal, state, and local levels. 

 “This high standard ensures consistency in the program. The Soldiers recycle almost everything,” said Melton. 

 It’s about a commitment to the environmental program, visibility on the program, and making good environmental habits  simple and easy to maintain explained Texas Army National Guard Col. Stanley Goloboff, Deputy Chief of Staff, Logistics. 

 “This shop is an example of every one of our [Texas Army National Guard] maintenance facilities. The same level of  environmental stewardship that is going on at MATES is going on in all of our [124] facilities,” continued Goloboff. 

The practice of recycling and disposing of waste immediately is what keeps these shops so clean explained Chief Warrant Office 2 Ryan Ramsey, the MATES environmental officer in charge. This prevents shops from accumulating waste, resulting in a clean working environment.

This isn’t the first time that MATES has been recognized for outstanding environmental stewardship.

In 2012, MATES received the highest state environmental award, the HONDO award, for excellence in environmental stewardship said Texas Army National Guard Maj. John Hutka, MATES superintendent. 

According to Hutka, National Guard units outside of Texas have also reached out to MATES as an example for good environmental practices.

The MATES team works hard at being good environmental stewards, but the main focus is always their mission. They maintain over 1600 vehicles for the Texas Army National Guard, servicing vehicles from brigades all over the state. Because of their unique location next to Fort Hood’s largest training area, they also prepare and issue necessary equipment to both Texas units, and any other guard or reserve unit that comes to Fort Hood for training. Should an active duty unit need assistance for their training mission, MATES is there to assist them as well.

“Our facility is like a hub. If anyone ever needs to turn something in, we take it. We never turn anyone away – reserve, civilian, or active,” said Sgt. Kisha Mathurin, environmental noncommissioned officer for MATES. “I am very proud of the team here and all of their hard work.”

Brig. Gen. Douglas Gabram, Deputy Commanding General 1st Cavalry Division, and keynote speaker for ceremony, said about the awardees, “these are the people who improve the quality of life for all of us at Fort Hood.”

The teamwork at MATES, their commitment to the environment, and their commitment to their fellow service members, both guard and active is key to the shop.

“We have a very good team over here at Fort Hood,” Ramsey explained. “We help out other units who come here to North Fort Hood. We give them that guard hospitality.”

National Guard senior enlisted adviser visits Texas National Guardsmen

National Guard Bureau senior enlisted leader Command Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell Brush takes time to meet with Staff Sgt. Nayda Troche, center, and Spc. Jennifer Cubero, Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard, after his town hall meeting held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2014.
National Guard Bureau senior enlisted leader Command Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell Brush takes time to meet with Staff Sgt. Nayda Troche, center, and Spc. Jennifer Cubero, Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard, after his town hall meeting held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2014. Brush discussed the value the National Guard brings to the nation, both abroad and at home, and the importance of looking out for each other to help reduce the numbers of suicide within the ranks. Brush also opened up the floor to questions or concerns by service members in the audience. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)

Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon

 AUSTIN, Texas – The National Guard’s senior enlisted adviser, Command Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush, held a  Town Hall meeting for Texas National Guardsmen at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2014.

 Brush discussed various topics varied from suicide prevention to force structure and specifically highlighted the vital role  the National Guard plays both home and abroad.

 “Since 9/11, 800,000 deployments have been filled by National Guardsmen,” said Brush. “We total only 453,000 both Army  and Air National Guardsmen [at any given time], meaning multiple deployments for some.”

 The senior enlisted advisor explained to the Guardsmen in attendance that these deployments differ from those of the  active duty forces.

 “When we deploy, we cost the same as an active duty component,” Brush said. “However, when we’re done, we go  home; we go back to our communities. This makes us cheaper.”

 Brush is referring to the National Guards’ ranks, composed of part-time service members who have full-time civilian jobs  and careers. This allows the force to have ready trained citizen-soldiers and airmen without having employ them on a full-  time active status.

 In a time of budgets cuts and reduction in missions, Brush believes this is the Guard’s key message to help the fight for  funding for its programs. 

 He reassured the Texas National Guardsmen that this is a top priority for him and Gen. Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. 

“Let us worry about force structure,” Brush said. “You guys out here need to concentrate on what you do really well.”

Brush shared a conversation he had with Grass about things that keep him up at night. Instead of responding with budgets and sequestrations, as Brush had assumed, Grass responded with, “Mother Nature.”

“A catastrophic event that will take out three-quarters of the United States,” Brush said. “This is what he worries about.”

The National Guard plays a vital role in support of civil authorities during emergency situations. These can be anything from hurricanes, floods, ice storms and even chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear attacks.

Just one more thing that makes the Guard so valuable, Brush believes.

Spc. Jennifer Cubero, Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard, attended the town hall and appreciated the visit from Brush.

“The fact that we have people at the national levels fighting for us is comforting,” Cubero said. “Regardless of budgets, I feel that they are trying to let the nation know what we do and what we bring to the fight.”

Texas Military Forces stargazing - a modern day Lewis and Clark Expedition

A sextant, the same tool used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s to map the western United States, and is still being used today by the Texas Military Forces (TXMF). David Rolbiecki, Chief of survey for the TXMF, uses this sextant to obtain precise measurements of the earth.
A sextant, the same tool used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s to map the western United States, and is still being used today by the Texas Military Forces (TXMF). David Rolbiecki, Chief of survey for the TXMF, uses this sextant to obtain precise measurements of the earth. Rolbiecki is hoping to use his research to feed the National Geodetic Survey, and ultimately help to improve elevation measurements for the Global Positioning System, or GPS. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha C. Nigrelle/Released)

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 
CAMP MABRY, Texas - In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson enlisted Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead an  expedition across the western frontier to the Pacific Ocean, to “record the face of the country.” As history books can  attest, the Corps of Discovery Expedition was a success. Today, some of the same methods Lewis and Clark used in the  1800s to map the new territory, and the future of the United States, are being utilized in the Texas Military Forces (TXMF).

 David Rolbiecki, Registered Professional Land Surveyor of the State of Texas and Chief of Survey for the TXMF oversees  land surveying for the organization and introduced the classic practice of geodetic astronomy, using the sun, moon and  stars to conduct measurements of the earth, at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas.

 According to records at the Library of Congress, Lewis and Clark created the first maps of the mid west and western  portions of the United States. They started at Lake Michigan and extended out to the Pacific Ocean. In order to properly  chart these maps, Lewis, using geodetic astronomy, took astronomic observations (looking at the stars) along key points,  thus enabling him to ascertain latitude and longitude and create a more accurate map. 

 With online maps, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and google earth, one might think this practice is no longer  necessary.

 Rolbiecki explained that the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), an agency that falls under National Oceanic and  Atmospheric Administration, and works with the Department of Defense’s Global Positioning System (GPS), to provide the  framework for all GPS positioning activities in the U.S. is extremely accurate when measuring horizontal distances, but when looking at GPS derived elevation data, GPS is not quite as accurate. NGS is looking to improve this, using astronomic observations to augment GPS observations used in gravity research. 

Shooting from what looks like a concrete post situated in the middle of a field at Camp Mabry, Rolbiecki and Mark Hinojosa, a TXMF Land Survey Technician, are using replicas of the same equipment used by Lewis and Clark. Using their equipment and methods, Rolbiecki is able to look to the stars for accurate latitude and longitude readings. 

And the concrete post - a permanent astro-geodetic pier which is an extremely accurate and stable platform to use for astro-geodetic observations.

“The purpose of the pier is to add a permanent, high-accuracy legacy monument to the existing Camp Mabry survey control network,” said Rolbiecki. The astro-geodetic pier provides a platform for precise astronomic observations using optical theodolites, and training in celestial observations using a marine sextant - all tools of the geodetic practice.

“Establishing the astro-pier at Camp Mabry benefits any planning and design endeavors [for the TXMF]. It also allows an opportunity to learn how to perform astrometric observations and practice celestial navigation,” said Kristin Mt Joy, Cultural Resource Program manager for TXMF and a registered professional archeologist.

Rolbiecki first joined the Army in 1982 as a geodetic surveyor and spent time surveying for the Army in Virginia, Hawaii, and Maine before coming back to Texas. He is currently on the board of editors for the Journal of Surveying Engineering and is also a chief warrant officer for the Texas Army National Guard. For his guard duties, he is a planner, but when he comes to work at Camp Mabry, Rolbiecki is known as the man who is passionate about astro-geodetic work.

“Mr. Rolbiecki is very smart and sometimes it is hard to translate his knowledge and skill set! But cultural resources has learned a lot since partnering with his team,” said Mt Joy.

Rolbiecki’s unique skill set has benefited both the land survey department, as well as, the cultural resources department of the TXMF.

“The Cultural Resources Program has been partnering with the land survey team to record historic features across Camp Mabry's historic district. The astro-pier established by Mr. Rolbiecki not only provides a permanent station for geospatial reference, it has allowed the cultural resources staff to learn about how mapping and orientations were derived with historic equipment,” said Maj. Richard Martinez, environmental manager for the TXMF. “At an upcoming archaeological conference in 2014, military archaeologists and academics will have an opportunity to see demonstrations of orienting at the astro-pier.“ 

“[Astronomic] observations on land are obsolete due to high-accuracy GPS,” explained Rolbiecki. “I still practice this science and art.”

According to the NGS official website, the vertical data they are looking for would provide elevation accuracy within a two centimeters level from almost any location in the U.S., improving location information to the millions of people who use GPS every day. In order to complete this project it is necessary to measure the stars. NGS is actively recruiting people who can conduct these celestial surveys.

Rolbiecki is hoping to be one of those people.

In the mean time, Rolbiecki set up the astro-geodetic pier, or control station, on Camp Mabry in order to have a precise location from which to measure the sun, the stars, and the moon. This paired with his sextant, artificial horizon and chronometer, the same tools that Lewis used 200 years ago, has set Rolbiecki up to record the face of Texas for the future.

Texas Counterdrug Task Force cracks down on local drug haven

Tech Sgt. Carl White Jr., 147th Civil Engineers, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, uses the heavy 45,000 pound Komarsu excavator to crunch rubble from a destroyed house into smaller pieces ready to be transported to a local landfill, Harlingen, Texas, Dec. 16, 2013.
Tech Sgt. Carl White Jr., 147th Civil Engineers, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, uses the heavy 45,000 pound Komarsu excavator to crunch rubble from a destroyed house into smaller pieces ready to be transported to a local landfill, Harlingen, Texas, Dec. 16, 2013. The house, identified by local law enforcement as being used for illicit drug activity contained gang graffiti painted on many walls. Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown destroys drug havens in partnership with city officials and law enforcement agencies. (Army National Guard photo by Ken Walker, Texas Joint Counter Drug Task Force Public Affairs Office).

 Courtesy story

 
 HARLINGEN, Texas – Chants of "Knock it Down, Knock it Down!" reverberated through a small Harlingen neighborhood in  mid-December as the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown demolished another abandoned and  unsafe structure. The house was known as a drug haven to the local Harlingen Police Department. The structure was  less than half a mile from the Sam Houston Elementary School.

 Operation Crackdown is a program in which Texas Military Forces (TXMF) soldiers and airmen demolish structures  associated with the drug trade. To date, the program has demolished close to 1,350 structures, varying from frame  houses, to an abandoned warehouse, to a 40,000 sq./ft. former nursing home. 

 The task force is responsible for the coordination and organization of all Crackdown missions; they partner with cities  across the state to help reduce drug use and other illegal activities.

 Thirty-five fifth-grade students, from Sam Houston Elementary School gave a clear and unmistakable, "knock it down"  command, ordering Texas Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Carl White Jr. to destroy the building.

 Without hesitation, White smiled and gave a nod to the students as he slowly raised the boom and positioned the bucket  over the roof of the small wood structure that just five years earlier had been called home to an elderly man. 

 The massive 45,000-pound excavator roared as its bucket cut through the wooden structure as easily as a hot knife  through butter. First the roof collapsed then White folded the walls onto the structure as if he was giving an advanced  origami demonstration. The structure collapsed into a pile of rubble and dust in under five minutes.

 As dust rose up and debris settled to the ground, the children raised the hands and yelled with excitement, "cool," "this  rocks" and "Wow, did you see that?”

 Sam Houston Elementary School assistant principal Faustino Villanueva said the children's participation throughout the day  helps them understand their involvement in the community. 

 "It's good because the children look up to the National Guard and service members in the armed forces,” Villanueva said.  “They see [the service members] and feel proud, confident and secure.”

 Fifth grade teacher, Odilia Moreno, said some structures close to the elementary school were unsafe and she worried  her school children would one day be injured if they were to explore the abandoned and dilapidated structures.

 Members of the Operation Crackdown team are personally selected for their heavy equipment operator skills, knowledge  and experience. SGT Chris Mejia, 342nd Engineering Company, has assisted with Operation Crack for several years as a  heavy equipment transport driver.

"This is our third mission in Harlingen. We love coming to Harlingen because the city has done all of the necessary preparation and welcomes us. During our missions in 2011 and 2012, we [tore down] 55 Harlingen structures. We plan on demolishing around 30 structures at 15 locations this trip," Mejia said.

Each mission requires up to a year to plan, coordinate and receive clearances for all the legal requirements to be completed. Each structure is required to undergo several safety and hazardous materials inspections and then receive written permission from the owners prior to demolition.

City Code Enforcement Manager Elida Mendoza said one of the time consuming parts is tracking down the legal owner and receiving their written permission. Many of the houses have not been lived in for several years, family members move away and the properties became abandoned.

Once abandoned, the former homes can quickly become a place where drug users, drug dealers and gang members use them as a place to get high, execute drug transactions and participate in other illegal activities.

Mayor Chris Boswell also expressed support for Operation Crackdown.

"The partnership with the Texas National Guard has proven to be a successful tool in beautifying our community and fighting crime," the mayor said. "This partnership, along with the excellent job of our police department, has been a key factor in the significant reduction in crime we have experienced during the past two years."

Harlingen Police Department Commander Miryam Anderson explained the police often deal with repeat calls for service to structures which are used for drug activity and criminal mischief.

"This resource [Operation Crackdown] helps police in reducing crime. This is a win, win situation for all. Our neighbors have been telling us how pleased they are with what the Texas Military Forces, the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force and Operation Crackdown are doing," Anderson said.

Col. Suzanne Adkinson, commander of the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force, said the program is beneficial to local communities, as well as to service members. 

"Operation Crackdown enhances military readiness by allowing Air and Army National Guardsmen members to utilize their equipment in a 'real world' mission. This improves readiness for Texas Military Forces soldiers and airmen, while enhancing the public safety of citizens and their children by supporting communities in the demolition of structures used by the drug trade," Adkinson said. 

Texas Military Forces respond to winter storm

Soldiers from the 236th Engineer Company, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, head out to help fellow Texans during Winter Storm Cleon on Dec. 6, 2013.
Soldiers from the 236th Engineer Company, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, head out to help fellow Texans during Winter Storm Cleon on Dec. 6, 2013. More than 50 Texas National Guard soldiers were mobilized to assist with search and rescue operations and aid stranded motorists. The soldiers helped local, state, and federal agencies clear more than 100 stuck semi-trucks and helped thousands more Texans get moving. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)

Story by: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

 

 DENISON, Texas – Citizen-soldiers with the 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, provided support to  state and local officials during Winter Storm Cleon, as named by the National Weather Service, in north Texas, Dec. 5-9,  2013.

 At the request of Gov. Rick Perry, about 50 members of the Grand Prairie-based brigade suited up in cold-weather gear  and headed out in Humvees and Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTVs) to help preposition state assets as the storm  approached. Soldiers were stationed along the major highways here, as well as in Wichita Falls.

 In fact, preliminary reports from the Texas Military Forces Joint Operations Center indicate the deployed soldiers aided  more than 120 stranded vehicles, conducted more than 225 welfare checks and assisted with the setup of a Red Cross  Shelter in Valley View, near Wichita Falls.

 “We had a great response when the call went out,” said 2nd Lt. Clayton Harrison, an engineer with the brigade’s  Lewisville-based 236th Engineering Company. “We were ready to move out less than 12 hours after we got notified that  we'd be responding to this storm.”

 Although no one was quite certain what the storm would bring, Harrison said he and his soldiers were in contact with the  Texas Department of Public Safety.

 “According to DPS, we'll assist in vehicle recovery, especially if they end up shutting down the highway,” he said.

 On Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, when the storm had come and gone, the real scope of the job ahead was revealed to Harrison  and his Soldiers. Although the storm had not dropped much snow on the area, it was the ice underneath that proved to be  the biggest challenge for those on the highways.

 “We're from Boise, and thought this would be no big deal,” said Jonathan Bilger, a pulled over motorist who was passing  through to visit family. “We get the snow all the time, but the ice, that's harder to deal with. We're just sliding around like a  hockey puck.”

 With traffic flow a top priority, members of the Texas Military Forces conducted 24 hour a day operations monitoring and  assisting citizens along Highways 75, 82, 380 and Interstate 35 near Denison. Simultaneously, personnel from the 840th  Engineer Company monitored flow on the icy and slushy roadways of Highways 281, 181, Interstate 35 East and West,  and I-20, near Weatherford and Denton. 

“Those guys are great,” Bilger said, as he gestured toward several of the soldiers hooking up chains to tow a stranded 18-wheeler. “They're out here, helping out, when most of us are just trying to figure out how to get home fastest.”

This view was also shared by the soldiers’ leadership as well.

“These men and women are the epitome of what the Texas Military Forces stands for,” said Col. Patrick Hamilton, commander of domestic operations for the Texas Military Forces. “These Citizen-soldiers volunteered their time, at a moment's notice, to serve their fellow citizens during a time of need.”

“It's situations like this that show the caliber of our service members and their ‘Always Ready, Always There’ mentality,” Hamilton said.

Special Operations Detachment - Africa crosses one-year milestone

Story by: Sgt. Josiah Pugh

Posted: December 8, 2013

Courtesy Photo Soldiers from Special Operations Detachment - Africa (SOD-A), Texas Army National Guard, conduct reflexive fire training with the M4 carbine at Camp Bullis, Texas, June 2013. This training exercise helps maintain individual force protection readiness for the unit's future deployments to Africa in support of Special Operations Command-Africa, whose goal is to promote regional stability in that region. (Photo by Maj. Duncan Smith, SOD-A).
Courtesy Photo
Soldiers from Special Operations Detachment - Africa (SOD-A), Texas Army National Guard, conduct reflexive fire training with the M4 carbine at Camp Bullis, Texas, June 2013. This training exercise helps maintain individual force protection readiness for the unit's future deployments to Africa in support of Special Operations Command-Africa, whose goal is to promote regional stability in that region. (Photo by Maj. Duncan Smith, SOD-A).

AUSTIN, Texas - For the first time in the Texas Army National Guard’s history it has a joint special operation’s detachment. The Special Operations Detachment – Africa (Airborne) (SOD-A) is one of eight such units belonging to the National Guard nationwide and was stood up in October of 2012 at Bee Caves Armory in Austin, Texas.

Their mission, to deploy overseas, lead and train both joint and combined special operations forces in support of theater campaign plans. 

In the last year, SOD-A has recruited soldiers that will allow them to support their higher headquarters Special Operations Command-Africa whose goal is to promote regional stability in Africa and combat terrorism. About half of the soldiers in SOD-A are from a special forces background while the remaining members come from special operations forces, human resources, intelligence, logistics and signal backgrounds. soldiers in this unit travel from as far as California and Washington, D.C., just to attend their monthly drill. 

Maj. Nathan Rettig, SOD-A Future Operations officer, said about the unit, “Getting a chance to support special operations in Africa was a long time goal, as I firmly believe special operations forces is an exponential force multiplier on the continent. Just as importantly, I knew and served with the high caliber individuals in this unit since we started the Texas Army National Guard Special Forces family in 2007.” Rettig added, “I know they are some of the most capable, experienced, and committed teams in the special operations forces community and I'm humbled and honored to serve with them."

In May, SOD-A participated in Epic Guardian, a joint staff-coordinated exercise focused on crisis action planning, deployment of forces and field operations. Aside from developing a partnership with Malawi, Djibouti and Seychelles, Maj. Duncan Smith, another SOD-A future operations officer, said the exercise provided much more to those countries’ militaries and militias. “We’re there to partner with the governments or militaries and offer an increased capability to provide a secure and stable region,” said Smith. 

SOD-A provides a place for special forces or special operations soldiers in the National Guard where they can grow and advance their careers. Lt. Col. Douglas O'Connell, SOD-A commander, said, “The soldiers who have joined SOD-A are looking for a chance to conduct real world operations in challenging and extreme environments.”

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Carter, training noncommissioned officer, has been with SOD-A since April of this year. “I can’t think of a better place for me and my future goals to be or a better environment where the mentorship is from the top down,” he said.

In late June, SOD-A conducted Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk airborne operation training and a reflexive fire with M4 carbine rifles and M9 pistols alongside Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group. In August, the unit conducted its first joint training partnership with the U.S. Navy Reserve SEAL Detachment 208, in a joint military decision making course in order to prepare for future deployments.

Spc. Vanessa Freitag, a personnel administrator, has been with SOD-A since March and found her comrades have been more than happy to include her in all their training.

“I love it,” said Freitag. “I think this has challenged me. I’ve grown with them. It’s such an invigorating experience being a part of this group because initially it was very intimidating. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or what they expected of me and everything’s formed together, especially for a new unit. A lot of the guys are special forces and they’re not quite used to a staff unit, but we’ve meshed so well together. They’ve made me feel very welcome from the beginning.” 

Lt. Col. Theo Unbehagen, Operations Officer, has been with SOD-A since October of last year and is excited to deploy to Africa. “It’s going to be a great experience I think, because we’re going to be in a different area,” said Unbehagen. “We’re going to be working with the partner nations, working, training with, learning from them and teaching them. It’s really rewarding.

Texas Medical Command makes transition easier for Wounded Warriors

Texas Army National Guard Capt. Kimberly Spires, Medical Hold officer in charge, Texas Medical Command and Texas Army National Guard Cpl. Derrick Guy, state health systems specialist, conduct a mock medical evaluation board (MEB) for a wounded Texas Army National guardsman.
Texas Army National Guard Capt. Kimberly Spires, Medical Hold officer in charge, Texas Medical Command and Texas Army National Guard Cpl. Derrick Guy, state health systems specialist, conduct a mock medical evaluation board (MEB) for a wounded Texas Army National guardsman. Medical Command conducts mock medical evaluation boards to improve the quality and accuracy of MEB packets prior to submission. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle/Released)

 

 Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle
 

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – The Medical Evaluation Board, or MEB, is known for being a long and arduous process. For  traditional guardsmen, this process if often even longer and more difficult, but for wounded warriors in the Texas Military  Forces (TXMF), in the last year the MEB process became much easier.

 According to Army Sgt. Gabriel Martinez, the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of behavioral health and  assistant NCOIC of case management for Medical Command, in just one year, Medical Command, or Med Command,  increased the number of packets submitted to the Medical Board by 200%.

 After assuming command of Med Command in 2012, Army Col. John P. Drobnica, a licensed physician assistant, and Lt.  Col. Robert Ferry, the Texas State Army Surgeon, spent their 2012 annual training period evaluating the Med Command  system for submitting MEB packets. Their goal was to figure out a way to make the transition process easier for Texas  Army National Guard wounded warriors. Ferry is the former Deputy Commander for Med Command, as well as, a licensed  pediatric-endocrinologist. They are both traditional guardsmen who live and work in their communities as medical  professionals.

 “I really appreciate Col. Drobnica because he listened to us,” said Martinez.

 Martinez went on to discuss how both Drobnica and Ferry took time to ask the soldiers in Med Command what issues  they saw and how they thought things could be improved. “[Drobnica and Ferry] went down into the weeds and said  ‘how can we change the weeds?’”

 “The biggest challenge, once [the service member] is injured, is getting them through the process,” said Lt. Col. Brian  Weber, the Division Surgeon for 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, also a licensed Physician Assistant. 

 Compounding an already long MEB process, before the packet is submitted, numerous doctor appointments and  paperwork have to be completed. Additionally, according to Weber, this can become a confusing process. 

 “It’s all of the little steps – that is the biggest challenge,” said Weber.

 Changes in Med Command’s process started with a trip to Florida, and continued with improvement in training, as well as the effective utilization of the medical readiness NCOIC.

“[Drobnica] took us to Pinellas Park, Fla., where the National Guard MEB convenes to meet the providers who conduct the [initial review of the] MEB. We went three times. This helped us, in case management, leaps and bounds,” said Martinez.

Martinez went on to discuss the next step implemented – a mock MEB. Each month during Med Command drill, a panel of National Guard providers, with an array of medical background and expertise, review the packets assembled by case management as if it were the MEB. 

“It’s where our full time support meets our M-Day support,” said Martinez, adding that the process has helped case management improve the quality of each MEB packet before it is submitted to Pinella’s Park.

Additional training was the next step taken to improve this process. Ferry oversaw the creation of the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) Provider Battle Book and User’s Guide. The book is tailored to the guardsman medical officer with little experience on TXMF systems and the MEB. 

“This book helps [the new officer] manage and find some bearing. Most books out there are written for the active component,” said Ferry.

In addition to the battle book, training for the readiness NCO was added. Martinez said that this training has been instrumental in making the MEB process faster and smoother for the service member or wounded warrior. “Increasing the knowledge pool means there are more people that can help facilitate the process.”

The last change was fully integrating the medical readiness NCO with the MEB process. The medical readiness NCO is a full-time position at the battalion and/or brigade level and is focused to work one-on-one with the wounded warrior on their medical readiness to ensure that the MEB packet is initiated and completed as quickly and as accurately as possible. 

Martinez credited Drobnica and Ferry for their leadership in implementing and enforcing all of these much needed changes.
For both Drobnica and Ferry, it is all about the mission – improving that transition process.

“We help people transition forward. Life moves forward, not backward,” said Ferry.

For questions regarding the MEB process in the Texas Army National Guard, call the unit Medical Readiness NCO or Case Management at 512-782-4206/5892.