Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Army National Guard’s Camp Bowie and Brownwood grow together

Lt. Col. Jamey Creek, Training Center Garrison Command manager and officer in charge- Camp Bowie, Texas Army National Guard, center, Brownwood resident and Camp Bowie neighbor Phil Richey, left, and Del Albright, Ffire chief and emergency management coordinator, City of Brownwood, Texas, right, overlook a hill on the north side of Camp Bowie after discussing business, May 16, 2013
Lt. Col. Jamey Creek, Training Center Garrison Command manager and officer in charge- Camp Bowie, Texas Army National Guard, center, Brownwood resident and Camp Bowie neighbor Phil Richey, left, and Del Albright, Fire chief and emergency management coordinator, City of Brownwood, Texas, right, overlook a hill on the north side of Camp Bowie after discussing business, May 16, 2013. As the Camp Bowie Training Center manager, Creek is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the 9,000-acre land, as well as meeting with various local, county and state officials and concerned citizens. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Laura L. Lopez).

 Story by: Laura Lopez

 CAMP BOWIE, Texas – It is a training site that dates back to World War II, where soldiers with the Texas Army National  Guard’s 36th Infantry Division completed training before landing on the beaches of Normandy in 1944. The, then-5,000  plus acres of Camp Bowie, in Brownwood, Texas, was acquired by the Texas Military Forces in 1949, with the southern  portion of the now almost 9,000-acre site added in 1993 and 1994.

 One of four major Texas Army National Guard training centers, a part of the state’s Training Center Garrison Command,  Camp Bowie employs 32 full-time federal and state employees and is responsible for ensuring mobilization and unit-  training requirements are met year-round for the more than 25,000 men and women that make up the Texas Military  Forces. 

 “My sole purpose in life is to provide adequate facilities for those units to train,” said Lt. Col. Jamey Creek, the camp’s  manager and officer-in-charge. “That includes billeting, multiple live-fire ranges, digital training aides, land navigation,  maneuver space and roadside bomb [and] route clearance defeat lanes necessary for them to meet their qualification  requirements.” 

 Training more than 419,000 service members and other local emergency and first responders since 2006, records  indicate Camp Bowie usage averages almost 70,000 people a year. For the 38,000 residents living in the city of  Brownwood and Brown County, each and every person in the Texas National Guard is more than just a visitor.

 “You could say they are our family because we are such a small community,” said Sunni Modawell, the tourism manager  for the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody knows everyone else and over time you know their  spouses, you know their children – so essentially they are our family.” 

 In addition to the Army Guard, other components of the Texas Military Forces regularly conduct training at the facility. In  fact, for the past 10 years, the volunteer Texas State Guard has held their two-week annual training encampment at Camp Bowie and says the location and staff makes for a positive experience.

"Camp Bowie is a great resource," said Brig. Gen. Charles Miller, the Texas State Guard's chief of staff, in Austin. "We've found its location to be ideal for our members and its facilities and environment perfect for training, plus the staff there is always accommodating and extremely professional.”

A place where many residents say it is not uncommon to see military vehicles driving throughout town or to run into a handful of service members at local establishments, one longtime Camp Bowie neighbor, with his own ties to the Texas National Guard, said his relationship with the training site has been a good one focused on mutual respect and understanding.

“If I have to listen to helicopters and 50-caliber machine guns, and that helps out, then I am OK with it. You have to look at the big picture,” said Phil Richey of Brownwood, a resident who lives near Camp Bowie’s northern perimeter. “I think these folks here [in Brownwood] realize that the soldiers are providing a service here and if we are going to remain number one in the world we have to have a well-trained Army.”

A training site host to disaster and emergency preparedness exercises where they combine local, state and federal agencies aimed at sharing best practices, Creek said Camp Bowie also supports training requests from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Texas Forest Service, to name a few.

According to the Brownwood Fire Department, the relationship with the Texas Army National Guard (or Texas Military Forces) has not only strengthened the region’s mutual aid agreement, but has been instrumental in expanding their training capabilities. 

“As a result of the Texas National Guard allowing us to place our mobile fire training trailer on their property we can better serve our residents through continuous training,” said Del Albright, Brownwood’s fire chief and emergency management coordinator. “Without their support, our mobile fire training trailer would be just a piece of equipment we couldn’t use.” 

For Creek, he said it is his principled beliefs in personal communication and strong relationships that enable him to keep many issues concerning the nearby neighbors from escalating, even when unfavorable circumstances arise.

“In 2006, when a wildfire got out of control in less than ideal conditions and jumped the fence, I had some minor property damage,” Richey said. “Lt. Col. Creek was instrumental in ensuring I got some financial relief.” 

A resident of Brownwood for nearly 40 years, Richey said the one downside of having Camp Bowie against his property line is the dust created by the dirt road that serves as a firebreak between the properties. Quick to compliment Camp Bowie management for their concern and willingness to find solutions to mitigate the problem, Richey said he is optimistic about the outcome.

“I don’t expect it to be not completely dusty, but you hate to look over and see dust 100 feet in the air,” he said.

From serving the residents of this small town in west-central Texas, those with the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce said the Texas National Guard’s impact extends beyond providing a piece of mind and building relationships.

“I can’t imagine any aspect of our community without Camp Bowie,” Modawell said. 

In 2012, Brownwood Chamber of Commerce’s economic impact reports show direct visitor spending totaled $50.4 million, and local sales tax receipts equaled more than $1 million. 

In addition to providing state-of-the-art training facilities and simulators to enhance the readiness of the Texas Army National Guard, Creek said he hopes to continue expanding the area’s mutual aid agreement and maintain positive working relationships with the citizens of Brownwood and various local, state and federal agencies and said their support could not be better.

“Support from this community is amazing. It’s an incredible feeling to know we are supported that much,” he said.

The Texas Army National Guard’s other training centers include Camp Swift, near Bastrop, in central Texas, Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells, west of Fort Worth, and Fort Maxey in Powderly, northeast of Dallas, near the Texas-Oklahoma border.

 

 

 

Texas National Guard recycling, it benefits you … and your unit?

Kenneth Zunker stands in front of recycling trailers at the Texas Military Forces recycling facility on Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.
Kenneth Zunker stands in front of recycling trailers at the Texas Military Forces recycling facility on Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Zunker, the manager of the recycling center, hopes to use recycling trailers to help increase the reach of the recycling program throughout Texas. Based in Austin, the program serves service members at more than 100 locations throughout the state. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Mary Jo Snavely)

 Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Reduce, reuse, recycle – most people recognize this mantra, words that promote a greener tomorrow. But according to retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ken Zunker, these are more than just words; they are words to live by. 

 Zunker, recycling operations coordinator and manager for the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) Qualified Recycling Program, works as a part of a four-man operation that currently serves TXMF locations across Texas. Although the recycling efforts had already been started, the program was not qualified by the National Guard Bureau until 2010. In 2011, Zunker came on and by 2012 TXMF opened its first dedicated recycling facility.

 “Reuse is part of recycling” - he stated, indicating that it applies to both TXMF and the surrounding communities. When  the old 51st Street Armory, which was located near the Austin/Bergstrom International Airport, closed in May 2012,  service members recycled 893 tons of refuse. Within that pile were 24 small desks. Camp Mabry’s program does not  currently recycle wood, but that did not stop Zunker from finding a way to recycle those desks.

 After coordinating with the Texas Army National Guard’s Youth Services Program located at Camp Mabry, Zunker found a home for each desk.

 The desks were in excellent condition and exactly the right size for children, said Bob Hankins, the Child and Youth Program Lead for TXMF.

Hankins said he reached out to the Austin Independent School District and discovered that Barrington Elementary School had been given a portable classroom, but did not yet have the funding to fully furnish the classroom. According to Hankins, he worked with Zunker to ensure Barrington Elementary received all 24 desks, further enabling the school’s teaching abilities.

Since that day, Zunker and Hankins said they have worked together in an effort to benefit the families of both the service members and the local community. 

“He will stop by my office with a bunch of recycled gift bags wanting to know if we can find a use for them,” said Hankins. “He does little things like that and it has helped lots and lots of kids. If I get a request for something, like tables, we will tell Ken and he will keep an eye out for that item.”

Zunker stated that the recycling crew often fills special requests of these types. One of his most common requests is boxes from people who are moving. If given at least a week’s notice, Zunker said the crew will set aside large boxes for anyone who asks.
Zunker said he believes in reusing as much as possible, always looking for someone who might benefit from the items that are dropped off at the recycle center.

“It feels good to be able to help others,” he said.

Zunker retired from the Texas Army National Guard in 2008. He served as a maintenance chief for 37 and a half years - as a Soldier, then as a civil servant.

After being retired for six months, Zunker said he was “bored stiff and tired of talking to the dog.” Zunker went on stating that during this time he accepted a position in supply with the Texas Military Forces Combined Support Maintenance Shop in Saginaw. It was there that Zunker caught the recycle bug.

“I noticed all of this scrap metal lying around,” said Zunker. “I figured I could recycle it, but wasn’t sure how to. So I did the research and found out how to (within regulation) recycle and sell it.”

Zunker’s experience prompted him to apply for the recycle coordinator position that he now holds. 

“One of my goals, and it might happen next year, is to be able to give 25 dollars per service member to the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation account each year,” said Zunker. 

According to the Department of Defense, the Qualified Recycling Program is a cost beneficial recycling program that follows strict regulations. Specific guidance on how to sell recycled products for a price is outlined.

Based on regulations, money made from the recycled products will first cover all of the program’s expenses. The remaining funds are then split between pollution prevention projects, for example, purchasing spill kits for any unit in need, and the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation account, to be used for any morale or welfare activity.

“We are already spending money to dispose of waste,” said Leon McCowan, the Resource Conservation Recovery Act Manager for TXMF. “Why not spend that same money to recycle as much as possible, and then get a little money back?”

According to the program’s financial reports, the recycle program has made over 20 thousand dollars so far this year. With the new brass deformer, a machine that crunches brass casings, the recycle crew can now recycle brass, which, according to Zunker, could triple the amount the program brings in each year. 

“We take almost anything, we are about landfill diversion,” said Zunker.

Although most people probably think of paper, plastic and cardboard when they see the green and blue recycle bins, Zunker said the facility can recycle much more than that. On top of the normal recyclables one might think of, Camp Mabry’s recycling center also accepts old cell phones, rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries, compact disks, old floppy disks, any kind of wiring or cable, used ink cartridges and anything made of metal.

This past spring the recycle program was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s South Central Federal Green Challenge in the waste category. TXMF was awarded with a Federal Green Challenge award recognizing the dramatic decrease in the amount of waste disposed, resulting from the dramatic increase of recycling.

According to the 2011 facility recycle tracker, 222 tons were recycled; in 2012, 311 tons were recycled. The amount continues to increase, so far this year over 1,000 tons have been recycled.

“[Zunker] came in and grabbed the bull by the horns,” McCowan said. “Where we are now is because of his innovation and integrity. He has made this program visible and by making it visible it stays on people’s minds.” 

Additional program reports show more than 100 TXMF locations are recycling used oil and scrap metal, but 27 of these spots have a more developed recycle program set up. Zunker’s goal is to expand the program to reach every unit. One of his ideas, to help expand the program, is to supply units with a recycling trailer, giving each unit the ability to drop off a full trailer at any TXMF recycling hub.

“Mr. Zunker had to be the backbone of this program. When he started he was by himself, but now it has become a real team effort. State Maintenance, many others from [the Construction and Facilities Management Office] and definitely service members have provided their assistance when possible. The success of this program could not have been done without the hard work of the entire team,” said McCowan. 

It seems that everywhere Zunker goes, people both like and respect him. He is often seen smiling and saying hello to people as he walks by. He might even stop to ensure you are recycling your empty ink cartridges.

Hankins said he especially likes the energy that Zunker brings to the recycle program, adding,
“He is a guy with the passion to create a self-sustaining program that will benefit every person in the Texas Military Forces, not just Camp Mabry.” 

For more information, on the TXMF Recycling Program or to get started on recycling at your TXMF location, contact Ken Zunker or Maj. (Ret.) Penny Chencharick, the TXMF Recycling Plans Coordinator, at (512) 782-6838 or (512) 782-6683.

Perry signs 'Chris Kyle Bill,' allows military experience for Texas state licenses

Texas Gov. Rick Perry visits with Taya Kyle, wife of slain Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, following the signing of Senate Bill 162 at the Texas State Capitol, in Austin, Texas, Aug. 28, 2013.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry visits with Taya Kyle, wife of slain Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, following the signing of Senate Bill 162 at the Texas State Capitol, in Austin, Texas, Aug. 28, 2013. Senate Bill 162 has been called the "Chris Kyle Bill" because it recognizes the achievements of service members with special operations training, by allowing them credit toward state law enforcement licenses. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain)

Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain

 

 AUSTIN, Texas – In a ceremony at the Texas State Capitol, Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 162, which was passed by  the 83rd Texas Legislature to address employment challenges facing military service members, recently separated  veterans and their spouses.

 The bipartisan legislation requires state agencies that issue occupational licenses to recognize substantially equivalent  licenses issued by other jurisdictions – including the armed forces – and provide an expedited licensure process for  these individuals.

 “The unemployment rate among veterans is one of the highest in the United States,” said state Rep. Dan Flynn of Van  (HD-2), who sponsored the bill in the Texas House. “Considering the sacrifices they made for our country, it is imperative  we help their transition to civilian life by giving them credit for the hard work and training they have accomplished in the  military.”

 Flynn, a U.S. Army veteran who also serves as a commander in the Texas State Guard’s Maritime Regiment, worked with  state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio (SD-26), who chairs the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military  Installations, to develop the legislation.

 “After our heroes fight for us, they should not then have to fight for a job when they get back home,” Van de Putte said.

 Until now, military training was not recognized by the state of Texas, for licensure purposes.

 “Too often, service members and their spouses must wait too long for licensing in fields in which they already have substantial experience,” Van de Putte said. “This law will put them on the fast-track for an occupational license, but also will require them to come into full compliance with Texas’ licensing requirements within a year.”

Additionally, SB 162 is also known as the “Chris Kyle Bill,” named after the former Navy SEAL and author who was slain earlier this year, and recognizes the achievements of service members with special operations training. Kyle’s wife, Taya, was on-hand at the signing ceremony.

“I appreciate the sacrifices these many brave special operators have made,” Flynn said, “and I hope that by incorporating these changes into current Texas law we can honor the legacy of Chris Kyle and the many like him.”

The legislation grants these veterans credit toward the issuance of a basic police officer’s license. Additional training and a certification test is still required to receive the license.

“If a soldier can dodge IEDs in Iraq or Afghanistan while driving a semi, they can drive safely on I-35 or I-30 without having to be trained again,” Flynn said.

It’s possible that this type of legislation will now be pursued throughout the country, as Van de Putte and Flynn co-chair the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs.

“We hope this legislation will serve as a model for all states,” Flynn said, “and we look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Defense to find new and better ways to show our appreciation to veterans as the return home.”

Texas Military Forces preserving ancient Texas history

Charles Coleman of the Thlopthlocco Tribe recognizes the partnership between his Tribe and the Texas Military Forces by presenting a traditional wooden flute to Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas.
Charles Coleman of the Thlopthlocco Tribe recognizes the partnership between his Tribe and the Texas Military Forces by presenting a traditional wooden flute to Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas. The flute was made by members of the Thlopthlocco tribe as one of the ways to preserve their heritage. The Texas Military Forces works with 11 different Tribal Nations in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana in a joint effort to preserve tribal heritage and the history of Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Army Capt. Martha C. Nigrelle/Released)

 Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Members of the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) and representatives from five different Tribal  Nations living in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma gathered here, in Austin, on Aug. 19, 2013, with one  stated goal in mind – to protect their shared history.

 Eight thousand years ago, long before any one nation’s flag flew over this state, people lived here, on the land that is  now known as Texas. Surrounded by the bluebonnets, rivers, hills and plains of Texas, people built homes, cooked  meals and raised families. Today, their story remains buried throughout the Lone Star State.

 In the 1990’s, TXMF began consulting with Tribal representatives in order to identify artifacts and locations of  significance. Since its conception, the exchange process has focused on addressing a variety of issues ranging from  the protection of sensitive archaeological sites, which allow access and preservation of traditional natural resources for  tribal use, to the identification and return of objects the tribes hold sacred.

 “This is our opportunity to meet with different Tribal Nations and help preserve their history,” said Maj. Gen. John F.  Nichols, The Adjutant General of Texas and Commanding General of the Texas Military Forces.

 Today, representatives from the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, Caddo Tribe, Comanche Nation, Coushatta Tribe of  Louisiana, Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, Kiowa Tribe, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Tonkawa  Tribe, Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma regularly meet with TXMF officials to discuss  efforts being made to preserve both their heritage and ancient Texas history.

 In 2005, according to TXMF Cultural Resource Program records, a 2,000 year-old ceramic pot was unearthed on TXMF  property. After visiting with tribal leaders, it was discovered that the artifact held sacred significance to the Caddo Nation  and was returned to the tribe.

 Currently, TXMF has more than 700 protected archeological sites and has collected tens of thousands of artifacts that  help depict life as it was, in Texas, thousands of years ago, said Kristen Mt Joy, Cultural Resource Program Manager for  TXMF and a registered professional archeologist.

 “The beautiful thing about our program is that [TXMF] is trying to acknowledge [the Tribal Nations’] role in the history of  our state,” Mt Joy said. “It isn’t just a ‘check the box’ thing; [TXMF] really wants to hear what the Tribes have to say.”

The consultation process has resulted in more than artifact identification. As the partnership grows, more is learned about the history of the tribes and about the people who once inhabited Texas. Areas that are of cultural significance are labeled traditional cultural property, and special care is taken to preserve the area in its natural state. For example, an area traditionally used to gather plants for medicines – this area TXMF will try to protect, to ensure that the same plant life can continue to grow. 

In an attempt to protect these lands, both TXMF and their Tribal Nation partners understand that the focus does not stray from the installations’ primary mission of training service members.

“[The Tribes] take great pride in the military,” Mt Joy said. “They understand that we have a mission to train Soldiers and prepare them for service.”

This annual consultation is “an opportunity to share and exchange information on improving preservation,” said Mt Joy. This consultation process has created a partnership between TXMF and each Tribal Nation.

During the meeting, Charles Coleman, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, presented Nichols with a traditional flute and thanked him for his commitment to partnering with the Tribal Nations. According to Coleman, the flute was handmade, out of bamboo, by members of the Thlopthlocco tribe and is a replica of flutes played by their tribe many years ago. 

As the meeting came to an end, a shared theme remained. Members of each tribe shared with the group what they are doing to record their history for future generations.

“It is our duty to preserve history,” Nichols said, reiterating a TXMF commitment to continue its work alongside the tribes.

Texas Army National Guardsmen help mentor Guatemalan Task Force

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Anthony Flood, commander 1st Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, presents National Army of Guatemala Brig. Gen. Antonio Lopez, commander of the Interagency Task Force Tecun Uman, with a plaque for his unit's successful training.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Anthony Flood, commander 1st Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, presents National Army of Guatemala Brig. Gen. Antonio Lopez, commander of the Interagency Task Force Tecun Uman, with a plaque for his unit's successful training. Texas Army National Guardsmen teamed up with U.S. Border Patrol agents to mentor the newly-formed Guatemalan task force, whose mission is to interdict the flow of illicit activities on the Guatemalan borders. (U.S. Army photo by Miguel A. Negron/Released)

 

 GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – Texas Army National Guardsmen from the 1st Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment and  members of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Border Tactical (BORTAC) team, teamed up to mentor Soldiers from  the National Army of Guatemala and Guatemalan Federal Police Force officers from Interagency Task Force (IATF) Tecun Uman, at the Guatemala Military Academy, from January - June, 2013. The newly formed Guatemalan Task Force  has the mission of interdicting the flow of illicit activities on the Guatemalan borders.

 The six-month exchange between the U.S. and Guatemala is part of an initiative led by U.S. Army South to build partner  nation capacity with the Central American country and consisted of a series of exercises and events including  fundamentals of marksmanship, weapons maintenance, sand table preparations, mounted and dismounted  operations, and gunnery skills. 

 The Guatemalan soldiers and police officers, handpicked for this mission, demonstrated a high degree of motivation  and esprit-de-corps. They readily embraced the training, asked questions, and were very willing students, according to  U.S. Army Lt. Col. Anthony Flood, Commander, 1st Squadron, 124th Cavalry, who was highly impressed with the  proficiency, morale and professionalism of the Guatemalan troops. 

 “They deliver high quality orders briefs in a format very similar to the U.S. Army, and conduct rehearsals and back briefs  very similar to what is taught at the U.S. Army Ranger School,” Flood said. “The Guatemalan Soldiers are a dedicated  and professional force, and a credit to the Guatemalan Army.”

 Guatemalans and Texas Guardsmen not only trained together, but also lived in the same barracks, exposing them to  each other’s military culture. 

 U.S. Army Capt. Derek Ruschhaupt, Commander of Headquarters Troop, noted different leadership styles between the two militaries.
“It was interesting to see the roles Guatemalan Army platoon leaders assume versus ours,” Ruschhaupt said. “For instance, they march their troops to chow, do on the spot corrections, and provide all the direction and command and control down to the squad level; different from our system where noncommissioned officers perform those duties.” 

For U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Chavelo Jimenez, Squadron Command Sgt. Maj., training with the Guatemalan Soldiers and police officers brought back memories from when he first enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in the early 1980’s. Then, he trained with vehicles and weapons systems similar to the current Guatemalan Jeep-mounted .30 caliber machine gun.

“I remember seeing Jeeps at Fort Hood, so it was great to see these again,” Jimenez said. “However, these Jeeps are much nicer, with air conditioning, nice seats and up-armored. Much better than what we had.” 

The exercise culminated in a week-long series of scenario-based missions challenging the Guatemalan Soldiers and police officers with events such as simulated civil disturbances, narcotics lab raids, and vehicle checkpoint operations. At the beginning of each task, the commanders were given an order. From there they had to develop a plan, brief it, conduct rehearsals, and execute the mission. 

Texas Army Guardsmen observed the entire event and then conducted after-action review with the Guatemalans offering feedback to help refine tactics and techniques for their future missions.

At the conclusion, a ceremony was held to recognize all the participants. Among the invitees were U.S. Army Col. Michael Knutson, U.S. Embassy to Guatemala Senior Defense Official, and National Army of Guatemala Brig. Gen. Antonio Lopez, Commander of the IATF. Lopez later thanked the Texas Army National Guardsmen for their participation in the event.

“We are happy to have trained with our friends from Texas and appreciate their professional work ethic and dedication,” Lopez said. “They are excellent soldiers.” 

Texas National Guard engineers clear the way

A Buffalo mine-protected vehicle follows along in a route clearance convoy training-mission at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, June 18, 2013.
A Buffalo mine-protected vehicle follows along in a route clearance convoy training-mission at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, June 18, 2013. The company cleared a route to ensure the safe passage of a key leader engagement during their practice missions, which were completed during their three-week annual training. The 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard, based out of San Angelo, Texas, is preparing to deploy early next year. (National Guard photo by Laura L. Lopez/Released)
 Story by: Laura Lopez
 

 CAMP BOWIE, Texas – As National Guard citizen-soldiers and airmen gear up for their required annual training, the men and women assigned to the 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG),  spent time at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, preparing for a route clearance mission in Afghanistan, where they’re  slated to deploy early next year. 

 The three-week annual training included learning about the different mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, obtaining the appropriate and necessary licenses, undergoing multiple safety briefings and spending time in a newly  built Virtual Clearance Training Suite (VCTS). The training also included four-to-five hour, full route clearance practice  missions, June 17-18, 2013, with different targeted areas of interest set as close to theatre conditions as able to be replicated forcing Soldiers to move beyond computerized simulators and learn more than just the different convoy configurations.

 “These training missions really drive home what these Soldiers are going out there to do,” said Capt. Kenneth Sweet, Commander, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “These Soldiers are  going out there to find explosive hazards so that vehicles that are not designed for that don’t find them.”

 Just one of a handful of route clearance mission teams within the National Guard and the only one within the TXARNG,  training and readiness remain at the forefront of the minds of commanders who will lead them, potentially into harm’s  way. A first deployment for about 50 percent of the Soldiers, the company’s executive officer believes that having the  resources and equipment readily available for them to train with is essential.

 “Just getting their hands on a Buffalo (mine-protected vehicle) and driving a Husky (tactical support vehicle) and stuff of  that nature is an experience many of these guys have never done before,” said 1st Lt. Corey Ebert, 454th Engineer  Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. 

 A multifaceted mission that provides the rest of the forces the ability to move freely around the battlefield, one soldier from San Angelo, Texas, working with the counter improvised explosive device integration cell planting the land mine simulators and roadside bombs for each practice-training mission received an eye-opening experience.

“Working with them places the shoe on the other foot and allows one to see what the enemy does and why,” said Spc. Joshua Morris, construction equipment mechanic, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “It’s kind of interesting knowing they (my fellow soldiers) are going to get hit, but at the same time you want it to happen so they can learn that muscle memory of going through the motions here, rather than over there.”

Focused on working as a team to successfully accomplish the task at hand, members of the engineer company were given a variety of different scenarios in which a roadside bomb or explosive device found them, as a means to force them to determine and discuss the best way to react to the situation. Additionally, commanders ended each scenario with a follow-up mission like a key leader engagement or the establishment traffic control points to further enhance their skill arsenal.

A resident of Dallas, Texas, who hopes to learn responsibility, strength in numbers and leadership, in addition to teamwork isn’t worried about being one of the only females assigned the deployment. 

“I was raised to be pretty strong and independent, so nothing really intimidates me,” said Pfc. Shannon Gatta, small arms repair, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. “They are my comrades and someone who will be able to cover me in the battlefield and vice versa.”

Whether leading a convoy with a Husky tactical support vehicle designed to detect buried explosive hazards or assisting in the interrogation or neutralizing of a roadside bomb or explosive device one Big Lake, Texas, resident says the dream of deploying as a combat engineer on a route clearance mission will soon come true. However, the legacy he continues makes him honored to serve his country. 

“My grandfather was in the 36th Infantry Division in World War II and was in the Italy and northern African campaigns, so to be a part of the Texas Army National Guard like he was is a highlight of my career,” said Spc. Timothy Stout, combat engineer, 454th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard.

As citizen-soldiers from a diverse range of professions, this San Angelo, Texas, based engineer company is honored to be one of last major combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) for the TXARNG in the foreseeable future and hope that the residents will come together, support the soldiers and their families, while understanding more about the missions and roles of the National Guard.

“This deployment (and all others) prove to everyone that the National Guard is not just something that can be used here at home or just used in the state of Texas; they are multifaceted, wear more than one hat and are a recognizable force to provide our active duty counterparts,” said Ebert.

The 454th Engineer Company will continue to train at various locations in Texas to include Fort Bliss in El Paso, before their scheduled deployment to Afghanistan in early 2014.

Texas National Guard hosts NGB Region V Best Warrior competition

Sgt. Steven Montoya (pictured here with ruck sack), Oklahoma Army National Guard, runs to the finish line in the ruck march portion of the NGB Region V Best Warrior Competition held at Camp Swift, Texas, May 7 to 9, 2013.
Sgt. Steven Montoya (pictured here with ruck sack), Oklahoma Army National Guard, runs to the finish line in the ruck march portion of the NGB Region V Best Warrior Competition held at Camp Swift, Texas, May 7 to 9, 2013. Soldiers from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas competed in this year's competition. Winners of the event will move forward to compete against other regions for the National NGB title. (Texas National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon).
 Story by: Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon
 

 CAMP SWIFT, Texas - With flags in hand and supporters close by, 14 soldiers ran to the finish line to end the eight-mile  road march. Army National Guardsmen from Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Texas  competed in this year’s NGB Region V Best Warrior competition held at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, May 7 to 9,  2013.

 The competitors consisted of the overall noncommissioned officer and junior enlisted winners from each state’s  respective competitions. Texas Army National Guard Senior Enlisted Advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Milford, said  these Soldiers are Regions V’s finest.

  “The soldiers here have won home unit and state competitions, and separated themselves as the best of the best,”  Milford said. “They have demonstrated not only that they are physically fit, but that they are proficient at crucial soldier skills.”

 The competition at Camp Swift called for the soldiers to demonstrate their combat lifesaving, land navigation,  marksmanship, and other warrior-tasks skills. Additionally, they had an appearance board, where they were tested on Army knowledge, and wrote and essay on how they, as a leader, can help prevent suicide.

 Sgt. Steven Montoya from the 1st Battalion, 245th Aviation Regiment, Oklahoma Army National Guard, found the road  march to be the most challenging.

 “The road march was a killer,” Montoya said, “because we weren’t racing against time, rather each other’s abilities; which means we were running the entire way. We carried a 35 lb. pack for eight-miles after two days of constant, physical activity. It made us reach deep down inside and push ourselves.”

In spite of strong competition, the competitors realized that there was value in helping each other out. Staff Sgt. Dominic Gonzales from the 1st Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, found this to be true when he and a fellow competitor pushed each other to finish the road march in first and second places. 

“When I got to the four-mile marker I met up with Staff Sgt. Luke Katz from the Nebraska Army National Guard; from there, we ran all the way back together,” Gonzales said. “Whenever one of us would get tired, we’d stop and motivate each other to continue; when we were ready to go, we’d continue to push each other along. Even though he ended up beating me to the finish line, I’m glad I was able to there for him.”

According to Spc. Piero Lopez from the 39th Infantry Combat Team, Arkansas Army National Guard, teamwork at competitions like these bring soldiers closer together. 

“At first you size each other up, because they’re your competitors,” Lopez said. “However, after you begin facing the same challenges you realize that these are your fellow soldiers, your brothers-in-arms. From these struggles and triumphs, you are able to develop great friendships and a foster that ‘esprit de corps’ that being in the Army is all about.”

At competition’s end, Lopez and Gonzales were voted overall junior enlisted and NCO winners, respectively. They will move forward to represent Region V at the NGB level Best Warrior Competition to be hosted by the Arkansas Army National Guard in July.

Texas Military Forces Celebrate American Heroes

Story by: Sgt Suzanne Carter

Post: April 21, 2013

 

Sgt. Suzanne Carter U.S. Soldiers with the Living History Detachment, 36th Infantry Division call for support fire during a World War II reenactment at the Texas Military Forces Open House at Camp Mabry, Texas, April 20, 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Suzanne Carter/Released)
Sgt. Suzanne Carter
U.S. Soldiers with the Living History Detachment, 36th Infantry Division call for support fire during a World War II reenactment at the Texas Military Forces Open House at Camp Mabry, Texas, April 20, 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Suzanne Carter/Released)

CAMP MABRY, Texas - The sun shone bright across the parade field as the Texas Military Forces welcomed current and former service members, their families, and the community to attend the annual Open House featuring the American Heroes Air Show, here, April 20-21, 2013.

The two-day military expo featured a variety of events intended to pay tribute to veterans, engage service members with the community and foster a spirit of patriotism.

"This was so encouraging today," said Estelle Coffey, an Austin-native attending the open house with her husband, Army Col. William Coffey, retired. "It kind of brings you back to patriotism, you know. You look out there and with all of what's going on like in Boston, we need patriotism. We need people to remember who we are."

"This Camp Mabry is the bright spot of Austin," William said, remembering when he enlisted on the post in 1940. "It's a spot that is always in order and provides a place for people to gather … to keep the spirit of the military."

A main attraction that drew the biggest crowd on Saturday was a reenactment of the Battle of Montelimar, a battle that found the 36th Infantry Division chasing the German Army during its retreat up the Rhone River in August 1944.

"It was a good reenactment of history," said Devin Zapata, 13, of Austin who attended the event with his dad, Sgt. 1st Class Jose Zapata. "It actually taught me a lot about our weapons ... It's a good way to show people how the soldiers lived their life instead of just how we live our life in the city."

Other reenactments included living history camps set up to recreate life for soldiers in the Texas Revolution and Civil War periods, including Buffalo Soldiers of Company A 9th Cavalry from Camp Mabry. Reenactors demonstrated weapons used during the Civil War and invited spectators to take part in history by holding and firing black powder reenactment loads from the antique weaponry.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, a 3/5-scale reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, drew visitors who wished to pay respect to fallen heroes and who wanted to search for familiar names. Jess Lofgreen of Austin, a 25-year veteran who participated in 295 combat missions in Vietnam, searched for his roommate's name.

"It's nice to come and look on those people who you knew personally or you knew of that made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam conflict," Lofgreen said. "It's just comforting, yet difficult, to go back to that time period."

Service members from 16 countries, to include Haiti, Nigeria, Mexico and China, took the oath of citizenship in front of the memorial during a naturalization ceremony, which took place Saturday morning.

Another favorite attraction of the weekend was a military helicopter demonstration during which a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pursued a speeding vehicle across the parade field. The chopper simulated disabling the vehicle from the air before Soldiers rappelled from the aircraft and captured the fugitives inside. 

"Definitely the helicopters were my favorite," said James Burden of Austin, who brought his daughter and her friend to show service members they care. "Everything, the support of the troops and all the activities that they do for the families, it's just a lot of fun."

A parachute team and K-9 search and rescue team also demonstrated their skills and expertise at the parade field on Saturday.

The open house featured static helicopter displays and interactive booths from civilian first responders and law enforcement agencies throughout the Austin-area, as well as, information booths for service member support organizations, face-painting and food vendors.

"I think it's pretty cool," Lindsey Mabry of Austin said about her experience at the open house. "It's awesome to see all the troops out here. The support is amazing… It's just good to see that people care about what they're doing for you."

National Guard senior leaders 'Like' Facebook, Twitter

Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain

Posted on: April 2, 2013

Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The adjutant general of Texas, visiting with senior leaders of the Texas Military Forces on Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, March 20, 2013.
Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The adjutant general of Texas, visiting with senior leaders of the Texas Military Forces on Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, March 20, 2013. Nichols is the state's senior military leader appointed by the governor of Texas and posted this image to his official Facebook page (Major General John F. Nichols). (National Guard photo illustration by Air Force Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain)

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Senior National Guard leaders are making their voices heard on a new parade ground, in the  online auditorium of social media. State and federal military officials have taken to the Internet to send messages directly  to their troops and the public.

 The adjutant general of Texas, Air Force Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, recently launched an official Facebook page, and has  been posting behind-the-scenes photographs and informal guidance on a range of issues. He is currently one of six adjutants general to have a registered Facebook page with the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va.

 “The idea is to reach out to our people in another, unique way,” Nichols said. “The vast majority of our service members  are younger than 30 [years of age] – and this is a way to reach them in a familiar forum. And many are traditional members  of the Guard and can sometimes be hard to regularly reach, by nature of their part-time service.”

 This can be a daunting task, particularly for a Guard organization with more than 25,000, actively serving citizen-soldiers  and airmen performing disparate missions across a geographically expansive state and in overseas operations.

 “In many ways, social media is a modern version of our traditional office bulletin boards,” he said. “The only difference is  the Internet has the ability to reach people almost anywhere in the world.”

 For example, the Texas Army National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, is currently deployed to Afghanistan as part of Task Force Centurion, and they have been able to share photographs and videos of their soldiers and the positive things they are doing for the nation on their Facebook page.

At the national level, Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, the 27th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, is active on Facebook, as is his senior enlisted adviser, Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall. Grass is also on Twitter as @ChiefNGB. The adjutant general of Pennsylvania, Army Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, is also on Twitter as @TAGPNG, the only adjutant general with an NGB-registered account.

Grass and Jelinski-Hall tend to post photographs and comments from events they attend, and give updates on their current activities and projects.

It’s a way for the leaders to interact with service members and the public in a less formal setting.

Facebook and Twitter have been ranked the first and second most popular social networking sites, respectively, according to an eBizMBA analysis of global Internet traffic, dated March 18, 2013.

“It’s important to actively engage people where they are,” said Rick E. Breitenfeldt, the bureau’s public information branch chief, who advises leadership on developing their social media presence. “It’s the way people are communicating today.”

Beyond typical organization pages, he said it can be helpful for leaders to communicate directly with service members and their families.

“Sometimes, it’s important for the force to hear – in first-person – from the leadership,” Breitenfeldt said. “This way, they are able to share messages they think are important, but also behind-the-scenes items that you typically wouldn’t put on an organizational page.”

Their posts range in formality.

Grass has posted official press statements, as well as informal videos of his testimony before a congressional committee, discussing major issues like the current federal budget sequester.

Jelinski-Hall uploads casual, weekly “Mentorship Moment” videos, where she has shared advice on issues ranging from resiliency, core values and ethics to money management.

On Twitter, the micro-blogging site that limits posts to 140 characters, Grass has been known to tweet similar messages that he puts onto Facebook, and to “retweet” messages from accounts he follows, such as the National Guard (@USNationalGuard), the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s account (@thejointstaff) and its chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey). Craig of Pennsylvania’s activity on Twitter is very similar.

Additionally, the National Guard’s senior ranking officer frequently uses the hashtag #NationalGuard in his messages, which allows Twitter users to quickly find all posts with that term included.

The use of unique hashtags can be helpful in aggregating information during a crisis or emergency management situation, said Breitenfeldt. It also helps you reach the group of people that would be most interested in hearing your message.

“Hurricane Sandy is a prime example,” Breitenfeldt said. “We operated on high-tempo for an 18-day, straight period of time.”

Breitenfeldt said they used not only #NationalGuard, but also other unique hashtags, including #Sandy, to get word out about the National Guard response to that hurricane last fall.

Beyond sharing information, the effective use of social media for leaders is about finding ways to make connections and share personal insights, Breitenfeldt said.

To date, one of the Texas adjutant general’s most popular posts was about leaders taking calculated risks.

“Don’t be afraid of failure – it means you’re trying,” Nichols posted, March 19, 2013. “If leaders are afraid to make mistakes, we won’t improve as an organization. Do the risk analysis; assess the variables; but be prepared to underwrite the mistakes of your people and take responsibility for them.”

Social media has the ability to spread a message exponentially.

Nearly 50 people “liked” Nichols’ post and it has been shared numerous times, which Facebook reports has been seen by nearly 850 people, more than three times the number of people that currently follow the general’s page.

Among those who “liked” and commented on the post, in his personal capacity, was Air Force Staff Sgt. David Porcelle, a noncommissioned officer assigned to the Texas Military Forces’ Joint Operations Center in Austin, Texas. He wrote, “Sir, a great philosophy… I make mistakes all the time; rarely the same ones twice,” and included an emoticon forming a smiling face.

Porcelle said he first discovered the senior Texas leader’s page when “someone I know ‘liked’ a comment made by Maj. Gen. Nichols, and that [activity] showed up in my timeline.”

He said he follows numerous senior leader and organizational pages, and thinks they are helpful with getting information to a broad cross-section of people, including those who’ve deployed, transferred to new units or retired.

“Social media’s another tool in the box to get instant feedback from every angle and echelon,” he said. “It’s a useful adjunct to more formal means and direct contact.”

This can be invaluable during those times of disaster, when messages need to get out quickly, in real time.

Breitenfeldt said there was a social media multiplier effect in relation to National Guard’s response to Hurricane Sandy, particularly though their follower’s sharing and commenting on the National Guard’s posts.

“We posted 35 stories on our website that received 17,000 hits,” Breitenfeldt said. “But on Facebook, we posted a fraction of the stories, and they were seen a half a million times. On YouTube [a social media video sharing site], our videos received 1.5 million views and were shown on major networks.”

This type of capability can be powerful, particularly in a state the size of Texas, which can face a myriad of disasters, potentially at the same time, including: hurricanes; tornadoes; wildfires; and even blizzards.

In addition to Nichols, other senior Texas Guard officers on Facebook include: Maj. Gen. Joyce L. Stevens, assistant adjutant general – Army and commander of the Texas Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Manuel Rodriguez, commander of the state-based, volunteer Texas State Guard, and Brig. Gen. William L. Smith, commander of domestic operations.

“With our armories and air wings spread across the state, and units and personnel mobilized around the globe, social media can be a powerful tool to quickly send a message,” Nichols said. “Additionally, I enjoy hearing directly from our soldiers and airmen – getting their feedback.”

While the senior Texas general is still new to the online community, he said he wants to use the platform to talk about more than just himself and his activities.

“I look forward to helping get the word out about the great things we’re doing, [as] a military organization with our inter-agency partners, for the state and nation,” Nichols said.

An Army Guard aviation pioneer looks back

Col. Deanne E. "Dea" Lins, a member of the T xas Army National Guard, stands with her family at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, Jan. 12, 2013. Lins received the Meritorious Service Medal and retired after more than 30 years of service to the state and nation
Col. Deanne E. "Dea" Lins, a member of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with her family at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, Jan. 12, 2013. Lins received the Meritorious Service Medal and retired after more than 30 years of service to the state and nation. (Image courtesy of retired Col. Deanne E. Lins)
Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain 
 
 CAMP MABRY, Texas - The Texas Army National Guard's first female aviator recently retired after more than thirty years  of service in the National Guard, achieving the rank of colonel.

 Deanne E. "Dea" Lins of Austin was the Army National Guard's first female aviator in three different states - Connecticut,  Massachusetts and Texas. During her career, she flew UH-1 Iroquois, also known as Huey, and UH-60 Black Hawk  helicopters, from the mid-1980s into the late '90s.

 During the second half of her career, she held various positions, including service as an airspace management officer  on deployments to the South Korea and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Later she served in logistics, personnel and human  resources specialties, and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. She concluded her career at the Texas  Military Forces' Joint Force Headquarters here.

 Lins began her military career through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Bridgeport, in  Bridgeport, Conn., where she was a distinguished graduate in 1983. After serving in Connecticut, then Massachusetts,  Lins joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1986.

She moved to Texas with her husband, Tony, a fellow aviator that was serving in the active-duty Army, she said. At the time, he was stationed at Fort Hood, near Killeen, and then later joined the Texas National Guard.

At one point, they served together in the 49th Aviation Brigade, which later became the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in Austin. Tony, a retired major, concluded his military service as the resource manager for the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, headquartered here.

Lins described her transition to Texas from the Northeast.

"Coming into Texas wasn't hard for me," Lins said. "But I do know it was difficult for some of the men."

There were cultural adjustments that had to be worked through, she said, but added that her fellow pilots were generally welcoming.

"Some of the men were Vietnam era pilots," Lins said. "They were wonderful, [and I] had some wonderful mentors. They took everyone - all the new people - and really tried making them the best they could be."

While proud, Lins downplayed the perception of her being a pioneer.

"I was the first female aviator (in Texas)," she said, but noted that there were two other females working their way into Army aviation at the time, including now Cols. Jeanne (Buschow) Arnold, director of the Texas Military Forces Red Team Support Group here, and Lisa Hines, director of support for the Joint Force here.

She said they all flew during the same period.

From her experience, Lins said some of the greatest hurdles she faced being an early female aviator involved living in field conditions, a challenge she later tackled as a company commander, then as a battalion commander.

"It doesn't really matter which sex you are, both sides have their own issues," Lins said. "How do you balance being close enough to hear and know what's going on in the unit, in an informal chain-of-command way, without having to break modesty?"

Lins found it to be important for all Soldiers to be in close proximity in field conditions, because important discussions can take place and decisions can be made impacting the unit.

"The next day, you might miss a meeting because you didn't know," she said. "You didn't know what was going on."

As a commander, she worked through these complexities with her noncommissioned officers, some of whom said their spouses had concerns with mixed gender cohabitation. But they found a way to address the issue.

"We set up bivouac when we got home for the Family Day activities," Lins said. "We set it all up as if we were in the field, with all of the curtains and all the different things that we do. I think that really helped."

Further, she said she enjoyed building close-knit relationships in the National Guard. Many she has had for decades.

One such relationship is with Col. Patrick M. Hamilton, the adjutant general's chief of staff, who said he met Lins and her husband two decades ago, when he was an armored cavalry officer assigned to the aviation brigade.

"In the early '90s we got to know each other," Hamilton said. "Dea was a well respected pilot, and she was competent - and everybody liked her."

Hamilton discussed another barrier Lins broke during her career, when they deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 49th Armored Division in support of Operation Joint Forge.

"In 1999, we prepared for and deployed together," he said. "Dea was on the division staff with me, she was our G3-Air (air battlefield manager), a first (for a female Army Guard officer) that I know of. We were the first Guard division to go and command active duty troops in Bosnia."

"Everything was on the other foot with them," Hamilton said of the deployment. "He (Tony) had the kids at home, and Dea and I were deployed together."

Beyond the challenges, Lins said there were many benefits to serving in the National Guard.

Lins said her military service proved to be a stabilizing force in her life, particularly when balancing her life commitments.

"I don't know if it's a lot different from anyone else," Lins said. "Being a mom and having a career in the National Guard, I think is a huge benefit."

"I didn't have to suffer much in that career. I could continue that career, in my case almost 32 years," she said. "I was able to continue a National Guard career all this time."

"If you're in the Guard, you're family," she said. "Through the years, you're going to go in-and-out of each other's career. You'll know these same people for many, many years. You might not see somebody for ten years, (and) then you're working with them again."

She looked back on an exceptional career with pride.

"I wouldn't trade a thing," Lins said. "I wouldn't trade any of it."