Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

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.

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.”