Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Patriots Swear in as US Citizens at American Heroes Celebration

Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 "Patriotism is voluntary," said former Seaman and politician Jesse Ventura. "It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that  is the result of knowledge and belief."

 One could not find greater patriotism than from the servicemembers who valiantly serve a country of which they are not  citizens. For 15 such veterans, that changed on Saturday, April 17 when the Honorable Lee Yeakel opened a special  session of the US District Court to swear in these incomparable volunteers as US citizens. 

 The ceremony, held during Camp Mabry's 4th annual American Heroes Celebration, took place in front of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Traveling Wall. The wall, which is a precise replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington,  D.C., offered a somber and reverent setting for this significant occasion. 

 "I can think of no more appropriate place for this," said Retired Lt. Col. Donald R. Allen, CEO of the AVTT, who also  served as the distinguished guest speaker for the event. "Our history has taught us that we were founded on the  principle of freedom at any cost."

 The newly immunized citizens came from 13 different countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Russia and Kazakhstan.  Their services included the US Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. The troops, ranging in ages from 19 to 39,  included four combat veterans and eight Texas residents.

 Army Spc. Victor A. Becerra, who was born in Mexico and raised in California, deployed to Iraq twice before even  becoming a citizen. A member of the 36th Infantry Division, he spent his second deployment to Iraq training their police force.

 "What we were doing was overseeing the training of 6th Iraqi division," he said, "to make sure that their forces were  properly trained so they could stand to protect the region that they were in charge of."

 Becerra always felt close to the nation for which he's served for years.

 "I've been an American since I first put on this uniform, ever since I started speaking the language," he said. "I feel just as proud to be a part of this country."

Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, commander of the Texas Military Forces, presented each new citizen with his coin and congratulated them on their achievement.

"It took maybe six to eight months," said Becerra. "That included the studying for the exam for the interview. It's good to know how this country has developed when it was founded back in the 18th century."

"They were defending and protecting and fighting for a country that they weren't even a citizen of," said Allen. "That, my friend, is a true measure of patriotism, these are great patriots. We should be very proud that as a country, there are people that are willing to fight for us to become one of us."

Without a doubt, these brave service members have worked and devoted themselves to the fulfillment of a life of service.

"I've always been an American at heart," said Becerra. "But I could say that today, it's official; I am an American."

American Heroes Re-Enactment Brings History to Life

Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego 

 The Muster Day reenactment brings to life a time in America's history when the nation was a member of the Allied forces  fighting against Germany in World War II. The annual event, put on by the Brig. Gen. John C. L. Scribner Texas Military  Forces Museum, took place at Camp Mabry in Austin during The 2010 American Heroes Celebration, held April 17 and 18.

 Throughout the two-day reenactment, the period actors camped out in the field in authentic tents.

 "I have been inspired by WWII history since I was a child and my father, who is a WWII veteran," said Matt Rayson,  portraying a field medic in the 36th Infantry Division. 

 G Company, 36th Infantry Division, the main body of the reenactment, along with other living history groups and military  vehicle collectors, built the battlefield and campgrounds of the American Division and their German counterparts. The battlefield was filled with simulated dragons' teeth, barbed wired, bombed out buildings and military pyrotechnics. 

The goal was to remind people of what life was like for Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division in World War II, honor all veterans. The public was also educated on Texas military history with vehicles such as a Sherman Tank, M3 Halftrack, jeeps, German Hetzer, and Kubelwagens. The re-enactors also had authentic uniforms and weapons.

"Veterans appreciate [the re-enactors] being out there, veterans from the 36th have come by time to time," said John Reed, a 36th ID re-enactor. 

The event recreated the attack on the Siegfried Line in March 1945, which was the last line of defense the Germans had before the US entered Germany. 

With the Allied troops in the east tree line and Axis troops coming in by convoy, their encounter began the engagement. With shots fired from rifles and machine guns on both sides, the 36th ID slowly moved forward on the German bunkers and buildings. When the 36th's Sherman tank rolled onto the battlefield, the Germans quickly started using mortars and their own armored vehicles against the US troops. After the 40-minute battle, the 36th ID ended the skirmish by destroying the German headquarters. After the re-enactors performed a quick clean up of the battlefield, the spectators joined them on the field to collect and keep parts of the engagement as souvenirs. 

"If anything's my favorite, it's the old World War II tanks," said Daryl Reif, a spectator of the event. "I would love to see a tiger tank, but those are very hard to come by." 

Daryl, who has attended the event for four years straight, enjoys bringing his six-year-old son each time. "It keeps getting better every year."

Search and Rescue Dogs Help to Entertain, Educate Public

Hernandez holds on as Miletonde subdues a tricky suspect
Hernandez holds on as Miletonde subdues a tricky suspect.

 

Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter

AUSTIN, Texas - "We wouldn't put a dog in a tree in a search event," said Casey E. England of Travis County Search and Rescue. "But we might have a reason for why we would need to put a dog in a harness and raise him up a cliff face."

England and Megan E. Kazda, also of Travis County Search and Rescue, prepared AJ, a Labrador mix, for a rappelling demonstration as part of the search and rescue dog event at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry in Austin. The exhibitions, held April 17, showcased the discipline and skills of search and rescue and police dogs. 

"We all practice rope safety and rappelling," AJ's handler Sean D. Glynn said about his search team. "You also want to get the dogs used to being rappelled down.

"This is part of the initial training where you're just getting them used to being comfortable suspended and moving in a vertical environment," Glynn continued. "I'm going to give him some pieces of bread, and he's going to associate this happy feeling.

"Some dogs, they might scramble at first," Glynn said, while content AJ dangled in his harness from the tree above. "As soon as they get used to being up there, they're just suspended and hanging out." 

"It's cool because he could save me," said Sophie Beilinton, 9, as she reached out to pet the dog after his safe return to the ground.

Despite a light rain earlier that day, dogs from Austin Police Department Search and Rescue and Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit also demonstrated their special skills. 

Matthew W. McDermott, a volunteer with APD Search and Rescue through K-9 Search, began the demonstrations with a word about safety.

"We get out there and we talk to the kids about what to do if they get lost, how to use their heads," he said. "The main thing you want them to know is to stay in one place. Doesn't matter if they're in the woods or if they're in the mall. ... Grab on to something, like a garbage can."

McDermott performed an evidence demonstration with his 11-year old Australian Shepherd mix, Willa. Sniffing out a glove hidden in a row of boxes, Willa lay down when she caught the scent.

"This is her trained alert," McDermott said as he described techniques Willa uses to let him know she's found her target.

Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit showcased their dogs' discipline and focus. Deputy Mike Stanley walked his German Shepherd, Tex, across the parade field. Tex did not hesitate or take his attention off his handler. 

German Shepherd Ryker and Deputy Jo A. Carson apprehended "unsavory character," Stanley, in a bite suit. Deputy Gilbert A. Hernandez and Meliton, another German Shepherd, pulled a stubborn suspect from his vehicle in a demonstration new to the celebration. 

Though police dogs move fast, they do not move with the intent to injure. Ryker and Meliton followed their training and released their suspects when they stopped resisting.

"We spend about 10 hours a day training new dogs," Hernandez said. "Of course it's not 10 hours straight, but we start with obedience and work up from there."

Hernandez said, though Travis County owns them, "essentially, they are our dogs. We spend 10 hours a day in the car while we're working, and then they go home with us. ... It's a 24-hour-a-day job pretty much."

The amount of time these K-9 handlers spend with their dogs creates an intense bond. McDermott pointed this out when he compared search and rescue dogs to police dogs.

"Ours are friendly, lick-your-face dogs," he said. "Theirs aren't. Theirs are trained for protection. They'll take a bullet for their officer if they have to."

While families love seeing the dogs in action, McDermott said the celebration gives search and rescue teams an opportunity to inform people about the dogs, their training and their jobs.

"We love being out here," he said. "The thing I like about it the most is the recognition we get as a team. I'm often amazed at how many folks don't know that Austin even has a search and rescue team."

State Conference Offers Service members Information, Opportunities, Connections

Soldiers read about new troop transport vehicles
Soldiers read about new troop transport vehicles

 

 Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter

 "Someone asks me, 'How did you get here?' I try to be nice and say, 'I took a plane,'" said senior enlisted advisor for the  Texas Military Forces Command Sgt. Maj. Juan G. Morales.

 After the laughter died down, Morales continued to say that no obstacle kept him from achieving his goals. 

 "I was born in Puerto Rico, but raised in America," he said. "I speak 'Spanglish,' ... that never stopped me."

 A small group of junior enlisted Soldiers and Airmen listened intently as Morales detailed the keys to a successful  military career.

 "Be the person who always has a question," he said. "Be a leader, be the one in front and do research."

The Junior Enlisted Forum, lead by Morales, was part of the 4th Annual Joint Texas Military Affairs Conference held at the Austin Convention Center, March 26-28. The forum allowed Soldiers and Airmen to ask senior NCOs questions about career development.

The conference was a joint venture, combining three different, events: the Joint Commanders Conference, the Family Readiness Conference, and the 51st Annual Conference of the National Guard Association of Texas.

From breakfast to lunch and on through dinner Friday and Saturday, service members of the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard ran into old friends and made new ones. Families of servicemembers connected faces with names.

"It's a good place to see people you haven't seen for awhile," said Marline Schloari, a conference volunteer from Grand Prairie, Texas. "I've met a lot of Soldiers and officers when we've had those [family readiness] trainings. They know you've done that training, but they don't know who you belong to. When they see you here with your spouse ... it clicks."

The conference boasted a fun run and relay races for service members' families on Friday, as well as a golf tournament at Star Ranch, a Texas Hold'em Poker tournament, wine tastings, karaoke, and dancing.

Kids participated in the Family Readiness Group's Youth Symposium, where they played games, listened to live music and learned what to do when their parents deploy.

Soldiers, Airmen and Guardsmen, along with their families, strolled through aisles of vendor booths that filled the convention center's exhibit hall. Others bid on baskets filled with treats at the silent auction, proceeds to benefit NGAT.

The booths offered services, products and information for Texas Military Forces service members and their families. One booth displayed new tactical gear.

"We have a lot more visible stuff to actually go touch and see what our husbands may or may not get to use," said Schloari. "The latest equipment is out there. Or if it's not, they can say, 'Hey, we need that. Can you get us that?'"

Schloari enjoyed browsing the line of body protection and armored vehicles.

"They've come out with some really good stuff," she said. "I'm really excited about the protection factor that they've got."

Other booths offered families information about support opportunities during deployments.

"Now that I'm seeing all the information we're giving to family members, there's just so much," said Elizabeth Vega, secretary for the Family Readiness Group. 

She said that during her husband's first deployment, Vega did not know about the support available to her and her two children. The array of information available at the conference confirmed that no Soldier stands alone and neither do their families.

"All you have to do is just walk in the door and ask one person," Vega said. "If that person doesn't know, they can tell you where to find the answer, ... there is no stupid question." 

Texas Military Forces leaders gathered Saturday afternoon to conduct business as part of the Joint Commanders Conference.

During FRG's family programs, leaders deployed with the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team joined the forum via teleconference to answer family members' questions about their troops in Iraq. The FRG also hosted a variety of question and answer panels through their Family Readiness Program Conference.

Texas State Guard members broke away from the crowd on Saturday to discuss duty and share camaraderie as citizen soldiers.

"Service," exclaimed Col. Dennis O'Driscol, 8th Regt. commander, when asked what motivates these Citizen Soldiers. "Before I joined, I just thought that surely there was something I can do to help. We are here as support to civilian and military authorities."

Texas Military Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga marveled at the Guardsmen who sat before him.

"Do you want this job," he asked. "If you join us, you get to pay for your own uniforms, boots, travel and lodging. You only get paid $121 a day when the governor activates us. And here you all are. You can't buy that kind of dedication."

With 1,700 members, said Mayorga, the Texas State Guard responds to natural disasters like hurricanes, provides border patrol support, and controls new communication technology for Texas Military Forces, without the possibility of deployment.

"It's Texans serving Texas," O'Driscol said. "And it doesn't take long to know we're making a difference."

While the conference teemed with useful information, service members and their families took much more than that home. Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy L. Broyles, Sgt Maj. of the Texas Army National Guard, offered encouraging words to service members as they pursue their goals.

"Work hard," he said. "Do what you're supposed to do, and you'll get anywhere you want to go."

ESGR Conference Honors Employers, Service members

Representatives of  the six employment agencies honored at the 2010 ESGR awards banquet stand with their Pro Patria Award.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 The Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve recognized the outstanding efforts of one such support system at its  annual conference, held March 25 and 26 at the Radisson Hotel & Suites in Austin, Texas. 

 The event honored six Texas employers with the distinguished Pro Patria award for celebrated appreciation of their  guard and reserve employees.

 Tyler Sieswerda, news anchor for ABC-affiliate KVUE-TV in Austin, served as the Master of Ceremonies for the awards  banquet Thursday night.

 "Pro patria is a latin term," Sieswerda said, "meaning for one's country. One of ESGR's missions is to recognize those  employers who excel at supporting their employees serving in the Guard and Reserve."

 Recipients included the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, Lubbock County Sheriff's Office, Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, TaxMasters, Inc., Tesoro Corporation and Texas Engineering Extension Service. All awardees are Five Start employers, having already received an Above and Beyond Award and special recognition for individual supervisors.

Dr. Jerry D. Icenhower, Chairman of the Texas Committee for ESGR, Ms. Pauline K. Brunelli, Acting Executive Director for ESGR, and Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, Commander of the Texas Military Forces collectively presented the awards to the representatives from each recipient agency.

"This year these outstanding organizations join the ranks of dedicated patriots who have supported our Citizen-Soldiers as they honorably fulfilled the call to duty to serve their state and nation," said Mayorga.

Employers awarded stood out for their commitment to their activated workforce. Support efforts included continuation of employment benefits during deployments or training missions, paid military leave, care packages and goodwill checks for families of deployed servicemembers, farewell and welcome home celebrations, hiring preferences and reintegration upon return from duty.

Also honored at the banquet was Col. (retired) Dwain James, recipient of the Order of St. Maurice Award, commonly called the Infantry Medal.

"The Order of St. Maurice Award," said Icenhower, "recognizes individuals who have contributed significantly to the Infantry and demonstrates the highest standards of integrity and moral character."

Maj. Gen. Michael Ferrier, chief of infantry, presented the award to ames for his years of dedicated service and excellence both within the Infantry and ESGR.

It wrapped up the two day conference with a special tribute to the city of Austin, recipient of the ESGR Prominence Award.

Reinstituted in 2008, the Prominence Award recognizes the highest service an employer can bestow upon its workforce.


"The city of Austin," said Icenhower, "is receiving the Prominence Award for being one of America's leading employers in managing and caring for its employees serving in the Guard and Reserve. Austin is only the third Texas employer to receive this award."

Previously, Austin had received every award available from ESGR and the Secretary of Defense.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell accepted the award on behalf of the city.

"As a city government," said Leffingwell, "we are committed to go above and beyond the minimum federal requirements to support our military employees. They play a key role in our continued success as a city, and we are deeply appreciative of both their service to our city and to their country."

The military community can only succeed when supportive and caring individuals commit to shared goals. For the National Guard and Reserves especially, these goals include the solid and collaborative efforts of employers, families and friends working together to sustain its uniformed members.

"We congratulate all of our honorees," said Icenhower, "and convey our deepest gratitude for their sacrifices and unwavering support to our men and women serving in the Guard and Reserve to protect our nation."

Austin Bridges International Divides with PA Conference

Story by: Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

Posted: February 26, 2010

Master Sgt. Daniel Griego Capt. Jolana Fedorkova, Capt. Jan Sulc, Capt. Miroslava Stenclova and 1st Lt. Denisa Smitalova, of the Czech Republic Armed Forces, look at some materials during the annual Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Conference.
Master Sgt. Daniel Griego
Capt. Jolana Fedorkova, Capt. Jan Sulc, Capt. Miroslava Stenclova and 1st Lt. Denisa Smitalova, of the Czech Republic Armed Forces, look at some materials during the annual Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Conference.

Scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell once said, "great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds." For the military public affairs practitioners of Texas, Chile, The Czech Republic, Puerto Rico and various U.S. states, this cooperation came in the form of the annual Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Conference.

Held Feb. 23-24, this international event presented a remarkable opportunity for military experts to share their experiences and values with each other in an open workshop environment. 

"Communication is what we do," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gonda E. Moncada, Public Affairs Chief for the State Public Affairs Office. "The importance of doing that right cannot be overstated. Coming together this week with other communicators from other states and other countries gave us the opportunity to hone our skills and benchmark those ideas that have worked for others."

Activities for the two-day conference included public affairs presentations from the representatives, future mission planning, and discussions on the role of public affairs in military operations. Sharing creative briefings and video projects, the participants all learned new things about their international brethren. 

"What I find interesting," said Capt. Jan ŠULC, public affairs officer for the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces, "is that you are able to make the message serious but you can deal it in a funny way that's perfect. You will find the audience this way."

It wasn't all classroom discussion, as day two offered attendees a special tour of the Texas Military Forces Joint Operations Center via two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. 

Throughout the conference, all participants came to learn they had more in common in their military roles than they initially thought.

"The most important for me," said ŠULC, "is we are working on the same issues and we find similar challenges. You need to deal with internal public. You need to show how we are here for the public."

"Our job, our mission, is to help them," said Lt. Col. Pablo Müller Barberia, public affairs officer for the Department of Communications - Army, in Santiago, Chile. "We give peace, security and defense."

The conference, which capitalizes on the State Partnership Program pairing Texas and the Czech Republic in 1993 and Texas with Chile in May of 2009, reinforces the established strong bonds of training and cooperation.

In their almost 17 years of partnership, Texas and the Czech Republic have shared host duties, training opportunities and troop commitments in such exercises as medical certifications, combat instruction and F-16 aircraft demonstrations. 

In addition to the Czech and Chilean dignitaries, the conference also boasted a representative from the Puerto Rican Army National Guard.

"I get to network with more public affairs professionals in my field," said Staff Sgt. Luis E. Orengo, Operations NCO for the 113th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Orengo also serves as the public affairs specialist for the Puerto Rican National Guard, working directly for the Adjutant General of Puerto Rico.

"I'm very glad," said Orengo. "Having this kind of experience that bonds us together gives us also the freedom of mind to do our stuff and you have somebody to rely on. If I have a problem now, I have the confidence to call Col. Meehan or anybody here."

Beyond attending the conference as a public affairs practitioner, Orengo also served as translator for the Chilean team.

Attendees, during their week-long stay in the country, also got the opportunity to explore central and south Texas, visiting Austin, San Marcos and San Antonio.

"It's a good experience for me," said Müller. "This my first time in Austin; it's a great city."

"First time for me not only in Texas, but also the U.S.A.," said ŠULC. "It was really beneficial for me."

Having enjoyed the journey and contacts made, our international partners look forward to sending their peers and comrades to future goodwill events.

"I think that it will also be important for my colleagues," said ŠULC, "to have the chance to come next time."

With fresh contacts made and old friendships renewed, this year's conference successfully sustained the benevolent relationships that will only continue to grow.

"We were delighted to welcome our State Partnership Program partners from Chile and the Czech Republic," said Moncada, "and hope that they enjoyed themselves as much as we did."

Communities Enjoy 3rd Annual Oktoberfest

 

Story by Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

CAMP SWIFT, Texas- The sounds of local bands, helicopters and children's laughter rose up into a bright blue sky as the military and local communities came together during the 3rd Annual Oktoberfest here at Camp Swift on Saturday, Oct. 17. Highlights of the event included military demonstrations, local vendors, musicians, children's activities and the Volksmarch, a non-competitive distance walk through the woods in the Camp Swift training areas.

During the opening ceremonies, Texas Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga welcomed the citizens of the surrounding cities, as well as Soldiers and families. Stressing the close relationship the residents of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville have with the Soldiers training at Camp Swift, Mayorga stated it simply and clearly, "we are part of the community and the community is part of us."

Bastrop Mayor Terry Orr made it clear the city of Bastrop supports the Texas Military Forces. We have "been endeavoring to become known as a 'soldier-friendly town'," said Orr, by working with Camp Swift and the local chamber of commerce to welcome the local military presence. 

Highlighting some of the equipment Texas Military Forces use during both peace- and war-time operations, Soldiers from the 143rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment performed an airborne demonstration, jumping from Texas Army National Guard Chinook helicopters. After two Apache attack helicopters did a low-altitude fly-by, more Soldiers from the 143rd LRS, completed an "air assault" to deliver a walking stick to General Mayorga, kicking off the annual Volksmarch. 

For some, this was the closest they had ever been to the helicopters. "This is great," said Shandra Wilcox, an Austin resident. Her seven-year-old son, Jaris, "is helicopter-crazy," said Wilcox. For Jaris, the "chance to see [the helicopters] up close was just a great thing for him and all he could talk about on the way here." 

Supporting the local community and the military in a slightly different fashion, the animals from the Capital of Texas Zoo in Cedar Creek attracted adults and kids alike. Mo, the camel, was a striking sight under the oak trees and many children bravely held out pellets of feed in their hands to feed him. "This is a labor of love," said Carl Smith, Mo's handler. The zoo comes out every year to support the military "because it's a great organization." 

For others, the chance to take a look at a bit of history, both in the Texas Military Forces museum displays and in Camp Swift itself, was a big draw. "My uncle was in the Army in Vietnam," said Lorena Marquez, "but he lives in California and I never really got to see the stuff he used, so it's neat to be able to look at all the old equipment and think that he might have used some of it."

"I can remember coming out here at Swift for training, years ago," said Max Nelson, a Texas National Guard veteran. "I don't remember having this much fun, though," he said, "since I think it was raining the last time I was out here."

Vendors and informational booths lined the walkways, distributing both products and information.

"This is way more stuff available for Soldiers and their families than when I was in," said Mr. Nelson. "I learned more walking around here today than I thought I would."

"We understand the strength our Soldiers provide," said Mayor Marc Holm, from the city of Elgin. "We are very proud to partner with the military personnel at Camp Swift," he said. "We are a family and we want to make sure we all have the same closeness and respect for each other. We know it's going to be a great annual event."

Oktoberfest Hayride Excursion

 

Story by Officer Candidate Micah Barnes

CAMP SWIFT, Texas - The children laughed and cheered from the hayride as they rode past the military demonstrations. Parents held them close as the simulated artillery rounds fired into oblivion while Soldiers rappelled from dizzying heights. For more than an hour, patrons enjoyed a relaxing journey through operations and exercises by the Texas Army National Guard at this year's Oktoberfest at Camp Swift, near Bastrop Texas.

The hayride event, hosted by the 1st Battalion, 136th Regional Training Institute Combat Arms Unit, located on Camp Swift, featured battle simulations, ghillie suits, and exciting freefalls. A new highlight of Oktoberfest, the ride catered well to the youngest of attendees at this year's third annual festival.

The Combat Arms Unit had four different presentations for the attendees, which showed some commonly rehearsed operations from rappelling to reacting to contact in a war-like environment. Staff Sgt. Justin Fusik, a Laredo native, said of the event, "I have been in the Guard for the past five years and I believe this is a great way to showcase all of our day to day operations." Each lane showed the functionality of a different branch of the Texas Army National Guard: Infantry, Field Artillery, Cavalry, and Military Police.

Fusik comments on the reasoning behind focusing on these four branches. "Seeing theses four branches at Oktoberfest does two things: one, it helps make the festival a blast and it also helps the public associate a face with the Texas National Guard."

The field artillery segment of this intense exhibit showed how quickly the unit's fire team could dismount, coordinate, load and fire the M119 howitzer. To the amazement of the audience, the fire crew team was able to accomplish all tasks in less than two minutes. After the applause settled from the crowd, a practical application brought to light the reality as to why the team needs to be so highly and effectively proficient at their jobs. Soldiers in combat depend on the team to send fire support when they are in a tough situation.

Next in the excursion, the cavalry scouts displayed their covert abilities as they hid in a field no larger than a basketball court. For the next seven minutes, parents and children alike attempted to view through binoculars and their naked eyes for these well-trained Soldiers. Samuel Levi Weyand, a Georgetown native and cadet of the Georgetown High School Junior Regiment Officer Training Course said of the iteration, "Those scouts were superb, we could not even find the one that was ten feet away from the trailer!" Out of the nine soldiers placed in the field, hayriders discovered only three, and only because the scouts were in their Army Combat Uniform without additional camouflage. Further, to the surprise of these onlookers, they completely missed the Humvee and Bradley Fighting Vehicle that were out in the field as well.

Later in the ride, the battalion simulated a convoy operation returning home to a "forward observation base," passing an abandoned housing complex and encountering a roadside bomb. This explosion initiated an enemy ambush attack on the unsuspecting Soldiers, stopping the vehicles and forcing the Soldiers out of their Humvees. Once in their defensive positions, they engaged the enemy with a massive firefight. Before vehicle team bounded around the building, they threw smoke canisters into the battlefield to conceal their advancement. 

Within mere minutes of the threat's initial ambush, the U.S. troops suppressed and detained the enemy. This Military Police scenario, demonstrated the mental and physical agility to defend and eradicate an unknown yet fortified enemy through basic battle drills, such as room clearing. 

"I never knew this is the kind of thing you could expect do if you were an MP. I thought only infantrymen did those things," said David Rosebaun, a Georgetown native and member of his high school JROTC unit.

The final stop of the hayride brings its riders to a towering edifice, where the long descent has only one way down. The infantrymen of the combat arms unit gave the audience a detailed look into what it takes to rappel off structures of any size. From the standard, more traditional techniques to the intense Aussie jump, the viewers remained mystified throughout the twenty-minute demonstration. The Soldiers also showed the difficulty of rappelling with an eighty-five pound rucksack strapped to one's back along with how to stop an out of control jumper. 

By the end of the hayride, Oktoberfest participants cheered wildly and called for more from the combat arms unit teams. The demonstrators serviced the crowd with an enlightening look at the Texas Army National Guard and the training necessary to overcome any obstacle thrown in it's path. This fan favorite will surely grow as a new staple of Bastrop's annual festival.

Volksmarchers walk for health, community

 

Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

CAMP SWIFT, Texas -- Revived in Germany as an official sport in the 1960s, the centuries-old tradition of the volksmarch celebrates the new harvest and champions community fitness. Translated as "the people's walk," the volksmarch welcomed all groups of people to come together and celebrate health and life together as a unified population. The neighboring towns of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville could, in turn, think of no better way to collectively celebrate their Oktoberfest than with this iconic tradition.

The flagship event of Camp Swift's annual Oktoberfest, the volksmarch offers participants the opportunity to enjoy nature, new neighbors and fitness together with routes that tour the training areas of the military installation. 

"There are three routes," said Chief Warrant Officer James W. Hampton, Oktoberfest project officer. "We have a one mile route for the kids, a 5K and a 10K."

The trails opened up directly following the opening ceremony of this year's third annual festival. Texas Adjutant General Jose S. Mayorga kicked off the event by receiving the ceremonial walking stick from the preceding Airborne/Air Assault demonstration. With staff in hand, he marched directly to the start point of the trail and began his trek around the camp, with more than a hundred walkers following behind him.

"The volksmarch itself has been something that the entire Texas Military Forces has put on," said Hampton. "It's not competitive, it's just for fitness."

Participants enjoyed the sharper routes of this year's march after Camp Swift's recent renovations.

"This is her second time," Army Sgt. Angela L. Descant said of her daughter after completing the kid's trail. "It's better than it was when she came the first time."

"Last year they came out here and actually cut all these trails," said Hampton of the new hiking routes at the camp.

Many walkers enjoyed the exercise, despite some lagging in pace. "There were a lot more people walking in front of us," said Jose M. Hernandez, 6.

This year's march also featured the "Tag My Kid" program, wherein children wear pins identifying them as Oktoberfest attendees with their parent's phone number written on the back side in the event they become separated.

"It's good, especially when you have one who wants to run around in the woods or crawl in holes," said Descant. 

For fitness or for community, the tradition of the volksmarch calls to mind the rich history of fall festivals and our German heritage.

"There's a big German community in Texas and in the military," said Hampton. "We're using this event to draw together the local areas of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville and bring them out here to Camp Swift and help offer a better relationship."

Kids participate in Firefighter Challenge

 

Courtesy Story

With a furrowed brow and tired arms, he carries the fire hose over his shoulder across the line. Once across, he picks up a mallet and begins to pound away at a forced entry simulator. Tired but relentless, the next task brings the individual to a mannequin rescue scene, wherein his strength is tested as he carries the body to safety. Finally, he must extinguish a simulated fire with the precise aim of a powerful pressure hose. Successfully completing the tasks, he greets his family as they praise and cheer for him. This three-year old has just completed the Kid's Firefighter Challenge.

The 2009 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry welcomed dozens of uniformed departments and organizations to show off their service to the community. The Austin Fire Department warmly embraced the youth of the event by putting on a small-scale version of their annual service competition, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

"It's actually a competition that we train for quite a bit," said Scott M. Bartell, lieutenant for Engine 1 of the Austin Fire Department. "It's a fun thing for the kids to see what we do."

Showcasing the American Fire Service while promoting physical fitness for children, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge takes participants through four of the rigorous trials of the real competition.

"[The Firefighter Challenge] was developed as an assessment tool for fire departments," said Bartell. "It simulates our firefighting activities."

The children's version includes a fire hose carry, the Keiser block, which simulates forcible entry, victim rescue with the aid of a mannequin, and a fire hose drag and spray. The adult counterpart additionally includes wear of the full SCOTT Air-Pak breaking apparatus and climbing a five-story tower.

"I like the hammer because I liked to move the big block," said Elizabeth W. Schiesser, 10. "I would like to do it again because I had a fun time."

Jim Key, retired Austin Fire Department captain and coach for the AFD Firefighter Challenge Team, has been working with the competition since its conception more than 15 years ago.

"We brought some of the toys we play with on a daily basis that represent firefighting," said Key. "We want kids to have a good day."

"I like spraying the hose because it's like pulling a trigger on a gun," said Jack H. Waters, 5.

In addition to giving youths the opportunity to perform real firefighter activities, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge also educates children on fire safety, home evacuation during a fire and other safety topics. As an outreach program, it stimulates children to take an active role in their family's fire plan and engages them with related competitions such as fire safety posters and essay contests.

This year's national-level competition for the Firefighter Combat Challenge takes place in Dallas in October with the world competition following in November in Las Vegas.