Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

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.

Search and Rescue Dogs Find Receptive Audience

 

Courtesy Story

Camp Mabry's American Heroes Celebration this year brought together diverse groups of people from various backgrounds and professions. Uniquely suited to feature a massive gathering of departments and organizations, the weekend-long event combined the related efforts of two offices that have never before worked together, the Austin Police Department Search and Rescue Dog Team and the Travis County Sherriff's Office Dog Team.

During three separate demonstrations on Saturday, these teams came together to educate and entertain the public on the challenges, rewards and techniques of working with trained dogs.

"We start training our dogs the minute we get them," said Matthew W. McDermott, K-9 team head for the Austin Police Department's Search and Rescue Team. "Training is simply a matter of rewarding the [behavior] you want to keep and ignoring the stuff that you don't."

Though a part of the Austin Police Department and found within the 15-man Search and Rescue Team, the three-man K-9 team is not made up of police officers.

"We're an all volunteer team," said McDermott. "We're not sworn officers."

Contrastingly, the officers of the Travis County Sherriff's Office use their dogs in official police situations.

"My dogs are bomb dogs," said Jo A. Carson, a K-9 handler with the county office. "We also search for suspects who may have committed criminal acts."

The demonstration included the APD office describing training techniques and taking the audience step by step through the reinforcement process. McDermott led his Golden Retriever, Ruby, through search games and recognition exercises to highlight the dog's refined skills.

The county office followed with a discipline presentation about how obedient and focused the police dogs are. Darren Jennings, dressed in a protective suit, allowed Hutch, a German Shepherd, to subdue him as he played the role of a suspect. With perfect accuracy, Hutch subdued Jennings on command and immediately let go when the "suspect" began obeying the orders of the enforcing officer, Mike Stanley. True to training, the dog's actions never threaten the life of the suspect, they only serve to detain the individual.

Often misperceived as a violent attack dog, police dogs rarely engage their targets with biting or clawing. The handlers of both offices train their dogs especially for tracking, taking advantage of dogs' naturally heightened sense of smell.

A fan delight by children and adults alike, the search and rescue dog demonstrations brought to the American Heroes celebration a wonderful glimpse into specialized law enforcement.

Vietnam Reenactment Brings Memories, History to Life

 

Story by Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

While a wide grassy field and a cedar tree "jungle" may be far from the humid jungles of Vietnam, for many visitors to the American Heroes Celebration here April 19, the reenacted ambush was a glimpse into the pages of history, both personal experience and a war some have only read about.

Because of the treatment they received when coming home, "a lot of the veterans retreated with indifference, and sometimes, hostility," said Jeff Hunt, Director of the Texas Military Forces Museum on Camp Mabry and member of G Company Living History Detachment. 

"I haven't talked about it much with my family," said Michael Williams, a Vietnam veteran from Pflugerville, Texas, but "this gave my kids a chance to see a little bit of what it was like there. Not a lot of what it was like, thank God, but a little bit."

For Glen Villoz, from Georgetown, Texas, telling stories of the men like Williams is why he participates in the reenactments. "Instead of coming home heroes, [the Soldiers] were generally shunned," he said, but as the population of Vietnam veterans ages, "they want their story told." 

"What these guys went through when they were 18 or 20," said Villoz, "they never wanted to talk about that stuff with their families." His goal is to make sure these Soldiers are remembered for their contribution to history, not just that they were part of an unpopular war. 

These Soldiers' "service and sacrifice was equal to any other veteran in any other war," said Hunt, but Vietnam was the first war Americans really got to see happen in front of them." "They sat down to dinner...and it was right there." Because of the amount of media coverage, he said, "history can be skewed." 

"Vietnam gets referred to a lot," said Hunt, and it is important to educate people about the causes and effects of the war. Ignoring what happened there isn't the answer, he said, because "if we ignore it, lessons aren't learned and we [as a society] tend to repeat mistakes."

Gabe Ramirez, a resident of Austin originally from Mendocino, Calif., fought in Vietnam, and his son has deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

"Iraq isn't Vietnam," said Ramirez. "My son's war isn't mine, but I want our story told. Maybe I don't like what I remember, maybe I miss my buddies, but I want people to know what we did, and what our war was really like. This is a good place to start."