Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

The 36th Division holds Change of Command at Texas State Capitol

Photo By Sgt. Michael Giles | The Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division welcomed Maj. Gen. S. Lee Henry as their new commanding general while expressing praise and appreciation for Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, who commanded the 36th since 2014, in a ceremony in front of the Texas state capitol building in Austin, Texas, July 15, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles)
Photo By Sgt. Michael Giles | The Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division welcomed Maj. Gen. S. Lee Henry as their new commanding general while expressing praise and appreciation for Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, who commanded the 36th since 2014, in a ceremony in front of the Texas state capitol building in Austin, Texas, July 15, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles)

AUSTIN, TX, UNITED STATES

07.15.2017

Story by Spc. Christina Clardy

36th Infantry Division (TXARNG)

 

On the morning of July 15th, Texas' own 36th Infantry Division held a change of command ceremony on the Texas State Capitol steps as Maj. Gen. Lester Simpson, officially relinquished command to the new commander, Maj. Gen. S. Lee Henry. 

The ceremony has traditional significance as the division’s flag, or "colors," is passed from the outgoing commander, to their senior commander, who then passes the colors to the incoming commander. 

"This change of command is a great time for us," said Texas Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols. "It allows the outgoing commander to leave their mark on the formation and the incoming commander to take that mark, improve it and make it even greater.

"I think the greatest compliment someone can get is, 'well-done soldier,'" said Nichols. "So, to you Lester [Simpson], well done Soldier." Thirteen rounds of cannon fire, which echoed across downtown, were fired in honor of the outgoing commander and his service to the nation and state.

Simpson, who received a commission as an officer in the Army National Guard in 1980 from the University of Texas at Arlington, retired after 37 years of service in a ceremony following the change of command. A native of Rowlett, Texas, he recently retired from the United Parcel Service (UPS) of North America after 33 years of dedicated service. He and his wife Antoinette have four children: Lester Jr., Solomon, Nathan, and Morgan.

Henry recently returned from Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he had commanded the Train, Advise, and Assist Command -- South (NATO) and represented the first time a National Guard Division Headquarters had commanded a Regional Command in Afghanistan.

"I am truly honored to command the 'Fighting 36th' Infantry Division who will celebrate it's 100th anniversary on Tuesday [July 18th]," said Henry. "Now more than ever, the Army is turning to the National Guard… [and] we will answer the call whether it comes from the governor or the president."

Maj. Gen. Henry, who was recently promoted to that rank, received his commission in 1983 as the Distinguished Military Graduate from the Texas A&M University in College Station, where he has Master degrees in Business Administration and Strategic Studies. As a civilian, he is employed by SAP, Inc. He currently lives in Austin with his wife Tricia, and together, they have three children and one grandchild.

"To the Soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division, our foundation will be individual and collective readiness," said Henry. "The 36th is recognized by both the National Guard and Active Duty Army for its excellence and consistently setting the standard for other divisions to follow."

The 36th Inf. Div. of the Texas Army National Guard, which is headquartered at Camp Mabry in Austin, is made up of five brigades and more than 14,000 soldiers. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the division has trained and mobilized a total of 30,000 soldiers in support of combat operations, natural disaster relief, and border security.

Texas Army National Guard Soldiers Support Exercise Saber Strike 17 in Lithuania

Texas Army National Guard SGT Mark DeLeon, center, 100th  Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, and SGT Amberlee Boverhuis, right, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment interview U.S. and  Czech Soldiers supporting Operation Saber Strike 17, in Pabrade, Lithuania, June 9, 2017. Texas Guardsmen joined more than 11,000 Soldiers from 20 countries to support the U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise, designed to promote interoperability with allies and regional partners, while improving joint operational capability in a variety of missions. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte)
Texas Army National Guard SGT Mark DeLeon, center, 100th  Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, and SGT Amberlee Boverhuis, right, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment interview U.S. and  Czech Soldiers supporting Operation Saber Strike 17, in Pabrade, Lithuania, June 9, 2017. Texas Guardsmen joined more than 11,000 Soldiers from 20 countries to support the U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise, designed to promote interoperability with allies and regional partners, while improving joint operational capability in a variety of missions. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte)

(100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)


PABRADE, Lithuania —Eight Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, stationed in Austin, were sent to the Baltics to support a training exercise that spanned through four countries and brought together 11,000 soldiers from 20 nations. 


Texas soldiers provided Public Affairs support to the exercise in Pabrade and Vilnuis, Lithuania, June 4-19, 2017.  


Saber Strike 17, an exercise designed to promote regional stability and security while strengthening partner capabilities and fostering trust, is the sixth iteration of the exercise, but the first, in the series, Texas Guardsmen have provided public affairs support for. The exercise series facilitates cooperation between the U.S., Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and other Allied and partnered nations to improve joint operational capacity in a variety of capabilities.


While on the ground, the 100th MPAD provided photo, video and print journalism coverage for training and field operations. 
One new soldier said the training gave him an appreciation for the work military public affairs does. 


“I think the stories we put out are key to capturing what our multinational partnerships are all about,” said Sgt. Mark Otte. “We are sharing soldier stories for families back home and providing transparency. Public support is key, and I think our role will ultimately have a hand in the strength of next year’s exercise.” 


During an interview for a print story highlighting NATO’s role in the exercise, Otte spoke with Col. Jakob Larsen, commander of the Lithuanian NATO Force Integration Units.


“NATO’s mission is not a standalone mission,” said Larsen. “We are not only working hand-in-hand with the Americans for Saber Strike but also with the host nation [Lithuania]. I think it is important that you are transparent and predictable so that your neighbors will not be concerned about what you do.” 


During the 13 days spent in the Baltic state, the 100th MPAD soldiers published seven print stories, eight videos and over 150 photos shared by the Armed Forces Network, the National Guard Bureau and other publishing agencies. But after hurdling every challenge faced in covering an operation of this magnitude, the MPAD Soldiers say the relationships built during the operation were by far their greatest achievement. 


“The challenge of coming to an exercise where we’re covering operations for 20 participating nations across four different countries is absolutely logistical,” said 1 Lt. Allegra Boutch, officer in charge of 100th MPAD operations in the Pabrade area. “The benefit of bringing an MPAD to Saber Strike, however, isn’t just that we are able to accomplish our mission with limited resources and information, but as we build our network, we’re contributing to the multinational partnerships with every interaction and every interview we have.”


While in the region MPAD leaders also partnered with Lithuanian and Croatian public affairs officers to collaborate, share information and learn what each partner could do to improve their own public affairs practices. 


“Our hope is through the images we take our Soldiers will never forget the friendships built here, and the world will see the strength of our convictions,” said Boutch. 


Multiple writers contributed to this story.
 

Texas Guardsmen parachute into Canyon Lake

TX, UNITED STATES

06.28.2017

Courtesy Story

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

LAKE CANYON, Texas – Thirty six Texas Guardsmen from the Special Operations Detachment-Africa, dropped from a helicopter hovering above Lake Canyon Saturday, June, 24th 2017, as zodiac boats circled, waiting to recover the paratroopers and their chutes. 

Jumping from an aircraft into a lake 1500 feet below may seem extreme to some, but for the soldiers of SOD-A, it was just another day on the job – a job that requires extreme training and an extreme commitment.

Those elite soldiers, whom made the jump are part of Special Operations Command-Africa, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany and are trained to rapidly establish, execute, and support all functions of a Special Operations Task Force anywhere in the world. But when the high-temp unit isn’t deployed, they are training in Texas said Texas Army National Guard Col. Timothy Ochsner, the detachment’s commander.

“Parachute operations are a quarterly requirement for soldiers to maintain their airborne proficiency,” said Ochsner, who has been with the unit since its inception in 2012. “Planning this training event allows the unit to exercise logistical planning, execution, as well as command and control. It ensures that SOD-A is always ready to conduct any real-world mission it is called upon to execute.” 

Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy, SOD-A assistant operations noncommissioned officer was the first soldier to jump out of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during SOD-A’s parachute operations on Joint Base San Antonio Recreation Park Saturday morning. After the jump, Kennedy said a deep-rooted belief in selfless service and mission accomplishment is what fuels the Texas Army National Guard soldiers in SOD-A. 

“This is the only thing that’s actually important – selfless service,” said Kennedy. “Finding an idea that’s more important than you, and being there for the man on your left and right is what this unit is all about.” 

Many of the unit’s soldiers have more than 15 years of military service and some have as many as 30. With four deployments in eight months, and many more on the horizon, the soldiers of SOD-A make innumerable sacrifices to ensure that the people and the country they love are protected. 

Texas Guardsmen in the Special Operations Detachment appreciate and value the importance of the unit’s mission to promote regional stability within Africa and combat terrorism globally, but say what really adds meaning to their profession is the common goal of protecting their families, their United States, and each other. 

“Foreign internal defense missions are very relevant to our country. We’re training these armies in command and control,” said Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. David Green, SOD-A Command Judge Advocate. 

“Terrorism is a global threat and if Africa can’t fight that threat, it affects the U.S.”

The jump into Canyon Lake is just another example the detachments level of readiness, something Kennedy says takes a special kind of soldier.

“We do the mission that no one else could,” said Kennedy. “We have the ability to adapt with any culture and any race in any country and have mission success.” 

Written by Staff Sgt. Bethany Anderson, 100th MPAD, Texas Army National Guard

HIMARS demonstration thrills visitors at Family Day

Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Crews from the 4th Battalion of the 133rd Field Artillery Regiment (HIMARS), attached to the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard hosted a Family Day on Saturday, June 25, at Fort Hood, Texas. Families, friends, and civilian co-workers and employers were invited to Fort Hood to see their soldier in action and witness a demonstration of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) as the unit is spending its two weeks of annual training running operations, fire missions, and completing their annual proficiency certifications. (U.S. Army Photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Photo By Maj. Randall Stillinger | Crews from the 4th Battalion of the 133rd Field Artillery Regiment (HIMARS), attached to the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard hosted a Family Day on Saturday, June 25, at Fort Hood, Texas. Families, friends, and civilian co-workers and employers were invited to Fort Hood to see their soldier in action and witness a demonstration of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) as the unit is spending its two weeks of annual training running operations, fire missions, and completing their annual proficiency certifications. (U.S. Army Photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs) 

FORT HOOD, TX, UNITED STATES

06.24.2017

Story by Spc. Christina Clardy 

36th Infantry Division (TXARNG)  

 

FORT HOOD, TEXAS - Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery Regiment (HIMARS), attached to the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard hosted a Family Day on Saturday, June 25, during their two-week annual training at Fort Hood, Texas.

Families, friends, and civilian co-workers and employers were invited to Fort Hood to see their soldier in action and witness a demonstration of the training they are currently undergoing.

The 4-133rd FAR is specifically designated a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System unit and is spending it's two weeks of annual training running operations, fire missions, and completing their annual proficiency certifications. 

"For the past week our crews have been running 24-hour operations and each crew has completed dozens of day and night fire missions," said 2nd Lt. Ross Gilfillan, 2nd Platoon Leader for Battery A, 4-133rd FAR (HIMARS). "There is a lot of precision required for a successful crew, and these crews are truly proficient."

On Saturday, the families and visitors were bussed to the range over-watch tower where they could safely watch the HIMARS demonstration. The battalion set up static displays of the launchers, rocket tubes and the loading systems for the visitors to see, touch and take pictures in.

"Family day gives the soldiers a chance to show their families, friends and employers what they do when they leave home and come to their military jobs here in the National Guard," said Gilfillan. "They can show them how hard they are working, the jobs they are learning and the skills they are perfecting. It also gives the families an opportunity to see the equipment up close and the thrill of seeing the rockets shoot off."

The 4-133rd FAR (HIMARS) gathered small groups of children to give to the command “fire” into the radio to signal the soldiers to launch a rocket. The demonstration was met with cheers and “ooos” from the crowd as they watched the rockets launch in the air leaving plumes of white smoke and a thunderous concussion.

"This is my first time on a HIMARS crew and I've got to tell you -- it's a total blast!" said Private James Moore, a HIMARS crew driver from 2nd Platoon, Btry. A. "My family came out here for Family Day and I hope they think all of this is as cool as I do."

The HIMARS is a light multiple rocket launcher mounted on a medium-sized tactical truck. Each launcher is run by a crew of three personnel and can fire either six 227mm M270 rockets or one MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System surface-to-surface missile. It has a range of approximately 100 miles and a 360 degree firing radius. This HIMARS is an improved upgrade from the launcher pod system originally mounted to Bradley tank frames. This upgrade makes the truck, frame and launcher pod much lighter, which allows the system to be more easily loaded and deployed off of a plane than its tank-track predecessor.

NATO Allies and partnered nations celebrate U.S. Army 242nd birthday with U.S. forces

Photo By Sgt. Samuel De Leon | Lt. Col. Jason Benson with the 2-136th Combined Arms Battalion receives a traditional Lithuanian cake from Col. Arturas Radvilas, commander of the Motorised Infantry Brigade Žemaitija, in honor of the U.S. Army 242nd birthday June 14, 2017 in Pabrade, Lithuania. Croatian, Norwegian, Lithuanian, German, Portuguese and Army National Guard forces from Pennsylvania and Minnesota also joined them during the celebration during Exercise Iron Wolf 17. (Texas Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Samuel De Leon, 100th
Photo By Sgt. Samuel De Leon | Lt. Col. Jason Benson with the 2-136th Combined Arms Battalion receives a traditional Lithuanian cake from Col. Arturas Radvilas, commander of the Motorised Infantry Brigade Žemaitija, in honor of the U.S. Army 242nd birthday June 14, 2017 in Pabrade, Lithuania. Croatian, Norwegian, Lithuanian, German, Portuguese and Army National Guard forces from Pennsylvania and Minnesota also joined them during the celebration during Exercise Iron Wolf 17. (Texas Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Samuel De Leon, 100th 

PABRADE, LITHUANIA

06.14.2017

Story by 1st Lt. Allegra Boutch

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

PABRADE, Lithuania—U.S. Army Soldiers from the Texas, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota National Guard celebrated the U.S. Army birthday, June 14, 2017, during Exercise Iron Wolf 17 in Pabrade, Lithuania. The celebration hosted by the 2-136 Combined Arms Battalion, and led by Lt. Col. Jason Benson, 2-136 CAB commander, was attended by soldiers from Croatian, Norwegian, Lithuanian and other allied forces. 

The celebration illustrated the bonds formed during participation in the multinational exercise, designed to enhance the U.S. force’s professional relationships and improve coordination with NATO Allies and partnered militaries during times of crisis. The exercise falls under the U.S. Army Europe-led theater exercise, Saber Strike 17, which involves 20 countries and over 11,000 soldiers. 

During the celebration, Benson thanked NATO Allies and was honored with a traditional Lithuanian cake, presented by Col. Arturas Radvilas, commander of the Motorised Infantry Brigade Žemaitija. 

“Thank you NATO Allies whom we consider dear friends for being here tonight,” Benson said. “Traditionally—regardless of location—Soldiers pause to observe our birthday by sharing a cake and usually, a holiday meal.”

Following U.S. Army tradition, the first piece of cake was cut by the oldest Soldier in the command, signifying the honor and respect accorded to experience and seniority. The oldest Soldier at the celebration was SSG Klee Smith, who served the first piece of cake to the youngest Soldier, PFC George Ongoro. 

To one attendee, the celebration symbolized the importance of these long term partnerships standing shoulder to shoulder as they look forward to the future. 

“It’s nice seeing everyone come out,” said SSG John Michael with the Higher Headquarters Command 134 Brigade Support Battalion. “Having the other forces here is key to our multinational partnership.”

These partnerships unambiguously demonstrate the NATO Allies and partnered nations’ determination and ability to act as one in response to any potential and actual threats in the Baltic States. The time soldiers took to celebrate that partnership during the 242nd U.S. Army birthday, only strengthened the relationships which could play a critical role in the nations’ future battles.

State Employees at Texas Military Department Reach New High in Charitable Giving

AUSTIN, TX, UNITED STATES

06.01.2017

Story by Sgt. Mark Otte 

Texas Military Department

 

AUSTIN, Texas--The Texas Military Department was recognized at the annual State Employee Charitable Campaign awards banquet, February 16, 2017, in Austin, for its marked jump in giving. Contributions from individuals employed by the agency were up over 100 percent from the previous year with receipts that totaled just short of $20,000.

The two-month long campaign, which runs from September to October, has been providing state employees a safe, reliable way to make contributions to charities since 1994, and topped the $8 million mark in total giving for 2016. 

With approximately 500 state employees, the Texas Military Department set a goal to raise $12,000 in 2016, a goal that was almost doubled because of the hard work of campaign co-chairs, Emily Bell, and Tanya Kelly, said Bill Wilson, the Executive Director of the Texas Military Department.

“I have been so impressed with dedication of those two,” Wilson said. “This effort is not a duty assignment, it is beyond the scope of their daily work, but their passion for charity is infectious and has really energized the campaign.”

While the three were happy to be recognized at the awards banquet, they said that the energy spent on the campaign wasn’t focused on winning trophies or awards, but rather to share the opportunity to truly give back to those in need.

"It isn't necessarily about the amount of money we raise," said Bell. "It's about letting everyone know about the opportunity they have, and to grow participation in the program."

While the brunt of the work for the campaign was done by Kelly and Bell, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general for Texas, said that participation in the State Employee Charitable Campaign was a priority from the top down.

"Giving back to the communities where we live, work and serve is something that the Texas Military Department has always taken pride in," said Nichols. "The continued growth in participation in the SECC says a lot about the kind of people who serve day to day as employees of the Texas Military Department."

One faction of the Texas Military Department, the maintenance crew at Camp Mabry, continued its long-standing tradition of 100 percent participation among its employees, an effort that didn't go unnoticed at the front office.

"Peter Byers is a great asset to have on your team," said Kelly, of the head of that department. "He leads by example and encourages everyone around him to get involved, even if it is in a small way."

While Bell and Kelly will continue to take the point next year, they said that new members could expect to help organize and coordinate events that boost giving. Last year the duo hosted a myriad of events intended to amplify participation in the program, and with additional help, hope to expand those efforts. 

Waffle Wednesday was an instant hit and is sure to return this year, according to the organizers. A Hallowing costume contest--in which participates entry fee was participation in the SECC-- gave the largest boost in terms of dollars given last year.

The charities employees can choose from are vetted by the campaign so participants can feel secure when giving to organizations through this program. Contributions through the SECC are made via a payroll deduction to make giving convenient. The catalog of participating charities does vary from year to year, but anyone can submit a charity for addition to the list.

The SECC campaign was created by legislation in 1993 and is for state agency and higher education employees throughout Texas. Those on the federal side are able to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign each year. 

If a Texas Military Department state employee wants to join the team and help with the 2017 campaign, they are encouraged to contact Emily Bell at StarBase Austin.

"We need people to contact one of these two and let them know they want to get involved,” Wilson said. "Now is a great time to say, 'I want to be a part of this."

One last honor

Austin, Texas

05.19.2017

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Texas Military Department

Service members on the Texas Military Department's Military Funeral honors team prepare to issue a three volley salute during the funeral of a U.S. veteran. (Photo courtesy of Texas Military Funeral Honors)
Service members on the Texas Military Department's Military Funeral honors team prepare to issue a three volley salute during the funeral of a U.S. veteran. (Photo courtesy of Texas Military Funeral Honors)

Memorial Day is a federal holiday to remember those that have died while serving. For most people this means a day off work and a good reason to fire up the grill and spend time with friends and family.

For the Texas National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Team, Memorial Day comes every day — only barbecue is not included. 

“We are there at the moment when the family suffers the loss of their loved one who has passed away,” said Jim Levine Jr., Military Funeral Honors State Coordinator. “We are the last living representation of the military. It’s us honoring their service every day.”

This long-standing military custom dates back to World War I, and until recently, services were only provided when manpower was available. In 2001, the National Defense Authorization Act passed a law that mandated the United States Armed Forces provide the rendering of honors in a military funeral for any eligible veteran.

“All family members want military funeral honors, they want to see that flag being folded and the sound of the trumpet, that is closure for the family,” said Ricky Williams, memorial affairs coordinator, at Joint Base San Antonio - Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

The family member or next-of-kin of the veteran must request honors through their funeral director. The funeral director then contacts the appropriate military service to arrange for the funeral honors detail.

Most Texas veteran memorial requests are processed through the casualty assistance office of Fort Sam.

“We cover everyone from Buda to Mexico and Beaumont to El Paso, active duty, reserves and National Guard,” said Williams. “We average 2,250 services a year.”

Williams assigns the services to Military Funeral Honor teams based on their component, area of responsibility and availability. In instances where active duty teams are over tasked, Texas guardsmen can honor any veteran in Texas.

“We depend on the Texas National Guard to help us make the family happy by coming out and performing funeral honors because we don’t have the manpower without them,” said Williams.

Recently, the team conducted a joint memorial service to honor a veteran from the Tuskegee Air Force.

“We did a joint service for a Tuskegee Airmen from WWII with the Air Force,” said Levine. “Since he was a pilot in the Tuskegee Air Force, we were able to do that with him. The Air Force did the flag folding we did the firing party, it was a great deal.”

The Texas Honor Guard has approximately 14 full-time Soldiers and 25 traditional Guardsmen. Regardless of the veteran’s military branch, Texas Guardsmen treat every service with honor and respect.

“It’s an honor for me to do this,” said Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Jonathan Strother, assistant team leader for Military Funeral Honors. “Whether they served in Vietnam, WWII or whatever era that they served, we want to leave a lasting impression of our sincerity and appreciation for their veterans services.”

Strother joined the team in 2011 as a bugler and worked his way up to an assistant team lead. He is the first Texas Guardsmen to perform nearly 1,900 services.

His leadership role allows him to instill his knowledge and expertise to incoming Soldiers.

“What I tell the young Soldiers coming in is be professional, this is not an easy job, we are on call seven days a week and we don’t usually get weekends off,” said Strother. “It is a very stressful job dealing with death and the families, but it is a very rewarding in the same sense.”

Through the military funeral honors program, Texas Guardsmen are able to share their passion of providing the family one last military honor.

“The family sometimes doesn’t see the honor behind their veterans’ service, they just know that he/she sacrifices; they are gone a lot and they deploy a lot,” said Levine. “But when they see our guys at the funeral, doing the flag folding, presenting the flag, playing the taps, we are honoring their service so therefore, for the family we are honoring their sacrifice.” 

As you celebrate your Memorial Day this year, please take a moment to remember those that have given their lives for our freedom, and their families still here.

TMD Readies For Hurricane Season

Photo By Sgt. Mark Otte | Lt. Col. Robert Eason, Operations Director at the Texas Military Department, explains the planning and coordination of Texas Military Department's assets integration into a statewide plan at the annual Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas May, 10th, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte.)
Photo By Sgt. Mark Otte | Lt. Col. Robert Eason, Operations Director at the Texas Military Department, explains the planning and coordination of Texas Military Department's assets integration into a statewide plan at the annual Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas May, 10th, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte.)

AUSTIN, TEXAS, TX, UNITED STATES

05.15.2017

Story by Sgt. Mark Otte 

Texas Military Department  

 

AUSTIN, Texas--The Texas Military Department, May 10, 2017, hosted its annual interagency Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin.

Each year the Texas Military Department Domestic Operations Task Force invites its emergency-response partners from around the state to Camp Mabry for a walk through of the interagency-plan to integrate the TMD’s assets into a hurricane response, should one hit Texas. During the drill representatives of each agency described their responsibilities at each phase of the 120-hour statewide response to a fictional hurricane's looming landfall, this time in Houston. 

Representatives from around a dozen agencies attended the forum, including Texas Department of Emergency Management, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Task Force 1, the Texas Army and Air National Guard as well as officials from local agencies.

"Revising our plan, sharing lessons learned, implementing new tools and refining our processes helps maintain a relevant and ready force," said Maj. Matthew Combs, J7 Director for the Texas Military Department. "Working with our partners establishes a relationship that builds trust and reliability, ensuring that the citizens of our great state have the best when they need it the most."

Part of the Texas Military Department's hurricane response is to quickly transform its standing battle-ready units into smaller more efficient groups that can more effectively address the needs of Texas citizens in a time of crisis. These Mission Ready Packages can rapidly be dispersed around the state when requested by local entities. Packages include equipment, like aviation assets, that make life-saving rescues possible in locations that might not have been, using only local equipment.

The Texas Military Department has developed these Mission Ready Packages through its ongoing operations around the state.

Texas Adjutant General, Major General John F. Nichols reviews the state's plan for a hurricane with Texas agency leaders at the Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 10, 2017. The H-ROC drill brings together all the agencies involved in hurricane response in Texas for a walk though of the state's plan. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte/Released)
Texas Adjutant General, Major General John F. Nichols reviews the state's plan for a hurricane with Texas agency leaders at the Hurricane Rehearsal of Concept drill at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 10, 2017. The H-ROC drill brings together all the agencies involved in hurricane response in Texas for a walk though of the state's plan. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Mark Otte/Released)


"I am often asked why we use Mission Ready Packages instead of sending the entire military units," said Maj. Gen John F. Nichols, The Adjutant General for Texas. "Over the past 13 years, with over 586,000 man-days across 230 different support missions, we have learned that an entire unit organized for military operations is not always the most efficient or effective for a domestic response."

One of the major obstacles that officials sought to address was the explosive growth around Houston. Because of that growth, more high-water rescue assets may be needed to rescue the additional citizens living in newly developed areas. Planners at the meeting said that the Texas Military Department has the equipment needed to perform the rescues, but that maintaining current maps of those areas at a high risk of flooding should be a priority.

The drill is just one step in the state's ongoing commitment to hurricane response preparedness. Prior to May’s event a tabletop exercise was completed, and in June a full-scale statewide response to another fictitious hurricane will be the final dress rehearsal before the 2017 hurricane season gets into full swing.

The last major hurricane strike in Texas was in 2008 when hurricane Ike, a category 2 hurricane, made landfall in Galveston. Then Governor, Rick Perry, authorized 7500 troops to be mobilized to the area in response to that storm.

Exercise Cyber Shield 17 Tests 102nd Information Operations Battalion Soldiers

AUSTIN, TX, UNITED STATES

05.05.2017

Story by Maj. Ray McCulloch 

102nd Information Operations Battalion  

 

Members of the Texas Army National Guard and Air National Guard participated in a major network defense exercise at Camp Williams in Utah from April 17 to May 5, 2017.

Members of the Texas Army National Guard’s 102nd Information Operations Battalion and the Texas Air National Guard’s 273rd Information Operations Squadron participated in Exercise Cyber Shield 17, the Army National Guard’s premier cyber defense exercise.

The exercise, which included members of the National Guard from 44 states and territories, the U.S. Army Reserve, state and federal government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry, was designed to enhance participants’ ability to respond to cyber incidents.

Cyber Shield 17 kicked off with a week of training and preparation that culminated in a scenario-based cyber roleplay during the second week. This was the sixth iteration of the exercise.

Participants were broken up into several groups, or “cells,” for the exercise.

Red Cell members simulated hostile hackers attempting to compromise a computer network, while members of the Blue Cell attempted to defend their networks against the Red Cell’s attacks. The Gold Cell supported the Blue Cell members with coaching and mentorship, while White Cell members evaluated the Blue Cell’s performance.

Members of the 102nd IO Battalion served on the blue and red teams. Other battalion Soldiers provided network management to support the exercise and served in the fusion center. According to a Department of Homeland Security handout, fusion centers are owned by state and local governments and operate with federal support. Their mission is to “provide multidisciplinary expertise and situational awareness to inform decision making at all levels of government.”

Red team members, such as Sgt. 1st Class Jon Wachter, play the role of adversary hackers or the opposing forces. In IT, that would be someone hacking into the network.

“Our main job is to train the blue team,” Wachter stated. That training included exploiting vulnerabilities to pivot or maneuver through their networks.

“We find gaps in their systems in order to exploit vulnerabilities and establish a stronger foothold into the IT terrain to ultimately gain control of systems, networks, or infrastructure,” Wachter said. “We try not to hamstring them so that there is some learning value for the blue team.”

For example, Wachter and his team took control of the administrative password, which would have completely shut down the training for the Blue Team. After an hour, they gave the Blue Team their password back so they could reestablish control of their networks.

Wachter was a team member assigned to the Indiana Red Team. He played the part of a hacker and an insider threat to Indiana’s IT infrastructure. His team stole fictitious personal identifiable information, defaced websites and attempted to disrupt business processes. In general, they created havoc on the network and systems used by the Indiana Blue Team and their mission partners.

“I wasn’t expecting them to bring so much skill to the table; they had a lot of talent here. It was definitely challenging for me, us,” he said. “They actually have a lot of people on this team who do this for their civilian careers as well, so they had a huge advantage!”

Wachter also stated that this exercise helped him network with a variety of very intelligent individuals and learn from their skills and experiences. “I was also able to observe the Blue Team and take away tips, techniques and procedures from them. That was the big lesson for me,” he said.

On the other side of the exercise were the Blue Teams. Blue Teams are state-affiliated National Guard and mission partners who must react to a cyber incident in the exercise. Ultimately, they are charged with expelling the adversary Red Team from their network.

For Texas, this included Staff Sgt. Brian Jones. Jones is an intelligence analyst from the 102nd IO Battalion attached to the Texas Cyber Protection Team for this exercise. He provided embedded intelligence support to the Blue Team operators, including predictive analysis, intelligence summaries and disseminated information on known threats passed from the fusion cell.

“Cyber Shield 17 is a training exercise developed to enhance the skills of the Blue Team in order to defend the operational environment – or the friendly networks – from the adversary’s cyberattacks,” said Jones.

According to Jones, information flow was the most difficult task. That included between governmental agencies at the state and national levels, as well as between Army National Guard, Air National Guard and civilian mission partners. Understanding how intelligence flows between components of the Texas National Guard was an integral part to the success of the Texas Blue Team.

This was an excellent opportunity for them to experience the reality of communications shortfalls between mission partners, the National Guard and the U.S. government agencies according to Jones. “It’s definitely a challenge, but we are working through it really well.”

The provided training facilitated the Blue Team’s ability to identify indicators of compromise in the network. Indicators are “observables” that there may be an intrusion in the system – like malware, phishing or unauthorized access.

“This exercise was a great opportunity to work with multiple [mission partners] in a group effort of incident response to take back a compromised network that we have been called in to defend,” Jones emphasized.

Mission partners that participated in Cyber Shield this year included federal agencies such as the FBI and DHS, state departments of justice, as well as private companies such as Microsoft, Lockheed Martin and Monsanto. The Army and Air National Guards – in coordination with federal agencies – worked with civilian mission partners to resolve issues on their networks. 

The lessons learned here are vitally important moving forward to defend state infrastructure and networks from cyber threats, cyberattacks and other cyber incidents. “What we learn here makes us more effective communicators in the future. I’ve learned so much from this exercise,” Jones said.

Cyber Shield 17 offers opportunity for interagency cooperation

Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Sean Cochran with the Missouri Cyber Team, Army National Guard Chief Warrant
Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Sean Cochran with the Missouri Cyber Team, Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Rollings, with the Texas Cyber Protection Team, and Ryan Valencik, a Penetration Tester at Leidos, Inc., prepare to engage in cyber attacks as Red Cell members in Cyber Shield 17 at Camp Williams, Utah, April 26, 2017. The National Guard is working closely with its interagency partners and the private sector to strengthen network cyber-security and capabilities to support local responses to cyber incidents in Cyber Shield 17. (U.S. Army National Guard photos by Sgt. Michael Giles)

UT, UNITED STATES

04.27.2017

Photo by: Sgt. Michael Giles

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

“It’s the best job in the military,” Capt. Joshua Montgomery, a member of an Air National Guard team that tests cyber defense elements, enthused. “We get to break things. We get to go and do all of the things that would send you to jail in the real world. It’s fantastic.”

Montgomery is not a criminal, but he plays one for the Guard. As a member of the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, Montgomery tests cyber defense capabilities by attempting to hack into sensitive information systems. 

“The idea of an information aggressor squadron is to understand the tactics that real-world adversaries—like hackers and corporate espionage agents—use,” Montgomery explained. He then uses that understanding to find network vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

Montgomery is preparing to put his hacking skills to use as a member of the Red Cell during Cyber Shield 17, a cyber defense exercise being held at Camp Williams, Utah, April 24 to May 5, 2017.

Cyber Shield 17 is a National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve event that begins with a week of training and preparation and culminates in a scenario-based cyber role-play. It is the sixth iteration of the exercise, which began in 2012, and trains members the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and Army Reserve, as well as civilians who work in law enforcement, intelligence and information technologies. 

Participants belong to one of several cells. Red Cell members, such as Montgomery, play the role of adversary hackers. Members of the Blue Cell attempt to defend against the Red Cell’s attacks. Members of the Gold Cell support the Blue Cell with coaching and mentorship, while White Cell members evaluate the Blue Cell’s performance.

As Red Cell members prepare to break into Blue Cell systems, their opposite numbers prepare for an experience that Blue Cell leader Maj. Kevin T. Mamula predicts will push them to their limits. 

“The blue teams will be challenged to their breaking points by design,” said Mamula, who also works as the cyber network defense team lead for Ohio. “They will be stressed and frustrated and mad. But they will come out as a much more effective team.”

Exercise participants emphasized that the threat that cyber attacks pose make this kind of challenging training crucial.

“Cyber threats are real,” said Capt. Joshua Hull, from the Nebraska Joint Force Headquarters, who serves as assistant leader for the Nebraska Blue Team in Cyber Shield 17. “They are already all around us, and they affect every aspect of our daily interactions.”

Hull said he is confident that his team will be able to succeed in warding off the Red Cell attacks thanks to effective collaboration he has observed among his comrades.

“We have very good team cohesion,” Hull said. “We have a very good flow of information and we’ve pulled our best and brightest. They have a good understanding of how network operations work.”

As Blue Cell fights an uphill battle in the cyber terrain, they will have the Gold Cell’s support. Lt. Col. Brad Rhodes, Gold Cell leader and commander of the Colorado Army National Guard’s Cyber Protection Team 174, said his team will provide struggling Blue Cell members with coaching and mentorship to help them learn and succeed.

“Our goal is that when the blue teams walk out of the door, they are feeling better about themselves and are more successful than when they first got here,” Rhodes said.

Red Cell leader Air National Guard Maj. Michael Ehrstein, who supervises the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron, said that Cyber Shield 17 fosters a learning environment by putting people of different backgrounds and levels of skill together. 

“People who’ve never done this before get one-on-one dedicated interactions with individuals who’ve been doing this 15-plus years,” Ehrstein said. “We are able to bring together experts from DoD, the government and the civilian world in one place and share that diverse perspective on cyberspace.”

“I’m very excited about being on a red team,” said Flo R. Bayer, a security analyst with the State of Wisconsin Department of Enterprise Technologies. “To see how hackers do things, their methodologies, will help me be better at defending the networks.” 

“You don’t get an opportunity to learn from a group of people like this often, to apply this skill set often,” said Adam Hellmers, an electrical engineer with Radiance Technologies. “It’s a chance to develop higher skills and to further enhance your own self, your company’s self and the national interests.” 

“The 2017 Cyber Shield exercise is far and away the best exercise I have ever encountered in my career,” Montgomery said. “It’s well organized; it’s well put together. And the teams, both red and blue, have made significant progress in securing DOD systems.”