Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Counterdrug Task Force cracks down on local drug haven

Tech Sgt. Carl White Jr., 147th Civil Engineers, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, uses the heavy 45,000 pound Komarsu excavator to crunch rubble from a destroyed house into smaller pieces ready to be transported to a local landfill, Harlingen, Texas, Dec. 16, 2013.
Tech Sgt. Carl White Jr., 147th Civil Engineers, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, uses the heavy 45,000 pound Komarsu excavator to crunch rubble from a destroyed house into smaller pieces ready to be transported to a local landfill, Harlingen, Texas, Dec. 16, 2013. The house, identified by local law enforcement as being used for illicit drug activity contained gang graffiti painted on many walls. Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown destroys drug havens in partnership with city officials and law enforcement agencies. (Army National Guard photo by Ken Walker, Texas Joint Counter Drug Task Force Public Affairs Office).

 Courtesy story

 HARLINGEN, Texas – Chants of "Knock it Down, Knock it Down!" reverberated through a small Harlingen neighborhood in  mid-December as the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown demolished another abandoned and  unsafe structure. The house was known as a drug haven to the local Harlingen Police Department. The structure was  less than half a mile from the Sam Houston Elementary School.

 Operation Crackdown is a program in which Texas Military Forces (TXMF) soldiers and airmen demolish structures  associated with the drug trade. To date, the program has demolished close to 1,350 structures, varying from frame  houses, to an abandoned warehouse, to a 40,000 sq./ft. former nursing home. 

 The task force is responsible for the coordination and organization of all Crackdown missions; they partner with cities  across the state to help reduce drug use and other illegal activities.

 Thirty-five fifth-grade students, from Sam Houston Elementary School gave a clear and unmistakable, "knock it down"  command, ordering Texas Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Carl White Jr. to destroy the building.

 Without hesitation, White smiled and gave a nod to the students as he slowly raised the boom and positioned the bucket  over the roof of the small wood structure that just five years earlier had been called home to an elderly man. 

 The massive 45,000-pound excavator roared as its bucket cut through the wooden structure as easily as a hot knife  through butter. First the roof collapsed then White folded the walls onto the structure as if he was giving an advanced  origami demonstration. The structure collapsed into a pile of rubble and dust in under five minutes.

 As dust rose up and debris settled to the ground, the children raised the hands and yelled with excitement, "cool," "this  rocks" and "Wow, did you see that?”

 Sam Houston Elementary School assistant principal Faustino Villanueva said the children's participation throughout the day  helps them understand their involvement in the community. 

 "It's good because the children look up to the National Guard and service members in the armed forces,” Villanueva said.  “They see [the service members] and feel proud, confident and secure.”

 Fifth grade teacher, Odilia Moreno, said some structures close to the elementary school were unsafe and she worried  her school children would one day be injured if they were to explore the abandoned and dilapidated structures.

 Members of the Operation Crackdown team are personally selected for their heavy equipment operator skills, knowledge  and experience. SGT Chris Mejia, 342nd Engineering Company, has assisted with Operation Crack for several years as a  heavy equipment transport driver.

"This is our third mission in Harlingen. We love coming to Harlingen because the city has done all of the necessary preparation and welcomes us. During our missions in 2011 and 2012, we [tore down] 55 Harlingen structures. We plan on demolishing around 30 structures at 15 locations this trip," Mejia said.

Each mission requires up to a year to plan, coordinate and receive clearances for all the legal requirements to be completed. Each structure is required to undergo several safety and hazardous materials inspections and then receive written permission from the owners prior to demolition.

City Code Enforcement Manager Elida Mendoza said one of the time consuming parts is tracking down the legal owner and receiving their written permission. Many of the houses have not been lived in for several years, family members move away and the properties became abandoned.

Once abandoned, the former homes can quickly become a place where drug users, drug dealers and gang members use them as a place to get high, execute drug transactions and participate in other illegal activities.

Mayor Chris Boswell also expressed support for Operation Crackdown.

"The partnership with the Texas National Guard has proven to be a successful tool in beautifying our community and fighting crime," the mayor said. "This partnership, along with the excellent job of our police department, has been a key factor in the significant reduction in crime we have experienced during the past two years."

Harlingen Police Department Commander Miryam Anderson explained the police often deal with repeat calls for service to structures which are used for drug activity and criminal mischief.

"This resource [Operation Crackdown] helps police in reducing crime. This is a win, win situation for all. Our neighbors have been telling us how pleased they are with what the Texas Military Forces, the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force and Operation Crackdown are doing," Anderson said.

Col. Suzanne Adkinson, commander of the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force, said the program is beneficial to local communities, as well as to service members. 

"Operation Crackdown enhances military readiness by allowing Air and Army National Guardsmen members to utilize their equipment in a 'real world' mission. This improves readiness for Texas Military Forces soldiers and airmen, while enhancing the public safety of citizens and their children by supporting communities in the demolition of structures used by the drug trade," Adkinson said. 

Texas Military Forces respond to winter storm

Soldiers from the 236th Engineer Company, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, head out to help fellow Texans during Winter Storm Cleon on Dec. 6, 2013.
Soldiers from the 236th Engineer Company, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, head out to help fellow Texans during Winter Storm Cleon on Dec. 6, 2013. More than 50 Texas National Guard soldiers were mobilized to assist with search and rescue operations and aid stranded motorists. The soldiers helped local, state, and federal agencies clear more than 100 stuck semi-trucks and helped thousands more Texans get moving. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)

Story by: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson


 DENISON, Texas – Citizen-soldiers with the 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, provided support to  state and local officials during Winter Storm Cleon, as named by the National Weather Service, in north Texas, Dec. 5-9,  2013.

 At the request of Gov. Rick Perry, about 50 members of the Grand Prairie-based brigade suited up in cold-weather gear  and headed out in Humvees and Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTVs) to help preposition state assets as the storm  approached. Soldiers were stationed along the major highways here, as well as in Wichita Falls.

 In fact, preliminary reports from the Texas Military Forces Joint Operations Center indicate the deployed soldiers aided  more than 120 stranded vehicles, conducted more than 225 welfare checks and assisted with the setup of a Red Cross  Shelter in Valley View, near Wichita Falls.

 “We had a great response when the call went out,” said 2nd Lt. Clayton Harrison, an engineer with the brigade’s  Lewisville-based 236th Engineering Company. “We were ready to move out less than 12 hours after we got notified that  we'd be responding to this storm.”

 Although no one was quite certain what the storm would bring, Harrison said he and his soldiers were in contact with the  Texas Department of Public Safety.

 “According to DPS, we'll assist in vehicle recovery, especially if they end up shutting down the highway,” he said.

 On Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, when the storm had come and gone, the real scope of the job ahead was revealed to Harrison  and his Soldiers. Although the storm had not dropped much snow on the area, it was the ice underneath that proved to be  the biggest challenge for those on the highways.

 “We're from Boise, and thought this would be no big deal,” said Jonathan Bilger, a pulled over motorist who was passing  through to visit family. “We get the snow all the time, but the ice, that's harder to deal with. We're just sliding around like a  hockey puck.”

 With traffic flow a top priority, members of the Texas Military Forces conducted 24 hour a day operations monitoring and  assisting citizens along Highways 75, 82, 380 and Interstate 35 near Denison. Simultaneously, personnel from the 840th  Engineer Company monitored flow on the icy and slushy roadways of Highways 281, 181, Interstate 35 East and West,  and I-20, near Weatherford and Denton. 

“Those guys are great,” Bilger said, as he gestured toward several of the soldiers hooking up chains to tow a stranded 18-wheeler. “They're out here, helping out, when most of us are just trying to figure out how to get home fastest.”

This view was also shared by the soldiers’ leadership as well.

“These men and women are the epitome of what the Texas Military Forces stands for,” said Col. Patrick Hamilton, commander of domestic operations for the Texas Military Forces. “These Citizen-soldiers volunteered their time, at a moment's notice, to serve their fellow citizens during a time of need.”

“It's situations like this that show the caliber of our service members and their ‘Always Ready, Always There’ mentality,” Hamilton said.

Special Operations Detachment - Africa crosses one-year milestone

Story by: Sgt. Josiah Pugh

Posted: December 8, 2013

Courtesy Photo Soldiers from Special Operations Detachment - Africa (SOD-A), Texas Army National Guard, conduct reflexive fire training with the M4 carbine at Camp Bullis, Texas, June 2013. This training exercise helps maintain individual force protection readiness for the unit's future deployments to Africa in support of Special Operations Command-Africa, whose goal is to promote regional stability in that region. (Photo by Maj. Duncan Smith, SOD-A).
Courtesy Photo
Soldiers from Special Operations Detachment - Africa (SOD-A), Texas Army National Guard, conduct reflexive fire training with the M4 carbine at Camp Bullis, Texas, June 2013. This training exercise helps maintain individual force protection readiness for the unit's future deployments to Africa in support of Special Operations Command-Africa, whose goal is to promote regional stability in that region. (Photo by Maj. Duncan Smith, SOD-A).

AUSTIN, Texas - For the first time in the Texas Army National Guard’s history it has a joint special operation’s detachment. The Special Operations Detachment – Africa (Airborne) (SOD-A) is one of eight such units belonging to the National Guard nationwide and was stood up in October of 2012 at Bee Caves Armory in Austin, Texas.

Their mission, to deploy overseas, lead and train both joint and combined special operations forces in support of theater campaign plans. 

In the last year, SOD-A has recruited soldiers that will allow them to support their higher headquarters Special Operations Command-Africa whose goal is to promote regional stability in Africa and combat terrorism. About half of the soldiers in SOD-A are from a special forces background while the remaining members come from special operations forces, human resources, intelligence, logistics and signal backgrounds. soldiers in this unit travel from as far as California and Washington, D.C., just to attend their monthly drill. 

Maj. Nathan Rettig, SOD-A Future Operations officer, said about the unit, “Getting a chance to support special operations in Africa was a long time goal, as I firmly believe special operations forces is an exponential force multiplier on the continent. Just as importantly, I knew and served with the high caliber individuals in this unit since we started the Texas Army National Guard Special Forces family in 2007.” Rettig added, “I know they are some of the most capable, experienced, and committed teams in the special operations forces community and I'm humbled and honored to serve with them."

In May, SOD-A participated in Epic Guardian, a joint staff-coordinated exercise focused on crisis action planning, deployment of forces and field operations. Aside from developing a partnership with Malawi, Djibouti and Seychelles, Maj. Duncan Smith, another SOD-A future operations officer, said the exercise provided much more to those countries’ militaries and militias. “We’re there to partner with the governments or militaries and offer an increased capability to provide a secure and stable region,” said Smith. 

SOD-A provides a place for special forces or special operations soldiers in the National Guard where they can grow and advance their careers. Lt. Col. Douglas O'Connell, SOD-A commander, said, “The soldiers who have joined SOD-A are looking for a chance to conduct real world operations in challenging and extreme environments.”

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Carter, training noncommissioned officer, has been with SOD-A since April of this year. “I can’t think of a better place for me and my future goals to be or a better environment where the mentorship is from the top down,” he said.

In late June, SOD-A conducted Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk airborne operation training and a reflexive fire with M4 carbine rifles and M9 pistols alongside Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group. In August, the unit conducted its first joint training partnership with the U.S. Navy Reserve SEAL Detachment 208, in a joint military decision making course in order to prepare for future deployments.

Spc. Vanessa Freitag, a personnel administrator, has been with SOD-A since March and found her comrades have been more than happy to include her in all their training.

“I love it,” said Freitag. “I think this has challenged me. I’ve grown with them. It’s such an invigorating experience being a part of this group because initially it was very intimidating. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or what they expected of me and everything’s formed together, especially for a new unit. A lot of the guys are special forces and they’re not quite used to a staff unit, but we’ve meshed so well together. They’ve made me feel very welcome from the beginning.” 

Lt. Col. Theo Unbehagen, Operations Officer, has been with SOD-A since October of last year and is excited to deploy to Africa. “It’s going to be a great experience I think, because we’re going to be in a different area,” said Unbehagen. “We’re going to be working with the partner nations, working, training with, learning from them and teaching them. It’s really rewarding.

Texas Medical Command makes transition easier for Wounded Warriors

Texas Army National Guard Capt. Kimberly Spires, Medical Hold officer in charge, Texas Medical Command and Texas Army National Guard Cpl. Derrick Guy, state health systems specialist, conduct a mock medical evaluation board (MEB) for a wounded Texas Army National guardsman.
Texas Army National Guard Capt. Kimberly Spires, Medical Hold officer in charge, Texas Medical Command and Texas Army National Guard Cpl. Derrick Guy, state health systems specialist, conduct a mock medical evaluation board (MEB) for a wounded Texas Army National guardsman. Medical Command conducts mock medical evaluation boards to improve the quality and accuracy of MEB packets prior to submission. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle/Released)


 Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – The Medical Evaluation Board, or MEB, is known for being a long and arduous process. For  traditional guardsmen, this process if often even longer and more difficult, but for wounded warriors in the Texas Military  Forces (TXMF), in the last year the MEB process became much easier.

 According to Army Sgt. Gabriel Martinez, the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of behavioral health and  assistant NCOIC of case management for Medical Command, in just one year, Medical Command, or Med Command,  increased the number of packets submitted to the Medical Board by 200%.

 After assuming command of Med Command in 2012, Army Col. John P. Drobnica, a licensed physician assistant, and Lt.  Col. Robert Ferry, the Texas State Army Surgeon, spent their 2012 annual training period evaluating the Med Command  system for submitting MEB packets. Their goal was to figure out a way to make the transition process easier for Texas  Army National Guard wounded warriors. Ferry is the former Deputy Commander for Med Command, as well as, a licensed  pediatric-endocrinologist. They are both traditional guardsmen who live and work in their communities as medical  professionals.

 “I really appreciate Col. Drobnica because he listened to us,” said Martinez.

 Martinez went on to discuss how both Drobnica and Ferry took time to ask the soldiers in Med Command what issues  they saw and how they thought things could be improved. “[Drobnica and Ferry] went down into the weeds and said  ‘how can we change the weeds?’”

 “The biggest challenge, once [the service member] is injured, is getting them through the process,” said Lt. Col. Brian  Weber, the Division Surgeon for 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, also a licensed Physician Assistant. 

 Compounding an already long MEB process, before the packet is submitted, numerous doctor appointments and  paperwork have to be completed. Additionally, according to Weber, this can become a confusing process. 

 “It’s all of the little steps – that is the biggest challenge,” said Weber.

 Changes in Med Command’s process started with a trip to Florida, and continued with improvement in training, as well as the effective utilization of the medical readiness NCOIC.

“[Drobnica] took us to Pinellas Park, Fla., where the National Guard MEB convenes to meet the providers who conduct the [initial review of the] MEB. We went three times. This helped us, in case management, leaps and bounds,” said Martinez.

Martinez went on to discuss the next step implemented – a mock MEB. Each month during Med Command drill, a panel of National Guard providers, with an array of medical background and expertise, review the packets assembled by case management as if it were the MEB. 

“It’s where our full time support meets our M-Day support,” said Martinez, adding that the process has helped case management improve the quality of each MEB packet before it is submitted to Pinella’s Park.

Additional training was the next step taken to improve this process. Ferry oversaw the creation of the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) Provider Battle Book and User’s Guide. The book is tailored to the guardsman medical officer with little experience on TXMF systems and the MEB. 

“This book helps [the new officer] manage and find some bearing. Most books out there are written for the active component,” said Ferry.

In addition to the battle book, training for the readiness NCO was added. Martinez said that this training has been instrumental in making the MEB process faster and smoother for the service member or wounded warrior. “Increasing the knowledge pool means there are more people that can help facilitate the process.”

The last change was fully integrating the medical readiness NCO with the MEB process. The medical readiness NCO is a full-time position at the battalion and/or brigade level and is focused to work one-on-one with the wounded warrior on their medical readiness to ensure that the MEB packet is initiated and completed as quickly and as accurately as possible. 

Martinez credited Drobnica and Ferry for their leadership in implementing and enforcing all of these much needed changes.
For both Drobnica and Ferry, it is all about the mission – improving that transition process.

“We help people transition forward. Life moves forward, not backward,” said Ferry.

For questions regarding the MEB process in the Texas Army National Guard, call the unit Medical Readiness NCO or Case Management at 512-782-4206/5892.

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

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

 Story by: Laura Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

 Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Military Forces preserving ancient Texas history

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

 Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Army National Guardsmen help mentor Guatemalan Task Force

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas National Guard engineers clear the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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