Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

Texas National Guard hosts NGB Region V Best Warrior competition

Sgt. Steven Montoya (pictured here with ruck sack), Oklahoma Army National Guard, runs to the finish line in the ruck march portion of the NGB Region V Best Warrior Competition held at Camp Swift, Texas, May 7 to 9, 2013.
Sgt. Steven Montoya (pictured here with ruck sack), Oklahoma Army National Guard, runs to the finish line in the ruck march portion of the NGB Region V Best Warrior Competition held at Camp Swift, Texas, May 7 to 9, 2013. Soldiers from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas competed in this year's competition. Winners of the event will move forward to compete against other regions for the National NGB title. (Texas National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon).
 Story by: Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon

 CAMP SWIFT, Texas - With flags in hand and supporters close by, 14 soldiers ran to the finish line to end the eight-mile  road march. Army National Guardsmen from Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Texas  competed in this year’s NGB Region V Best Warrior competition held at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, May 7 to 9,  2013.

 The competitors consisted of the overall noncommissioned officer and junior enlisted winners from each state’s  respective competitions. Texas Army National Guard Senior Enlisted Advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Milford, said  these Soldiers are Regions V’s finest.

  “The soldiers here have won home unit and state competitions, and separated themselves as the best of the best,”  Milford said. “They have demonstrated not only that they are physically fit, but that they are proficient at crucial soldier skills.”

 The competition at Camp Swift called for the soldiers to demonstrate their combat lifesaving, land navigation,  marksmanship, and other warrior-tasks skills. Additionally, they had an appearance board, where they were tested on Army knowledge, and wrote and essay on how they, as a leader, can help prevent suicide.

 Sgt. Steven Montoya from the 1st Battalion, 245th Aviation Regiment, Oklahoma Army National Guard, found the road  march to be the most challenging.

 “The road march was a killer,” Montoya said, “because we weren’t racing against time, rather each other’s abilities; which means we were running the entire way. We carried a 35 lb. pack for eight-miles after two days of constant, physical activity. It made us reach deep down inside and push ourselves.”

In spite of strong competition, the competitors realized that there was value in helping each other out. Staff Sgt. Dominic Gonzales from the 1st Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, found this to be true when he and a fellow competitor pushed each other to finish the road march in first and second places. 

“When I got to the four-mile marker I met up with Staff Sgt. Luke Katz from the Nebraska Army National Guard; from there, we ran all the way back together,” Gonzales said. “Whenever one of us would get tired, we’d stop and motivate each other to continue; when we were ready to go, we’d continue to push each other along. Even though he ended up beating me to the finish line, I’m glad I was able to there for him.”

According to Spc. Piero Lopez from the 39th Infantry Combat Team, Arkansas Army National Guard, teamwork at competitions like these bring soldiers closer together. 

“At first you size each other up, because they’re your competitors,” Lopez said. “However, after you begin facing the same challenges you realize that these are your fellow soldiers, your brothers-in-arms. From these struggles and triumphs, you are able to develop great friendships and a foster that ‘esprit de corps’ that being in the Army is all about.”

At competition’s end, Lopez and Gonzales were voted overall junior enlisted and NCO winners, respectively. They will move forward to represent Region V at the NGB level Best Warrior Competition to be hosted by the Arkansas Army National Guard in July.

Texas Military Forces Celebrate American Heroes

Story by: Sgt Suzanne Carter

Post: April 21, 2013


Sgt. Suzanne Carter U.S. Soldiers with the Living History Detachment, 36th Infantry Division call for support fire during a World War II reenactment at the Texas Military Forces Open House at Camp Mabry, Texas, April 20, 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Suzanne Carter/Released)
Sgt. Suzanne Carter
U.S. Soldiers with the Living History Detachment, 36th Infantry Division call for support fire during a World War II reenactment at the Texas Military Forces Open House at Camp Mabry, Texas, April 20, 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Suzanne Carter/Released)

CAMP MABRY, Texas - The sun shone bright across the parade field as the Texas Military Forces welcomed current and former service members, their families, and the community to attend the annual Open House featuring the American Heroes Air Show, here, April 20-21, 2013.

The two-day military expo featured a variety of events intended to pay tribute to veterans, engage service members with the community and foster a spirit of patriotism.

"This was so encouraging today," said Estelle Coffey, an Austin-native attending the open house with her husband, Army Col. William Coffey, retired. "It kind of brings you back to patriotism, you know. You look out there and with all of what's going on like in Boston, we need patriotism. We need people to remember who we are."

"This Camp Mabry is the bright spot of Austin," William said, remembering when he enlisted on the post in 1940. "It's a spot that is always in order and provides a place for people to gather … to keep the spirit of the military."

A main attraction that drew the biggest crowd on Saturday was a reenactment of the Battle of Montelimar, a battle that found the 36th Infantry Division chasing the German Army during its retreat up the Rhone River in August 1944.

"It was a good reenactment of history," said Devin Zapata, 13, of Austin who attended the event with his dad, Sgt. 1st Class Jose Zapata. "It actually taught me a lot about our weapons ... It's a good way to show people how the soldiers lived their life instead of just how we live our life in the city."

Other reenactments included living history camps set up to recreate life for soldiers in the Texas Revolution and Civil War periods, including Buffalo Soldiers of Company A 9th Cavalry from Camp Mabry. Reenactors demonstrated weapons used during the Civil War and invited spectators to take part in history by holding and firing black powder reenactment loads from the antique weaponry.

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, a 3/5-scale reproduction of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, drew visitors who wished to pay respect to fallen heroes and who wanted to search for familiar names. Jess Lofgreen of Austin, a 25-year veteran who participated in 295 combat missions in Vietnam, searched for his roommate's name.

"It's nice to come and look on those people who you knew personally or you knew of that made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam conflict," Lofgreen said. "It's just comforting, yet difficult, to go back to that time period."

Service members from 16 countries, to include Haiti, Nigeria, Mexico and China, took the oath of citizenship in front of the memorial during a naturalization ceremony, which took place Saturday morning.

Another favorite attraction of the weekend was a military helicopter demonstration during which a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pursued a speeding vehicle across the parade field. The chopper simulated disabling the vehicle from the air before Soldiers rappelled from the aircraft and captured the fugitives inside. 

"Definitely the helicopters were my favorite," said James Burden of Austin, who brought his daughter and her friend to show service members they care. "Everything, the support of the troops and all the activities that they do for the families, it's just a lot of fun."

A parachute team and K-9 search and rescue team also demonstrated their skills and expertise at the parade field on Saturday.

The open house featured static helicopter displays and interactive booths from civilian first responders and law enforcement agencies throughout the Austin-area, as well as, information booths for service member support organizations, face-painting and food vendors.

"I think it's pretty cool," Lindsey Mabry of Austin said about her experience at the open house. "It's awesome to see all the troops out here. The support is amazing… It's just good to see that people care about what they're doing for you."

National Guard senior leaders 'Like' Facebook, Twitter

Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain

Posted on: April 2, 2013

Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The adjutant general of Texas, visiting with senior leaders of the Texas Military Forces on Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, March 20, 2013.
Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The adjutant general of Texas, visiting with senior leaders of the Texas Military Forces on Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, March 20, 2013. Nichols is the state's senior military leader appointed by the governor of Texas and posted this image to his official Facebook page (Major General John F. Nichols). (National Guard photo illustration by Air Force Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain)

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Senior National Guard leaders are making their voices heard on a new parade ground, in the  online auditorium of social media. State and federal military officials have taken to the Internet to send messages directly  to their troops and the public.

 The adjutant general of Texas, Air Force Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, recently launched an official Facebook page, and has  been posting behind-the-scenes photographs and informal guidance on a range of issues. He is currently one of six adjutants general to have a registered Facebook page with the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va.

 “The idea is to reach out to our people in another, unique way,” Nichols said. “The vast majority of our service members  are younger than 30 [years of age] – and this is a way to reach them in a familiar forum. And many are traditional members  of the Guard and can sometimes be hard to regularly reach, by nature of their part-time service.”

 This can be a daunting task, particularly for a Guard organization with more than 25,000, actively serving citizen-soldiers  and airmen performing disparate missions across a geographically expansive state and in overseas operations.

 “In many ways, social media is a modern version of our traditional office bulletin boards,” he said. “The only difference is  the Internet has the ability to reach people almost anywhere in the world.”

 For example, the Texas Army National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, is currently deployed to Afghanistan as part of Task Force Centurion, and they have been able to share photographs and videos of their soldiers and the positive things they are doing for the nation on their Facebook page.

At the national level, Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, the 27th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, is active on Facebook, as is his senior enlisted adviser, Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall. Grass is also on Twitter as @ChiefNGB. The adjutant general of Pennsylvania, Army Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, is also on Twitter as @TAGPNG, the only adjutant general with an NGB-registered account.

Grass and Jelinski-Hall tend to post photographs and comments from events they attend, and give updates on their current activities and projects.

It’s a way for the leaders to interact with service members and the public in a less formal setting.

Facebook and Twitter have been ranked the first and second most popular social networking sites, respectively, according to an eBizMBA analysis of global Internet traffic, dated March 18, 2013.

“It’s important to actively engage people where they are,” said Rick E. Breitenfeldt, the bureau’s public information branch chief, who advises leadership on developing their social media presence. “It’s the way people are communicating today.”

Beyond typical organization pages, he said it can be helpful for leaders to communicate directly with service members and their families.

“Sometimes, it’s important for the force to hear – in first-person – from the leadership,” Breitenfeldt said. “This way, they are able to share messages they think are important, but also behind-the-scenes items that you typically wouldn’t put on an organizational page.”

Their posts range in formality.

Grass has posted official press statements, as well as informal videos of his testimony before a congressional committee, discussing major issues like the current federal budget sequester.

Jelinski-Hall uploads casual, weekly “Mentorship Moment” videos, where she has shared advice on issues ranging from resiliency, core values and ethics to money management.

On Twitter, the micro-blogging site that limits posts to 140 characters, Grass has been known to tweet similar messages that he puts onto Facebook, and to “retweet” messages from accounts he follows, such as the National Guard (@USNationalGuard), the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s account (@thejointstaff) and its chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey). Craig of Pennsylvania’s activity on Twitter is very similar.

Additionally, the National Guard’s senior ranking officer frequently uses the hashtag #NationalGuard in his messages, which allows Twitter users to quickly find all posts with that term included.

The use of unique hashtags can be helpful in aggregating information during a crisis or emergency management situation, said Breitenfeldt. It also helps you reach the group of people that would be most interested in hearing your message.

“Hurricane Sandy is a prime example,” Breitenfeldt said. “We operated on high-tempo for an 18-day, straight period of time.”

Breitenfeldt said they used not only #NationalGuard, but also other unique hashtags, including #Sandy, to get word out about the National Guard response to that hurricane last fall.

Beyond sharing information, the effective use of social media for leaders is about finding ways to make connections and share personal insights, Breitenfeldt said.

To date, one of the Texas adjutant general’s most popular posts was about leaders taking calculated risks.

“Don’t be afraid of failure – it means you’re trying,” Nichols posted, March 19, 2013. “If leaders are afraid to make mistakes, we won’t improve as an organization. Do the risk analysis; assess the variables; but be prepared to underwrite the mistakes of your people and take responsibility for them.”

Social media has the ability to spread a message exponentially.

Nearly 50 people “liked” Nichols’ post and it has been shared numerous times, which Facebook reports has been seen by nearly 850 people, more than three times the number of people that currently follow the general’s page.

Among those who “liked” and commented on the post, in his personal capacity, was Air Force Staff Sgt. David Porcelle, a noncommissioned officer assigned to the Texas Military Forces’ Joint Operations Center in Austin, Texas. He wrote, “Sir, a great philosophy… I make mistakes all the time; rarely the same ones twice,” and included an emoticon forming a smiling face.

Porcelle said he first discovered the senior Texas leader’s page when “someone I know ‘liked’ a comment made by Maj. Gen. Nichols, and that [activity] showed up in my timeline.”

He said he follows numerous senior leader and organizational pages, and thinks they are helpful with getting information to a broad cross-section of people, including those who’ve deployed, transferred to new units or retired.

“Social media’s another tool in the box to get instant feedback from every angle and echelon,” he said. “It’s a useful adjunct to more formal means and direct contact.”

This can be invaluable during those times of disaster, when messages need to get out quickly, in real time.

Breitenfeldt said there was a social media multiplier effect in relation to National Guard’s response to Hurricane Sandy, particularly though their follower’s sharing and commenting on the National Guard’s posts.

“We posted 35 stories on our website that received 17,000 hits,” Breitenfeldt said. “But on Facebook, we posted a fraction of the stories, and they were seen a half a million times. On YouTube [a social media video sharing site], our videos received 1.5 million views and were shown on major networks.”

This type of capability can be powerful, particularly in a state the size of Texas, which can face a myriad of disasters, potentially at the same time, including: hurricanes; tornadoes; wildfires; and even blizzards.

In addition to Nichols, other senior Texas Guard officers on Facebook include: Maj. Gen. Joyce L. Stevens, assistant adjutant general – Army and commander of the Texas Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Manuel Rodriguez, commander of the state-based, volunteer Texas State Guard, and Brig. Gen. William L. Smith, commander of domestic operations.

“With our armories and air wings spread across the state, and units and personnel mobilized around the globe, social media can be a powerful tool to quickly send a message,” Nichols said. “Additionally, I enjoy hearing directly from our soldiers and airmen – getting their feedback.”

While the senior Texas general is still new to the online community, he said he wants to use the platform to talk about more than just himself and his activities.

“I look forward to helping get the word out about the great things we’re doing, [as] a military organization with our inter-agency partners, for the state and nation,” Nichols said.

An Army Guard aviation pioneer looks back

Col. Deanne E. "Dea" Lins, a member of the T xas Army National Guard, stands with her family at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, Jan. 12, 2013. Lins received the Meritorious Service Medal and retired after more than 30 years of service to the state and nation
Col. Deanne E. "Dea" Lins, a member of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with her family at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, Jan. 12, 2013. Lins received the Meritorious Service Medal and retired after more than 30 years of service to the state and nation. (Image courtesy of retired Col. Deanne E. Lins)
Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain 
 CAMP MABRY, Texas - The Texas Army National Guard's first female aviator recently retired after more than thirty years  of service in the National Guard, achieving the rank of colonel.

 Deanne E. "Dea" Lins of Austin was the Army National Guard's first female aviator in three different states - Connecticut,  Massachusetts and Texas. During her career, she flew UH-1 Iroquois, also known as Huey, and UH-60 Black Hawk  helicopters, from the mid-1980s into the late '90s.

 During the second half of her career, she held various positions, including service as an airspace management officer  on deployments to the South Korea and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Later she served in logistics, personnel and human  resources specialties, and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn. She concluded her career at the Texas  Military Forces' Joint Force Headquarters here.

 Lins began her military career through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Bridgeport, in  Bridgeport, Conn., where she was a distinguished graduate in 1983. After serving in Connecticut, then Massachusetts,  Lins joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1986.

She moved to Texas with her husband, Tony, a fellow aviator that was serving in the active-duty Army, she said. At the time, he was stationed at Fort Hood, near Killeen, and then later joined the Texas National Guard.

At one point, they served together in the 49th Aviation Brigade, which later became the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in Austin. Tony, a retired major, concluded his military service as the resource manager for the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, headquartered here.

Lins described her transition to Texas from the Northeast.

"Coming into Texas wasn't hard for me," Lins said. "But I do know it was difficult for some of the men."

There were cultural adjustments that had to be worked through, she said, but added that her fellow pilots were generally welcoming.

"Some of the men were Vietnam era pilots," Lins said. "They were wonderful, [and I] had some wonderful mentors. They took everyone - all the new people - and really tried making them the best they could be."

While proud, Lins downplayed the perception of her being a pioneer.

"I was the first female aviator (in Texas)," she said, but noted that there were two other females working their way into Army aviation at the time, including now Cols. Jeanne (Buschow) Arnold, director of the Texas Military Forces Red Team Support Group here, and Lisa Hines, director of support for the Joint Force here.

She said they all flew during the same period.

From her experience, Lins said some of the greatest hurdles she faced being an early female aviator involved living in field conditions, a challenge she later tackled as a company commander, then as a battalion commander.

"It doesn't really matter which sex you are, both sides have their own issues," Lins said. "How do you balance being close enough to hear and know what's going on in the unit, in an informal chain-of-command way, without having to break modesty?"

Lins found it to be important for all Soldiers to be in close proximity in field conditions, because important discussions can take place and decisions can be made impacting the unit.

"The next day, you might miss a meeting because you didn't know," she said. "You didn't know what was going on."

As a commander, she worked through these complexities with her noncommissioned officers, some of whom said their spouses had concerns with mixed gender cohabitation. But they found a way to address the issue.

"We set up bivouac when we got home for the Family Day activities," Lins said. "We set it all up as if we were in the field, with all of the curtains and all the different things that we do. I think that really helped."

Further, she said she enjoyed building close-knit relationships in the National Guard. Many she has had for decades.

One such relationship is with Col. Patrick M. Hamilton, the adjutant general's chief of staff, who said he met Lins and her husband two decades ago, when he was an armored cavalry officer assigned to the aviation brigade.

"In the early '90s we got to know each other," Hamilton said. "Dea was a well respected pilot, and she was competent - and everybody liked her."

Hamilton discussed another barrier Lins broke during her career, when they deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 49th Armored Division in support of Operation Joint Forge.

"In 1999, we prepared for and deployed together," he said. "Dea was on the division staff with me, she was our G3-Air (air battlefield manager), a first (for a female Army Guard officer) that I know of. We were the first Guard division to go and command active duty troops in Bosnia."

"Everything was on the other foot with them," Hamilton said of the deployment. "He (Tony) had the kids at home, and Dea and I were deployed together."

Beyond the challenges, Lins said there were many benefits to serving in the National Guard.

Lins said her military service proved to be a stabilizing force in her life, particularly when balancing her life commitments.

"I don't know if it's a lot different from anyone else," Lins said. "Being a mom and having a career in the National Guard, I think is a huge benefit."

"I didn't have to suffer much in that career. I could continue that career, in my case almost 32 years," she said. "I was able to continue a National Guard career all this time."

"If you're in the Guard, you're family," she said. "Through the years, you're going to go in-and-out of each other's career. You'll know these same people for many, many years. You might not see somebody for ten years, (and) then you're working with them again."

She looked back on an exceptional career with pride.

"I wouldn't trade a thing," Lins said. "I wouldn't trade any of it."

Texas National Guardsmen participate in bi-national ceremony

Staff Sgt. Pedro Villareal (2nd from left), along with the color guard detail from 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, participate at the 2013 George Washington Birthday Celebration Parade in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 23, 2013.
Staff Sgt. Pedro Villareal (2nd from left), along with the color guard detail from 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, participate at the 2013 George Washington Birthday Celebration Parade in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 23, 2013. The event is part of a two-week-long celebration, recognizing the former president. (National Guard photo by Army Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon)

Story by: Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon


 LAREDO, Texas – Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, Texas Army National Guard, unfurled their flags,  shouldered arms and marched toward Mexico. The Guardsmen, from the unit’s color guard, presented the colors in the  Washington’s Birthday Celebration - International Bridge Ceremony held in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 23, 2013.

 The event serves as the “official welcome” between officials and dignitaries from Mexico and the United States by  exchanging “abrazos," or embraces, symbolizing good will between the two nations. 

 Staff Sgt. Pedro Villarreal, color guard detail noncommissioned officer in charge, considered it an honor to be part of this  bi-national ceremony.

 “It’s a great experience to be able to lead a group of VIPs from the United States to meet their counterparts from Mexico in  the center of the bridge where the two countries meet,” Villarreal said. “I grew up here and have seen how both countries  contribute to each others' culture. This ceremony allows us to celebrate and embrace that.”

 The “abrazos” are exchanged between U.S. and Mexican counterparts on the international bridge, close to where the  boundary lies. Mayors from the cities of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, led the exchange, followed  by state, federal and military representatives from both countries.

Brig. Gen. Kenneth W. Wisian, assistant adjutant general – Air and commander of the Texas Air National Guard, represented the U.S. Military exchanging his “abrazo” with Mexican Gen. Antonio Solorzano Ortega. Brig. Gen. Sean A. Ryan, also present, said hosting the gesture on the bridge itself is symbolic of the solidarity between U.S. and Mexican militaries.

“The bridge we’re on is not just a physical structure that connects both countries, it’s also a conduit that allows us to foster relationships with our military counterparts in Mexico,” Ryan said. “I’m proud the Texas National Guard represented the U.S. Military, and that we were able to provide the color guard detail for the ceremony.”

This is the second year Villarreal and his detail supported the event.

“They were so impressed by our performance last year that they asked us out again,” Villarreal said. “It’s a very important occasion, dignitaries from both countries are out there, and all eyes are on us to kick off this event. My detail was proud to not only represent our country but Texas as well.”

The ceremony was followed by the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Parade, wrapping up two weeks of events celebrating the life of the first president.

Texas Guard opens ranks to Special Operations Detachment

Story By: Capt. Adam Musil

Posted: February 11, 2013

Sgt. Michael Vanpool Texas Guard Special Forces and Airborne Soldiers ready themselves aboard a CH-47 Chinook just prior to a deliberate water airborne drop into Walter E. long Lake. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool, 36th Infantry Division, Public Affairs)
Sgt. Michael Vanpool
Texas Guard Special Forces and Airborne Soldiers ready themselves aboard a CH-47 Chinook just prior to a deliberate water airborne drop into Walter E. long Lake. (Photo by Spc. Michael Vanpool, 36th Infantry Division, Public Affairs)

AUSTIN, Texas - Continuing its mission to remain adaptable and deployable for contingency operations around the world, the Texas Army National Guard has opened its ranks to what will be one of its most diverse and unique units, Special Operations Detachment-Africa.

“It’s an exciting time for Texas Special Forces as we add the Special Operations Detachment to our [Texas National Guard] current Special Forces structure,” said Lt. Col. Doug O’Connell, SOD-A detachment commander. “The addition of the SOD-A coupled with the two SF Companies currently in place and a theater Special Forces Support Company means Texas now has the ability to support worldwide missions.” 

Lt. Col. O’Connell and his staff have spent the better part of the last two years working to establish the SOD-Africa unit in the Texas Army National Guard, an organization traditionally comprised of standard infantry, artillery, and cavalry units. The new unit officially joined the ranks of the Texas Army National Guard in October 2012 and will directly support the Special Operations Command-Africa, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. When not serving on active duty, SOD-A will provide specialized capabilities to the governor and adjutant general for homeland security operations.

"The members of the SOD-A bring with them an unprecedented wealth of regional and special operations backgrounds,” said Capt. Dan Edwards, SOD-A team member. “As we close in on 100 percent strength, the civilian, academic, and special forces operational experience of our staff is quite impressive."

Despite a geographical orientation to Africa, SOD-A has the ability to deploy anywhere in the world. SOD-Africa is one of eight National Guard Special Operations Detachments, all of which currently rotate to Afghanistan to conduct Special Operations missions.

Texas State Guardsmen team up with state agencies to eradicate rabies

Private Paul Pettit, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, Texas State Guard, unloads a bag of bait to be dropped over the South Texas Zapata area during the 2012 Texas Oral Rabies Vaccination Program.
Private Paul Pettit, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, Texas State Guard, unloads a bag of bait to be dropped over the South Texas Zapata area during the 2012 Texas Oral Rabies Vaccination Program. Since the program's inception in 1995, more than 39 million doses of the oral rabies vaccine, Raboral V RG, have been distributed over approximately 540,000 square miles of Texas. (U.S. Army Photo photo by Laura L. Lopez)

 Story by: Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon

  ZAPATA, Texas – Members of the Texas State Guard and the Texas Wildlife Services, joined forces with the Texas  Department of State Health Services to participate in the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program along the Texas/Mexico  Border, Jan. 8-17, 2013.

 The annual program drops baited vaccines from an aircraft over high-risk wildlife areas to help control rabies. 

 “We have been dropping baited vaccines in to reduce rabies in domestic dogs and coyotes in south Texas since 1995,  and the gray fox in west Texas since 1996,” said Dr. Ernest Oertli, director ORVP, DSHS. 

 Oertli states that the number of rabies cases in south Texas has dropped from around 150 cases in 1995 to zero in  2000, and only one known report since then. Similarly in West Texas, 240 cases were reported in 1996, with the number  dropping to zero in recent years. 

 The program’s success hits home for Alamo, Texas resident, Sgt. 1st Class Gary Vanderpool, 3rd Battalion, 1st  Regiment, Texas State Guard, who has participated in the program for two years. 

 “I live about 1.5 miles from the border, pretty much an area where we drop the vaccines,” said Vanderpool. “I was around  when a rabies outbreak hit the local community years back.”

 Vanderpool remembers hearing about the initiation of ORVP to combat the epidemic.

 “I recall seeing the planes flying overhead and dropping baits,” Vanderpool continued. “I had no idea the State Guard  was involved and much less that I would someday be up there myself.”

 Up in the air, Vanderpool, along with fellow State Guardsmen, 1st Lt. Stephen Walker, Sgt. Joel Hernandez, Sgt. Ignacio  Vega and Cpl. Arial Lim, rotated in two-man crews to help distribute the vaccines.

“One person is the navigator and one person is a baiter,” Vanderpool said. “The navigator helps the pilot watch for hazards such as flocks of birds, wires, or other aircraft. He also keeps watch on the distance of each bait line dropped and relays that information to the baiter. The baiter then takes that info and prepares the proper amount of baits to be dropped accordingly.” 

The baits are delivered from as far south as Zapata to the west near Alpine, across a 25-mile wide “barrier zone” every January. Oertli said the cooler weather helps with the effectiveness of the vaccines.

“There are three main reasons we drop in January,” Oertli said. “One, is that food is scarce in the area, so the animals at risk are more likely to come out to eat the bait; two, the cooler weather helps keep the vaccines viable longer; and three, fire ants. Fire ants are less active in the winter, so less likely to devour the baits.”

Oertli said in addition to the weather, the program’s success is due to the hard work of all the agencies involved, and gave a particular mention to the Texas State Guard.

“The State Guard is a valuable asset to this program.” Oertli continues. “Their flexibility and determination to get the job done, absolutely contributes to the ORVP’s accomplishments. Most of these Soldiers are from the areas affected, so they can see the benefits of their efforts firsthand.”

This success came full circle for Vanderpool.

“I joined the State Guard three years ago, because I wanted to be a Soldier again and serve my community,” Vanderpool said. “Working on ORVP gives me the opportunity to use my soldier skills to plan and execute the mission. The success of my team’s hard work is evident, almost literally, in our own backyard. ”

ORVP’s success in south and west Texas, and communities similar to Vanderpool’s has prompted DSHS to begin assessing the possibility of expanding the program in areas in east Texas.

627th Engineer Dive Unit’s Change of Command Ceremony held underwater

Story by: Spc. Aaron Moreno

Posted: December 13, 2012

Courtesy Photo Capt. Jacob Patterson and Capt. Terrance Tysall of the Texas Army National Guard’s 627th Engineer Heavy Dive Detachment conduct a unique under water change of command ceremony, Dec. 8 (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Lance Little)
Courtesy Photo
Capt. Jacob Patterson and Capt. Terrance Tysall of the Texas Army National Guard’s 627th Engineer Heavy Dive Detachment conduct a unique under water change of command ceremony, Dec. 8 (Army photo by Staff Sgt. Lance Little)

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Members of the Texas Army National Guard’s 627th Engineer Heavy Dive Detachment, headquartered in Corpus Christi, Texas, welcomed a new commander during a unique underwater ceremony, Dec. 8.

Capt. Jacob Patterson received the detachment’s guidon and responsibility of the unit from Capt. Terrance Tysall, the outgoing commander. The ceremony was anything but routine as family, friends, and special guests watched the ceremony via an underwater video feed from a remotely operated vehicle. 

“I have many goals coming into this unit,” Patterson said, “but primarily I want to continue the history of diving that they’ve started here in Texas for the military.”

“One of our primary missions is to support civil responders and I want to ensure we have the ability and force packages available successfully support civil authorities,” Patterson said about his new command.

The underwater guidon exchange is a tradition within the detachment that also showcases the unit’s unique capabilities to friends, family, and high ranking officers. The Heavy Dive Unit is one of the Texas Army National Guard’s newest units and outgoing commander Capt. Terrance Tysall joined the unit shortly after its creation.

According to Tysall, his fondest memory as team member and commander was helping to build the team from the ground up and working with talented Soldiers who wanted to take the unit to a higher level of operational capability. 

“I was fortunate enough to be present when the team was growing and becoming a fully realized unit,” Tysall said. “I mean, we became real divers instead of just scuba. We got service supplied, we got our chamber, and we were really accepted by the Army as a larger entity.” 

The unit is composed of scuba and surface supplied divers that can perform underwater tasks, including: demolitions; port construction and rehabilitation; salvage and clearance; and search and reconnaissance missions. 

The unit was organized in 2008, and Patterson the detachment’s third commander. 

“At the end of the day, this ceremony is not about me, but a new chapter in the history of this unit,” Patterson said. “I’m taking over a unit of highly trained Soldiers that are eager to serve and ready to face the challenges ahead. I am excited about the future and confident that we will succeed in our future operations.”

Spurgin takes reins at Texas ESGR
Jim Rebholz, chairman of the National ESGR Committee, presents retired Maj. Gen. Jerry D. Icenhower with the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service for his service as the chairman of the Texas ESGR Committee (2006-2012) following an ESGR/Wal-Mart Statement of Support Signing event in San Antonio, Nov. 12, 2012. ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) is a Department of Defense agency that was formed in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component service members and civilian employers. (National Guard Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain / Released)


Story by Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Retired Maj. Gen. Eddy M. Spurgin, the former commanding general of the Texas Army National  Guard’s 36th Infantry Division, headquartered here, became the new chairman of the Texas ESGR Committee in Austin,  last month.

 After graduating from Texas A&M University, Spurgin spent more than 30 years as a citizen-soldier in the Texas Army  National Guard, including service in Iraq. He is currently the District Conservationist for the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 Spurgin replaced retired Maj. Gen. Jerry D. Icenhower, who served as Texas ESGR chairman from 2006-2012, and said he  will take over where Icenhower left off.

 “I want to continue to foster good communication and interface with national headquarters,” said Spurgin, and will help  “move the ball forward with the ESGR mission here in Texas.”

Having been a career guardsman, Spurgin said he understands the unique challenges that arise from service in the military’s reserve components. “I want to be a strong advocate for our employers and our service members,” he said.

The Texas ESGR Committee is the state-level affiliate of the national Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense agency, said John Steele, the program support technician for Texas ESGR. The organization was created in 1972 to increase cooperation and understanding between guardsmen and reservists and their civilian employers, and to help resolve conflicts that arise between the private company’s operations and the employee’s military service.

“ESGR is not a law enforcement agency, but serves as a neutral resource for employers and service members,” said Steele. “The Ombudsman Services Program provides trained mediators to help resolve employment disputes.”

As an organization, ESGR provides outreach to employers and service members, Steele said, including training and materials (at no direct cost) on their rights and responsibilities under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, or USERRA, which is a federal law that provides employment protections for individuals who choose, voluntarily or involuntarily, to service in the uniformed services.

Additionally, ESGR works with companies to help integrate unemployed National Guard and Reserve service members into the workforce, Steele said, including the “Hero 2 Hired” program (, and will recognize outstanding employers through several annual awards issued by the Department of Defense.

The Texas ESGR Committee has about 230 volunteers and full-time staff members throughout the state to build bridges in the community, Spurgin said.

“ESGR is out there, side-by-side with these partners,” Spurgin said. “I’ll provide whatever leadership I can to continue the success of the program here in Texas.”

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Beyond the yellow ribbon: Family support services connects texas guardsmen with services

On Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, friends and family members of the Soldiers from the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade say goodbye, with hugs and kisses, at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, Texas as the approximate 200 soldiers prepare to leave on a deployment to Afghanistan.
On Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, friends and family members of the Soldiers from the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade say goodbye, with hugs and kisses, at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, Texas as the approximate 200 soldiers prepare to leave on a deployment to Afghanistan. While away from their loved ones, family members of the deployed soldiers will have opportunities to participate in yellow ribbon events and receive any necessary support from Family Support Services. (National Guard photo by Laura L. Lopez/Released).


Story by Laura Lopez

 CAMP MABRY, Texas - November 1st marks the start of a month-long proclamation declaring November as Military Family Month. With more than 31,000 men and women in the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) answering the call to serve the  nation in support of the Global War on Terror, members with Family Support Services (FSS) remain diligent in providing  top-notch care and support services to service members and their families.

 “Without strong families who stand by their service member, a successful National Guard cannot exist,” said Lt. Col. Alba  Villanueva, Family Support Services Branch Manager. “With the ever-changing face and duties of the National Guard, it’s  important to help National Guard families achieve readiness for what’s ahead while remaining flexible in the present.”

 An umbrella organization consisting of youth and family programs, Strong Bonds workshops, Transition Assistance  Advisors, Resilience and Mental Health programs, as well as family readiness, the Texas Military Forces Family Support  Services reports assisting more than 185,000 customers in fiscal year 2012.

 “Throughout fiscal year 2012 our Yellow Ribbon program, which aims to help Reserve and National Guard members  reintegrate with their families, communities and civilian employers following a deployment, reached nearly 6,300 people  over the course of 40 events,” said Villanueva. 

 A congressionally mandated program, established in 2008, the Yellow Ribbon Program focuses on preparing service  member and their families for mobilization, sustaining families during deployment and reintegrating service members and  their families following one’s return from a deployment. Phases commencing a minimum of 60 days before the Soldier  leaves and continuing throughout and for a minimum of 60 days post deployment, Yellow Ribbon topics include legal  readiness, family stressors, communication, suicide prevention, substance abuse and job fairs. 

 “We want to stress that whether it be a first deployment or sixth for our service members, new information and resources  are identified every year,” said Villanueva stressing those Soldiers with multiple deployments have an added value to the  families and other Soldiers by sharing their knowledge and lessons learned.

 In addition, the Family Support Services resilience team members strive to assist units, Soldiers, and Families by providing  programs, services and resources that address critical psychological and emotional needs. Through Peer-to-Peer (P2P)  training and other advanced courses, soldiers learn how to recognize signs of distress in their fellow Battle Buddies and Wingmen and how to get help when needed. Essentially enabling qualified service members to be peer interventionists at the unit level to identify, intervene and initiate referral management the ultimate goal is to ensure both their personal and extended military family is there for support.

“This program is focused on preventing our soldiers and families from getting so stressed that they consider taking drastic measures to deal with their stress and is one that is driven year round,” said Capt. Carina Robinson, Texas Military Forces Family Support Services Resilience Coordinator. “After all, we are Texans defending Texas.”

Other fiscal year 2012 highlights include the Job Connection Education Program’s 1000th hire, several youth program camps, multiple family outreach events and a Suicide Prevention 5K run.

For more information, about Family Support Services or a list of upcoming events visit or call 1-800-252-8032.