Posts in Category: Texas Army National Guard

HEALING AFTER HARVEY: One soldiers Journey through the great storm of 2017

SWEENY, TX, UNITED STATES

11.01.2017

Story by: Staff Sgt. Bethany Anderson

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

SWEENEY, Texas - As a mother and Texas Army National Guardsman, I have had first-hand experience with wildfires, tornadoes, ice storms, snow storms and earthquakes, but Harvey was my first hurricane.

What could have been an ugly and terrible life changing event for my little girls was turned into a beautiful adventure.

As Texas Guardsmen from across the state geared up to serve Texas citizens, I was preparing to evacuate my family from our home. Not knowing where we’d go, how long we’d be gone, weighed me down like a ton of bricks. But I was not about to unnecessarily put my three little girls in harm’s way.

While we loaded food and clothes into the cars, I asked my 3-year-old daughter, Kayden, and my 5-year-old daughter, Alex, to make sure they picked up everything off the floor in case water got inside while we were away.

“Is the house going to sink, Mommy?” Kayden asked, peering up at me with her beautiful big blue eyes.

“Sort of,” I replied. “Now, please go pick up your things off the floor.” Alex and Kayden darted off to their rooms and I continued to pack.

I was gathering up the last of our belongings when I heard Alex and Kayden talking in the hallway. “I love you, one would say. “Be safe,” the other would say. “I’ll miss you… we’ll be back soon.”

I peered out of the doorway to see my two babies hugging door frames and kissing the walls of our house. When they reached me, I could barely hold back my tears.

I evacuated my family around six o’clock on the evening of Monday, August 28, 2017. With my mother’s help, we loaded up my three daughters and three dogs into the car. My mother, whose flight back to California out of Houston was canceled, drove my husband’s truck containing our food, water, some valuables, and clothes. My husband, JD, who was working in Brownsville, looked for someone who could house our dogs.

The drive from Sweeny to San Antonio took us almost seven hours; a drive which normally takes three.

My 13-year-old daughter, Emily, argued with Alex while Kayden made animal noises and sang at the top of her lungs and one of the dogs whined and howled. The madness inside our car seemed to mimic the madness outside the car while I gripped the steering wheel and strained to hear the GPS.

I took a deep breath, focusing on the road as another violent gust of wind rocked the car. What used to be open fields of green were now angry oceans of flood water stretching out as far as I could see. It seemed as if our Toyota 4Runner was precariously skimming over the thin ribbon of road that cut through the massive expanse of water. I have driven through a lot of intense situations as a mom and as a Soldier, but this was, by far, my most stressful drive ever.

We arrived at the hotel in San Antonio around one o’clock in the morning, August 29, 2017.

Despite being mentally and emotionally drained, sleep did not come easy. Kayden’s little fingers were gripped around my index finger and Alex’s head rested gently on my shoulder while I listened to Emily sleep on the couch. My family was safe; but instead of feeling relieved, the uncertainty of our situation gnawed at me. With a heavy heart and my stomach in knots, I finally drifted to sleep.

Warm sunshine poured through the windows of our hotel room the next morning. Alex and Kayden hopped up in bed and exclaimed, “It’s not raining! Can we go home now?” I was both amused and disheartened. “No, girls. It’s still raining at our house. It’s not safe to go back.”

I spent the next two weeks answering the same question, and each time my answer never failed to produce a look of disappointment on my children’s faces.

We relocated three times and had to relocate the dogs twice. Each time we left the dogs with someone else, Alex’s heart would break and she’d sulk into my arms desperately fighting back tears.

I spent every day checking the weather, skimming through Facebook for information and watching Brazoria County press conferences for updates. I hated not being able to tell my children when we would go home. I didn’t even know if we’d have a home to go back to.

Anxiety, guilt and frustration came to me in waves, but I held it all; my girls needed to feel safe. They couldn’t see Mom disappear into her emotions.

Disappointing my children wasn’t the only thing on my mind. I had a couple part-time jobs and had recently started my own business to help pay the bills. Even though my husband was still working, Harvey’s relentlessness put every stream of income I had in limbo. Our family was already struggling to keep our finances afloat, and this certainly wasn’t going to help.

When I first received a message from my unit asking if our family was financially affected by the storm, I didn’t respond. Thousands of other people were much worse off than we were; it didn’t feel right asking for help. But my mom reminded me of all the times that we were able to help other people.

“You and JD have helped financially support others when they needed it,” my mom said. “You need to give others the opportunity to bless you.”

I replied to the text and let my unit know our family’s situation.

While our story is filled with tears and frustration, it is also filled with kindness, hope and gratitude. I have never been on the receiving end of so much generosity, support and encouragement.

When I first heard the phrase ‘Texans serving Texas,’ I only thought of myself as a Texas Guardsman, serving the citizens of Texas and the United States. I never thought it would mean Texas Army National Guard Soldiers serving my family.

Peers and leaders in the 71st Troop Command reached into wallets, without hesitation, and gave money, gift cards, toiletries and toys to my family, many of whom had never seen my face or heard my name before. Letters, gift cards and care packages also arrived from friends of Soldiers.

“This is like Christmas!” Alex shouted in excitement as she reached into a box of toys.

My children were filled with joy and laughter as they played with their new treasures. I was, and still am, both overwhelmed and humbled by the support my family and I received from my fellow service members.

One of my responsibilities as a Public Affairs NCO is to help tell the Army story. My unit, the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, even found a way for me to support the Texas Military Department’s mission in response to Hurricane Harvey, despite my situation. I had Soldiers from my team spread out all over the state of Texas working long, hard hours to make sure people knew who the Texas Army National Guard was and what we were doing to help. It is difficult to be a leader and stand on the sidelines, but my unit empowered me to dig in and help my Soldiers be successful.

While my unit was doing everything they could to ensure the safety and well-being of my family, my business partners from all over the country flew into action. They took up donations and sent our family care packages with activities for the girls, home made cookies and gift cards. Another business partner sent a care package of supplements to help with my daughter’s digestive health problems.

We were even able to explore some fun places, as many businesses (like the aquarium) were opening their doors to Harvey evacuees free of charge. I didn’t have to stress over where dinner was coming from, and I didn’t have to confine my children to a hotel room for two weeks because we didn’t have money for gas. Every penny we received was used on gas, groceries and bills. The monetary and physical gifts my family received were in exact proportion to what we needed, exactly when we needed it. No more, no less.

On Saturday, September 9, the roads cleared and the sun broke through the clouds, so we headed home.

JD had driven up from Brownsville to help me get our family back to the house. We hadn’t seen our home in almost two weeks and didn’t know what to expect, but we were hopeful.

The closer we got to home, the more destruction and devastation we saw. Sheet rock, furniture and appliances were already sitting outside of houses. Trees, bushes and buildings were coated with thick brown mud. Some of the trees and bushes were tangled up with mattresses, chairs and trash. My 13-year-old daughter, Emily, noticed her best friend’s house had fallen prey to the flooding.

Our home was spared, for the most part. The menacing waters of the flooded San Bernard River came within just a few short feet of touching our home. Our master bedroom, bathroom and closet will need repairs from water damage caused by a leak from the first few days of the storm.

We are truly blessed to have so little to repair when so much of our neighborhood and community lost everything.

Whether in uniform, or out of uniform, I am a Texan serving Texas. I’m working to raise money to buy new playground equipment for Kayden’s daycare that lost everything in the flood.

Alex and Kayden sorted through all their belongings so they could share their clothes and toys with children who have none. Emily spent her free time with our church youth group helping people clean up wherever they could. So many people helped us after we evacuated and we’re going to do everything we can to help too. Only good things can come from helping others.

The road ahead for our family is going to be a difficult one. But we know that we won’t have to travel that road alone, or more than one day at a time. The recent events of the last three weeks have shown me that I have the strongest support networks a person could hope for.

I am a better person because of this experience and I will be able to bless others because of it. There are too many people who helped to list them all, but I will never forget and will always cherish their generosity.

There is a lot of uncertainty in our near future, but I am certain that everything’s going to be just fine.

Heroes of Harvey

HOUSTON, TX, UNITED STATES

10.01.2017

Story by Staff Sgt. Bethany Anderson

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

HOUSTON -- Hurricane Harvey carved a path of destruction through countless communities in southeastern Texas for days, after making landfall with an estimated 130 mile per hour winds near Rockport, Texas, August 25, 2017. While storm winds, rain and flood waters brought chaos and tragedy to the area, Texas Guardsmen partnered with local, state and federal first responders, bringing life-saving support and supplies to Texans in need.

Months before Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast, the Texas Military Department worked with state and federal partners to plan a concept operation to rehearse inter-agency coordination and joint training. All of the training for Texas National Guard units would be put to the test before, during and after Harvey left its mark on Texas.

“While we don’t want to have to put our training to the test during a tragedy, our citizen-guardsmen remain prepared to help save lives and property, when called,” said Texas Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Patrick M. Hamilton, Dual Status Commander for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

The Texas Military Department began strategically mobilizing Texas Army, Air and State Guardsmen as Harvey entered the Gulf of Mexico and approached the Texas coast. While the storm raged on, they worked with state and federal agencies through a phased approach to put the appropriate military resources in the right place at the right time.

“We are here to help our communities,” said Hamilton. “Working alongside our partner agencies and local first responders, we focused on deploying Guardsmen and resources where they were needed to save lives.”

Within three days of Harvey’s landfall, 12,000 Texas Guardsmen were working around the clock to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. It was the first time in since World War I that the entire force was mobilized at once.

The first priority was search and rescue. Zodiac boats, high-profile vehicles, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft from Texas and across the country were deployed in response to emergency conditions in affected areas.

Guardsmen from across the United States, partner first responders and service members from both active and reserve components waded through waters with boats and high profile vehicles. Overhead helicopter crews worked to airlift Texans stranded on rooftops, while Airmen in C-130s evacuated numerous people to safety.

Texas State Guardsmen were waiting with dry blankets and a smile, for displaced Texans at shelters across the state where evacuees would be identified and reunited with loved ones. Integrating seamlessly into Harvey relief operations, Texas Guardsmen helped with everything from search and rescue to critical life support, logistics support and safety operations.

Texas Guardsmen conducted hundreds of air and ground missions, performing more than 16,000 rescues and evacuating more than 18,000 people and 1,200 animals. As part of the complex inter-agency and joint operation, state and federal partners performed thousands of additional evacuations and rescue operations.

“This is what we train for,” said Hamilton. “And we’re proud to stand by our civilian partners, first responders and volunteers to serve the citizens of Texas.”

The Texas State Guard, an all-volunteer force, supported Harvey relief efforts with 17 boat teams for search and rescue operations and eight Electronic Tracking Network teams to help evacuees locate loved ones checked into shelters. In addition, the 41 Texas State Guard shelter teams sheltered more than 26,000 evacuees and more than 700 animals in 15 shelters across the state.

On Sept. 1, The sun broke through clouds, stopping what seemed like Harvey’s never-ending stream of rain a, causing flood waters to recede. As the threat from severe flooding began to dissipate, Texas Guardsmen switched their focus to supporting recovery and stability operations.

Texas Army and Air National Guardsmen immediately began constructing temporary hospitals and emergency clinics to aid medical first responders until hospitals regained power. Inside Texas Military Department medics worked side-by-side with civilian doctors to assess and treat those injured in the storm.

“There’s been some pretty serious injuries,” said Texas National Guard Spc. Sergio Villarreal, 1-143rd Infantry Regiment, “It’s great to see civilians and military working hand in hand.”

Thousands of families and individuals were stranded and without clean drinking water for days after Harvey passed over their cities. To provide Texas families in need of basic necessities, the Texas Military Department managed approximately 30 points of distribution in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. Guardsmen, working with volunteers from all over the country, distributed food, clean water, hygiene, baby and pet products to more than 100,000 Texan families in cities from Corpus Christi to Beaumont as part of the relief operations.

Texas Military Department chaplains provided emotional and spiritual support to service members and first responders, while simultaneously coordinating with local churches to get much needed supplies to affected Texans. Soldiers from Texas and Ohio worked together to deliver and feed hay to stranded livestock, helping to preserve the local agriculture and economy.

“This is the way I serve my country. I’m here helping people out,” said Texas National Guard Pfc. Jonathan Galindo, 3-133rd Field Artillery, who worked as a member of a POD team in Orange. “You know, the water is high, they’re not able to get out of their homes. It’s great we’re able to provide for them here.”

The mission of the Texas Military Department is to provide the Governor and the President with ready forces in support of state and federal authorities at home and abroad. When they were called upon, the men and women from the Texas Guard were ready and answered that call with a passion to help people.

“Hurricane Harvey left great destruction in its path, and the recovery process will take many years,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The Adjutant General of Texas. “However, the Texas Military Department’s response to Hurricane Harvey, alongside our partners, saved lives and helped many Texans take the first step towards rebuilding.”

Maintenance Soldiers keep the Hurricane Harvey rescue and recovery effort moving forward

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Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | Sgt. Jennifer Bruner from Claremore, Okla. and Pfc. Thunder Sharp from Perkins, Okla., both with the 700th Brigade Support Battalion, Oklahoma National Guard, check for a short in the wiring of a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle at the Beaumont Regional Staging Area in Jefferson County, Texas, Sept. 9, 2017. The 700th BSB is coming in to relieve the Combined Maintenance crew.

BEAUMONT, TX, UNITED STATES

09.10.2017

Story by Sgt. Ariel Solomon

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

In disaster response operations, Soldiers depend on their vehicles to rescue stranded people and bring supplies to those in need. Flooding along the Gulf Coast of Texas following Hurricane Harvey placed significant strain on even the hardiest of military vehicles. 

During these operations, Army mechanics and vehicle maintainers work around the clock to do their part to keep the rescue and recovery effort moving.

“You can tell some of these guys have been living in their trucks for three or four days,” said Sgt. Michael Shupak of the 736th Component Repair Company, Texas National Guard. “We put them in cots, give them drinks, food from the dining facility, whatever they need to be comfortable while we work on their trucks. When we’re done, they’re on the road again.”

The most common issue causing trucks to break down is water diluting the various oils used to lubricate moving parts within the vehicles, which makes parts break, bearings seize or engines overheat. When this happens, the vehicle is “deadlined” and unable to be sent back out on missions.

“The Soldiers are going above and beyond the capabilities of the vehicles when fording water,” said Sgt. Feraz Hosein with the 736th CRC, a native of Saginaw, Texas. “To rescue people, they have to do what they have to do.”

The Soldier’s Creed states that “I will always place the mission first,” and it doesn’t matter if their mission is rescuing civilians at the risk of damaging trucks or repairing those vehicles before preparing their own sleeping area.

“There wasn’t anything set up for us when we arrived and there were six vehicles that needed repairs,” said Sgt. Derwood Smelley with the 112th Quartermasters, Texas National Guard, a native of Hallsville. “We got to work before we got our own tent setup. We were up until 2 a.m. getting those trucks working.”

These Soldiers, from several different units, received the call and in a few days they came together as a team to accomplish their task. In total, the combined maintenance crew has repaired more than 40 vehicles, some of which are being sent immediately to Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. 

“Overall, it was a really good mission and we accomplished a lot,” said Hosein. “We pushed to the limit, working 24 hours a day, late at night and everyone did awesome.”

Ragin' Cajuns feed First Responders

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Photo By Sgt. Matthew Wright | Staff from the Cajun' Caterers who's main purpose is to feed first responders, set up at the Ford Center in Beaumont to feed the thousands of Guards members from Texas and other states as well as first responders and government relief workers.

BEAUMONT, TX, UNITED STATES

09.09.2017

Story by Sgt. Matthew Wright

56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (36th ID, TXARNG)

 

Beaumont, TEXAS -- There is a saying during the Napoleonic period, an Army marches on its stomach. Centuries later, that saying still holds to be true. Though the Texas National Guard’s objective is not war related, the supplies most needed to run this hurricane relief mission still stands, being fed.

This is where Heads and Tails, a part of Cajun Caterers company comes in. The Thibodaux, LA based company works from disaster to disaster providing three meals a day and refreshments to the military and first responders. The company is a subsidiary of Disaster Resource Group based out of Baton Rouge, LA and their food is measured by size and style to accommodate those they serve.

Co-Owner and supervisor, Ronnie A. Eschete explains, “My purpose is people are fed with a protein, a vegetable and we make sure they’re hydrated with all types of beverages.”

They support all different types of disasters, which includes fires, earthquakes and tornadoes among others. The company is setup to cater to a large group to endure for a long time period. 

“We have fed from 1500 people to 2400 plus, here.” Eschete said.

Though the people they feed are large in numbers, the staff comprises of only 17 people. They play different roles, cooking, setting up the serving areas and loading and unloading the food.

Cajun Caterers receives its supplies from both Beaumont and Louisiana. Since East Texas was hit by Hurricane Harvey, they have reached out to other distributors from other cities and states. 


The company prides itself on the quality of food even with the quantities they have to serve. Their chefs have cooked from all over the world, like Paris, and some of the finer restaurants in the United States he said.

There is a lot that goes into making meals for a large group. They have to follow a specific menu that would be able to accommodate the majority of the people. Yet the cooks still try to infuse some of their hometown flavors.

“A lot of people are not used to Louisiana style cooking, a lot of people get construed with seasonings.” Eschete explained, “People think seasoning is Cayenne pepper. Seasonings are shallots, bell peppers, onions and garlic, that is the Cajun way.”

Through it all, Cajun Caterers have one mission, to support those involved with disaster relief and help out the best way they can. Feeding the first responders is their way of doing that.

“Naturally these guys support the Military and we also support law enforcement and naturally we will do whatever it takes to support our neighboring states.”

Texas guard “Spice Girls” rescue more than 300 Harvey flood victims

 

LUMBERTON, TX, UNITED STATES

09.08.2017

Story by Capt. Maria Mengrone

176th Engineer Brigade (TXARNG)

 

LUMBERTON, Texas – A group of female Texas guardsmen dubbed themselves the “Spice Girls” after helping rescue more than 300 flood victims in Lumberton, Texas. The soldiers are mobilized on state active duty orders in support of ongoing Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. 

“At first the nickname was a running joke because we were five females running around the town of Lumberton helping people,” said 1st Lt. Mikayla Schulte, environmental science/engineering officer, 136th Military Police Battalion native of Fort Worth. “After we took a picture copying the group we decided it really was a perfect description.”

The five soldiers took a photo replicating an iconic image of the famous ‘90s pop group, the Spice Girls, that helped seal their newly adopted moniker. 

The soldiers felt that the pop group closely represented and captured the strength of their all-female team.

“We were messing around trying to come up with names and that’s what stuck; that’s what many of us grew up listening to,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Riley, wheeled vehicle mechanic, 136th Military Police Battalion and native of Berryville. 

The group of female Soldiers came together after its convoy was split from their main element due to the rapidly rising flood waters. 

Although in the same battalion, prior to Harvey, the five female Soldiers had not worked so closely together. The events that unfolded on August 29, 2017 brought the group closer together.

Initially part of a group of 16 vehicles and 52 soldiers, Schulte’s group was temporarily separated due to mission requirements, with the intent of regrouping by the end of the day. 

The entire group had been ordered to move to another city where they would receive a new mission that day.

The flood waters in Lumberton rose two-feet in less than one hour, making a portion of interstate 96 impassable for even the two high-profile military vehicles Schulte commanded. 

The flood waters posed a major threat to the convoy and Schulte made the decision to turn around, which prevented her from being able to link back up with the original team.

“By the time our two trucks tried to cross, the water was too high and moving too fast. I ordered the team to back out of the water; it was one of those decisions that I may not have had a chance to take back if I didn’t trust my lead vehicle driver,” said Schulte.

The team of Soldiers, with its two high-profile vehicles, headed back to the Lumberton Fire Department, looking to see if they could help. 

Later, the soldiers learned that all roads leading into the city of Lumberton had flooded leaving them separated from the rest of their team, no longer in Lumberton, but making their mission that much more critical.

“We reported to the incident commander and we immediately started to help get as many of the evacuees to dry land,” said Riley.

The group of five soldiers worked tirelessly and assisted in relocating evacuees in a flooded-out shelter to a secondary location with the use of its dump truck and high-water vehicle.

“We loaded families, children, elderly, dogs, cats, birds and everything in between. If we could get it into a dump truck we loaded it,” said Schulte.

The surrounding communities also responded to help the city of Lumberton.

“Boats from all over had converged here to help evacuate people from the flooded neighborhood,” said Schulte.

In total, the five soldiers helped rescue more than 300 flood victims in the span of four days from Aug. 29 to Sep. 1, 2017. 

“We are humbled and I want to thank the Lumberton Fire Department. They took care of us for four days. These first responders lost their homes, cars and everything in between but they still were out there saving people,” said Schulte. 

The soldiers are assigned to Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade based in Round Rock. 

“Once we realized we couldn’t get out, the Lumberton Fire Department went out and got us sleeping bags and pillows,” said Riley. “It was just heartwarming how they welcomed us.”

“It’s amazing how we have come together as a team,” said Schulte. “This experience brought a group of female soldiers together and calling ourselves the ‘Spice Girls’ is our way of remembering our unity and strength in our group, but more importantly it remained us of the human spirit and how even in a time of crisis people are willing to help one another.” 

At the request of the Governor, the Texas Guard mobilized more than 12,000 military men and women from the Texas Army and Air National Guards, Texas State Guard to support Hurricane response operations following Hurricane Harvey.

Chaplains Provide Relief to Hurricane Harvey’s Victims

 

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Photo By Sgt. Matthew Wright | Soldiers from 36 ID help Chaplain Brian K. Hudson offload supplies to First Church of Orange, Texas on Thursday Sep. 7, 2017 as a coordinated effort to get much needed provisions to the local communities. 

ORANGE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.08.2017

Story by Sgt. Matthew Wright>

56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (36th ID, TXARNG)

 

Beaumont, TEXAS -- Hurricane Harvey may be long gone, but it’s path of destruction is still felt throughout the coastline of Texas and Louisiana. As the flooding continued throughout Houston and east to the state border, thousands of Army and Air National Guard troops made their way into the area with the purpose of rescuing residents trapped by the rising waters. 

The Chaplain Corps of the Texas National Guard went were out into the water with the rest of the Soldiers and Airmen rescuing people out of their homes as the waters started rising at a rapid rate. 

Chaplain (1st. Lt.) Angel D. Newhart from the 71st Theater Information Operations Group (TIOG), along with her chaplain assistant, Spc. Alexandria N Velasquez were part of a unit out in Katy, Texas aiding the rescues. Newhart recalled several stories of camaraderie with the Soldiers and the compassion the citizens had for their rescuers, especially with those who weren’t able to save themselves.

She recalled, one event when a man suffering from Cerebral Palsy was unable to leave his home. He was helped into his wheelchair and aided into the truck by the Soldiers. The medic came and immediately washed the blood off, cleaned and wrapped his feet from him water exposure.

“It was just, you know, one of those things you see and it touches your heart ” Newhart said. “It was a sweet that’s why we are here moment.”

As the waters receded along most of the coast, the 56th Task Force shifted gears from rescue to recovery, the Chaplain Corps’ work only doubled with the effort to bring much needed supplies to communities.

Another Chaplain, Cpt. Brian K. Hudson from the 36th Infantry Division, has been working with the churches in the Beaumont and Orange townships. Using a warehouse holding supplies, Hudson transported items such as water, food, baby and hygiene products to the churches to distribute.

“I meet with the local church and we drop off the stuff over to them and they take it from there and distribute out to the communities” Hudson stated. “I liasson and I am supplying so they can take care of their communities.”

The churches, once supplied, would be distribution centers in their communities for people hit by the floods, as well as personally sending those items to the those people who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave their homes due to transportation issues, especially in the lower income areas.

At one of their distribution points, First Church of Orange, Texas, Soldiers apologized for only able to bring eight pallets of supplies. Despite that they still felt a sense of pride and selflessness for helping the communities that so desperately need them.

Spc. Adam B. Miller, a Soldier dropping off the supplies said he felt the gratitude from local communities when the unit gives out supplies to the lower income communities and that is a great feeling.

Volunteers wash more than 100 loads of laundry for troops assisting in Harvey relief efforts

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Photo By Capt. Aaron Moshier | Fatima Maniar’s son Gabriel and Nichole Bode’s daughter Gabbie, volunteers from the St. Thomas More Catholic Church and School, pose for a photo with handmade thank you notes for soldiers serving out of the Rosenberg National Guard Armory. Volunteers washed more than 100 loads of laundry as a show of support and appreciation for mobilized Soldiers assisting in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, Rosenberg, Texas, September 2, 2017.

ROSENBERG, TX, UNITED STATES

09.08.2017

Story by Capt. Maria Mengrone

176th Engineer Brigade (TXARNG)

 

ROSENBERG, Texas – A group of volunteers from Meyerland, a neighborhood in Houston, washed more than 100 loads of laundry as a show of support and appreciation for mobilized Soldiers assisting in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Rosenberg, Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2017.

“We don’t have a means to wash our uniforms so this kind gesture allows us to remain focused on the mission,” said Texas Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class James Thomas, technical engineer, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade and native of Leonard. “Our soldiers are operating in almost five feet of water, they’re soaked and this is helping our morale.” 

Fatima Maniar, a veteran and avid church volunteer, came up with the idea after brainstorming with friends on how she could best help the soldiers serving in surrounding communities. 

“I started thinking of ways I could help and I asked my friend if she would help,” said Maniar. 

Maniar enlisted the help of her friend Nichole Bode, and together the duo began offering free laundry service to service members working out of the Rosenberg National Guard Armory. 

“We began alternating trips because the need for laundry was great,” said Bode.

The idea quickly became popular among soldiers and soon Maniar and Bode recruited more volunteers to help.

“We had friends that just offered to help for nothing in return. I’d say we had about eight people helping with the laundry,” said Maniar. 

The volunteers show up to the armory every day and pick up between six to 15 loads of laundry. 

“The soldiers never told us when to get it back to them but we knew that we had to get their laundry back to them as fast as possible,” said Bode. 

Since the beginning of the operation Maniar and Bode have declined to accept any form of compensation for their volunteer work.

“We've offered them detergent that we brought with us but they wouldn’t take it. They've been here every single day, day after day. That's time, money, and resources that they have given to support us,” said Chaplain Candidate (2nd Lt.) Ismael Berlanga, unit ministry team, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade and native of San Saba. 

“I know, at first, it was difficult for soldiers to give a stranger their dirty clothes but they warmed up and now it has definitely improved the morale of our soldiers.”

The laundry operation has become a family affair with the inclusion of Maniar’s son Gabriel and Bode’s daughter Gabbie.

“We were blessed that our homes were not affected by the floods and I hope the kids see that helping ours neighbors is a good thing and especially our military,” said Bode. “Gabriel’s dad is in the military and his mom Fatima is a veteran, my dad also served. Our kids are growing up with a respect for the military and it warms my heart to see that.”

Soldiers working out of the Rosenberg armory understand the impact of donning a clean uniform when working in wet conditions. 
It has really made a difference to our soldiers,” said Berlanga. “Just having clean clothes and clean socks really has helped the soldiers stay focused on the mission.

“The outreach in this community is just awesome,” said Thomas. “They are going out of their way to do our laundry and make sure we have clean clothes is just awesome. Thank you.”

The soldiers wish to thank an additional group of volunteers: Kim Lesniewicz, Vanessa LaWare, Irma Perez, Christina Sumerall, Heather Gallagher and Paige Wermuth.

At the request of the Governor, the Texas Guard mobilized more than 12,000 military men and women from the Texas Army and Air National Guards, Texas State Guard to support Hurricane response operations following Hurricane Harvey.

Texas Guard aviator guides helicopter deliveries of hay to stranded cattle in Texas

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Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | BEAUMONT, Texas -- National Guard members from multiple states help provide feed to livestock trapped by floodwater in Jefferson county, Texas, September 7, 2017. Thousands of cattle were left stranded and without access to food in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and civilians and Soldiers worked together to come up with means of getting food to as many of those cattle as possible (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ariel J. Solomon).

HAMSHIRE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.07.2017

Story by Sgt. Ariel Solomon

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

Sand, grit and hay billowed into the faces of roughly two dozen Texas and Utah National Guard Soldiers as two Ohio National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters touched down in the parking lot of Hamshire-Fannett High School in Jefferson County, Texas, Sept. 7. 

As the dust settled, trucks with trailers full of hay moved forward and within moments a flurry of work moved bale after bale of hay into the cargo hold of the transport helicopters. Directing it all, from the middle of the bucket line of haystackers, was Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zach Koehn from the 149th Aviation Regiment Texas National Guard .

After Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast of Texas, thousands of acres of ranchland was submerged below several feet of water, stranding thousands of cattle on islands of higher ground. Within days of the disaster, the local sheriff's office began using their Huey helicopter to respond to calls from ranchers who were unable to reach their livestock.

“We found a tremendous number of cattle stranded in areas that were inaccessible and wouldn’t be accessible for quite some time in Jefferson and nearby counties,” said Lt. Tony Viator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. “We began dropping hay, but we quickly realized we wouldn’t be able to support that mission over such a broad region. So we contacted the Guard and they sent Zach. We couldn’t have done this without his help.”

At the highschool, the helicopters lifted off to take their cargo of 130 hay bales each to cattle throughout the region. The helicopters followed a grid pattern developed by Koehn, which sped up the delivery of feed.

“I first got here, the civilians were finding all the locations for the cattle, but there were 80 grid coordinates and I didn’t know if it was several bunches of cows or individual cows,” said Koehn. “I didn’t want my pilots to enter in all these numbers into their systems and take up so much time, so I simplified it. We split up the counties into a search grid the military and civilian pilots could use to spot cattle, and feed each sector systematically.”

While throwing hay onto a trailer in preparation for another iteration of helicopter-hay-delivery, Koehn explained that the operation was a governor-mandated effort to restore a $25,000,000 rancher industry investment and protect Texan livelihood.

“It’s not just the ranchers, it’s the truckers that carry the cattle and feed, its the veterinarians that take care of the cattle’s medical needs. Nationally this is where a lot of meat comes from and it has the potential to raise the price of beef nationwide,” Koehn said.

Many local ranchers came to pitch in moving bales of hay onto the trailers and into the helicopters.

“These guys aren’t getting paid to be here,” said Koehn. “They’re here because they know it needs doing for their community and we’re thankful for all of their help.”

Above the flooded pastures, the Chinooks hovered just feet above the ground. The crew rationed out enough feed for each group of cattle to last for a few days until the water recedes and ranchers can reach their livestock. 

By the end of the 4-day mission, crews flew more than 20 flights, providing food for more than 10,000 cows.

Texas Guard: A Life Interrupted by Duty

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Photo By Spc. Nathaniel Free | Spc. Markeisha Dudley, a member of Company A, 949th Brigade Support Battalion from Fort Worth, Texas, arrives at a point of distribution station in the City of Orange on 7 September, 2017. Dudley has been collecting donations, transporting supplies on pallets, and distributing everything from trash bags to baby formula since she was activated with her unit in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

ORANGE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.07.2017

Story by Spc. Nathaniel Free

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

BEAUMONT, Texas — In the early morning hours of August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey slammed into eastern Texas as a Category 4 storm, followed by days of record-breaking rainfall. 

“I was evacuated shortly after the hurricane hit,” said Staff Sgt. Ernesto Luevano, a local of Houston, who serves the Texas National Guard’s 551st Multi-Role Bridge Company, located in El Campo, Texas.

By the time Luevano had driven his wife and child to safety, he had received mobilization orders from his unit. As a citizen-Soldier, he dutifully said goodbye to his family, turned his truck around, and returned through flooded neighborhoods to retrieve his military gear from his home.

“I picked up my rucksack and it was full of water,” Luevano said.

Luevano is just one of thousands of citizen-Soldiers in the Texas National Guard who’s life has been interrupted by Hurricane Harvey. The 551st was one of the first units to respond to the call, and deployed in areas still flooded with over 40 inches of rain.

“We’ve been going out in trucks to neighborhoods where there’s water. We go as far as we can, then deploy the Zodiacs,” said Luevano. 

A Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft, commonly referred to as a Zodiac, is a versatile inflatable boat that can be carried in the back of a flatbed truck. The high-profile trucks can drive in floodwaters as deep as five feet before deploying the boats, Luevano said.

“We go house to house knocking, screaming, doing whatever we can to find people,” said Luevano. “We started out in Houston and we’ve been working our way east. The last place we went to was Orange.”

There are approximately 30 points of distribution stations, called PODs, set up in and around the city of Orange, to provide vital commodities like food and water. Mobile PODs also require Soldiers to brave floodwaters to reach people unable to obtain supplies because of road conditions, or because they’ve lost their only means of transportation. 

“I saw it on the news, getting worse and worse, so I told my fiancé it looks like we might be getting pushed out,” Spc. Markeisha Dudley said, a member of Company A, 949th Brigade Support Battalion, located in Fort Worth, Texas. 

The 949th BSB was activated August 28, and has since been managing various PODs across the hurricane-affected area, not only saving lives, but also restoring livelihoods.

Dudley said her fiancé, Brandon, has been extremely supportive. 

“We were planning to get married on September 3rd. We’ve been planning a big wedding for quite some time, and invited a lot of people,” she said. “We had to call everyone, and postpone it. He knows that the people out here need me.”

Dudley has been collecting donations, transporting supplies and distributing everything from trash bags to baby formula. With less than six months before the end of her military contract, it’s given her time to reflect.

“This is what I signed up for. This is the action that I wanted. It’s made me think about re-classing instead of getting out. When I was a young child, I saw the Army coming in and asked, ‘who’s that?’ It was the National Guard. That’s what I wanted to do,” Dudley said. 

Luevano and Dudley are just two of more than 16,000 military personnel currently on the ground, volunteering to live a life interrupted by duty.

Texas Soldiers break language barriers to help victims of Hurricane Harvey

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Photo By Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington | Pvt. Andres Lopez of the 3-133rd Field Artillery ground guides a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle through flood waters. Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division transported and distributed food, water, and supplies from Orange County Airport to standed residents in low-income areas of Orange, Texas on September 6th, 2017. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington/ RELEASED

ORANGE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.06.2017

Story by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

ORANGE, Texas - “Stop, they might need something!” Spc. Laura Campa barked at Sgt. Andrew Felthous, the driver of our high water truck.

He obliged, stopped the vehicle and pulled back his window. Campa took off her seatbelt and leaned over him. “Ocupan algo?” she asked. ‘Do you need something?'

The two middle-aged women with two small girls shook their heads no and continued to walk. 

“They're Hispanic, they might need something and not be able to ask for it” she explained to me, “I always stop to ask, even if they don’t wave for us." Felthous put the vehicle back in drive to catch up to the lead truck.

As a public affairs specialist assigned to escort a journalist on a relief effort mission for the Texas Military Department, I was intrigued. But as a Mexican-American, my intrigue increased two-fold.

I asked Campa if she felt that her ability to speak Spanish had proven useful during their mission to distribute food, clean water, and supplies to Harvey victims in low-income neighborhoods of Orange. 

“We went to one shelter to give out supplies, and a woman there couldn’t speak any English. I had to translate for her” she replied. 

On this particular venture, Spanish was far from a foreign language. Out of 11 Soldiers and one civilian journalist on the mobile supply distribution mission in Orange, eight of us were bilingual. I soon realized there was no standard operating language for this mission.

We all found our operational tempo in the neighborhood we were assigned to bring relief to.

Texas National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division trekked through flooded streets asking residents what items they needed. They shouted the requests back to the truck and returned with the items. 

The embedded journalist and I took photos and captured videos of the Soldiers in action.

Several streets down, I found myself shouting requests "Agua, necesito agua!” I yelled down the road, ‘Water, I need water!' I had put my camera down to help. 

The Soldier on the truck handed me a case of water. 

As soon as I passed off the water, I asked for the next item. "Pañales, talla dos!” I shouted back to him, ‘Diapers, size two!’ Requests for supplies continued to bounce back and forth between driveways and LMTVs in English and Spanish. 

Language was fluid that day; there were no barriers. We acted and reacted rhythmically because we understood each other far beyond the words we were speaking.