Posts in Category: Texas Military Department

Texas Counterdrug supports LifeSteps for International Overdose Awareness Day

By Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Soldiers of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force partnered with the LifeSteps Council on Alcohol and Drugs and the Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team to create a video for Overdose Awareness Day Aug. 26 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, Texas.


Normally a live event, during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans changed to a virtual awareness message.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the planning and execution of the event,” said Sgt. David Dillon, a Drug Demand Reduction Civil Operations task force member for the Counterdrug program. “It was decided that the event would be held virtual.”

The fifth annual event helps not only bring awareness but much more to help those in need.

“It’s important to bring awareness of the increasing drug overdose issue, the lives lost, and the families and friends impacted,” said Dillon. “By bringing awareness, it allows for increasing support in science and evidence-based prevention efforts.”

The National Guard Counterdrug Program supports the communities they live and work in.

“We work with LifeSteps,” said Dillon, “a coalition that represents the Williamson County community to plan events and activities based on their needs.

“We released flowers into the lake representing the local lives lost to drug overdose.”

For more information on Overdose Awareness Day and other events, visit www.LifeStepsCouncil.org/events/

Amidst a crisis: At-Risk Youth Receive Second Chance

Story by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

EAGLE LAKE, Texas – Broken homes. Limited Opportunities. Marginal education. Drugs. Gangs. Violence. For some children, this is everyday life with no way to escape. Their reality is something many only see on the television or in nightmares.

What they may not know, is that there is stability, opportunity and education ready for them at the Texas ChalleNGe Academy located in Eagle Lake. With the support of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force, the 16-18 year old kids get a chance.

“The youth of TCA come to us from a variety of backgrounds with a myriad of challenges,” said David De Mers, Director of the Texas ChalleNGe Academy. “For most, the challenges they face are not self-inflicted, but they are likely to be a significant determining factor in their futures.

“At TCA, we put cadets back in a position of authority in their lives by assisting youth in removing the barriers to their success,” said De Mers. “In effect, TCA is a reboot for youth.”

Since approximately 2001, the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force has supported the Youth Challenge Program with training, mentorship and coaching to help mold the cadets into a more positive lifestyle.

“It is an opportunity to give them a second chance at life and to strengthen them to become a productive adult that is able to serve its country,” said First Sgt. Celsa Reyes, the Counterdrug Drug Demand Reduction Civil Operations non-commissioned officer in charge. “The opportunity to mentor and coach TCA cadets is immensely gratifying, and can only hope we have a positive impact on their lives and future.”

The 2020 summer class has some unique challenges never before seen in the world.

“This class includes almost 40 cadets who are returning to our campus after having the last class cancelled amidst the initial COVID-19 closures across the State,” said De Mers. “Because of the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, we are not able to accept our full capacity of candidates as only 110 were invited compared to our maximum capacity of 192.”

To make sure to stop the spread of COVID-19, many protocols and measures are in place.

“TCA is closely following the guidelines described by the Center for Disease Control and the Texas Military Department,” said De Mers. “All staff and candidates were tested for COVID-19 prior to the start of this class.

“Additionally, all staff and cadets are being monitored for symptoms and temperatures daily. Staff and cadets wear facemasks all day and socially distance except in rare cases. All classrooms, living spaces, and meeting rooms are sanitized immediately after each use.”

TCA and Counterdrug provided additional measures to ensure the safety of staff and students.

“Because of COVID-19 the class size has been reduced to facilitate social distancing, three masks per cadet have been provided as well as hand sanitizer dispensers installed throughout the campus,” said Sgt. Matthew Harrison, a Counterdrug task force member helping mentor students and staff.

Working through tough circumstances is what the military accomplishes daily, and COVID-19 is no different.

“Texas could not afford to have such an essential program be stopped by a pandemic,” said Reyes. “TCA makes an everlasting impact in our community by teaching youth the necessary tools to be successful and productive members in our society while also earning credits to graduate from High School or gain a GED.”

Texas Counterdrug brings something more to the youth program partnership than just the typical Soldier does in uniform.

“Many of our youth self-attest to the casual use of drugs and alcohol in the past,” said De Mers. “Counterdrug assists with messaging to our youth, but the youth see the positive interaction and role modeling from members of our military and are drawn toward a better model of citizenship.

“Additionally, Counterdrug members bring a wide variety of expertise that is valuable to staff who serve at TCA. Many TCA staff are not former military and do not have the experience with a number of our quasi-military standards.”

The 17 1/2-month ChalleNGe program includes a 5 1/2-month residential phase and a 12-month follow-up mentorship phase.

“During the residential component, candidates earn cadet status, attend school, participate in physical exercise, and focus on the 8 core components of the Youth ChalleNGe Academy,” said De Mers.

“They are Academic Excellence, Physical Fitness, Leadership & Followership, Responsible Citizenship, Job Skills, Service to Community, Health & Hygiene, and Life Coping Skills. During the post-residential phase, staff and mentors work with graduates on their next steps in education, career, and life.”

Eagle Lake is the third location for the Texas program as Hurricane Ike forced the program to move from Galveston Island to Sheffield in 2008 before consolidating resources to the Eagle Lake campus in 2020.

Counterdrug has helped the youth and staff at every location.

“Counterdrug supports TCA by providing professional Soldiers and Airmen that can train and mentor both staff and cadets in current standard operating procedures, in Drill and ceremony, physical fitness, leadership, etcetera,” said Harrison.

“With schools closed, unemployment high and most things a young adult likes to do closed, TCA is the best opportunity in these times to further their academic career and consequently their professional career.”

Many youth within the state struggle each day to survive in their environment and the Texas ChalleNGe Academy is working diligently to provide a safe, secure and empowering atmosphere for their cadets.

“We believe that there are youth throughout Texas that need this program, and we believe we can make this a safe location for programming by following the guidance that is available,” said De Mers. “We recognize that there is risk in any program that connects people together, however, the youth who are at greatest risk in our communities deserve the opportunities that this program provides.”

Texas Guardsman and 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau retires to Texas

By Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas- On Friday, August 28, 2020 Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas hosted the retirement ceremony for Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau.

The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)
The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)


The ceremony was conducted outdoors at historic site of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. COVID-19 mitigation efforts were in effect at the ceremony, but despite the limitation in audience size, there was no limitation of gratitude and respect for Lengyel’s service.

Speaking at the ceremony, Lengyel expressed admiration and pride in the service and dedication of all men and women in the National Guard.

“One of the most impressive things about all of the men and women who serve in our military and who put on this uniform, is that none of us knows what the uniform will ask of them. You may deploy multiple times, you may serve domestically, but that is what we signed up for.”

Lengyel sought to focus additional attention onto the service members of the National Guard: “Let’s take a moment to acknowledge what we all have done together as Soldiers and Airmen in service of our country. As Guardsmen though, we not only serve our country, but we also have served in our states and our communities.”

Lengyel exits the military after nearly four decades of service to the Air Force and the Air National Guard. He served in various operational and staff assignments, primarily as an F-16 Instructor Pilot and Weapons Officer. His experience in the F-16 includes tours in Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, United States Air Forces in Europe and the Texas Air National Guard.

He has commanded a fighter squadron, operations group, air expeditionary group and the Air National Guard Readiness Center.

Lengyel is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours primarily in the F-16. Additionally, Lengyel served as the Senior United States Defense Official; Chief, Office of Military Cooperation; and Defense Attaché, Cairo, United States Central Command, Cairo, Egypt.

Prior to his assumption of command as the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Lengyel was the vice commander of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, the “Gunfighters,” who performed an fly-over above the Alamo in honor of Lengyel’s service to the Wing and to the United States Military.

Throughout his command, Lengyel dedicated his service to improving the quality of life for all the service members under his responsibility, as well as focusing on maintaining readiness and agility within the Guard.The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)

Lengyel’s command has seen the Guard usher in a new era as a strategic reserve force, which is relied upon by both federal and state partners for a variety of mission sets.

Under his tenure, Lengyel has seen National Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed in support of every United States Geographic Combatant Command.

Lengyel has also presided over one of the Guard’s most active periods of domestic support operations. From large scale hurricane response efforts like those seen after Hurricane Harvey, to the broad and varied mission sets in the response to COVID-19, to protection of liberty, life and property during the June 2020 civil disturbance, Lengyel has ensured that the Guard was ready to meet the call. As of his retirement, 180,000 Guardsmen were on some form of active duty order.

Because of Lengyel’s tireless dedication, and his advocacy of Guard issues to both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, the National Guard has seen respect and admiration unlike any other era. True to the National Guard motto, Lengyel’s leadership truly has established a force that is always ready and always there.
Norris praised Lengyel’s lifetime of leadership and service:

“The same fighting Texas spirit that was displayed here at the Alamo centuries ago lives on throughout the entire Lengyel family, and especially through Gen. Lengyel’s decades of service to Texas and the United States.”

At the ceremony, Lengyel received numerous accolades from state and federal leaders, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who praised all that Lengyel has accomplished for the State of Texas. Lengyel also received the Texas Superior Service Medal from Norris, as well as the Defense Superior Service Medal.

These awards add to Lengyel’s numerous decorations over the years, including: Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, and many more.

Reflecting on the totality of his service within the National Guard, Lengyel said: “I never intended to be Chief of the National Guard Bureau, but I will never trade in my experience for anything in the world.”

Daughter of Tuskegee Airman makes Texas State Guard history

By WO1 David Brown, Texas State Guard

SAN ANTONIO - During World War II, Sgt. Percy Howard Payne was assigned to the support team of the 332nd Fighter Wing of the U.S. Army Air Corps, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen— America’s first black aviators. A generation later, the Payne family would again make military history, as Col. Paula Payne became the first black woman to serve in the rank of colonel in the Texas State Guard.

As part of the Tuskegee Airmen, Percy Payne worked in procurement and used his talents as a musician and entertainer to support troop morale as part of Operation Happiness. Serving at a time when the U.S. military was racially segregated, Percy Payne found himself denied leadership roles, as black Soldiers were denied entry into the officers corps. Frustrated with a system that denied advancement based on race, Percy Payne left the military when the war ended. Photo of Sgt. Percy Howard Payne

Undeterred by her father’s treatment, Paula Payne enlisted in the Virgin Islands Air National Guard after finishing her undergraduate and graduate education. According to Paula Payne, the decision was not well received by her father. 

“He told me ‘I just hope they treat you better than they treated me,’” said Paula Payne.

Describing herself as “a rolling stone”, Paula Payne described her career in the Guard as highlighted by travel and full of support from her superiors. Her first move was to Andrews Air Force Base after transferring to the District of Columbia National Guard. Upon arrival, she met a commander with a link to her family’s past military service. 

Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis was the commander of Paula Payne’s new unit, the 113th Fighter Wing, and also a native of Tuskegee, Alabama. According to Paula Payne, Davis took quick interest in her career development and coordinated for her to obtain a full time position with the Air National Guard. 

“When I arrived to the 113th, Lt. Gen. Russel asked ‘Why do you want to do weekend drills? We need some people for active duty at the Air National Guard Support Center and the National Guard Bureau!’” said Davis. 

Paula PayneDavis’ recommendation helped Paula Payne become the first enlisted airman to serve in the Chief of Chaplain’s Office at the Air National Support Center. The move also put Paula Payne on the path to joining the ministry. Payne went on the earn a masters degree in divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary, and direct commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

“I started all over again from the bottom of the officer’s ranks, separated from active duty, and transferred over to the Air Force Reserves as a chaplain candidate.” 

Paula Payne served in a variety of pastoral duties rotating between the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve following her commission,  until the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 called her back to full-time service as the Air National Guard’s first black female chaplain.  

Paula Payne’s first combat deployment led her to Balad, Iraq as part of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, a component of the 332nd Fighter Wing, her father’s former unit. Though prejudice kept Percy Payne from rising through the ranks, his daughter Paula was named the senior chaplain at Joint Base Balad. 

During her time in Iraq, Paula Payne described the attacks as non-stop, recalling one night when a mortar struck near her quarters.  

“You could hear the faint eeeee... boom, and it was close to my hooch, the housing location of the medical group. The rocket was launched in the middle of the night. I felt the thing hit the ground, PA-PUM. Then I heard ‘Nobody move, shelter in place!” said Payne.

An hour and a half went by as the Explosive Ordnance Team attempted to defuse the mortar. Paula Payne sheltered in place, praying.  Paula Payne sheltered in place, praying.

“I knew I was going to die if I stepped out that hooch and made one move.” said Payne. “Then came the sound of an explosion, the next thing I heard was someone shout for the chaplain.” 

Immediately, it was back to work for Paula Payne as she ran to the site where a young airman died attempting to save his fellow service members. 

“If it were not for him, it could have been me or anybody else. He was my hero,” said Payne.

Following her six months in Iraq, Paula Payne deployed to multiple assignments across Europe and the United States before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. Thinking of what life might hold next, she remembered the stories of her grandfather, who had grown up in Texas as the son of a Methodist preacher. It inspired her to pack her bags again, and this time, she and her twin sister Patricia Payne, an Army veteran, decided to relocate to Texas. According to Payne she sensed something waiting for her there.

Four years later, Payne took the oath of office becoming the first black female colonel to serve in the Texas State Guard. Payne had worked towards attaining that rank in both Air National Guard and Air Force reserve, but she was never selected.

“I had finally come to terms that the promotion was not God’s plan.” said Paula Payne. “Then the Governor signed the promotion order. When I die, my obituary will read, “Chaplain, Colonel, Paula M. Payne. Texas did that for me.” 

Paula M. Payne

Communication is key with Task Force Texas

Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Kornegay, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

AUSTIN, Texas - Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel.

CPT McCann and his team are responsible for support of the command, control, communications, cyber requirements and development processes that ensure joint interoperability.

"Our job is to make sure our people can reach the outside world," said McCann. "We handle communications and control through phones, internet, and computers. We have a team here that monitors the networks that allows information to flow from top to bottom and vice versa.” 

Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel.
Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel. 



CPT McCann’s 24 years of commitment to the Signal Corps, a U.S. Army branch dedicated to communication and information systems management, instilled within him the significance of clear communication.

"Proper information flow allows our commanders to make the best decisions,” McCann said. "It allows them to put soldiers where they need to be to support the civilians who need them right now.”

McCann appreciates the opportunity to serve his fellow Texans.

"I’m proud,” said McCann. “I’ve been doing this a long time and it gives me a great sense of purpose. It’s a different type of mission versus deploying somewhere. But this is very important to the nation and to the state of Texas. I’m honored to be able to step in and support.”

CPT McCann and his team accepted the challenge to keep Task Force Texas connected with multiple state agencies for the COVID-19 response.

“There’s always an uncertainty when it comes to working with new agencies,” said McCann. “It’s about how best to make things fit and putting the puzzle pieces together correctly. In no time at all, things began to work very smoothly.”

His prior experience with TMD’s Hurricane Harvey response afforded McCann with the necessary wisdom to better serve the citizens of Texas and the United States.

"While they’re both large, they are two very different operations. Both missions share the same goal and that is to mitigate suffering. That’s what we’re going to do here however we can.”

Texans serving Texas.

The Texas State Guard: Woman Beyond the Uniform

Story by WO1 Kevin Farley, Texas State Guard

Captain Cyla Barron, of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) has been selected as a finalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition on October 11, 2020. As one of 25 finalists, she will be competing with contestants from the Army (8), Navy (7), Air Force (7), and Marines (2). Barron is the only contestant representing the TXSG. The competition, originally scheduled to be held in Florida, will be held virtually due to COVID-19. 

According to the Ms. Veteran America website: “The Ms. Veteran America competition highlights more than the strength, courage and sacrifice of our nation’s military women, but also reminds us that these women are Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Wives.” 

The purpose of the competition is to highlight the women beyond the uniform and was created to benefit The Final Salute, Inc., an organization established to help support homeless women veterans and their families.Captain Barron

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Barron has lived in Texas for approximately 12 years. Serving in the TXSG for almost seven years, Barron also served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a structural mechanic trained plane captain. 

“Initially, I did not want to be a part of [the competition] because I thought it was a pageant and that doesn’t fit who I am. However, once I found out that it was more of a competition with a good balance between pageantry and Veteran causes, I was on board,” said Barron. 

However, Barron had never heard of the event until a visit to the Veterans Affairs (VA) earlier in the year. 

“After an appointment at the VA, I was in line grabbing something to eat when I met a Vietnam Veteran. I was paying for my food and told him that breakfast was on me, thanking him for his service,” Barron said. 

Approximately six months later, the Vietnam Veteran, named Jim, located Barron via Facebook and informed her about Ms. Veteran America. 

Jim went on to tell Barron, “I never forgot what you did for me and it meant so much. You should run for Ms. Veteran America because you have a heart for veterans.” 

Still not very interested in the competition, Barron looked it up on the internet out of obligation. Then when she discovered that the Ms. Veteran America competition was focused on what she was already doing by supporting veteran causes, Barron had a change of heart. 

“My goal is to bring visibility to the causes that I believe are under-represented such as the struggles women face serving and outside of the uniform,” Barron said. “Additionally, I’m hoping to bring visibility to the Texas State Guard and other veteran causes that I am passionate about.” 

Barron serves as a volunteer for the Women Marines Association as President and founder of the Heart of Texas Austin Chapter, the OV-10 Bronco Association, PTSD Foundation of America, Patriot’s Hall, VFW Dripping Springs. She has also served as a Big Sister in the Big Sisters/Big Brothers of America, Drive a Senior and other volunteer organizations. 

The final competition will consist of interviews, questioning, gown presentation and talent. The questions will be focused on Women in Military History.

When asked how she is preparing for the competition, Barron stated, “I have been practicing my talent and studying a lot!” 

As a Texas State Guard woman who provides mission-ready military forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies, there is no doubt that Barron will be prepared for the final competition. 

 

 

Texas Medical Provider Mission highlights partnership between National Guard and Active Duty

Story by Mr. Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas – More than 1200 service members are partnering together from the Texas National Guard and the Active and Reserve components of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to support Texas hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gov. Greg Abbot has secured a partnership between the Texas National Guard and U.S. Army North that will provide local hospitals with medical professionals from the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas (left), converses with U.S. Army North Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson (right), during a visit to the Texas State Operations Center in Austin, Texas, July 16, 2020. While there, military and civilian leaders strengthened their partnership and discussed the joint military COVID-19 operation in support of federal efforts and the state. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to states in need as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of the whole-of-nation COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Col. Martin O'Donnell / U.S Army North Public Affairs)
Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas (left), converses with U.S. Army North Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson (right), during a visit to the Texas State Operations Center in Austin, Texas, July 16, 2020. While there, military and civilian leaders strengthened their partnership and discussed the joint military COVID-19 operation in support of federal efforts and the state. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to states in need as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of the whole-of-nation COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Col. Martin O'Donnell / U.S Army North Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, welcomed the additional healthcare providers that will be joining a Texas Military Department response that began in March 2020.

“By partnering with the Active duty and Reserve components, we will be able to provide this much needed support and relief to the Texas civilian healthcare workers who have been working tirelessly to care for the people of our great state,” said Norris.

According to Norris, the Texas National Guard already shares a strong working relationship with U.S. Army North. The San Antonio based U.S. Army North also provides defense support of civil authorities in times of need.

Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and the Joint Force Land Component Command, also pointed to the long-standing relationship between the Guard, Active Duty, and the joint force.

“This is a total force effort,” said Lt. Gen. Richardson. “Our joint service members are working determinedly to relieve stress on hospitals and to deliver care to communities in need.”

Maj. Gen. Norris, serving as the first female adjutant general of the state, and Lt. Gen. Richardson, serving as the first female commander of U.S. Army North, have both spent months working to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the nation.

“We are committed to assisting those in need as part of the ongoing whole-of-nation response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of FEMA,” said Lt. Gen. Richardson. “At the same time, we remain fully capable of conducting our primary mission of defending the homeland.”

Leading the effort on the ground will be Texas Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Thomas Suelzer. Appointed as the dual-status commander, Suelzer will provide direction to both Texas National Guard and federal service members.  The nomination and approval of the dual-status commander streamlines the process, ensuring a smoother and more effective collaboration of state and federal resources.

According to Suezler the dual status commander allows the governor to continue leading the response with both state and federal military assets. Under this structure, orders and guidance can simultaneously be received by the President.

“It is an incredible experience to work with our service members in this historic event. My position will allow for collaboration between orders directed by Governor Abbott and those by the President'” said Suelzer.  “I am proud to see how effortlessly our forces have integrated with each other.”

Among the medical staff is Maj. Tanya Island, of the 147th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard. Island is serving as the Joint Task Force Lone Star Surgeon where she works to position personnel and resources across the state.

Island represents what makes the Guard such a valuable tool for state response as she leverages both her civilian career as a nurse anesthetist and her military training to help her fellow Texans.

“This operation really opened my eyes as to how critical a role the National Guard has in this response,” said Island. “Since COVID-19 began we have coordinated over 320,000 tests and now we are standing up teams of medical professionals to backfill civilian hospitals.”

The 12 initial teams will consist of 100 medical staff, including doctors, nurses, medics and healthcare administrators from the National Guard, Active Duty forces and Military Reservists.

Current focus areas are Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, the Rio Grande Valley, and the Texas Coastal Bend. Suezler explained the mix of metropolitan and rural response areas highlight very different ways the Texas health system is strained. Cities like Houston and San Antonio are dealing with large populations that increase the communicability of the virus, while rural areas including the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Coastal Bend struggle to find medical providers in the sparsely populated region. 

In addition to the medical personnel mission in support of COVID-19, Guardsmen across Texas continue to staff mobile testing sites and provide decontamination of critical facilities.

“Our Guardsmen continue to serve their neighbors and local communities’ months after activation,” said Norris. “I want every Soldier, Airman, and their family members, to know how much their dedication means to the people of Texas.”

 

Operation Guardian Support Soldiers Volunteer in the Laredo Community

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. De'Jon Williams, Texas Air National Guard

LAREDO, Texas – Along the south Texas border Guard Members put in many hours of their off time to serve the communities they now call home.

Although many of the soldiers and airmen assigned to the border mission are far from their homes, they have still found a way to give back the new communities they now call, home.

Texas National Guard members come together to volunteer their time in their new local community in Laredo, Texas.

“I actually feel like I’m more a part of the community around me,” said Master Sgt. Brian Franck. “I’m constantly trying to recruit people to volunteer and give back to the community down here in Laredo.”

Franck started the mission August 2019 and quickly got to work, looking for opportunities to help the community.

September, he began volunteering at the Laredo Animal Protective Society (LAPS).

“I was informed about a volunteer opportunity at LAPS,” said Franck. “I talked to some other Soldiers I work with and we started walking dogs and volunteering. I then informed the Laredo Company and my platoon about this opportunity.”

Franck went on to say the Company sent out an email about two volunteer opportunities, he then pushed the email to his fellow soldiers and they then began volunteering at many other companies throughout the Laredo area.

November 2019 was the second volunteer opportunity he had, but first with the local Habitat for Humanity (H4H).

“I was told on Veteran’s Day they were going to start building a house for a Texas veteran,” said Franck. “So, I showed up, found out I was the only one representing the National Guard down here to help start building on the veteran’s home. From that day habitat started to coordinate with me on their build days and needing volunteers.”

Franck and his team helped H4H build two homes since he began volunteering.

“After this point, the company sort of appointed me as the volunteer point of contact,” Franck said. “I was informing them of events and being there if a Soldier said they would be there to introduce them to the organization staff.”

Franck has worked hard to recruit 36 other soldiers in his company to help in the Laredo community. Together they have logged more than 1,600 hours of volunteering.

“I got started through Master Sgt. Franck,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Frost. “I heard about the volunteer programs that we can get involved with here in Laredo. He was the man people said to go to. I’ve been working with LAPS and Habitat for Humanity whenever I can.”

Frost, who is a squad leader with Team Laredo went on to talk about how much he enjoys volunteering at LAPS and helping with the animals.

“I take Tyson out to North Park because they have a dog park there,” said Frost. “He’s a brindle Pit Bull with tiger like stripes. I picked him because pits have a bad rap and he’s done great with me in public.”

Even a pandemic has not stopped these soldiers from continuing to do their part. Despite COVID-19, soldiers in Laredo still do their part to help the community.

“COVID-19 has made it, first where we could not volunteer,” said Franck. “Then for habitat only five volunteers at a time, but for the past months if we are staying away from the general population and working on projects, a small group of us can be there to volunteer. COVID-19 has put a damper on volunteering, but it has not stopped our soldiers from being able to give back to the community of Laredo.”

Team Laredo Soldiers continue to work with these organizations despite the recent pandemic. COVID-19 has not lessened the spirit of Franck who continues to put in time with these organizations.

“Honestly, I wish people would go back to the way it used to be,” Franck said. “Where we were not so focused on ourselves, per se, but more focused on helping each other. When people come down on these missions, they can experience what’s going on in the communities and be a part of the communities because while you’re down here, this is your home.”

Franck went on to say that he’s thankful for the opportunity to work with these organizations, without them and their volunteer programs this would not be possible.

Texas National Guard Soldier gives back to her community

Story by Staff Sgt. De'jon Williams, Texas Air National Guard

WESLACO, Texas – The National Guard is a volunteer force of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen who give their one weekend a month and two weeks a year to service.

One Texas National Guard Soldier serving with Operation Guardian Support (OGS) along the south Texas border, gives back to her community as a Citizen-Soldier and volunteer.

Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla, a combat medic specialist (68W), continues to give back to her local community with her volunteer efforts.

"I feel like I'm capable of helping others," said Quintanilla. "Why not? I have all my limbs; I have everything; some people need a little more help than others."

U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla hands markers to a student at Pharr-San Juan- Alamo Early College High School in San Juan, Texas Jan. 31, 2020.
U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla hands markers to a student at Pharr-San Juan- Alamo Early College High School in San Juan, Texas Jan. 31, 2020.

Wanting to give back and helping others started after hearing some shocking information from her younger sister, who was being bullied. She felt the need to speak up and do her part to help her sister and other young people.

She volunteered with local schools through the Helping Everyone Achieve Respect (H.E.A.R.) program speaking with local high schools about bullying.

She said it started with her sister telling her that she was getting bullied; this was information she did not like hearing. She went on to say that she went out to local high schools, conducted surveys and PowerPoints as to why it is not OK to bully.

Quintanilla went on to say that after putting in that effort, her sister felt a lot better. She did it for her and was she proud it made a change.

Her call to action did not stop there; she also volunteered with the Pharr Fire Department.

"I felt like I had too much downtime," Quintanilla said. "I was like, 'OK, I can do something.' I've always liked to be busy. I'm on the go and always have something to do. For example, firefighting was a great way to keep my fitness up and help people out in a way and have connections. It was just fun overall and it made me feel good."

Quintanilla has completed more than 150 hours with the fire department, 130 hours with H.E.A.R. She was able to earn her Certified Nurse Aide License after volunteering 40 hours at a local nursing home. Quintanilla has also volunteered her time with the U.S. Border Patrol at a community service event at the local Boys and Girls Club, helping get school supplies to less fortunate children. Overall, she has accumulated more than 500 hours of volunteer time in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla (left), a combat medic specialist poses for a photo with fellow volunteers.
U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla (left), a combat medic specialist poses for a photo with fellow volunteers.

"She's a great Soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Murrell, "She has a great work ethic, always striving to make herself better. She's one of the few that I've always seen constantly giving up her time to make herself and everyone else better."

Murrell, who is Quintanilla's platoon sergeant, went on to describe her volunteer efforts as constant. Saying she has come to him multiple times about what she can do to make her community better and what she can do to make herself better.

Moving forward, Quintanilla plans to go back to school to finish her bachelor's degree and join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

"I decided to go to school, do ROTC and become an officer," said Quintanilla. "I'm going into the ROTC program and sign my contract this August after I get off mission. I'm looking at it as a good way to become a lieutenant and motivate my troops to become volunteers."

Many OGS Soldiers along the south Texas border have gone above and beyond answering the call to service to continue to volunteer and give back to their communities, Quintanilla is no exception.

"I thank God every day for giving me another chance to be here," She said. "There is a quote 'you make a living by what you get, and you make a life by what you give,' I live by this every day volunteering as a way to give my gratitude for having a chance to be here."

Texas Guard launches innovation unit

Story by Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

After over a year of preparation, the Texas Guard is officially launching the Texas Military Department Joint Innovation Unit: TMDx.

Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.

The original plan called for a live event at the Capital Factory in Austin, home to the TMDx flagship innovation hub. However, recent concerns over COVID-19 forced the program to do exactly what it was designed for – partner, innovate and come up with a solution. That partnership came in the form of a livestreamed event, hosted by Capital Factory and simulcast across multiple social media platforms, July 15.

The launch, hosted by Sean Duffy, VP of partnerships at Capital Factory, featured appearances by Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas; and Maj. Alex Goldberg, TMDx managing director.

TMDx will utilize the Texas Guard’s position as the largest state military force in the country to leverage partnerships in industry and academia throughout the Texas innovation corridor to develop a new framework for military problem-solving.

Pilot Training Next, a technology-focused pilot preparation course founded in Austin, along with partnerships in construction, software programs and 3D printing technology, was just one of the TMDx noted successes highlighted during the event.

Lengyel focused on the 3D printing program during his remarks as he noted that Texas had won the National Guard Bureau’s national innovation competition. The program will allow F-16 maintainers to print replacement parts for the F-16 fighter aircraft, shortening logistical delays for parts and reducing costs.

“No one innovates like the National Guard and especially not like Texans,” said Lengyel. “This same technology was also able to print personal protective equipment and ventilator parts that we can use during our COVID-19 response.”

Speed and the ability to respond quickly to growing threats is imperative.

“It all comes down to needing to move faster,” said Goldberg. “Our adversaries are moving faster – faster in space, faster in hypersonic and faster in fielding commercial technology.”

The growing presence of near-peer threats are considered to be outpacing the U.S. in innovation.

“The status quo is comfortable, but what works today to ensure our national security will not be good enough for the challenges on the horizon,” said Norris. “The military moves slower than we would like and are moving away from a ‘no because’ mindset to a mindset of, ‘How do we get to yes?’”

The program’s launch in Austin will be a first step, according to Goldberg, who shared plans for expansion to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth and El Paso.