Posts in Category: Texas Military Department

The Stern Reality Check: How the legacy of a fallen Soldier reminds us to do our best

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

CAMP MABRY, Texas⁠—Wade Slack was once a kid who loved hunting and video games. He was devoted to his family. And, he dreamed of becoming a Soldier.

As he approached adulthood, he quickly realized his dream, enlisting in the Army months prior to his graduation from high school. Wade died shortly after his 21st birthday, in the line of duty on May 6, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit.

His younger brother, Andrew Slack, recalled how the news of his death put an end to his own childhood, forcing him to face adult realities.

“I had been up to no good, doing my own thing,” he said. “I didn’t really think anything of the military. It didn’t really occur to me that people die overseas every day.”

“It was a stern reality check when we had those government employees show up at my mom’s house,” Andrew said.

Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)


Things didn’t get easier for Andrew or his family through the years that followed. His father, a Veterinarian much beloved by the local community in Waterville, Maine, died of a heart attack a year and a half later. Before another two years had passed, one of his sisters, who was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, took her own life.

“Today is a culmination of what the circumstances of my young adult life produced,” Andrew said on May 6, 2020, the 10th anniversary of his brother’s death.

Now a first lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard, a platoon leader in the 111th Engineer Battalion, and a liaison officer for Joint Task Force 176’s COVID-19 response mission, Andrew reflects on how these tragic events shaped his values and beliefs about Soldiering and leadership.

“As terrible as that was to accept in the beginning, as well as the deaths that followed within my family within the next four years, it puts things into the perspective of not taking things for granted, and not wasting time,” said Andrew, who applied this lesson to his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he was preparing to take on the role, he heard through the grapevine that liaison officers tend to feel useless, only answering phones day in and day out.

Regardless of whether that may have been true for anyone who had held a similar position in the past, Andrew seized the opportunity to develop himself and contribute significantly to the mission.

“I looked around at the collective knowledge in the room, realizing how much I didn’t know, and realized that you’re only useless if you don’t take advantage of a situation,” said Andrew, explaining that his eagerness to learn led to increased opportunity and responsibility. “I quickly went from dialing in phones, to successfully emulating the battle captain position, to being assigned in mission analysis of 176th Task Force construction objectives.”

Andrew’s insistence in seizing all the opportunities in his role aligns with the philosophy his brother demonstrated with his actions, to “Love what you do, and do it to its fullest.”

His brother had enlisted in the Army with the goal of disposing of explosives intended to kill service members or local civilians. Despite the obvious dangers involved in this profession, Wade had his heart set, and after basic training, he completed the 37-week explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training that is challenging enough to wash out 75 percent of the class.

“He knew what he wanted to do,” Andrew said. “He executed just that to EOD standard.”

On the tenth anniversary of his death Joint Task Force 176 finished the daily brief with silence and reverent words about Spc. Wade Slack. Col. Robert Crockem, the task force’s commander, said remembering fallen Soldiers can help us stay careful and not become complacent.

“We have to be aware of what we’re doing at all times, and not take for granted that things are always going to work out,” Crockem said. “It brings a sobering reality to the fact that we’re in the military, and the military can be a dangerous business.”

Texas National Guardsmen prepare to sanitize nursing homes

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard

CAMP MABRY, Texas—Texas Military Department service members prepared to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in long-term care facility COVID-19 disinfection operations on May 8- 9, 2020, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176 convened at the task force’s headquarters to receive personal protective equipment and sanitizing kits on May 8, 2020. The following day, they received training from the National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team on how to safely don and doff protective gear, as well as how to administer the disinfectants.

“This mission is important to protect our most vulnerable population,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Warth, battle captain with the Texas Military Department’s Joint Task Force 176, who explained that National Guard disinfection teams will work in support of Texas Division of Emergency Management efforts to sanitize facilities where occupants have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We will go in and ensure that residents are protected,” Warth said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Spc. Precious Watkins, a Texas Army National Guard culinary specialist assigned to Joint Task Force 176, said this mission hits close to home for her as an individual with elder relatives who have endured various significant health issues.

“In the class today we talked about how people who have had strokes or heart attacks are more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Watkins said. “That’s a little scary for me.”

As part of their preparation, the Soldiers received a day of training from the Texas National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team.

Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations officer with Joint Task Force 176, said National Guardsmen are capable of quickly learning and executing such tasks because their dual-footing in the military and civilian life makes them well-rounded and adaptive.

“Not only are they Army Soldiers and Air Force Airmen, but they’re also civilians who do a lot of different things,” Ammerman said. “They’re able to get out there and truly do whatever the State of Texas asks them to do.”

Mobile Testing Command Center coordinates mobile COVID-19 testing in Texas

Story by Second Lieutenant Daniel Martinez, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard

ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas -- Members of the Texas Military Department and other civilian agencies continue coordinating mobile COVID-19 testing throughout Texas from the Mobile Testing Command Center May 3, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

The MTCC is responsible for mobilizing missions to remote areas of Texas for COVID-19 testing by coordinating the logistics of each mobile testing team, while also ensuring all military members remain safe throughout the operation.

The MTCC was initiated on April 18, 2020, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott’s goal to develop a plan for reopening the state. The TMD is collaborating with multiple civilian agencies to bring that mission to fruition.

Each mobile testing site tests between 40-200 individuals daily. There are currently 50 mobile testing site teams. Each team consists of 5 medics, 17 support members, as well as support from community leaders, such as EMS workers and government officials.

The TMD has conducted over 12,000 tests from every corner of the state.

“The data coming out has demonstrated that our medics are following proper testing protocols. Considering the nature of a field-testing site in Texas, weather conditions and the challenges of a mobile mission, this is a huge win for our teams and for our state,” said Maj. Tanya Island, the Mobile Testing Command Center Surgeon, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard.

“We have been able to increase the volume of samples in a short amount of time while having the operational flexibility of being mobile. This directly supports the Governor’s efforts to plan for the future of our great state. ”


Mobile testing teams start and end their day at different locations throughout the state. They rely on guidance from the MTCC on where to go for testing each day.


“Traveling to each community has been a positive experience. The civilians we test, mayors and other public officials all greet us with kindness and thank us for serving,” said Senior Airman Tennelle Anderson, a 147th Medical Group Aerospace Medical Technician. “It is evident that we are impacting the great state of Texas as we have received the highest turnout numbers from our testing. It has encouraged me and strengthened my faith seeing our nation come together to help each other during this challenging time. I'm proud to be a part of history and will continue to do everything I can until we have defeated the invisible enemy.”


Inter-agency collaboration has been essential to completing the mission because there is currently a shortage of medical supplies. Mobile testing teams will arrive to a specific location and meet civilian agencies who coordinate with regional partners to meet any equipment shortfalls to ensure all Texans get the testing they need.


The components of the COVID-19 testing kit must be kept refrigerated. The inter-agency team has developed a distribution system that combines civilian and military personnel. It is one of the critical elements of the mission.


The agencies involved with the MTCC are the Texas Military Department, Department of State Health Services, Agrilife Extension Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife division, Department of Public Safety, Texas Engineering Extension Service, Texas Department of Emergency Management, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

 

Members of the 147th Attack Wing provide assistance to the Montgomery County Food Bank

Story by Second Lieutenant Daniel Martinez, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard

ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas -- Members of the 147th Attack Wing and Texas Army National Guard continue to assist the Montgomery County Food Bank May 3, 2020, in Montgomery, Texas.

The Montgomery County Food Bank provides food to the local community, but have been unable to do so due to their lack of volunteers since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Military Department has provided assistance to the Montgomery County Food Bank. TMD members have worked side by side with food bank employees to serve those in need.

“We’ve gotten along really well,” said Lt Col Mark Tacquard, the officer in charge. “We’ve been able to offer a lot of our abilities to help solve hurdles. We have 8 people from our 147th Logistic Readiness Squadron that have helped contribute their skills to overcome these hurdles.”

The TMD force consists of 34 Texas Air National Guard members from the 147th Attack Wing, and 10 Texas Army National Guard. Their daily duty is to break down pallets of food into smaller packages for the high demand from the local community that the food bank receives.

With the TMD’s assistance, the food bank has been able to keep up with the high demand from the local community. No family has been turned away to receive food.

“It’s very rewarding to fulfill the increased demands at the Montgomery County Food Bank,” said Technical Sgt. Matthew Baker, 111th Attack Squadron.

“They were previously not able to meet the demands, but now that the Texas Air National Guard and Army National Guard are here, we are able to do so.”

The TMD members arrived on April 23rd and will continue to serve the Montgomery County Food Bank as long as there is a need. Precautions are taken at the start of each work day by implementing health screens at the door by an on-site medic.

Putting Soldiers back to work

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas—She was a hardworking server in a small-town Texas country store. Less than a year out of high school, she paid her bills and saved for the future by working double shifts whenever she could. 

Army National Guard Pfc. Tori Stricklin, a human resource specialist with the 176th Engineer Brigade, updates the Joint Task Force 176 personnel status roster at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2020. Pfc. Stricklin is one of several service members who normally serve on a part-time basis, but were activated to full-time duty after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their full-time employment. “In the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” said Col. Robert Crockem commander of Joint Task Force 176. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.” (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Pfc. Tori Stricklin, a human resource specialist with the 176th Engineer Brigade, updates the Joint Task Force 176 personnel status roster at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2020. Pfc. Stricklin is one of several service members who normally serve on a part-time basis, but were activated to full-time duty after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their full-time employment. “In the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” said Col. Robert Crockem commander of Joint Task Force 176. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.” (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)



“I like to make sure that I have all my ducks in a row,” said 18-year-old Tori Stricklin. “Even if I don’t necessarily need the extra hours, I’ll go ahead and do it. You never know what life is going to throw at you. For example, the coronavirus.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to threaten the economy, her ability to pay her bills suddenly seemed uncertain. The store initially stayed open, taking to-go orders, but the outlook wasn’t good.

“Because of the coronavirus, things started to head downhill pretty quickly, and I wasn’t quite sure where things were going to go,” Stricklin said.

“Without tips, there’s only so much you can make.”

Then she got a call asking her if she wanted to help out with the Texas Military Department’s COVID-19 response. Gov. Greg Abbott had mobilized several units of Army and Air National Guardsmen, as well as the Texas State Guard to support the basic needs of Texans through the pandemic. One of these units was Task Force 176, which included members of Stricklin’s unit, the176th Engineer Brigade.

Stricklin, now a private first class, enlisted in the Army National Guard when she was 17, and began working as a human resource specialist in the 176th’s personnel section as a traditional part time Guardsman. So when she received the offer to activate full-time for the COVID-19 response, she jumped at the chance knowing she could avoid being unemployed during a time of uncertainty.

“About two days after I got that call, my store had shut down, so I would have been without a job,” said Stricklin.

While the primary purpose of the activation is to protect Texans against the spread of COVID-19, it also created an opportunity for part-time service members to keep working, said Col. Robert Crockem, commander of the 176th Engineer Brigade.

“We’re in the business of taking care of Texans,” Crockem said. “Right now, we’re supporting Texans by distributing the medical supplies they need, and helping to provide increased hospital bed space and medical capabilities.”

“But in the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” Crockem continued. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.”

One of the first teams of Texas Military Department personnel to activate following Gov. Greg Abbott’s order was Joint Task Force 176’s General Support Unit 4, a team of engineers with the 840th Engineer Mobility Augmentation Company.

“We had to mobilize and assemble at the armory within 12 hours with a 34-person unit,” said 1st Sgt. Denton Humphrey, first sergeant with the 840th, explaining that “after getting the call the evening of March 18, the team was assembled and fully mission-capable by 8 a.m. the following morning.”

With the majority of this first group being made up of college students, Humphrey said that it was a good opportunity for them to earn money and serve their state by building medical facilities and supporting food bank operations.

“Now we can provide them with some income and the availability to work on their online classes,” Humphrey said.

When additional personnel were needed, half of the next wave of activated individuals were struggling to stay employed due to the pandemic.

“Very specifically, we combed the unit for Soldiers who had lost a job due to the COVID-19 and those were our first choice,” Humphrey said.

Matthew Faulkenberry, a corporal in the Texas Army National Guard, is another hard working Texas whose livelihood was put in jeopardy by the pandemic. Over the last few years, he had established himself as the informal project manager for both the office and the warehouse at a construction company.

“I made a lot of connections through there,” Faulkenberry said. “It led me to accepting another job with my official title as project manager.”

He gave his two weeks’ notice, and in two weeks, he was without a job. COVID-19 had struck, severely impacting employment in several industries, to include the construction sector. The company still wanted him as a member of their team in the future, but for the time being, they wouldn’t be able to keep him busy or give him a steady paycheck.

“The company called me and said, ‘you still have the job, but you don’t have a job,’” Faulkenberry said.

He immediately assessed his finances to determine how much he would need to earn to keep the bills paid, and then focused on getting back to work. What kind of work he did was less important to him than it was for him to fulfill his obligation to support his family.

“I started reaching out for jobs that I was overqualified for, but I needed to have income for my family,” said Faulkenberry. “I applied at Whataburger and McDonalds just because I needed something.”

Fortunately, the National Guard was able to put him to work. Faulkenberry previously served part-time as a reconnaissance sergeant in the 176th Engineer Brigade. He heard that his unit was looking for volunteers to help with the COVID-19 response, and he seized the opportunity.

“I’m thankful for that,” Faulkenberry said. “It’s very good for me because I have a family to take care of. I have a daughter and a wife, and the income I’m bringing from here helps me make sure they have a roof over their head.”

Since the Texas Military Department initiated the COVID-19 response, Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard, Airmen with the Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guardsmen have been working to meet the basic needs of their fellow Texans. Their efforts have included construction in support of medical facilities, distribution of medical supplies and even preparing and distributing meals in support of food banks. Helping to meet these employment needs is just one more way the activation is about serving the common good in Texas, said Humphrey.

“As Guard members, it’s beneficial for them both ways, whether we’re protecting them and we’re working with the public to protect the public,” Humphrey said. “Texans supporting Texans--that’s what we do.”

The Texas Army National Guard stays ready

Story and photos by Spc. Jason Archer, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

AUSTIN, Texas – In 1636, the first members of the original thirteen colonies’ military gathered on an empty field and improvised new methods to conduct training crucial to their defense. In the more than 276 years since that first muster there have been many homes to National Guard units. Some met in empty schools, on private lands and in the late 1800’s more frequently in armories spread throughout communities.

One thing has not changed over all of this time—the need for Guardsmen to train for national defense. The COVID-19 pandemic has again changed the way citizen-Soldiers assemble, as this month units across Texas experienced their first digital muster. 

Texas Army National Guard Spc. Jason Archer, attached to the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 71st Troop Command, logs on to a video conference at his home in Leander, Texas, April 6, 2020. Archer’s unit continued training remotely during the state ordered shelter-in-place in order to be ready to serve the people of Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Archer)
Texas Army National Guard Spc. Jason Archer, attached to the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 71st Troop Command, logs on to a video conference at his home in Leander, Texas, April 6, 2020. Archer’s unit continued training remotely during the state ordered shelter-in-place in order to be ready to serve the people of Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Archer) 



As the pandemic continues across Texas Soldiers will be relying on the use of telework and virtual training to allow both full-time and traditional Texas Guardsmen to stay at home and maintain their health but not lose access to vital information.

Lt. Col. Rita Holton, 36th Special Troops Battalion Commander, said the Texas Military Department is continuing business as usual.

“The current health crisis has not changed the mission, just the focus,” Holton said. “The National Guard as a whole, is a trained, ready force and prepared for all types of contingencies, however difficult.”

The Texas Army National Guard has more than 23,000 members who have been standing by waiting to serve the state. These service members are ready to faithfully carry out the mission to serve Texans in their time of need.

Army 1st Sgt. Crystal Barton, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 71st Troop Command, said there were adjustments to the way work was being done, but the same objectives were being met.

“The MPAD did some classes and formations online over Zoom,” Barton said. “I’ve heard of other units using WhatsApp, not to send sensitive information, but to keep everyone abreast of any safety concerns.”
Everyone was ready to get on calls and complete online administrative tasks,” Barton added. “Even our commanders that work one weekend a month are used to having meetings online.”

Holton also said the service had systems in place for operational security whenever conducting telework.

“Telework is authorized for non-essential Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees during the current crisis,” said Holton. “Having telework policies in place is an important element which preserves steady state operations, while taking care of our service members. This keeps them healthy by supporting their families’ needs.”

Texas Army National Guard leaders and Soldiers continue to meet routinely through virtual means in order to remain a relevant fighting force, ready to take-on COVID-19 and any other mission wherever else they are needed.
“COVID-19 has impacted how we are conducting our steady state operations,” Holton said. “However, the number one concern is to keep our Soldiers, Airmen and employees safe and healthy. We have several action plans in place to ensure that daily operations are not interrupted while simultaneously supporting the response effort.”

The effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has been witnessed at all levels of the Texas Military Department, in the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air Guard, and at all levels of command.

“This response is a true team effort,” said Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, The Adjutant General of Texas. “Community by community, state by state, our nation is coming together, showing tenacity and grit of the human spirit as we work together to beat back COVID-19.”

Morale is high in National Guard COVID-19 response

Story and Photos by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

"We’re always looking on the bright side,” said Spc. Dakota Goode, a National Guard infantryman who’s helping distribute needed medical supplies during the COVID-19 response.

Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Toby Mendoza,the Joint Task Force 176 command sergeant major, recognizes Soldiers with General Support Unit 10 for their contributions to the COVID-19 response efforts. Sgt. Antonio Maldonado, a team leader with General Support Unit 10, received a coin for his willingness to accept responsibility beyond his position without hesitation. Spc. Dakota Goode, an infantryman with General Support Unit 10, received a coin in acknowledgement of his relentless dedication to maintaining a positive attitude during challenging times. Joint Task Force 176’s General Support Unit 10 is one of several Texas Military Department elements that mobilized to augment medical capabilities and support supply distribution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Joint Task Force 176’s General Support Unit 10 is one of several Texas Military Department elements that mobilized to augment medical capabilities and support supply distribution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)


“We look forward to getting up every day and doing our part to serve the community and the great state of Texas!”


Goode is a member of General Support Unit 10, which includes Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment as well as Texas State Guardsmen. General Support Unit 10 is one of many teams that operates within the Texas Military Department’s Joint Task Force 176, which assembled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While other teams of service members are helping to mitigate the effects of the pandemic by supporting food banks or building medical infrastructure, General Support Group 10 is operating a regional staging area where supplies are distributed out to disaster districts.

“We are distributing PPE that includes latex gloves, masks, face shields and hand sanitizer,” said 2nd Lt. Cody Bodine, a platoon leader with General Support Unit 10. “We’re providing Texas communities with protective supplies so they can maintain their health and well-being.”

“We have a really good system in place in our shipping department,” said
Sgt. David Freitag, a squad leader with General Support Unit 10.

Freitag explained that supplies are organized according to their destinations, and when county representatives arrive to receive the materials, State Guardsmen scan the supplies out for inventory control. After that, the Soldiers and Airmen of the Texas National Guard get to work.

“Our hard working [personnel] bring everything, put it on the truck for the counties, and try to get them out of here in 5 minutes so they can go help the people who need the supplies,” Freitag said.

Goode’s level of motivation, as well as that of Sgt. Antonio Maldonado, a team leader with General Support Unit 10, was recognized by Command Sgt. Maj. Toby Mendoza, who awarded them with coins during a visit on April 14, 2020. Maldonado was recognized specifically for his willingness to step into a role of more responsibility without hesitation when asked to do so.

Mendoza said the motivation and dedication that Maldonado and Goode demonstrate is what being a Soldier in the Texas Army National Guard is about.

“That’s the nature of our soldiers,” Mendoza said. “They want to help. They want to help out” the citizens of their state. Whenever they’re asked to do something, they want to go do it. They give it all they’ve got.”

Texas Guard mobilizes to respond to COVID-19

Story by Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard is mobilized throughout the state to help expand health care capacity during the COVID-19 threat.

Gov. Greg Abbott activated the Texas National Guard March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The activation included three joint task force brigades, the 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and 176th Engineer Brigade, which will lead 10 general support units positioned across Texas. 

Texas Army National Guard troops set up a field hospital in response to COVID-19 April 1, 2020, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. Service members across Texas worked to set up Geographically Separated Units (GSU) to support local communities. (Texas Air National Guard Photo by A1C Charissa A. Menken)
Texas Army National Guard troops set up a field hospital in response to COVID-19 April 1, 2020, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Texas. Service members across Texas worked to set up Geographically Separated Units (GSU) to support local communities. (Texas Air National Guard Photo by A1C Charissa A. Menken)

Abbott held a news conference with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, at the Texas State Capitol and said the Guard would provide medical, logistics, transportation and communication support for health care.

The Guard's primary role is expanding health care capacity in Texas. This includes increasing access to supplies and equipment, as well as staffing capacity and the number of available hospital beds.

Members of the 6th Civil Support Team headquartered at Camp Mabry in Austin examined donated personal protective equipment like N95 respirator masks and latex gloves to make sure the material was undamaged and effective.

Maj. Sean M. Thurmer, deputy commander of the 6th Civil Support Team, said the trust the state put in the team was earned during years of working alongside the Texas Department of Emergency Management.

"The 6th Civil Support Team has responded to many incidents in Texas and has developed relationships with response partners with whom they work," said Thurmer.

Effective equipment will be distributed to medical facilities and hospitals treating patients with COVID-19. By maintaining the adequate supply of this equipment, the Texas Military Department is ensuring medical providers can continue serving the public while also protecting themselves.

The Guard's 176th Engineer Brigade is also finding and equipping non-medical sites where patients can be treated if hospitals run out of room.

"While hospitals will remain the primary location to treat and care for those in need, we are ensuring that Texas is prepared for any possible scenario in which current hospital capacity is exhausted. This joint initiative with the Texas Military Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will expand the care capacity in communities across Texas," said Abbott.

The first of these sites will be the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, which can accept up to 250 patients with room to expand if needed.

Norris said members of the Guard are also working with local agencies to establish drive-through COVID-19 test sites throughout the state, equipped and staffed by local medical staff and logistics experts in the Guard.

"We are Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen, we truly are your neighbors and are deeply invested in keeping our friends and fellow Texans safe," said Norris. "This is our home, too, and together we will get through this difficult time."

Texas Air Guard F-16 students take on Coronet Cactus

Story by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis, 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, Texas Air National Guard

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Soon-to-be F-16 pilots, currently assigned to the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, arrived in Phoenix Feb 25 to begin Coronet Cactus, the culminating event in their journey to becoming F-16 fighter pilots for the United States Air Force.

First Lt. James Demkowicz, a student pilot assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, conducts preflight checks prior to launch during Coronet Cactus, Feb. 28, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis)
First Lt. James Demkowicz, a student pilot assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, conducts preflight checks prior to launch during Coronet Cactus, Feb. 28, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis)


Coronet Cactus is a 14-day training exercise where student pilots fly hundreds of missions, each simulating a different task that they may see later in their Air Force careers.

For many of these fighter pilots-in-training, this exercise brings them even closer to a dream they’ve held since childhood.

“I have always wanted to be a pilot since I was young,” said 1st Lt. Paul Vasta, an F-16 student pilot currently participating in Cactus. “Dad was an Army aviator who got me into aviation. Since then, I have always wanted to fly something fast.”

With more than eight months of intense studying and hundreds of hours of flight time behind them, the students comprising class 19-ABK of the F-16 Initial Qualification Basic Course use Cactus as an opportunity to show their instructors what they’ve learned during their training.

For the instructors, it allows ample time to gauge how the students will perform in an environment that is away from their typical airspace.

“It is a two-week deployment for the basic course students to come out and fly at a different base, in an unfamiliar field, to employ tactics and deploy both heavy and live bombs in different ranges before they graduate," said Lt. Col. Patrick Bridges, one of the course’s instructor pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing.

Bridges has been instructing F-16 students for 16 years now, and his experience tells him that this capstone exercise can cause a little anxiety because the students are not exactly sure what to expect during the event.

First Lt. Jared Wesemann and 1st Lt. Ian Bonner, two F-16 student pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, pose for a photo before take-off during Coronet Bronco, Feb. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Kaliea Green)
First Lt. Jared Wesemann and 1st Lt. Ian Bonner, two F-16 student pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, pose for a photo before take-off during Coronet Bronco, Feb. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Kaliea Green)


“We get together on our lessons learned and provide them with a road map to success,” Bridges said. “A successful Cactus is all the students and jets coming back in one piece, and the students getting a taste of what it's like to operate from a different base.”

As Cactus draws to a close, and these students begin to find their rhythm and understand expectations, they cannot help but express hope about that next step in their careers.

"I feel like my dream has been somewhat fulfilled, and it’s exciting to be able to continue to push [myself] and make improvements,” Vasta said. “I will continue flying jets as long as I can and am excited to see what the future brings.”

This article originally appeared on the Air National Guard website.

Competition and Camaraderie: A Best Warrior Partnership

Story by Sgt. Daryl Bradford, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Texas Army National Guard

Service members arrived at Camp Swift on a rainy morning in March, ready to compete in the Texas Military Department 2020 Best Warrior Competition. The sky was overcast, bringing a shadow upon the day, but they had come to prove to themselves and their fellow countrymen that they had what it took to earn the title of “Best Warrior.” Soon, however, the soldiers would realize that competition was only half of the experience. 

Army Spc. Jacob D. Arndt performs 25 burpees as part of the obstacle course during the Texas Military Department’s 2020 Best Warrior Competition March 5, 2020 at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas. Arndt, part of the 176th Engineers Brigade, is currently attending college and plans to commission as an officer through Reserve Officer Training Course (ROTC).
Army Spc. Jacob D. Arndt performs 25 burpees as part of the obstacle course during the Texas Military Department’s 2020 Best Warrior Competition March 5, 2020 at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas. Arndt, part of the 176th Engineers Brigade, is currently attending college and plans to commission as an officer through Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Archer, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

The Best Warrior Competition is a demanding challenge that brings together service members from the Texas Army and Air National Guard and Texas’ foreign partners, Chile and Czech Republic, in friendly, four-day competition.

“That’s the biggest benefit of the competition, the type of soldiers and leaders that we develop into in the process of this,” said Sgt. Jonathan David Huwe, an Infantry Team Leader from 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, when speaking on training with and against the Chilean soldiers.

Texas Guardsmen and their foreign counterparts work together to sharpen their warrior skills and leadership qualities during the competition process, ensuring that they are ready to respond in times of crisis or when their home nations need them. The competition furthers relevance and readiness by inspiring training that is tailored to increase the soldier’s ability to defend and serve.
Serving the nation and Texas are both equally important, and he takes pride when supporting the large-scale operations or back at home, said Huwe.

Having served the United States twice on overseas deployments as a Texas Guardsman, Huwe knows the importance of being ready, of being relevant, and maintaining strong partnerships.
“Again, it relates back to that competitive spirit,” said Huwe when talking of the Texas National Guard’s Chilean partners. “They’re going out there to give their best and we’re going out there to push ourselves to meet that. That builds strong bonds. Training together builds respect at the lowest level.”

Partnerships like the ones described inspire others to succeed through competition and increase professional skills among service members. Mutually beneficial relationships are born that positively affects foreign working relations and the United States defense goals.

The ideas that Huwe speaks about aren’t just one-sided either because Chilean soldiers hold the same values important.
“This competition generates friendships and relationships between Chilean and U.S. soldiers that pushes us to be the best,” said 2nd Cpl. Manuel Aroca Navarette, an infantry specialist with the Chilean 21st Marine Infantry Battalion. “That respect among each other causes us to fight to be better.”

Army Pfc. Maximilliano Estrada of the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade performs V-ups during the obstacle course portion of the Texas Military Department’s 2020 Best Warrior Competition March 5, 2020 at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas. Estrada, who began bleeding half-way through the event, refused to stop and completed the course.
Army Pfc. Maximilliano Estrada of the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade performs V-ups during the obstacle course portion of the Texas Military Department’s 2020 Best Warrior Competition March 5, 2020 at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas. Estrada, who began bleeding half-way through the event, refused to stop and completed the course (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Archer)

Among other things, camaraderie built from competition is one of the main qualities the service members from the different countries have in common, said Navarette.

A camaraderie that builds strong bonds—bonds that far surpass geographic and language barriers. The Texas Military Department 2020 Best Warrior Competition fosters those type of friendships. Even more importantly it builds partnerships because even the service member crowned “Best Warrior” is nothing without the support of his brothers-in-arms.