Posts in Category: Texas Military Department

Texas Counterdrug leads the way in the technical field, assists HSI succeed in its mission

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

Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force communications support member, Staff Sgt. Daniel Pando, works on cutting-edge electronic equipment to support the Homeland Security Investigations Technical Operations Unit catch drug trafficking organizations in El Paso, Texas. Texas Counterdrug has supported federal, state and local law enforcement throughout the state for more than 30 years in the war on drugs.
Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force communications support member, Staff Sgt. Daniel Pando, works on cutting-edge electronic equipment to support the Homeland Security Investigations Technical Operations Unit catch drug trafficking organizations in El Paso, Texas. Texas Counterdrug has supported federal, state and local law enforcement throughout the state for more than 30 years in the war on drugs.

EL PASO, Texas – In a world where technological advances have become a part of many people’s everyday life, these Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force members must ensure they are ahead of the game, or they will fall behind to the drug trafficking organizations they are trying to help dismantle.

For the past four years, Texas Counterdrug has supported the Technical Operations Unit of Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso and its contribution has paid high dividends.

“The Technical Operations Unit provides HSI components with the most innovative, cutting-edge electronic surveillance equipment and support in furtherance of criminal investigations and national security operations,” said HSI El Paso Group Supervisor Efren Aguilera, who oversees Tech Ops.

The support that Texas Counterdrug members, Army Staff Sgt. Jose Pena and Air Staff Sgt. Daniel Pando, provide for the Tech Ops Unit has no limits.

“They assist with the everyday functions of the Tech Shop that includes fabricating enclosures, function testing and issuing electronic equipment to special agents,” said Aguilera. “They support the office with radio operability functions and assist with surveillance operations. In a nutshell, they provide a wide spectrum of support.”

When Pena and Pando were assigned to the group 3 1/2 and 2 1/2 years ago respectively, they had interest in the mission but were not fully capable – yet.

“The way we were able to learn and become more proficient of the job was due to on-the-job training and exposure to the experience Technical Enforcement Officers have,” said Pena. “We had plenty of hands-on training.”

Now, Pena and Pando are providing essential instruction to agents on proper deployment, use and exploitation of various pieces of covert technical surveillance equipment.

“We pass on our experience to others by informing agents how to utilize equipment properly for their operations,” said Pena. “We also assist them in making key decisions on what specific device is the most adequate pertaining to the related case and environment.”

How they accomplish this support is even more intriguing.

“We have, several times, designed, fabricated and constructed fully customized enclosures utilizing various combinations of Plexiglas, fiberglass, metal, wood, 3D printed parts, customized decals, and paint to fully conceal,” said Pena. “All fabrications and constructions met and exceeded specifications for temperature and humidity.”

The Texas Counterdrug support not only provides HSI with additional technical support, but it allows for licensed HSI officers to return to the operational field.

“They're a force multiplier,” said Aguilera. “HSI El Paso is an extremely busy office and having National Guard support the Tech Ops Unit is a huge benefit. The Tech shop is a small unit with a big mission, so having Pena and Pando as part of the team, has been a relief.”

As an Air Force veteran, Aguilera knows what the service members bring to Tech Ops and beyond.

“In my experience, you can always count on National Guard personnel getting the job done in a timely manner and with minimal guidance,” said Aguilera. “The mission is in a better place with the partnership fostered with the National Guard, not only for Tech Ops, but for the other HSI programmatic areas for which they offer support.”

Tech Ops and Counterdrug must always improve; thinking outside the box to build new products and how they can implement them.

“They are hardworking task force members who go above and beyond, learning new ways to create new products to put in new devices,” said Sgt. 1st Class Gilberto Urbina, a Texas Counterdrug assistant team leader.

These capabilities support HSI, but also several law enforcement agencies in their area ranging from Deming, New Mexico, and reaching far into the Texas plains. They also provide support for nationwide cases.

“Our capabilities within Tech Ops would include support to the whole HSI El Paso area of responsibility with specialty technical equipment for HSI cases,” said Pando. “As well, we assist Border Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety with equipment.”

The task force members are not content where they are now, Pena and Pando want to keep training and moving forward to support HSI even more.

“We want more advanced training that benefits the members,” said Urbina. “For example, we’d like high-voltage training and media exploitation devices.”

Law enforcement agencies throughout the state have witnessed the expertise, commitment and dedication that the Counterdrug task force members have brought to their offices for more than 30 years.

“I respect the professionalism of the National Guard personnel,” said Aguilera. “I look forward to the continued partnership with Counterdrug.”

It is clear that the HSI Tech Ops Unit is one of the best in the country and Staff Sergeants Pena and Pando have had a crucial role in that success.

“Nationwide, HSI El Paso consistently ranks among the top in overall enforcement statistics,” said Aguilera. “These are the successes we share with our partner agencies to include the National Guard.”

TXSG Colonel retires after 45 years of service

By 1LT Johnathan Winston, Texas State Guard

AUSTIN, Texas –  Colonel John Adams has retired after 16 years of service to the Texas State Guard and 45 total years of uniformed service.  His retirement ceremony took place on October 24, 2020 at Camp Mabry. 

Adams most recently served as the Texas State Guard’s senior personnel officer from 2016 to 2020, and he is recognized as one of the most important figures in the Guard’s ongoing transformation and professionalization.

Maj. Gen. Robert Bodisch, Commanding General of the Texas State Guard, praised Adams’ service to Texas and the United States during his speech at the ceremony.  

Bodisch used the words “leadership, integrity, and dedication” to describe Adams, a man whom he said fits the definition of being a “real hero” after a lengthy and storied career.

Adams’ uniformed service began in 1966, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Adams served on a 19 month combat tour in Vietnam.   During his tour, he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, among other awards.

Adams then returned to Texas, completed studies at Sam Houston State University, and resumed his Army service as a Second Lieutenant in 1973.  He went on to serve as an active duty helicopter pilot, followed by multiple senior level staff and leadership positions in the Army Reserve.  

In October 2000, Adams volunteered for service as the military assistant to the political advisor for the commander of Allied forces in Kosovo.

His dedication and thoroughness were evident throughout the assignment- culminating in successful negotiations to win the release of six Serbian hostages.

Adams brought his pedigree for excellence into the Texas State Guard, which he joined in 2004 after leaving the Army Reserve.  

Whether he was planning and coordinating deployments for hurricanes, or streamlining awards and promotions, Adams was known to members of the TXSG community as the consummate professional- and as an individual who inspired confidence and respect.

“You have served your state and your country well and we owe you a huge debt of gratitude,” Bodisch said in his closing remarks.  “You might retire, but you will always be part of the family.”

More information about joining the TXSG can be found at https://tmd.texas.gov/state-guard.

A Message to the Force from the Joint Chiefs of Staff

 
This message is sent on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
 
The American people have trusted the Armed Forces of the United States to protect them and our Constitution for almost 250 years. As we have done throughout our history, the U.S. military will obey lawful orders from civilian leadership, support civil authorities to protect lives and property, ensure public safety in accordance with the law, and remain fully committed to protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
 
The violent riot in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021 was a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process. We mourn the deaths of the two Capitol policemen and others connected to these unprecedented events.
 
We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection.
 
As Service Members, we must embody the values and ideals of the Nation. We support and defend the Constitution. Any act to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law.
 
On January 20, 2021, in accordance with the Constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief.
 
To our men and women deployed and at home, safeguarding our country—stay ready, keep your eyes on the horizon, and remain focused on the mission. We honor your continued service in defense of every American.
 
//original signed//

Texas Guardsmen serve as part of the 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade

By Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard remains the premier state fighting force, relevant to provide combat ready forces to the Department of Defense, in part because of its diversity in force strength. The Texas Guard contains units rarely found in other states, thus enhancing its war fighting assets.

The 4th battalion of the 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade is one of these unique units. The 54th SFAB was constituted in March 2020 and is comprised of units from Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, and Georgia. While the other SFAB units in the Army are comprised of active component Soldiers, the 54th is exclusively made up of units from the National Guard.

Security Force Assistance Brigades are specialized units with the core mission to conduct training, advising, assisting, enabling and accompanying operations with allied and partner nations. These units provide advice and education to partner nations as they seek to combat security threats in their area of operation. SFABs are intended to reduce the burden of such advising-based missions on conventionally-organized Brigade Combat Teams, allowing BCTs to focus on fighting near-peer threats.

Soldiers in SFABs are highly trained, and among the top tactical leaders in the Army. Their work strengthens the defense infrastructures of allies and partners, while supporting American security objectives. SFABs are also leveraged to provide maximum support to the combatant commanders' warfighting needs.

“The whole intent of having a Security Forces Assistance Brigade is to provide assistance to our partner nations and to foreign security forces to free up Brigade Combat Teams to concentrate on multi-domain operations and large scale ground combat operations,” said Col. Jeff Hackett, commander of the 54th SFAB.

In Texas, the 4th battalion contains 39 Soldiers in 7 decentralized advisory teams. All Soldiers on this mission are either senior non-commissioned officers or commissioned officers who have received training in foreign weapon systems. The Texas Guardsmen attached to this mission maintain maximum flexibility to adapt to various missions at the request of the combatant commanders.

SFAB’s maintain a wide mission set in order to best advise foreign militaries. In terms of training, they provide education on basic Soldier skills, artillery proficiency and integration, and medical training. They also serve to prepare the partner nations on deployment of particular weapon systems, and help in the development of standard operating procedures to be enable maximum performance of the foreign militaries.

Lt. Col. Joshua J. Pritchett, commander of the 4-54th, said that Texas advisors are consummate professionals who exhibit discipline, maturity, discretion, empathy, and patience. These traits help the Soldiers to understand the human element in others, which enables the advising process.

“You have to be trusted to operate autonomously and to advise foreign military leaders,” said Maj. Robert Anspaugh. Through their dedication and professionalism, the Texas Guardsmen serving as part of the 54th SFAB are contributing to multilateral security cooperation efforts which promote peace throughout the world.

Enlisted leadership regards 136AW Citizen Airmen's input

Story by A1C Laura Weaver, Texas Air National Guard

NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas - Chief Master Sgt. Michael Cornitius, Texas Military Department Command Senior Enlisted Leader, visited 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard Airmen Nov. 14-15, 2020.

During his visit, he met and engaged with Citizen Airmen directly about their role in the Air National Guard, listened to their feedback, and shared state leadership’s appreciation for their efforts. 

Chief Master Sgt. Michael Cornitius, Texas Military Department Command Senior Enlisted Leader, speaks to 136th Airlift Wing Citizen Airmen at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, Nov. 14, 2020. Cornitius visited the 136th and engaged with enlisted Airmen directly to provide information from state leadership and listen to feedback from unit level Airmen. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Chief Master Sgt. Michael Cornitius, Texas Military Department Command Senior Enlisted Leader, speaks to 136th Airlift Wing Citizen Airmen at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, Nov. 14, 2020. Cornitius visited the 136th and engaged with enlisted Airmen directly to provide information from state leadership and listen to feedback from unit level Airmen. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)


“The main goal for me is getting an opportunity to have that touchpoint with the wing, being able to really talk to the Airmen and understand how we can support them better in the decisions that we make,” said Cornitius.

Cornitius assists the Adjutant General in assuring the readiness, training and development of more than 19,000 enlisted Army and Air personnel in the Texas Guard and State Guard.

At the 136th, the chief visited with multiple units and attended a variety of meetings with junior and senior enlisted members where he recognized and coined standout Airmen for their exceptional performance.

“Texas has the largest and the best guard force in the nation,” said Cornitius. “We want to do more, we want to give more, and we want to help more. For us as an organization, and in particular at the 136th, we want to provide more opportunities for the wing to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to do the job that they want to do and that they’re happy with doing it.”

Cornitius says that by interfacing with Citizen Airmen in the field, he is able to verbalize state initiatives and provide a different perspective to help them understand how their roles support the force as a whole.

“Everyone at the 136th is doing a great job,” said Cornitius. “Keep doing what you’re doing. Continue to lead. Continue to think about tomorrow. Set your long-term goals, and then work toward them through your short-terms goals which will help you in your career.”

Cornitius originally hails from Galveston, Texas, and is in his 33rd year of military service.

Texas Counterdrug and DEA kickoff Red Ribbon Week in highflying fashion

Story by MSG Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force is continuing to provide substance use awareness and prevention efforts to youth throughout the year, but during the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Red Ribbon Week, they raise the bar, literally.

Counterdrug flew a military LUH-72 Lakota helicopter with DEA agents and a brand new eagle mascot to two Central Texas schools to kickoff Red Ribbon Week to spread substance use awareness and prevention.

“It was an amazing event and it is so important for young students to receive drug free messages,” said Amber Newby a project coordinator for the Blanco Coalition of Awareness, Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use. “The earlier they learn and the more often they hear the message and get the education, the more likely that it will sink in.”

For some schools, relaying a drug free message to younger students can be a struggle, but with partnerships of the DEA, the National Guard Counterdrug Program, the Blanco CoAPT, and Blanco and Bowie Elementary schools, the message was high-impact and well received.

“We loved seeing all of our student's reactions to the helicopter, the unity in all of the forces, and the message of the presentation,” said Blanco Elementary counselor Mindy Lay. “As the school counselor, delivering appropriate and effective messages for Red Ribbon Week can sometimes be a struggle - but this year, I think our campus nailed it!”

Counterdrug even debuted their very own mascot, Enney the Eagle, named in honor of one of the program’s first leaders who worked to create the National Guard’s law enforcement support program more than 30 years ago.

“We thought the eagle mascot was one of the best parts of the Red Ribbon event,” said Selena Dillon, a student at Bowie Elementary School in San Marcos, Texas. “We really loved the eagle, and continued to talk about it afterwards.”

The whole purpose of the event was for DEA to explain how Red Ribbon Week began and highlight substance use awareness with the ultimate goal of prevention, as students get older and possibly subjected to drugs.

“The DEA talks about the history of how Red Ribbon was started,” said Sgt. Dillon, “but the students also learn about the wide variety of dangerous drugs, to include prescription drugs, alcohol and the dangers of underage drinking, and tobacco and vapes.”

The DEA began the Red Ribbon Week initiative to honor a fallen undercover agent, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, when a drug cartel kidnapped, tortured and murdered him in Mexico in 1985.

“The DEA's substance abuse message was powerful and very age appropriate,” said Lay. “It was definitely an experience that many of us will not forget!”

Many students talked about wanting to join the military, so the Red Ribbon message showed how their choices could affect their futures.

“I want to be a Marine Corps pilot, study aerospace engineering at the University of Texas, and go on to be an astronaut,” said Dillon. “The DEA agents talked about how drugs will mess up children career goals.”

Reaching out to students at a young age is critical for developing better habits and teaching better decision making as they grow.

“I think that kids sometimes have a difficult time think ahead about how a bad decision now can have long term bad consequences down the road,” said Sgt. Blake Dillon, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Drug Demand Reduction Outreach operator. “This is where we were able to talk to the students about how important it is to remain drug free if they wish to pursue these careers.”

A key focus for the Texas Military Department is building partnerships between state, local and federal civil authorities to better serve the Texas community.

“This is where our program, DDRO, is able to have one of the biggest impacts, to facilitate and coordinate bring these partnerships together,” said Sgt. Dillon. “I think that the partnership between these organizations will have a lasting impact of drug prevention in the community.”

Being in a small city, word spreads fast and many were talking what they saw and what they heard, even if they were not there.

“The impact of this event was definitely greater than just with those present at Blanco Elementary School,” said Lay. “This surprise event has stirred some good discussions in our community.”

At Bowie Elementary in San Marcos, a special reunion happened when Sgt. Dillon arrived in style with his daughter, a student at the school, ready to greet him with open arms.

“I have been in the military for a while,” said Dillon, “and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have the type of influence that I would to have a helicopter go to my daughter’s school and have her watch me get off the helicopter.

“It has a positive influence on my daughter, which in turn allows her to grow into a leader among her pears and speak out and spread the message that drugs are not okay.”

Texas Counterdrug hosts 3rd Annual Red Ribbon 5k virtually

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force hosted its 3rd Annual Red Ribbon 5k Run/Walk virtually Oct. 23, 2020 throughout the state.

The virtual event allowed task force members and other service members from around Texas to participate even with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down group gatherings.

“Our annual Red Ribbon 5k run/walk is a great event to help spread substance use awareness,” said Lt. Col. Erika Besser, the Texas Counterdrug Task Force Coordinator.

Service members from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to Brownsville, from Houston to El Paso sent in their results to show support of the Red Ribbon campaign.

More than 85 people registered for the event posting their times, whether they ran on a treadmill or outside in pouring rain. The fastest time was by Capt. Timothy Ross logging 18 minutes and 23 seconds.

“Even during the pandemic and even if it has to be virtual,” said Besser, “this shows we are still actively working to do our part to "Protect Texas! Stop Drugs!"

The Red Ribbon campaign is in honor of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena who was tragically kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a cartel in 1985.

New partnership brings together Naval and Texas Army Guard aviators

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

NAVAL AIR STATION FORT WORTH JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas – Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight with agency partners aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter on October 6, 2020.

This flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base in order to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Naval personnel stationed at that facility.

The familiarization flight marked the beginning of a partnership between leadership of NAS Fort Worth JRB; Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the Texas Military Department.

Commander Allen Grimes, Executive Officer for NAS JRB Fort Worth, said that the Chinook familiarization flight has provided him with a concrete view into the Texas Army National Guard’s aviation mission set, and into what operations may look like the Texas Guard’s hangars are incorporated into the JRB.

Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, October 6, 2020. The flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Navy personnel stationed at the facility. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released)
Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, October 6, 2020. The flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Navy personnel stationed at the facility. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released)


The Sailors who participated in the flight were also impacted positively by the experience.

“I was actually very impressed with the capabilities of the Chinook. The low flying, maneuvering through the woods definitely made me feel as if I was on a mission in a movie scene. It was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic Safety Equipment First Class (AW/SW) Bianca Henderson.

This partnership also supports the Adjutant General of Texas’ intent on modernizing the Texas National Guard’s aviation hangar assets. The Texas Army National Guard has been working closely with the leadership of NAS JRB FTW and NAVFAC for over three years to acquire two additional hangars intended to house CH-47 Chinooks.

The hangers include a ramp space which will allow the Texas Guard to establish a rotary wing operations and maintenance capability at the JRB.

“Moving to JRB for the Texas Army National Guard Chinooks means quicker access to training areas, [increased] ability to depart and return under more challenging weather condition, and less restrictive airspace,” said Lt. Col. Chris D. Hanna, 449th Aviation Support Battalion commander.

In addition to providing the Texas Guard with much needed hangar space, the initiative will allow partnerships to grow between the Army aviators of the Texas National Guard, and the Naval Aviation community.

Nurturing this partnership will benefit both services as they work to meet the intent of the National Defense Strategy which relies on “Joint Force military advantages enabling U.S. interagency counterparts to advance U.S. influence and interests.”

Aviators from the Texas Army National Guard conducted a familiarization flight aboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, October 6, 2020. The flight brought four Chinooks to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to Navy personnel stationed at the facility. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released)
U.S. Navy photo by MC1 (SW/AW/IW) Jose Jaen/Released


Once the two hangars are procured, the CFMO will engage in a nearly $6 million renovation project to expand the hangar depth in order to allow the Chinook’s to comfortably fit. The construction project will also entail adding administrative and support facilities at the hangars in order to facilitate increased operations.

“We anticipate receiving the official licenses for the property before the end of 2020,” said Brian Stevens, the director of planning and programming for the Texas Military Department’s Construction and Facilities Management Office.

“The most important outcome from this event is the partnership that we are building to ensure we will successfully integrate the TXARNG facilities, aviation mission and personnel into the NAS JRB FTW Community."

Credentialing assistance program offers Texas Guardsmen with opportunities for career growth

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

AUSTIN, Texas— The Texas Army National Guard graduated twenty-four students from the University of Texas Project Management Certificate Program, October 7, 2020, during a ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin.

Maj. Gen. Greg Chaney, Texas Military Department Deputy Adjutant General – Army, presented the graduates with certificates to recognize this significant achievement. The twenty-four Soldiers came from across the state to enhance their skillsets through the use of the Army Credentialing Assistance Program.
The Texas Army National Guard graduated twenty-four students from the University of Texas Project Management Certificate Program, October 7, 2020, during a ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin.
Students underwent a rigorous 60-hour course of instruction as well as over 750 pages of reading material and were taught by Col. (ret.) Garry Patterson, a former Texas National Guard officer who now serves as an educational consultant for the University of Texas at Austin Center for Professional Education.

The course usually focuses on corporate project management, but this particular version was engineered specifically for the Soldiers to give relevant examples to projects they would encounter in their military careers.

The Project Management Certificate Program is intended to enhance Soldiers’ project management skills through globally recognized processes and a proven framework for leading and directing projects and teams. The program is industry-driven and takes Soldiers through the essential processes in a logical and sequential way to prepare them to move up in their careers.

With their graduation from this program, the 24 Soldiers are eligible to apply to sit for the PMP certification exam, using their remaining credentialing assistance funds. Once certified, these citizen-Soldiers will be able to successfully manage teams and projects across the Texas Guard, as well as in their civilian jobs.

The Army Credentialing Assistance Program was established in 2019 to provide service members with increased opportunities to expand their skills and experiences, enhancing their ability serve in a multi-domain warfare environment.

The program directly contributes to supporting Soldiers’ professional development, retaining quality Soldiers, and preparing Soldiers for meaningful employment upon transition from military service.

“The credentialing assistance program is an additional tool for Soldiers to develop themselves in technical and practical skills, much like the tuition assistance helps students achieve their educational development goals,” said Mary Lantz, Texas Military Department education services specialist.

“We ensured rigorous COVID-19 mitigation procedures were in place,” such as enforced social distancing, mask requirements, and daily temperature checks,” said Lantz. “It was very nice that in the middle of a COVID-19 environment, we were able to provide some normalcy in a classroom setting where the Soldiers could gain new skills as well as build their networks.”

The benefit from the Credentialing Assistance Program is two-fold – providing service members with tangible skills for their military specialties within the Guard, while also bolstering their ability to perform in civilian careers as well.

The program extends beyond simply funding coursework. The funding is comprehensive and provides every Soldier $4,000 every year said Lantz. These funds can be used for course work earned towards a certification, books and supplies, as well as certification and examination fees.

The program is flexible and allows Soldiers to guide their own learning path through the use of a website called Army COOL, which contains a catalogue of all possible credentialing opportunities and the associated requirements. This system affords Soldiers the flexibility to independently work.

However, in the case of the Project Management Professional program, Lantz explained that the Texas Military Department coordinated the coursework directly with the University of Texas so that all twenty-four students could participate together.

“The Soldiers learned the logic behind project management,” said Patterson. “They performed extremely well.”

Texas Guardsmen satisfy thirst for Lake Jackson

Texas Army National Guardsmen distribute water bottles to local residents October 8, 2020, at Lake Jackson, Texas. These jumped into action to supply water to residents when a deadly amoeba affected the water supply. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means)
Photo By Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means | Texas Army National Guardsmen distribute water bottles to local residents October 8, 2020, at Lake Jackson, Texas. These Citizen Soldiers jumped into action to supply water to residents when a deadly amoeba affected their water supply. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means)

 

Story and photos by MSgt Lynn Means, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

“We knew we were in a crisis.”

When the water supply of a southern Texas city became tainted and unsafe to drink, the Texas Military Department responded sending Army National Guardsmen to ensure residents had access to a supply of life sustaining water.

“Back in September, a little boy lost his life due to a brain eating amoeba,” said Bryan Sidebottom, deputy emergency manager for Lake Charles, Texas. “We were trying to figure out what happened, so we posted a water advisory. We told everyone the water was not consumable, and to use it only to flush the toilet.”

City officials were faced with the dilemma of ensuring residents had safe water to drink. Without the free flow of clean water to houses, it was going to be an enormous task.

“We didn’t have enough manpower in the city to hand out water bottles while we continued to provide city services,” said Sidebottom. “It’s a big task, so we requested the Guard.

“Initially we had a ‘do-not-use’ advisory for the city water, then it became a boil water advisory. This meant you could drink it after you boil the water.”

But this wasn’t the best solution, explained Sidebottom, because the elevated chlorine levels used to disinfect the system were still a great concern for residents.

“We wanted to ensure every citizen felt they were being taken care of,” said Sidebottom. “It’s been a very arduous task, but thankfully the Guard came to our aid.”

Texas Army National Guardsmen distribute water bottles to local residents October 8, 2020, at Lake Jackson, Texas. These jumped into action to supply water to residents when a deadly amoeba affected the water supply. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means)
Texas Army National Guardsmen distribute water bottles to local residents October 8, 2020, at Lake Jackson, Texas. These jumped into action to supply water to residents when a deadly amoeba affected the water supply. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Lynn M. Means)

Thirty-one Army National Guardsmen arrived early September 27, 2020, to quench Lake Jackson residents’ thirst. For nearly two weeks, the team handed out cases of water, talked to residents, and welcomed the opportunity to give service before self.

“Today we handed out 4,400 cases, hitting a little over one million water bottles since we started,” said Private 1st Class Markel Locks, a Texas Army National Guardsman assigned to the team. “Seeing people smile when we gave them water, it meant the world to us.

“It’s the reason I joined -- I wanted to help people.”

Locks said he was struck with the depth of this situation when the team had to move hotels because they couldn’t shower.

“We were a little scared,” said Locks. “Water is a part of life.”

But the outpouring of gratitude from residents had a positive reaction on the Citizen Soldiers.

“We all love being here,” said Locks. “Every four cars or so, we got cookies, candies, we got to look at all kinds of dogs - it was beautiful! I really love this town! I’ve been thinking about moving here.”

However, the mission was not without risk.

Several days into the mission, one Guardsman began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

“We had a Soldier experiencing symptoms and started asking about COVID,” said Army Capt. Juan Guerrero, 449th Aviation Support Battalion ammunition officer and officer in charge of the mission. “We took him to the hospital, then quarantined him at the hotel. Two days later, his test results came back positive.”

The team was taken off mission and waited in isolation to see if anyone else tested positive. The Texas Military Department immediately mustered a Quick Response Force to fill the mission’s needs.

“Within six hours’ notice, the QRF was out here,” said Guerrero. “It was really awesome. Next morning at 7 o’clock, they started [distributing water to residents], and kept it up for two days until we got our tests back."

The rest of the team was relieved to receive all negative results.

“We were ready to get back to work,” said Guerrero. “The city of Lake Jackson was a great host. They made sure we had hot meals and no need to eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). They really boosted our morale.”

Sidebottom explained the residents’ show of gratitude for the Citizen Soldiers who came to distribute water to their city.

“One resident wrote she could see everyone was happy to do what they were doing, and she could see that through their smiling eyes,” said Sidebottom, grinning behind his own mask.

He paused for a moment while his eyes welled up and he stood a little taller.

“She said it brought tears to her eyes to see their service,” he said. “I love that … it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.”

Sidebottom said it takes a special person to serve.

“They’re very high-spirited. They’re motivated. They understand the cause, and they’re always ready to serve."

They are Texans serving Texas.