Posts in Category: The Dispatch

2019 TMD Legislative Successes

Highlighting the Work of the TMD Government Affairs Office in 2019

Article by the Texas Military Department Government Affairs Office

During the Regular Session of the 86th Legislature, the Government Affairs Office (GAO) closely tracked 501 of the 7851 bills filed by the Texas Legislature. Additionally, GAO maintained situational awareness of and expertise on all issues relating to military and state agency topics. In addition to these monitoring responsibilities, GAO remained in constant contact with legislative offices to serve as a resource and knowledge base for both members and staff. A consistent presence in the Capitol allowed TMD to answer questions and engage with offices on a daily basis. Education for legislative staff and members was provided by Texas Military Department (TMD) General Officers, GAO and Office of Executive Director (OED) personnel through meetings with members, testimony provided at Committee Hearings and numerous staff-to-staff engagements. The Regular Session of the 86th Legislature gaveled in on 8 January 2019 and gaveled out on 27 May 2019. Of the 7851 bills filed, 1323 were passed by the Governor and 58 bills were vetoed. State capitol

Governor Abbott, in his State of the State address, laid out issues of particular importance and declared school finance reform, teacher pay raises and property tax relief as emergency items, allowing them to be taken up by the legislature in the first 60 days. These emergency items were in addition to other items of interest such as school safety, disaster response and mental health. 

This year the GAO added new team members to its staff. These team members were quick to adapt to their new roles and quickly established relationships with key legislative members and their staff. TAG, OED and GAO staff met with every Senator and Representative on the Finance and Appropriations committees. Moreover, GAO staff regularly met with members of the Defense and Veterans’ Affairs, and Veterans’ Affairs and Border Security committees. 

CPT Owen Williams along with the GAO team worked tirelessly on coordinating an Army Day event with members of the legislature. The intent of this event was to familiarize Texas legislators and their staff with the Texas Military Department, showcase our capabilities and engage in productive conversation. The intended outcome for was event was to recoup diminished funds from previous legislative sessions. The event’s success was so well received by the Adjutant General and Deputy Adjutant Generals, that CPT Williams was tasked with coordinating a second Army Day. This event was as successful as the first.

Throughout the interim, GAO will continue outreach to members and legislative staff, including but not limited to: armory visits, district engagements, change of command ceremonies, interim committee hearings, TMD legislative days and other engagements as appropriate.

Bills passed by 86th Legislature that directly benefit the TMD: 

- SB 1598/HB 2241 by Senator Hall and Rep. Tinderholt: Relating to hazardous duty pay for security officers employed by the Texas Military Department. 

This legislation amends the Government Code to allow a security officer employed by the Texas Military Department to receive hazardous duty pay, subject to applicable eligibility requirements.

- SB 1597/HB 3391 by Senator Hall and Rep. Shine: Relating to awarding certain medals for military service performed individually or as part of a crew. 

This legislation amends the Government Code to expand eligibility for the Lone Star Medal of Valor, Texas Outstanding Service Medal, and Texas Medal of Merit to include certain acts of military service performed as a member of a crew or team.

- SB 602/HB 1326 by Senator Hall and Rep. Flynn: Relating to the continuation and functions of the Texas Military Department. (SUNSET) 

Relates to the Sunset Review of TMD. This bill guarantees the continuation of the Texas Military Department as a state agency until September 1, 2031.


Successes in Budget: 

At the beginning of the 86th Legislative session, we requested funding for four exceptional items. This year, TMD was fortunate enough to receive funding in all four areas. 

Exceptional Item 1: State Guard Expansion – $2M 

Exceptional Item 2: Emergency Preparedness & Indirect Administration - $5M 

Exceptional Item 3: Facilities Management & Operations - $15.3M (STAR - $10M and Deferred Maintenance - $5.3M) 

Exceptional Item 4: Service Member Care $87K 

Overall agency FTE cap increased from 569 to 641.

From the Top January 2020

A Message from The Adjutant General

Happy New Year! I hope each of you had a relaxing and happy holiday season. As I enter this second year as your Adjutant General, I want to take a moment to pause and look back at 2019. As you know, it is by looking at our past that we can best prepare for our future, and so I want to take the lessons learned from both the wins and losses of last year to better prepare for a successful 2020. 

Major General Tracy R. Norris is the Adjutant General of Texas.
Major General Tracy R. Norris is the Adjutant General of Texas.

At the state level, we had one of our most successful State Legislative sessions ever. Our team worked hard to ensure that our elected officials were well informed of the good work of our TMD members and of the needs of the agency in our effort to keep our State and Nation safe. The Texas-Mexico border was of particular interest to our elected officials, and I am so proud of the professionalism and positive attitude of our Soldiers and Airmen who have gone to the border, many of whom were sent on short-notice orders. Nationally, we were able to secure support from the Texas Delegation in DC to coordinate with III Corps and Ft Hood to establish our RTI as a total Army school system. This is a huge win for the Texas National Guard and further secures our status as a national leader in readiness and training.

Looking forward, I am excited to see where we go and grow as an agency in the new year. Gaining additional force structure for Air and Army and modernizing all components will be a priority, so prepare for being a participant in this effort. This will include getting Armor back to Texas and growing the Air Guard force structure. Texas is already often in the spotlight, and as we grow this scrutiny will only increase. Each of you must take responsibility for your individual readiness. Be mentally and physically prepared. The new Army Combat Fitness Test is no joke, and I expect Texas to be a leader in showing other states how to train for this test, and how to pass it with ease. I also will be prioritizing succession planning. We must make sure that our future leaders, both officer and enlisted, are ready to take over one day. This means a focus on talent management, so be prepared for an increased prioritization of the future of this agency. It will be no surprise to any of you that maintenance will be a priority for the 2020 as well. It’s time we remember that maintenance is mission, and prioritize it because nothing is more important than the safety of our Soldiers and Airmen.

It has been an honor to be your Adjutant General this past year, and I am ready for another year of challenges and victories with ya’ll. Texas is strong, Texas is ready. We will continue to lead the nation and to fight for the good of our communities, keeping them safe here at home, and fighting for their safety abroad. Thank you for all you do. Your dedicated service is the heart of this organization. Thank you for your hard work and sacrifice.

Duty. Honor. Texas.


From the Top December 2019

Words from Brigadier General Greg Chaney

Brigadier General Greg Chaney is the Deputy Adjutant General - Army for the Texas National Guard

As we enter into the holiday season, I want each of you to pause and take time to reflect on what brought you into the profession of arms to begin with. We get so caught up in day-to-day tasks that years can go by in a blink, and we look up in amazement at all that has transpired. This same phenomenon can often result in us getting off track and forgetting where we were going in the first place. Taking time away from work to connect with family and friends helps us reconnect to our roots. It is important to re-discover your motivation to get up and do the good work you do day in and day out. Brigadier General Greg Chaney is the Deputy Adjutant General - Army for the Texas National Guard

If you are a leader in this organization, I want you to encourage your Soldiers, Airmen, State Guardsmen, and civilian employees to reset, and take care of themselves and their families. By the very nature of the environment we operate in, there are no “slow” seasons, no set routine breaks in the tempo of effort. We therefore must create those for ourselves when and where we can. 

Here in Texas we have a deep heritage of military service. Many of us signed up to serve because of this legacy. Following in the tradition of duty to country that we have had demonstrated to us by family members and those we look up to, has led many of us to where we are today. Throughout our history, the Texas Military Forces have consistently remained the most capable and mission ready forces in the Nation.  This distinction is indicative of our hard work and neighborly attitude. When disaster strikes at home or abroad, the Nation turns to Texas for personnel, equipment, and expertise. Thank you for following in the footsteps of our veterans of the generations before us.  It is an honor to serve here with each of you. 

Stay safe out there, take care of each other, and have a happy and healthy holiday. 

Duty Honor Texas 


The First Big Test


Story by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer, Texas State Guard

The Texas Defense Guard, created by the Texas Legislature in 1941 and renamed the Texas State Guard in 1943, was the state military unit responsible for protecting Texas, its people and property during World War II.  With the National Guard federalized, the Texas Defense Guard was on the front line to respond to attacks by foreign enemies, domestic civil disturbances and natural and man-made disasters.  Within a few months of its official existence, the Texas Defense Guard would face its first big test as a defense force.

In the Caribbean Sea near Cuba, a tropical disturbance started brewing on Sept. 15, 1941.  As the storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico, weather conditions were conducive to a tropical depression forming.  By Sept. 21, the storm had grown into a hurricane bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast, headed for Port O’Connor or Matagorda.  On Sept. 23, the storm made an unexpected turn, placing Freeport, Houston and surrounding areas in its path.

Preparing for the hurricane, local authorities along the Texas Gulf Coast began requesting the support of the Texas Defense Guard.  On Sept. 23, the Guard activated 700 members, the first being from the 2nd, 7th, 22nd and 48th Marine battalions and the 2nd Squadron, Aviation Branch.  Battalion and squadron commanders ordered their men to bring their personal sidearms while the Guard would provide Enfield rifles with fixed bayonets and shotguns.  The Texas Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. John Watt Page, instructed all commanders that “their mission is to aid and support in every way possible civil authorities.”

When the hurricane made landfall, bringing rising tides, heavy rain and destructive winds up to 95 mph, Houston officials knew they did not have a sufficient number of policemen, firemen or city employees to patrol the city and protect property and people. On Sept. 23, the mayor and police chief assigned guard members from the 48th Battalion to patrol downtown on foot, ride along in Houston Police Department squad cars or observe from Houston Electric Company buses.  Armed with rifles with bayonets and sidearms, they protected department stores from looters.  At the coliseum, which was a shelter for evacuees, they cleared streets where sightseers caused traffic congestion by driving around staring at evacuees arriving on trucks.  Keeping streets clear around the coliseum was especially urgent because National Guard convoys were bringing soldiers and airmen from airfields and armories threatened by the storm.   

One sergeant-in-charge commended his men for their selfless service during the storm.    “Not one of them flinched from their duty and were eager to step off the bus in water up to their knees to reach their stations of duty,” he said.

The 2nd Battalion patrolled downtown Houston, stood guard to protect people from stepping on downed high-tension wires and broken glass and helped fifty women and children seeking shelter at the Houston Light Guard Armory.  

The 22nd Battalion braved wind, rain and flooding to make dramatic rescues near the Houston municipal airport.  Two guard members drove fifty miles to rescue a woman trapped in her home.  Notified that a family was stranded in a car two blocks from the airport, five guard members went into action.  Combatting the 95 mph wind and tying themselves together, they pushed forward on foot.  As they made their way down the road, they saw a man trying to hold on to a tree branch to keep from drowning in a flooded ditch.  One guard member put the man on his shoulders and carried him back to the airport.  The rest continued on, having to crawl as the force of the wind made walking impossible.  They finally reached the family of nine men, women and children.  They could not take all of them at once.  The guard members made two trips during the rescue, carrying four children on their shoulders on the first rescue and on the second carrying two women and two elderly men while a younger man held on to the ropes of the guard members.  

In another rescue near the airport, guard members received a message that a family was in grave danger as flood waters rushed into their home six blocks away.  Guard members struggled down the road on foot in rain so heavy and wind so fierce that they could not see or breathe.  This rescue team first stopped to rescue a boy and his grandfather who had suffered a heart attack.  Putting the old man on his shoulders, one guard member with the boy holding on to his belt returned to the airport.  Once there, the guard member administered first aid while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  The rest of the rescue team, wading through flooded prairies and roads in waist-high water, found the house and brought the family members to the airport.  In all, the 22nd Battalion at the airport rescued 100 people between Sept. 23 and 24.

The 43rd and 9th battalions in Port Arthur mobilized to stop traffic at the seawall, maintain order in hotel lobbies and protect local schools filled with hundreds of evacuees.  At the Gulfport Boiler and Welding Works guard members kept watch over the shipyards and assisted workers trying to save equipment and materials from flooding waters.  

Although escaping the impact of the storm, Corpus Christi had requested the 28th Battalion to protect downtown and north beach businesses from looters.  Guard members with Enfield rifles closed the Nueces Bay causeway and prevented traffic at the seawall and water gates.

Radio operators from the Texas Defense Guard maintained communications by radio throughout the storm.  At Palacios, 1st Lt. J. C. Johnson of Houston, who served in the radio division, worked throughout the night of Sept. 23 and early morning of Sept. 24 and was one of only a few radios that continuously broadcast along the Texas coast.

On the morning of Sept. 24, the final mission of the Texas Defense Guard was to survey the coast and report back the damage.  The 2nd Squadron, Aviation Branch, received the mission.  Capt. N. E. Meador piloted the first plane to leave any Houston airport for the previous thirty hours.  He flew over oil fields, several towns and airfields, such as Freeport and Ellington Field.  He reported that fields and structures along the coast sustained significant damage and flooding, the road to Freeport was impassable and the town of Kemah was under water.  The second pilot, Capt. W. H. Cocke, flew over Houston and the lowlands, Liberty, Galveston Bay and Galveston.  The third pilot, Capt. Bernie Groce, checked out Kemah because the Red Cross had sent a message that people needed rescuing, but he found no one there.   All pilots relayed reports of total devastation.

The Texas Defense Guard ended its mission on Sept. 24.   In their first disaster response, guard members proved they were ready as a state defense force.  They were proud, and their morale soared.  They had earned the respect of the civilian authorities, local law enforcement and the public.  “I cannot speak too highly of the work of everyone concerned.  If the Texas Defense Guard had not mobilized and contributed their service, we would not have been able to handle the situation alone,” remarked Houston Chief of Police Ray Ashworth.

Texas Defense Guard members were men of selfless service, bravery and dedication to serving fellow Texans during the 1941 hurricane. Those qualities remain in the character and soul of every guard member who serves today in the Texas State Guard.  

Texas Ranger General

Story by Bob Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

In the early days of Texas, the Rangers provided security and rule of law. However, as Texas grew, the Rangers also grew in both size and mission. During the Texas Revolution, the force formalized from a security force for settlers to well-trained soldiers and finally into lawmen delivering justice to an untamed frontier. No matter their role, it was clear: they were a military force. Nearly 100 years after the Texas Revolution, this connection would lead to a Ranger’s first term as adjutant general when Brig. Gen. William Sterling took office.

Texas Adjutant General William Sterling
Texas Adjutant General William Sterling

Born in Belton, Texas, near the turn of the century, Sterling grew up on his family’s ranch. It was there where Sterling learned how to ride, forage and shoot, before enrolling in Texas A&M University for courses in animal husbandry. Studying for two years, Sterling never attained his degree. Instead, he left to put his knowledge to use on ranches throughout Hidalgo County. Sterling had worked toward a life of raising cattle and tending herds. However, Sterling’s career would soon change as violence from the revolution in Mexico spilled across the Rio Grande.

In 1915, as World War I raged across Europe, another war was being waged closer to Texas. Beyond the Rio Grande, violence spread throughout Mexico in a bloody civil war. At the height of the conflict, Mexican forces raided American cities and military outposts, incurring the wrath of the famous Gen. John J. Pershing and his 10,000-man punitive expedition.

As Pershing pushed deeper into the heart of Mexico, hunting Gen. Francisco Pancho Villa, violence continued along the Texas border. There, Sterling found his calling as a scout and reserve member of the United States 3rd Cavalry Regiment and Texas Rangers. Working closely with both groups, Sterling saw firsthand the slaughter of more than 500 Texans at the hands of Mexican troops. As the raids worsened, word spread of the “Plan of San Diego,” a plot that called for race riots between Anglos and Tejanos. These riots were to be ignited by bloody incursions from Mexican seditionists. Supporters of the plan believed the riots would eventually force America to return the Southwestern states to Mexican control. 

Fear of the Mexican reoccupation plot was growing as the Zimmerman Telegram arrived, both at the height of the U.S. march to World War I. The telegram offered Mexico help in conquering most of the Western United States in exchange for allying with Germany and possibly Japan. The plot called for the extermination of all Anglo men over 16 and any Latino that fought against Mexico. Texas’ response to this threat came from a combination of soldiers, rangers and deputized citizens who left nearly 1,000 of the Mexican seditionists dead.  

As the Texas border came under control, the United States prepared to join the European war effort. Sterling, like many Americans, joined this effort, commissioning with the Texas Infantry as a second lieutenant. Though he never served overseas, Sterling's time with cavalrymen on the border helped him prepare newly enlisted soldiers for the war.  

After the war, Sterling returned to law enforcement as the sheriff and justice of the peace of Mirando City, a border town near Laredo. He once again worked alongside the Texas Rangers, whose duties had shifted from fighting Mexican revolutionaries and seditionists to catching bootleggers smuggling liquor across the border. 

“Bill [Sterling] preserved order in an oil town by methods learned from the Texas Rangers and other border officers. On an unpainted pine shake we found a large sign bearing ‘W.W. Sterling, Justice of the Peace, The law of the Tex-Mex,’” described contemporary historian Walter Prescott Webb. “Nearby, stood a boxcar in which the judge held his prisoners by means of a generous length of chain and padlocks.” This method of restraint was called a “trotline.” 

Adjutant General William Sterling poses with his Texas Ranger Captains.
Adjutant General William Sterling poses with his Texas Ranger Captains. 

As crude oil gushed from derricks rising against the bright Texas sky, the call went out for roughnecks seeking “black gold” to move to Borger, a city centered in the Texas panhandle. Though every oil town had its share of card houses and lawlessness, a corrupt city government coupled with a population increase of more than 40,000 people in three months, allowed prostitutes, card sharks and bootleggers to become nearly as common as oil workers. Lawlessness in Borger reached a boiling point when murders and explosions within the city limits had become a way of life.

“Many persons have been killed including several officers and two or three women. Daylight robberies, hold-ups, explosions and bootlegging continued practically unabated,” according to a contemporary Associated Press report.

Sterling arrived under the command of Capt. Frank Hamer, who would later become famous for putting an end to Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s criminal careers in a hail of gunfire. Working with 10 other Rangers, Sterling and Hamer brought the town under control as Rangers arrested 124 men within the first day. Each lawbreaker found himself shackled to a trotline awaiting removal to trial in Stinnett, Texas.  Rangers also targeted vices throughout the city, issuing warnings to 1,200 prostitutes to leave town or face arrest. Liquor, gambling and corruption were additional focuses of the team as it sought to reign in the lawlessness of the city.

“The liquor traffic was broken up, many stills being seized and destroyed, and several thousand gallons of whiskey captured and poured out. 203 gambling slot machines were seized and destroyed,” said Brig. Gen Robert Robertson, the Adjutant General of Texas at the time. “As a result of the demand on the part of the citizens of Borger for administration of the law, the mayor, city commissioners and chief of police resigned, replaced by citizens pledged to uphold laws.”

Sterling’s work in Borger did not go unnoticed. Among other changes, he would promote Sterling to captain, giving him command of the Laredo-based Company D. 

His previous experience on the border allowed Sterling to run an efficient unit far from the headline-grabbing troubles of the booming oil towns of northern Texas. He worked with his Rangers to respect the local population and to be sympathetic to Anglo and Tejano concerns, fairly administering justice. For a time, Sterling seemed to have settled into a job he had always wanted. This changed after the election of Ross Sterling to governor. 

Ross Sterling prepared to take office as the nation was entering the Great Depression in 1931. The economic collapse of the nation would ruin many of his initiatives in the legislature, but the one initiative in which he did find support was strengthening the Ranger corps. 

Ross Sterling had known Bill Sterling for years, having met through Bill’s father. Both men discussed their ancestry sufficiently to decide there was no kinship, a determination that would be important as Ross Sterling prepared to appoint his new adjutant general for the Texas Military.

“I called in William W. Sterling, a tall, colorful Ranger captain, and gave him the names of several men who had applied and asked ‘Whom would you suggest for adjutant general?’ Bill replied that he would like to see Torrance of Fort Worth get it, but he could get along very well with any of those mentioned” said Ross Sterling. “I told him you won’t have to get along with any of them. I’m going to appoint you.”

With that conversation and a state senate confirmation, Capt. Bill Sterling became known as Gen. Bill, the first adjutant general pulled from the Ranger corps since Texas became a republic. If anything signified the unique path of his ascension, it would be his choice in uniform. 

Though he served as a commissioned officer during WWI, Sterling left mandarin collars and olive drab to career Guardsmen. The 6-foot-3-inch Ranger instead donned his trademark gun belt with a revolver inscribed, “Captain Sterling,” on the handle. No stars adorned his uniform; instead he had “GENERAL BILL” stitched above the pocket of his western shirts along with western motifs of bucking broncos or lone cattle. 

Brigadier General William Sterlinlg posing with a rifle at Brooks Field, a former U.S. Army airfield located outside of San Antonio, Texas. Members of the Texas National Guard participated in pilot training for both fixed wing aircraft and blimps in the 1930's.
Brigadier General William Sterling posing with a rifle at Brooks Field, a former U.S. Army airfield located outside of San Antonio, Texas. Members of the Texas National Guard participated in pilot training for both fixed wing aircraft and blimps in the 1930's.

Sterling took office vowing to eliminate politics from the promotion system within the department.  Changes to the National Guard’s structure began with the 1903 Dick Act, giving the organization a standardized promotion system within the Guard. However, the Rangers still primarily promoted individuals under a system patronage and political influence.  Sterling issued regulations requiring all captains of Ranger companies to serve first for two years. He also directed promotions to occur on merit and the reputation of the candidate.

Trouble from oil towns mostly sprang from vices that followed oil booms and roughnecks from drill site to drill site, but July 1931 would see oil producers for the first time fall under the gaze of both the Rangers and the National Guard.

The railroad commission moved to regulate the oil market and implement production limits but found the task impossible without an enforcement arm. Ross Sterling, an oil man before his political election, knew the problems collapsed oil markets would add to the stagnant economy of the depression era. He called upon his adjutant general and informed him it was time to restore order to the oil fields. 

Ross Sterling declared martial law across the oil fields, deploying 1,200 National Guardsmen from the 56th Calvary Brigade to Southeast Texas, led by Brig. Gen. Jacob Wolter, an expert in population control. Gen. Sterling empowered the Rangers to arrest any producers defying orders from Guardsmen to shut down drilling operations.

The deployment of the Rangers was more than enough to enforce the newly issued production limits. Without a single shot fired, Guardsmen secured the largest-known reserve of petroleum in the world at the time. However, this would not last long. Court injunctions issued in response to lawsuits by oil producers found the occupation to be unconstitutional. Therefore, as quickly as they arrived, the National Guardsmen left the area. 

Oil towns would continue to plague Bill Sterling’s time as adjutant general. However, a new foe would soon emanate from Oklahoma. 

Bill Sterling saw his tenure as adjutant general come to a close in 1933. Ross Sterling lost his bid for the Democratic nomination to Miriam Ferguson, and, as a result, the governorship. Though the Rangers began an investigation into claims of ballot stuffing on the part of the Ferguson campaign, Ross Sterling called the investigation off in order to avoid the appearance that he was using the Rangers to influence an election. 

Bill Sterling knew Ferguson’s retaliation for the Ranger investigation into election tampering would be fierce, so he tendered his resignation before she took office. Upon his departure, Sterling’s biennial report to the governor offered some parting guidance about the Rangers’ role in the Texas Military.

“The Ranger service should be taken out of the hands of the adjutant general, who in almost every case is a military man. The military organization of the state has grown to such an extent that the adjutant general should devote his entire time to the military.”

It took another two years for Sterling’s vision for the Rangers to manifest as the force moved from the Texas Military’s control to their new home at the Department of Public Safety. Now part of an official state-sanctioned law enforcement agency, Rangers saw their department grow into a modern investigative force with tools and methodologies at their disposal that their predecessors could only imagine. 

The Rangers left the Texas Military Department, and along with it, they left behind a joint legacy of heroism and the story of Texas’ only Ranger-adjutant general.   

The tombstone of Adjutant General William Sterling


Supporting Guardsmen and Families from Deployment to Retirement

Story by Andrew R. Smith, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

Soldiers and Airmen attached to guard and reserve elements constantly have to balance military service, a fulltime job, education and family life.  At times this combination of tasks may seem overwhelming.  Fortunately, services exist to assist these hard working service members and their families.  While most of these people know about benefits such as tax free shopping at the Post Exchange and the education benefits of the GI Bill, there exists an entire support system that offers services far beyond those.Citizen soldier for life logo.

The Family Support Services center offers everything from entertainment functions to education classes and benefits workshops so families will be well versed in what benefits they have and how to best use them. 

“Family Support Services offers cradle to grave assistance for guardsmen and civilian employees,” said Shandra Sponsler, Deputy Branch Manager of Family Support Servicer on Camp Mabry. “We offer pretty much everything but pay and MOS training for Soldiers. Even as Soldiers reach retirement age we have programs like resume writing and interviewing classes and the ‘Citizen-Soldier for Life’ program to guide them as they move past the military.”

Citizen-Soldier for Life is an Army National Guard program that offer career readiness support and financial training to National Guard members, their families, veterans and retirees.  They offer events to help those veterans find jobs in the civilian work force as well as professional networking.

The Soldier Support Service Center, located at Camp Mabry, in Austin, also offers services for retired persons, such as issuing new I.D. cards and copies of military records for retirees and dependents. 

Family Support Services also works with many local partners like Hero’s Night Out, Combat Combined Arms, Operation Homefront USA and the YMCA to put on local events to educate service members and families and provide services. Many of these events are aimed at entertaining and providing a sense of community for the children of deployed service members.

“Some of our most useful and most popular services are Tricare healthcare for service members and families, behavioral health counselors and assistance with Veterans Administration benefits,” said Staff Sgt. Jean-Pierre Sanders, noncommissioned officer in charge of Yellow Ribbon programs at the Family Support Services Center.

The Yellow Ribbon program is another major benefit available to veterans that assists with the cost of education at select universities and trade schools.

“One service I would suggest people take advantage of is our Yellow Ribbon events.  At these events we have information about all of our available resources.  Beyond the obvious ones, there some unseen benefits,” said Sanders. “I often see family members of deployed service members meet with other families, share stories and advice and network with one another.  The support they offer each other us something unique and valuable.”

Even organizations like the Army Air Force Exchange (AAFES) who run the Post Exchange (PX) is opened to all active and retired service members as well as 100 percent disabled veterans and families of all eligible groups. PX restraints are open to all. A portion of all AAFES profits go back to troops through donations to Morale and Welfare Recreation Programs.

Many of the support services such as the counseling are available over the phone 24-hours a day year round. Offices are located all over Texas in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Weslaco, Tyler and El Paso.

More information about these services can be found at

New Year, New Goals: Total Force Wellness

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

Members of the Senior Enlisted Leader Conference learn new events to be included in the Army Combat Fitness Test during a training exercise held at Camp Mabry, Texas on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Members of the Senior Enlisted Leader Conference learn new events to be included in the Army Combat Fitness Test during a training exercise held at Camp Mabry, Texas on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

With the start of the new fiscal year, agencies government-wide are re-evaluating goals and priorities in order to best answer the call of their missions. The Texas Military Department is no different, and moving into fiscal year 2020, TMD Senior Enlisted Leader Chief Master Sgt. Michael E. Cornitius has outlined his vision to improve total force wellness to increase resiliency for every Soldier, Airman and State Guardsman within the Texas Military Forces.

“Being healthy” isn’t just about eating right and getting exercise. Cornitius wants to ensure that the force is healthy mentally, spiritually and physically. All three of these building blocks are critical to maintaining a force that is lethal, resilient and ready to answer the call at any time. Maintaining this standard of total fitness is not an individual endeavor. Every Texas Guardsman is in the fight together as one force. 

“The Texas Guard operates like a family, and just as members of a family encourage each other to be the best version of themselves, each member needs to hold one another accountable,” said Cornitius.

Members of the Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference participate in a joint Army, Air Force, and State Guard physical training at Camp Mabry, TX on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Members of the Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference participate in a joint Army, Air Force, and State Guard physical training at Camp Mabry, TX on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

As a military organization, TMD rightfully places a great deal of energy and effort in maintaining superior physical fitness. However, the importance of mental and emotional well-being is often overlooked. Emotional health is key to maintaining a resilient and lethal force, and ignoring this component of total force wellness can be just as detrimental as skipping PT. 

Balancing life as a citizen-Soldier within the Guard is not an easy task. Between family commitments, military requirements and the challenges of civilian employment, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Cornitius believes that tackling the cause of these emotions can allow for increased wellness in the force by going back to the root and really helping people understand that they have a purpose, whether it’s in the military, in society, in their family or wherever else. Cornitius adds that it is his mission to be the support network for those people who have expressed a desire to improve their emotional health. 

In tandem with emotional health, Cornitius wants to enter the new fiscal year with an increased understanding of spiritual health and the resources available to the men and women of the Texas Military Department. All components of TMD have chaplains on staff who are equipped to talk through any spiritual challenges one might face. While speaking to a chaplain might appear to be intimidating at first, Cornitius reminds Guardsmen that chaplains are just normal people.

Physical wellbeing has been and always will be a critical component of total force wellness. Across the Department of Defense, all branches of service are looking towards the future and developing innovative methods to keep the force agile, healthy and lethal. These changes are very palpable within the Army given the transition to the Army Combat Fitness Test. However, all branches are undergoing a renewed interest in physical health. The ACFT will be a superior metric to determine a Soldier’s comprehensive physical fitness by evaluating complex actions that have direct parallels to skills required to succeed in the force. Cornitius understands that while at first the ACFT may seem daunting, the test will actually provide benefits beyond athleticsm by increasing camaraderie within the force. 

A U.S. Air Force chaplain's cover rests on a table as a service member discusses faith-related concerns during a religious service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman)
A U.S. Air Force chaplain's cover rests on a table as a service member discusses faith-related concerns during a religious service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman) 

“You can encourage each other, whether it be on the deadlift, whether it be on the leg tuck, no matter what it is,” said Cornitius. “You're going to have at least four people there that can help each other, so that's what I like about it.”

TMD is determined to provide the resources to ensure all of its members excel physically. Part of this initiative is introducing the Volt App, which utilizes artificial intelligence to customize workout routines to the needs of each individual. This app will allow troops to not only meet, but also to exceed fitness goals. TMD is also constructing a consolidated gym at Camp Mabry to allow for improved physical training. Finally, TMD is ensuring that units across the state of Texas have access to equipment that will prepare them for both fitness tests and the battlefield.

Life as a citizen-Solider within the Texas Military Department can be challenging. TMD is the premier military force in the country, and the demands of military service can push individuals to the limits of their physical and emotional abilities. However, with this great challenge comes a great reward in better preparing TMD members to be equal to the task, whether at home during a natural disaster or on the battlefield. Cornitius is certain that a refreshed interest in total force wellness will improve mental, spiritual and physical health, which will in turn allow TMD to be the most agile and resilient force of its kind. The most important point to remember, according to Cornitius, is that no one is in the fight alone. 

“TMD is dedicated to being built around taking care of our people,” said Cornitius. “You are heard, and we are there.”


Failure is Not in my Mindset

Story and Photos by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura, Joint Counter Drug Taskforce/ 100th MPAD

AUSTIN, Texas— Frozen in what one can only describe as a nightmare, Staff Sgt. Kimberly Gaona clenched Kiyana, her 13 year-old daughter’s hand in a hospital room and held back tears as she faced the harrowing reality that no parent wishes to face.  

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Gaona, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Ground Reconnaisance Detachment operator and a medic with the 149th Medical Group, 6th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, 149th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard stands in front of an Air Guard aircraft at Camp Mabry, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Gaona, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Ground Reconnaisance Detachment operator and a medic with the 149th Medical Group, 6th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, 149th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard stands in front of an Air Guard aircraft at Camp Mabry, Texas. 

The doctor and a nurse entered the room and delivered the news. “She has cancer.”

“It was like a freight train,” said Gaona. “It will just stop you in your tracks when you hear those words about your kid.”

Sitting behind her daughter, Gaona, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Ground Reconnaissance Detachment operator and a medic with the 149th Medical Group, 6th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, 149th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, wouldn’t let her daughter see the emotion in her face. 

Instead, she collected herself, stepped out of the hospital room and notified her friend and mentor in the Counterdrug program of the news. 

Gaona, 43, a divorced and single mother of four, also notified Kiyana’s father of the news. 

“Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a cancer of the blood, is produced in the bone, which is everywhere in the body,” said Gaona. “So that was scary to hear about how to treat it if it is everywhere. 

“We were fortunate, only 20 percent of her body was consumed by cancer. She did great the first three months--the last chemo-therapy treatment was brutal.”

Kiyana, who turned 14 while being treated for AML in the hospital, fought for her life as she underwent several allergic reactions, fevers and pneumonia from the transfusions. 

“She didn’t see me cry and I did not let her,” said Gaona. “She wanted to understand, so from a medical standpoint I helped her understand what was happening and it helped her.”

Gaona used her medical training from the Airforce to decipher information about her daughter’s cancer and follow along with the charts.

“It was definitely a different world in oncology, I could hear the treatment plan and the x-rays every day,” said Gaona. “When it wasn’t good, I wouldn’t tell her, but it was peace of mind from my medical training to know what was going on.”

As Kiyana entered remission, Gaona reflected on her ability to remain resilient throughout such a distressful experience.

“I don’t know that I have had to use that level of fortitude before--someone had to do it,” said Gaona. “If you are strong for people who are not, it gives them hope and mentally I don’t think she ever thought about not fighting even though there were days where she just felt horrible.”

Kiyana, who trained and ruck marched with her mother just days before her cancer diagnosis, drew on her mother’s grit to overcome her circumstances as she battled the treatment. Even at her lowest moments, on an incubator, she refused to be sedated throughout the process. 

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana smiles next to her daughter, Kiyana. Gaona used her life experiences and military training to remain resilient during her daughter's fight against cancer. Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force members came together to gift Kiyana with a prayer blanket made by a local church group, the Piece Makers.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana smiles next to her daughter, Kiyana. Gaona used her life experiences and military training to remain resilient during her daughter's fight against cancer. Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force members came together to gift Kiyana with a prayer blanket made by a local church group, the Piece Makers.  

“We don’t know when to stop,” said Gaona. “If you know how to stop or even think it, then you will. But if that’s not something in your mindset, then you won’t stop, you’ll just keep going. 

“She is strong and driven. She is amazing, brilliant and beautiful.”

Although she said that nothing could have prepared her for this experience, this was not the first time in Gaona’s life that she persevered in the face of adversity. 

Gaona, an adoptee, forged a path of defying the odds when she enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard at the cut off age of 39.

Shortly after completing her initial trainings, she became the first female to complete the Texas National Guard Counterdrug Ground Reconnaissance Operators Training Course and work as an operator on a team.

The course is a test of physical and mental exertion, with 4 a.m. wake-ups and grueling workouts. All operators must pass the Army Physical Fitness Test adhering to the male age 17-21 bracket maximum scores, complete a 12-mile ruck march and run five miles in 40 minutes. 

“She is an operator and is exactly what I would expect of my team,” said Maj. Robert Cowart, Texas National Guard Ground Reconnaissance officer-in-charge. “We have high standards. Everybody’s character is good, and goes above and beyond. If they don’t, they can’t stay here---Gaona keeps up there with the team.”

Ground Reconnaissance operators are trained to work in stressful and highly sensitive environments employing bucket truck operations, tower climbing, and photography and radio skills to support law enforcement agents on highly sensitive missions. 

“We conduct the Operator Training Course because we are looking for resilient professional Soldiers and Airmen who can be trusted in autonomous situations and have the conditioning and trust to make necessary decisions,” said Cowart. 

The culminating exercise is a three day land navigation course across several thousand acres, carrying a rucksack with some food, water and a compass.

“I had to do a 72 hour course and find some points in 72 hours and we weren’t allowed to sleep,” said Gaona. “That alone, I think it was a big part of me being able to handle what happened afterwards. I had been doing my job as an operator for six months when Kiyana was diagnosed with cancer.”

Gaona said that the trust and relationships that she built while working on the Counterdrug program were coupled with invaluable support throughout Kiyana’s treatment.

“Change is always happening and those same people who were my support in the Counterdrug program, all of them, were huge supporters and showed up at the hospital within days,” said Gaona. 

Gaona continued to work between hospital visits and go into work early in the morning to complete necessary tasks and check up on her Counterdrug teammates.

“She is an endearing person,” said. Master Sgt. Ruben Hernandez, her Counterdrug and Air National Guard mentor. “Every time I was visiting her we would focus on Kiyana, then she would immediately ask how the team was. For me, that is a testament to her character--- she is adamant about helping others.”

Hernandez, who also assisted in recruiting Gaona into the Texas Air National Guard, reflected on Gaona as an asset to the Counterdrug team.

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana's training for a national body building competition includes two hours of cardio per day, one hour of weight lifting per day, and six to seven meals to build muscle.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana's training for a national body building competition includes two hours of cardio per day, one hour of weight lifting per day, and six to seven meals to build muscle. 

“All of her charm that comes with her attributes, her knowledge of environmental considerations,” said Hernandez. “She offers a unique dichotomy to the team. As far as acclimation to the team, she has done well, she is a 40 plus-year-old mom of four. There is not a whole lot she has been through that she can’t offer or share light on.”

While her daughter’s cancer was the pinnacle of Gaona’s life challenges, there were many others.

“She has had some pretty significant life challenges,” said Hernandez. “She experienced death in the family pretty young, marriage, kids, owning a business and probably more life experiences than any adult woman that I have met in my life.”

Regardless of the hurdles she faced prior to joining the military, Gaona doesn’t back down and never stops giving. 

“She didn’t expect any exemptions, she showed and gave it all she got,” said Hernandez. “The biggest impact has been her being an outlier to the small community here--green berets and ranger guys--and proving herself as a female, as a Soldier and a person as a whole.

“She has had a huge impact and changed the dynamics in our community, and just a different respect for how we carry ourselves. It’s a great sense of pride that not only do we have a female working with us but she fell in with the team.”

Despite the hardships that Gaona faced during her lifetime, and more recently, Gaona continues to inspire her family, her military community and now the bodybuilding community.

With her daughter’s improving health, Gaona, true to her creed, will not stop pushing herself to be the best she can be.

For the past eight months, working around appointments, work commitments, and her motherly duties, Gaona has been preparing to compete in a national bodybuilding competition in October. 

“She is tough as nails, that’s the best way to describe her,” said Ivan Meraz, Founder of Team Hard Bodies Austin and Gaona’s competition coach. “She is mentally strong. That’s what body building is all about”.

Gaona’s current regime includes two hours of cardio a day, one hour of weights a day, and six to seven meals a day while juggling her personal and professional life.

“The lady shows up, man,” said Meraz, a coach and competitor who has worked in the bodybuilding industry for more than 20 years. “She is a great person, she is very caregiving. She is always asking me how I am doing when she is the one going through the hard time. 

“What I love the most about her is that she shows up and she is tough as nails and I have basically done everything I have to build her and she has answered to that. No complaints, no whining, no questions.”
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana's training for a national body building competition includes two hours of cardio per day, one hour of weight lifting per day, and six to seven meals to build muscle.
If Gaona wins the first round of the competition she will go on to compete at the national professional level. 

“I wanted a challenge after I got through the Ground Reconnaissance Operators Training Course,” said Gaona. “I have to push for something better. Life has taught me that. I don’t want my kids to think mediocre is OK. If you have more to give, give it.”

While pushing through the final week of her preparation for the competition, Gaona’s energy levels plunge as her diet becomes more restrictive and now, she looks to her daughter and her kids for inspiration. 

“Look at Kiyana she has no idea what she accomplished last year,” said Gaona. “That kid fought for her life. She has no idea how strong she is. I hope that I was part of what pushed her through.”

All of her children are following after her example. Gaona’s oldest son enlisted in the Army. Her second oldest is at medical school in Ohio and the youngest two are still in high school. 

“I tell my kids ‘don’t be a victim. Don’t be a follower. Make your path’,” said Gaona. “Do what you want don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it unless you have tried.”

As for Gaona’s future, in typical Gaona fashion, there is no end in sight. 

Along with re-enlisting for another six years, she has enrolled in school to finish her Associate of Science in Nursing and plans to apply for the Interservice Physician Assistant Program at Fort Sam Houston to become a physician assistant.

“Always stay humble, because the world will make you humble,” said Gaona. “Never forget your dreams. You always have to have goals. There is always more.”

From the Top November 2019

Today's Failure is a Lesson in Tomorrow's Success

LTC Benjie Bender, Texas Military Department Chaplain

LTC Benjie Bender serves as the Chaplain for the Texas Military Department
LTC Benjie Bender serves as the Chaplain for the Texas Military Department

Failure does not shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you. Sir Edmund Hillary made several unsuccessful attempts at scaling Mount Everest before he finally succeeded. After one attempt he stood at the base of the giant mountain and shook his fist at it. “I’ll defeat you yet,” he said in defiance. “Because you're as big as you're going to get, but I'm still growing.”

Every time Hillary climbed, he failed. And every time he failed, he learned. And every time he learned, he grew and tried again. And one day he didn't fail. 

What mountain are you looking up at today? What seemingly insurmountable obstacle are you facing? How motivated are you to overcome it? 

When people lose motivation to accomplish a goal or grow in a certain area of life or launch out into their dreams, it’s usually due to one of two reasons. It’s either not that important to them or it’s important to them, they just don’t believe it is possible. They believe it is a mountain too high to climb. 

I really can’t speak to the first reason, but let me give you a strategy for the second: take it one step at a time.

Growing up, I always thought it would be fun and adventurous to ride my bike across the country.  While I never rode from “sea to shining sea,” the summer of my junior year in college I did ride 1,100 miles south from Indiana to Florida and then turned right and headed west to Louisiana.  Up until that fateful first day of the journey, I had never ridden more than 27 miles at one time. Our first campsite was over 60 miles from our starting point.  At mile 40, I was done! Exhausted. It was a little over halfway through our first day, and I was already wanting to quit.  I remember thinking, “Gee, only 1,060 more miles to go! I’m never gonna make it.” That is when a new strategy struck me. Rather than giving in to defeat, I began instead to think, “I may not be able to make it all 1,060 miles, but I can make it to the top of that hill!” And when I would make it to the top of the hill I would say, “Alright, that’s what I’m talking about! Now I’m gonna shoot for the stop sign, and then the gas station, and then around the curve.” Until finally four weeks later, I saw the river…the Mississippi river. And one last time I said, “By God’s grace, I can make it to the river.” And there, on the banks of the Mississippi in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I took my last stroke of the pedal. Goal achieved. Objective accomplished. Mountain defeated.

When confronted with your mountain, focus not on what you can’t do but on what you can do.  Eat that elephant one bite at a time. And if in your efforts you fail at one point, all is not lost. Rather, you just gave yourself an opportunity, like Sir Edmund Hillary, to learn and grow. Remember, FAIL is simply your First Attempt In Learning. So learn up instead of giving up. Remember what the Apostle Paul taught the Galatians, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” So in the spirit of Sir Edmund Hillary, “Climb on!”