Posts in Category: The Dispatch

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 https://tmd.texas.gov/tmd-family-support-services

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!”

From the Top October 2019

Effective Homeland Response

MAJOR GENERAL DAWN FERRELL, DEPUTY ADJUTANT GENERAL - AIR

     According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Texas leads all states in federal disaster declarations by a significant margin. It is therefore critical that our forces remain trained and ready at all times to respond any emergency or non-emergency situation for which we are asked to provide support. We do this through numerous mechanisms, including our Mission Ready Packages (MRPs), Civil Support Teams (CSTs), and Counter-Drug Task Force which recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary. The scalable nature of our responses is vital to our mission success, and we are often held up as a model to other states for how to best prepare for, and respond to, disasters and dangerous situations here at home. 

     TMD brings unique assets to the field in support of homeland response, and these are exemplified in our MRPs. In the event of a hurricane or other large-scale event, we can rapidly shift and mobilize personnel in numbers that no other agency can duplicate. When required to react to no notice Search and Rescue (SAR) missions, the SAR companies bring specialized skill sets that are not available elsewhere, saving lives. Our conduct during these missions has led Texans and Americans to feel safe and secure as soon as they see one of our people on the scene, ready to offer assistance.

     Homeland response efforts provide us with a crucial opportunity to enact our value of “communicate and partner”. Our teams work with a myriad of local, state, and federal agencies, and our ability to effectively combine efforts is mission critical. Our military expertise and training is central to both large and small response efforts; however our ability to effectively communicate with those we mobilize in support of is critical the effective use of those skill sets. During the Deer Park Fires of this past spring, our CST Soldiers and Airmen not only supported first responders operationally, but also worked closely with civilian agencies such as the school district, providing guidance on when it would be safe for students to return. 

     Our homeland focused interagency partnerships are not limited to Texas-specific groups and events. Last month, the TMD Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Response Enterprise (CRE) elements participated in the Joint Task Force-Civil Support (JTF-CS) CBRN Summit at Fort Hood. This was a Title 10, 2 Star Command summit which involved interagency coordination between DOD (T32 and T10), FBI, DOE, DTRA, and private industry. Participants met to discuss the response efforts related to National Planning Scenario #1 – a 10 kiloton nuclear detonation in the homeland.

     Our force continues to prove that we can sustain our warfighter missions abroad while simultaneously being the premier homeland response force. Thank you for all you do to maintain the trust and respect of our state and nation. 

DUTY, HONOR, TEXAS

Maj. Gen. Dawn M. Ferrell is the Deputy Adjutant General-Air for the Texas Military Department and also serves as Commander for the Texas Air National Guard. She is the principle advisor to the Adjutant General for all Texas Air National Guard issues. She is responsible for formulating, developing, and coordinating all programs, policies, and plans for three Wings and more than 3,200 Air National Guard personnel throughout the state of Texas.
Maj. Gen. Dawn M. Ferrell is the Deputy Adjutant General-Air for the Texas Military Department and also serves as Commander for the Texas Air National Guard. She is the principle advisor to the Adjutant General for all Texas Air National Guard issues. She is responsible for formulating, developing, and coordinating all programs, policies, and plans for three Wings and more than 3,200 Air National Guard personnel throughout the state of Texas. 

 

10 Tips to Avoid Cyberthreats

1. YOU ARE A TARGET
Realize that you are an attractive target to hackers. Don’t ever say “It won’t happen to me.”

2. EIGHT CHARACTERS IS NOT ENOUGH
Practice good password management. Use a strong mix of characters, and don’t use the same password for multiple sites. Don’t share your password with others, don’t write it down and definitely don’t write it on a post-it note attached to your monitor.

3. LOCK IT UP
Never leave your devices unattended. If you need to leave your computer, phone or tablet for any length of time—no matter how short—lock it up so no one can use it while you’re gone. If you keep sensitive information on a flash drive or external hard drive, make sure to lock it up as well.

4. PRACTICE SAFE CLICKING
Always be careful when clicking on attachments or links in email. If it’s unexpected or suspicious for any reason, don’t click on it. Double check the URL of the website the link takes you to: bad actors will often take advantage of spelling mistakes to direct you to a harmful domain.

5. BEWARE OF BROWSING
Sensitive browsing, such as banking or shopping, should only be done on a device that belongs to you, on a network that you trust. Whether it’s a friend’s phone, a public computer or a cafe’s free WiFi—your data could be copied or stolen.

6. BACK UP DATA
Back up your data regularly, and make sure your anti-virus software is always up to date.

7. PHYSICAL CYBER SAFETY
Be conscientious of what you plug in to your computer. Malware can be spread through infected flash drives, external hard drives and even smartphones.

8. SHARE LESS SENSITIVE INFORMATION
Watch what you’re sharing on social networks. Criminals can befriend you and easily gain access to a shocking amount of information—where you go to school, where you work, when you’re on vacation—that could help them gain access to more valuable data.

9. STAY ON TOP OF  YOUR ACCOUNTS.
Be sure to monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity. If you see something unfamiliar, it could be a sign that you’ve been compromised.

10. USE TWO-FACTOR OR MULTI-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION
Two-factor or multi-factor authentication is a service that adds additional layers of security to the standard password method of online identification. Without two-factor authentication, you would normally enter a username and password. But, with two-factor, you would be prompted to enter one additional authentication method such as a Personal Identification Code, another password or even fingerprint. With multi-factor authentication, you would be prompted to enter more than two additional authentication methods;after entering your username and password.
 

This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Dispatch on page 19.

Operation Lone Star Brings Medical Care to the Valley

Story and Photos by Staff Sgt. Eric Walden, Texas State Guard Public Affairs

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Texas State Guard’s involvement in Operation Lone Star.  Operation Lone Star is a collaborative medical services project that unites state and county health and human service agencies, the Texas Military Department, local service groups and volunteers in the largest public health humanitarian effort in the country. OLS is a real-time, large-scale emergency preparedness exercise that provides medical service and disaster recovery training to state agencies and personnel while addressing the medical needs of thousands of underserved Texas residents.

Brig. Del Marco Coppola, DO, discusses a patient's case with members of the multi-agency staff, including a doctor from Mexico, nursing students and a provider form the U.S. Public Health Service during operation Lone Star 2019 at the Brownsville MPOD, Brownsville, Texas.
Brig. Del Marco Coppola, DO, discusses a patient's case with members of the multi-agency staff, including a doctor from Mexico, nursing students and a provider form the U.S. Public Health Service during operation Lone Star 2019 at the Brownsville MPOD, Brownsville, Texas.

Each summer since 1998, OLS provides medical care at no cost to residents of the Rio Grande Valley. For many residents, it is the only medical care they receive all year. For elements of the Texas State Guard and its Texas Medical Brigade/Medical Component Command, it is a vital training mission that offers hands-on experience in mass medical care in partnership with local public health authorities. For local residents, it is the gift of health–or of life itself.

The medical services OLS provides include immunizations, blood pressure checks, diabetes screenings, hearing and vision exams, physicals for students, medical evaluations and dental services.

Each year approximately 200 military staff members, more than 200 state and county employees and countless volunteers give their time and talents to make OLS a reality. Annually, OLS provides some 60,000 medical services to more than 12,000 Texas residents.

For the Texas Medical Brigade, OLS is its primary Annual Training event where these highly trained, licensed and certified health care professionals dedicate more than a week of their time. During the intensive training exercise, they set up Medical Points of Distribution and prepare for state and local emergencies, while providing an enormous humanitarian service to the people of Texas. 

The TMB/MCC is one of the four components of the Texas State Guard. It was established in March 2003 as the Texas State Guard Medical Reserve Corps, a component of the Texas Military Department under the Adjutant General of Texas and at the direction of the Governor of Texas. It was reorganized as the TMB/MCC in May 2007 and has an authorized end strength of 350 medical and support personnel statewide. The TMB/MCC remains a Medical Reserve Corps unit designated by the U.S. Surgeon General.

The TMB/MCC serves as a regional medical response team to assist in Texas public health emergencies, including biological terrorism, epidemics and disasters. The mission is to provide licensed medical personnel and technical support expertise in response to large-scale disasters, supplementing public health authorities of the Texas Department of State Health Services. The TMB/MCC also provides medical care to military personnel of the Texas Military Department and first aid support to select community events.

Many of these medical military staff return year after year to provide services to communities that always welcome assistance with basic healthcare services. Since there are multiple locations in the Rio Grande Valley where MPODs are located, such as Brownsville, Mission, Laredo and other Rio Grande Valley locations, military healthcare providers may be assigned to new locations each year. Despite this movement, OLS has forged relationships between many physicians and clientele, relationships deep enough for clients to track down physicians they have seen before in order to see them at their new locations. 

CPT Adrian Cano, a Texas State Guard physician, gives a nine-year old boy a much-needed basic health care examination during Operation Lone Star at the Mission MPOD, Mission, Texas.
CPT Adrian Cano, a Texas State Guard physician, gives a nine-year-old boy a much-needed basic health care examination during Operation Lone Star at the Mission MPOD, Mission, Texas.

Brig. Gen. Marco Coppola, DO, the Chief Medical Officer for OLS 2019 relayed a story where he saw the same client for three years in a row. The man, who was initially diagnosed as obese and suffering from high blood pressure, sought out Dr. Coppola each year to update his medications and receive an update on his progress. In the third year, the man had lost so much weight he was no longer obese, and his blood pressure had returned to normal. This relationship between the client and his OLS healthcare provider has turned the man's life around.

Col. Jonathan MacClements, MD, Surgeon General of the Texas State Guard, had one of the most unusual cases. Last year at OLS, a man presented a disfiguring skin disorder. Dr. MacClements was able to diagnose the skin disease as leprosy and worked to ensure follow-up care of the man during the year. This resulted in the man returning to see him again this year and evaluate his progress in alleviating the debilitating disease. 

Col. Robert McBroom, MD, an infectious disease specialist out of Wichita Falls, Texas, recalls a young student client who initially came in for a sports physical, which is a common need for students participating in sports in their local schools. Her experience at OLS led her to return for the last three years not only for continued care under Dr. McBroom, but also as a volunteer herself, providing translation services to clients and forging new relationships between clients and their OLS healthcare experience. 

Texas State Guard providers create much more than a single healthcare experience; they create relationships where clients return year after year to follow up on their healthcare needs. These relationships exemplify a trust between the Texas State Guard medical providers not only with the local community, but also with individual clients. 

“This speaks volumes for the importance of OLS and why the efforts of the Texas Medical Brigade are instrumental for the health and well-being of the citizens of Texas,” Brig. Gen. Coppola said.

Dr. Voss and a young patient

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Dispatch, on page 14.

Saving a Life In a Moment's Notice

Story by Brandon Jones, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

It was just another hot summer night for Texas Army National Guardsman Spc. Matt Oldham as he worked his civilian job, the overnight shift as a security guard at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, when an out-of-control car careened into a nearby building and burst into flames as he watched. Oldham knew he had to help. He ran to the burning car.

It wasn't too long ago, though, that Oldham walked the halls of Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas, figuring out what to do next with his life. Oldham says life can be pretty tough in a small town. Between classes, social pressures and uncertainty about college, he found a passion that stuck with him for a lifetime and helped him navigate the crash that night, as he put his military training to use. Oldham's desire to serve his country has always been his number one priority. 

Oldham says that spirit of service comes from three generations of men in his family. Oldham's great grandfather, James Oldham, served in the U.S. Navy as a Seabee during World War II. His grandfather, Sgt. Bob Oldham, served multiple tours in Vietnam, receiving a Bronze Star for combat valor and a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat. Oldham's father, Sgt. Mark Oldham, spent time in Germany during the Cold War, in South Korea and at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. 

Spc. Matt Oldham and fiance Emma Sonck pose during a red carpet event hosted by Collin College. (Courtesy Photo: Army.com)
Spc. Matt Oldham and fiance Emma Sonck pose during a red carpet event hosted by Collin College. (Courtesy Photo: Army.com)

"The stories my family told me about serving were a life guide for me,” Oldham said. "I can't imagine a future without it."

It was just 20 days after his high school graduation in 2015 when Oldham joined that family tradition. He's now a SAW gunner in the 144th Infantry Regiment out of Seagoville, Texas, and his family couldn't be any prouder.

"When you realize the magnitude of the organization you have joined, it makes you want to grasp on to every piece of knowledge and apply it to your life," Oldham said.

Oldham deployed to the Horn of Africa from 2017-2018 after joining the National Guard. He describes the deployment as an opportunity to be a well-rounded Soldier. During his deployment, Oldham says he and other Soldiers learned airbase defense, patrols and general theater security.

"It's hard to imagine what you would do in a situation like that," Oldham said. “You try to push past it mentally, even though it's training because a real-life situation can be hard."

But Oldham had no idea he would put the skills learned during his deployment to the Horn of Africa to the test this past July. Oldham was three hours into his shift as a security guard for the Dallas Holocaust Museum when a loud sound forced him out of his seat. The sounds of glass breaking and tires screeching echoed in his ears as he made his way to see what was happening. As he got closer, Oldham noticed a man had crashed his vehicle into a downtown office building across the street from the museum, and the man's vehicle was now on fire.

Two Dallas Police Officers were already trying to do everything they could to save the man from the burning car. The entire front end of the man's SUV crunched against broken glass and bricks from the building, and the impact had trapped the man between the building and the car, according to Oldham. 

"I had to act and participate in the rescue anyway I could," Oldham said. "If that were my family member, I would want someone to do the same."

Firefighters respond to a crash near the Dallas Holocaust Museum where Spc. Matt Oldham works as a security officer. (Courtesy Photo: Robert McMurrey, Twitter)
Firefighters respond to a crash near the Dallas Holocaust Museum where Spc. Matt Oldham works as a security officer. (Courtesy Photo: Robert McMurrey, Twitter)

Oldham reached for his tourniquet, something he learned to carry at a first aid course he took during Initial Entry Training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He also took a Combat Lifesaver course his battalion medics taught. As part of the CLS class, Soldiers learned to use tourniquets, Israeli bandages, litters, chest seals, nasopharyngeal airways and more. Oldham recalled all of his training as he examined the driver for injuries.

"I could see several broken bones mostly in his feet and arms," Oldham said. "There were injuries to his chest as well. We were aware that this was a hazardous situation, and we needed to act fast."

As flames from the car intensified, Oldham could feel the sweat drop from his face and heat radiate throughout his body. He says he didn't think for a second about how he and the officers were putting themselves in harm's way. Oldham applied a tourniquet to the man's right foot as he helped pull him from the car.

"He seemed to be conscious even though he didn't say much," Oldham said. "I wanted to make sure he knew we were going to do everything we could to try to save him."

Seconds turned into what seemed like minutes during the rescue. The man was taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries. Dallas Police arrested the man for driving under the influence after the crash. Oldham feels everyone involved is fortunate the situation turned out as well as it did. Oldham says he was at the right place at the right time.

While Oldham insists he was just doing his job, Oldham is receiving awards to honor his heroism. The Dallas Holocaust Museum awarded him with The Lifesaver Award, and he's also receiving an award from his unit.

"When people walk up to me now they're saying I don't know if I would have been able to do that," Oldham said. “Life is short. It could all be over in an instant. I'm grateful for everyone one involved that night."

As he walks by the office building where the crash happened, all Oldham sees now are repairs. He wonders if he could have done more that night.  

While some may consider Oldham a hero, he doesn’t see himself as one. Instead, he thinks of the generations of men in his family that served before him. 

"If I could hear the words ‘well done’ by any of them, that's all I need," Oldham said.

 

Spc. Matt Oldham assists a fellow member of the infantry in weapons training
during a deployment to Arta, Djibouti. (Courtesy Photo: Spc. Matt Oldham)

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Dispatch on page 10.

The Nervous System of Texas Guard Operations

Story and Photos By: Caitlin Rourk, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

 
Sgt. Kory Colvin, left, and Maj. John Pearson, right, monitor real-time updates in the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center, Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas. The JOC serves as a link between partner agencies and Texas' 24,000 Guardsmen and civilians.
Sgt. Kory Colvin, left, and Maj. John Pearson, right, monitor real-time updates in the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center, Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas. The JOC serves as a link between partner agencies and Texas' 24,000 Guardsmen and civilians.

AUSTIN, Texas - Managing information flow for a part-time force, operating in an environment where incidents often occur with no advance warning, requires round the-clock monitoring and coordination. For the Texas Military Department, which has more than 24,000 service members and civilians in its ranks, dozens of agency partners and a dual federal and state mission, its Joint Operations Center plays that critical role.

The JOC is the hub of information flow during both steady state operations, where it oversees the daily battle rhythm of the nation’s largest state military organization, and major incidents to which the Texas Military Department responds, be it tropical or winter weather, floods, wildfires and other civil support and law enforcement operations.

“We are able to communicate with all the major commands and units. We should be able to very clearly tell anyone who walks in—most notably, the Texas Adjutant General—what is available,” Staff Sgt. Kimberly Eastburn, a JOC battle NCO, said. “If the TAG wants to send out a certain number of aviation assets, we know exactly where those are and what is possible since we get those fed to us. The JOC has all the information to handle anything the state needs.”

The JOC has four key charges. First, it ensures timely and accurate communications with TMD components, the National Guard Bureau and interagency partners. Second, the JOC maintains situational awareness, which aids leaders in decision-making, alerts leaders to take action and assists in appraising the effectiveness and efficiency of operations and activities. Third, the JOC provides mission command to TMD forces that are mobilized in support of Domestic Support of Civil Authorities. Finally, it maintains historical documentation.

Located at the Joint Force Headquarters building at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, the JOC’s design maximizes accessibility of information and serves as a central collaborative gathering place for TMD personnel and interagency partners during incident responses. Large television screens stream cable news network feeds, screens project real-time numbers and information and Soldiers sit behind computer monitors and phones, acting as a switchboard to units in the field.

In July, TMD renamed the JOC for Sgt. Maj. Elwood H. Imken, a longtime figure in the agency who passed away in 2018. Imken was instrumental in creating TMD’s JOC, and TMD leaders recognized how fitting the dedication would be. Eastburn says she immediately saw the parallels between the JOC and Sgt. Maj. Imken, as both were—in their own unique ways—at the heart of the agency.

“The JOC is the hub of what’s happening in the Texas Military Department. Sgt. Maj. Imken was the hub of almost everything that was happening at Camp Mabry at one time or another in any capacity he served,” Eastburn said. 

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Eastburn, left, and Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Staha, right, discuss a potential unit mobilization in response to flooding at the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Eastburn, left, and Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Staha, right, discuss a potential unit mobilization in response to flooding at the Texas Military Department Joint Operations Center at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Like most Texas Guardsmen, Hurricane Harvey was the biggest mission of which Eastburn has ever been a part. She says working in the JOC when the governor mobilized the full Texas National Guard gave her greater appreciation for what an unprecedented undertaking it was and how much coordination was involved to accomplish it.

“The coordination and ability to respond and make that happen when it did is because the JOC is so heavily involved. We have the information, from what the State Operations Center needs, to what the Department of Public Safety needs,” said Eastburn. “Our partners know us, and we are the intermediary when a State of Texas Assistance Request, or STAR, goes out. We push the STAR and call out for mission-ready packages, and we know exactly how much it will cost because of all the past experience and events of what’s happened here.”

Capt. Jacob Schreyer, a JOC battle captain, explains that the JOC maintains an especially close relationship with full-time staff at units. Once the JOC receives the STAR, which allows Texas municipalities to request resources from TMD and other agencies for disaster and civil support responses, Schreyer and his team immediately make contact with units well before they are activated. The JOC explains the mission and helps leaders marshal their rosters, something that can be challenging for M-Day leaders who simply cannot be fully engaged on day-to-day unit operations. 

Facing the constraints of a largely part-time force, Eastburn says the JOC’s role in supporting readiness and ensuring accurate and timely information flow cannot be understated.

“As far as readiness, we know what we’ve got. We know where the people are. Overall readiness, without the JOC, it would be really hard,” Eastburn said. “We are the communication hub for everything the TAG wants, everything NGB wants, all the way down to the units. Without that, we just have so many different ways the information would flow down and potentially be miscommunicated.”

Battle captains and NCOs man the JOC every day of the year. While the JOC has set core hours, someone on staff is always on-call. More substantial incidents can prompt leaders to initiate the Adaptive Battle Staff, a construct that scales a staff size when responding to a natural or manmade disaster. The ABS has full-time personnel and traditional Guardsmen who come in on State Active Duty orders and different levels that dictate the number of SAD personnel and types of shifts and hours, ranging from Level IV, normal conditions, to Level I, maximum readiness.

“We are postured and ready to turn to 24-hour coverage, with 12-hour shifts and daily shift change briefs, if the agency is in an event response that requires increased manning,” Schreyer said. “We can flip back at a moment’s notice.”

In the months ahead, the JOC will modify how it displays information to maximize impact. Schreyer adds that the JOC is also working toward even greater integration with all three TMD components, including implementing a new system that better synchronizes with the Texas Air National Guard and having liaison officers more regularly present at the JOC.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Dispatch on page 6.