Posts in Category: Domestic Operations

Texas National Guardsmen prepare to sanitize nursing homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting Soldiers back to work

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Guard engineers convert barracks into medical isolation support facilities

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

CAMP MABRY, Texas—Army National Guard combat engineers completed the conversion of Camp Swift barracks into medical isolation support facilities on April 16, 2020, at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas. 

Texas Army Sgt. Keith Huffstuttler, a team leader with Task Force 176’s 840th Engineering Mobility Augmentation Company, installs curtains to separate beds in Camp Swift barracks to adapt them into medical isolation support facilities in Bastrop, Texas, on April 17, 2020. The TMD has established this isolation facility for Soldiers, Airmen and State Guardsmen suspected of having COVID-19 so that they may recover in a safe environment and prevent further spread of the virus. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles)
Texas Army Sgt. Keith Huffstuttler, a team leader with Task Force 176’s 840th Engineering Mobility Augmentation Company, installs curtains to separate beds in Camp Swift barracks to adapt them into medical isolation support facilities in Bastrop, Texas, on April 17, 2020. The TMD has established this isolation facility for Soldiers, Airmen and State Guardsmen suspected of having COVID-19 so that they may recover in a safe environment and prevent further spread of the virus. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles)



The 840th Engineer Mobility Augmentation Company, which operates within the Texas Military Department’s Task Force 176, mobilized in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance medical infrastructure in Texas.

The Soldiers, in conjunction with other engineering units, adapted existing barracks into treatment facilities for any Guardsmen who become infected while serving during the COVID-19 response.

Spc. Javier Vega, an engineer with the 840th Engineer Mobility Augmentation Company, expressed pride and sense of duty in the work his team is doing.

“If everybody does their part, it’ll stop the spread and everything will go back to normal,” Vega said.

Members of the 840th were silent in response to being asked about who is concerned about contracting COVID-19 while on duty, implying a collective confidence that they will remain safe from the contagion through the pandemic response.

Sgt. Keith Huffstuttler, a team leader with the 840th, attributed their confidence to the discipline with which they are following infection control protocols.

“We’ve been following good safety precautions and practicing social distancing, not even intermingling with other squads in the same platoon,” Huffstuttler said.

Keeping squads separate from each other promotes unit effectiveness through the pandemic because it prevents an infection from spreading from a smaller team to members of the larger unit, said Staff Sgt. Thomas McCraven, a squad leader with the 840th.

“That way, if one squad gets infected, it reduces the chance of the whole platoon getting infected,” McCraven said. “Losing one squad is not as bad as losing the whole platoon.”

Capt. Dillon Horn, commander of the 840th, commended his Soldiers’ discipline and cohesion, promising their high-quality work through the remainder of the pandemic.

“This group of Soldiers really just want to help their fellow Texans in this difficult time,” Horn said. “They will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and they’ll get it done quickly and with expertise.”

“Together, the 840th Engineer MAC Soldiers are a well-oiled machine,” Horn said.

The Texas Army National Guard stays ready

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morale is high in National Guard COVID-19 response

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Guard mobilizes to respond to COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia Guardsmen provide support to Texas Guard and Law Enforcement partners

Story and Photos by SSgt De'Jon Williams, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

Army and Air National Guard members from various states stationed along the Southwest Texas border work together with their local, state and federal law enforcement partners.

Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)


National Guard members provide support for a variety of tasks on behalf of the U.S. Border Patrol in an effort to allow more agents to protect our nation’s border directly in the field.

One way in which the National Guard assists Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is by surveilling illegal activity along the Rio Grande. Specialized trucks called Mobile Video Surveillance Systems (MVSS) give National Guard Soldiers and Airmen the capability to monitor a vast area of land along the border.

“Our job here is to be on the border in these trucks, observing the river and calling up what we see,” said Cpl. Thomas Leroux, an MVSS truck team commander.” The main objective is to deter any illegal activity between the United States and Mexico.”

MVSS truck commanders, or “TC’s” serve as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the site they are assigned to during a shift. They are also responsible for the maintaining of equipment used during operations.

“A big part of what I do is communicate with Border Patrol,” Leroux said. “I’m primarily responsible for the equipment and the relay of information.”


MVSS truck teams consist of the TC and a driver, who also serves as the equipment operator. Leroux is often partnered with Spc. Joshua Smoak, the driver for their team.


“Mainly my job is to get us from point A to point B without getting us stuck in the mud,” Smoak said. “I get us here, make sure we’re in a position where if anything does happen, we can get out safely and quickly. I also make sure I position the truck where the camera has the best visibility while also keeping it somewhat hidden.”

There are multiple teams of soldiers along the border using these trucks and other similar vehicles. For their team, Leroux and Smoak are using next generation scope trucks with night and day camera capabilities.

“On this truck, the main equipment is the cameras in the back,” Smoak said. “One is a normal camera, and the other is a heat signature camera. We can pull them up separately if we need to. They extend up about 30 feet, which is good to see over all the trees. We also use the laptop inside the truck, which is how we communicate with the cameras.”

Cpl. Thomas Leroux, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System truck commander, studies a computer screen in Rio Grande City, Texas, Dec 21, 2019. Leroux leads one of many two-man Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck teams along the Southwest Texas border. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Cpl. Thomas Leroux, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System truck commander, studies a computer screen in Rio Grande City, Texas, Dec 21, 2019. Leroux leads one of many two-man Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck teams along the Southwest Texas border. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)

These trucks are assigned to each MVSS team at the beginning of their shift at various Border Patrol stations. The teams check out their trucks and begin their shift at the sites where they spend most of their shift.

“Once we get to the site, we do a transfer of authority (TOA),” Leroux said. “We do that with the group we are relieving. We transfer equipment, ammunition and paperwork. I complete the required paperwork and get accountability for the equipment. At the same time, I’ll discuss with the other group what happened on the previous shift.”



Leroux explains that during a TOA, the previous team transfers all the equipment and relays all the information from the prior shift. After this, the previous team is relieved, and the site is now his team’s responsibility.

In the meantime, the driver is also doing his part to participate in the TOA.

Spc. Thomas Leroux writes in his logbook Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. Mobile Video Surveillance System teams keep a log of their findings while on duty. MVSS truck team leaders keep a log of their activities throughout their shift. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Spc. Thomas Leroux writes in his logbook Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. Mobile Video Surveillance System teams keep a log of their findings while on duty. MVSS truck team leaders keep a log of their activities throughout their shift. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)


“When we first get here, my first job is to park the truck in a somewhat concealed position so that scouts on the other side can’t easily detect us,” Smoak said. “While he’s doing the TOA, my job is to get the equipment on the truck up and running.”


Smoak gets his camera and equipment up and running while the previous team continues to operate theirs. This protocol ensures that there is no gap in coverage of the area.

After the TOA is complete, Leroux and Smoak begin their shift monitoring the border.

“Throughout the day I keep the scan and surveillance going,” Smoak said. “Sometime there is action, sometimes there’s not, but it is how it is sometimes. At the end of the day the relief comes in and it’s the same process as before. I ensure continuous reconnaissance the entire time until the next team gets their scan up and going.”

Through technological prowess and Soldiers’ own vigilance, Leroux and Smoak have provided the Border Patrol with intelligence that has led to more than 90 apprehensions, 62 turn backs and a seizure of more than 235 pounds of narcotics since the beginning of the mission. 

Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)



Of all the missions he supports, drug interdiction provides Leroux with the greatest fulfillment. Leroux said that participating in drug seizures is particularly rewarding for him because he “can physically see the fruits of [his] labor.” Particularly, Leroux was proud of “the feeling that I was a part of stopping that much of such a dangerous and harmful substance from making it into our country. I feel like we’re literally defending our nation.” Leroux then stated that for him, the mission has some elements which are personal: “I stopped drugs from getting within four blocks of a school, that’s huge! I have children and the idea that they would be in a place that is dangerous or subjected to that kind of environment is terrible. So, the idea that I’m able to prevent that is phenomenal! It’s great, I love it!”

This is the first time Leroux and Smoak have performed a mission like this, but it is one they both find rewarding.


“I had a lot of preconceptions before coming out here,” Smoak said. “There’s schools and kids and all this life right here… I’m just really happy that we’re able to help protect them [and] help secure this area so that they can live a normal, happy life. The safer the border is, the safer they can feel, the safer they can keep living their lives.”

 

Guard members reflect on 2019, prepare for new decade

By Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith, National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – From cyber missions to training with international partners, supporting the war fight and responding to natural disasters, 2019 was a busy year for the National Guard.

The year began with Guard members helping out during numerous winter storms.

More than 450 New York National Guard members were on duty in January responding to a snowstorm that blanketed most of New York, including New York City. Many of those same troops were back at it when gusting windstorms in February meant clearing debris from roadways and conducting traffic control operations.

In March, massive flooding affected thousands of people in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and other Midwest states, prompting governors to activate more than 340 Guard members. Airmen from the Missouri Air National Guard's 139th Airlift Wing used sandbags to stem the flow of running water, while Soldiers with the Nebraska Army National Guard's Company B, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, used CH-47 Chinook helicopters to drop bales of hay for displaced livestock.

"We pushed hay out of the back of one of our helicopters in order to feed cows that were stranded," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, the adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard. "The floodwaters have trapped the cattle and isolated them."

In Colorado, winter storms came as late as April, and the Colorado National Guard activated 50 members to help first responders with transportation needs, using Humvees to get to hard-to-reach places.

"The [Colorado National Guard] is always ready, always there to assist our neighbors [and] to save lives, prevent suffering and mitigate great property damage," said Army Col. Scott Sherman, commander of Joint Task Force Centennial, which leads the Colorado Guard's response to domestic events.

As winter storms subsided, many Guard units shifted their attention to wildfires.

In May, Alaska Army National Guard fire suppression efforts included water bucket drops from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters while ground troops provided traffic management and evacuation support using Humvees.

"Soldiers are manning traffic control positions 24/7," said Army Capt. Ralph Harris, commander of the Alaska Army National Guard's 297th Military Police Company. "Some folks were asked to leave their homes, but had to return to their homes first to prepare, so our MPs check them in and out for accountability and to ensure people are aware of the unsafe roads for travel."

More than 100 Soldiers and Airmen with the California National Guard's Task Force Rattlesnake cleared out potential fuels, such as dead trees, dry vegetation and other flammable material, throughout the state.

"Everyone's really motivated and excited to be a part of this project," said Army 2nd Lt. Jonathan Green, the officer in charge of a firefighting team with the California Army National Guard's 115th Regional Support Group. "We're excited to hit the ground, make progress and hopefully prevent future fires from happening."

But wildfires and snowstorms weren't the only natural disasters that tested the Guard's readiness. As the active hurricane season arrived, Guard members were primed to respond.

After Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas, Airmen from the Tennessee Air National Guard's 118th Wing provided imagery analysis, including damage assessments, infrastructure reports and identification of potentially hazardous material.

"I am proud of our Airmen for their tireless efforts to respond in the affected areas and from right here in Nashville, Tennessee," said Air Force Lt. Col. Aaron Wilson, commander of the 118th Intelligence Group. "This is what we train for. This is why America has a National Guard: to save lives at home, to fight our nation's wars and to build partnerships."

More than 5,500 Guard members were on duty, positioned to respond in the aftermath of Dorian.

Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, highlighted how Guard members were ahead of the storm as it made its way toward landfall.

"[Guard members] will be poised to work and ready for their communities and states – from the inception of preparation, through the response, through the recovery – until the [local first] responders can handle this without any military assistance," said Lengyel.

But first responders weren't the only partners the Guard had in 2019.

The Guard saw continued growth and activity with the State Partnership Program, a Defense Department priority that pairs Guard elements with partner nations worldwide.

The Nebraska National Guard was paired with Rwanda's military, marking the 78th partnership in the SPP.

"I know that the training opportunities, cultural experiences and professional exchange of ideas that the SPP makes possible will benefit both the Nebraska National Guard and Rwanda for years to come," said Bohac, the adjutant general of the Nebraska Guard.

During the year, other Guard elements worked with their SPP partners.

New York Air National Guard members worked with South African firefighters near Cape Town, South Africa, honing their skills battling brush fires. The effort was part of the partnership between the New York National Guard and the South African National Defence Force.

"It was a great experience to be part of an international partnership and to be able to learn from other firefighters as well as show them what we are capable of," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jodi Ruther, a firefighter with the New York Air Guard's 109th Airlift Wing.

She was pleased to see many women involved in the training.

"Hopefully, encouraging more women to join firefighting [teams] will show that we are just as capable as the men in the world of wildland firefighting," Ruther said.

In Estonia, military police and security forces from the Maryland National Guard participated in Spring Storm, an annual exercise conducted by Estonia's military that focused on convoy security, detainee operations and tactical patrols.

"This is not a typical training environment for the military police detachment," said Spc. Angelique Helkowski, with the Maryland Army National Guard's 290th Military Police Company. "When we train stateside, we do the same things repetitively. This gets us out into nature and relates more to a deployed environment."

For Tech. Sgt. Kevin Miner, a security forces specialist with the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing, working with a mixed group of U.S. and Estonian soldiers meant his squad had to operate more efficiently and effectively.

"Although my squad had never trained together, we were able to mobilize as a team," Miner said. "It was a very easy transition, and we had unit cohesion immediately."

The year also had its share of milestones and anniversaries.

In early June, aircrews from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Airlift Wing, flying two C-130 Hercules aircraft, participated in the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. The aircrew performed seven flyovers in the C-130s and helped airdrop nearly 1,000 U.S. and Allied paratroopers as part of the commemoration.

"This was an incredible opportunity," said Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Brown, the loadmaster superintendent at the wing. "To be involved with something so significant – I never thought that in my career I would get to do something like this. We have some young guys with us, too, and it has been great for them to see what it takes to go into a large exercise like this."

In North Carolina, a Virginia Army National Guard artillery unit took part in a unique live-fire exercise: firing from a waterborne landing craft.

Though artillery crews employed their guns from landing craft during the D-Day invasion in World War II, the tactic has not often been used since that era. 

Spc. Jerrad Nicholson, with the Indiana Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment, leads Soldiers into a room during Slovak Shield 2019, a training exercise in Lešt, Slovakia, Nov. 10, 2019, as part of the Defense Department's State Partnership Program. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Padish)
Spc. Jerrad Nicholson, with the Indiana Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 152nd Cavalry Regiment, leads Soldiers into a room during Slovak Shield 2019, a training exercise in Lešt, Slovakia, Nov. 10, 2019, as part of the Defense Department's State Partnership Program. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Jonathan Padish)

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Turner, with the Virginia Army Guard's 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, said the unusual setting for the artillery exercise presented challenges.

Every time a shell was fired, he said, the recoil from the shot would displace the howitzer on the landing craft.

"Being on the boat, we had to situate sandbags behind the tires [on the howitzer] as well as the spade," said Turner. "What we've rigged up seems to work."

The year also marked the 30th anniversary of the National Guard Counterdrug Program, which has Guard members working with law enforcement agencies to combat the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.

"This program allows the Citizen-Soldier [and Airman] to support law enforcement agencies down to our communities, making it a solid grassroots initiative," said Army Col. Miguel Torres, the head coordinator for the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force, one of the first units to conduct counter-narcotics support missions with law enforcement. "Guardsmen can help do the nuts and bolts of things and allow law enforcement agencies to put people behind bars."

In July, Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson took the reins of the Army National Guard.

Hokanson, previously the National Guard Bureau's vice chief, said it's the Soldiers who make leading the Army Guard worthwhile.

"With all the changes nearly four centuries have brought with them, what has made the National Guard great remains the same – that's our people," Hokanson said, adding that close to 30,000 Army Guard Soldiers are currently deployed worldwide.

Air National Guard members deployed as well, fulfilling a variety of roles, such as providing tactical airlift throughout the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

C-130 aircrews from the Montana Air National Guard executed nonstop missions flying personnel, equipment and supplies to established bases and austere locations.

"It's a very consistent flow here. But that's the beautiful thing about the C-130 – it can land on short runways," said Air Force Lt. Col. David Smith, commander of the 779th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. "Our flying schedule is extremely busy."

Meanwhile, Soldiers with the North Carolina Army National Guard's 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team operated M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles in the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

"We are here as American Soldiers, one team, to do what our nation needs us to do," said Army Col. Robert Bumgardner, commander of the 30th ABCT. "We didn't come here to sit and watch. We came here to be part of the fight."

While the Guard's support of the war fight continued, cybersecurity activities in Texas reflected a different battle.

"In May, one county – Jackson County – got hit with ransomware," said Army Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard. "It disrupted county services. People weren't able to transfer property, the police doing a background check weren't able to pull up that information."

Texas Guard cyber teams were called in.

"We had people out there within 12 hours to do an assessment on what had happened and to get that county back online," said Norris. "We helped them get to a recovery point where their IT professionals could come in and get the county back to where it could deliver services."

Later in the year, the Ohio National Guard forged ties with the University of Akron to open a "cyber range" – a virtual training ground and testing site to enhance cybersecurity.

"This cyber range for us is a big deal," said Army Col. Daniel Shank, the assistant adjutant general for the Ohio Army Guard. "The cyber threat is changing, and we have to change with it. The military understands the threat, and we've actually changed our doctrine."

Lengyel said the more than 3,900 troops that make up the Guard's cyber element include traditional part-time units and full-time units that work directly for U.S. Cyber Command.

"The Air National Guard always provides two [cyber protection teams], and on the Army side, the Army [National Guard] always provides one, that are continuously mobilized and doing duty for U.S. Cyber Command and the cyber mission force," said Lengyel.

He said the Guard must continue to meet the challenges the cyber domain presents.

"When I first joined the National Guard, cyber was not part of our vocabulary," he said. "Now, it's one of our daily battlegrounds."

The National Guard celebrated its 383rd birthday on Dec. 13, the same day two Army Guard members became the first female enlisted Soldiers to complete the challenging U.S. Army Ranger School.

Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley, a military police officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard, and Army Sgt. Danielle Farber, a medical instructor with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, joined a small group of other women who have successfully negotiated the iconic school.

Farber attributed her success to seeing herself as a Soldier first.

"Come into it knowing you're going to be doing things that every other male that comes through here has to do," said Farber. "Don't come through here and expect any sort of special treatment, because it won't happen."

For Smiley, putting on the Ranger tab meant never giving up.

"My mindset going into this was to leave 100 percent on the table and never have a regret or look back and say, 'I should have pushed harder or I should have done something different,'" said Smiley. "I gave 100 percent. I did everything that I could, and now here I am."

With specialized training options, multiple mission sets and continued deployments, the Guard is an important part of the joint force, said Lengyel.

"Right now, about 40,000 Guard members are serving (overseas) worldwide," he said. "I wish I could visit with and thank every single one. It's an extraordinary force that has contributed more than 1.1 million individual overseas deployments since 9/11."

The Guard continues to stand ready as a new decade approaches.

"It is imperative the National Guard remains an operational force, as part of our Army and Air Force, that helps protect and secure our interests at home and abroad," Lengyel said.

This article was originally published by the National Guard Bureau at: https://go.usa.gov/xpMKQ