Posts in Category: Domestic Operations

Texas Guardsmen satisfy thirst for Lake Jackson

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

“We knew we were in a crisis.”

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

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

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

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


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

But this still was not a good solution, said Sidebottom, as the elevated levels of chlorine used to disinfect the system caused great concern for the residents.

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

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


31 Army National Guardsmen arrived on the morning of September 27, 2020, bringing water to quench the thirst of Lake Jackson residents. Over a span of nearly two weeks, the team handed out cases of water, talked to residents, and expressed their joy at being able to serve.

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

“That’s the reason why I joined. I wanted to help people.”

Locks said he was struck with the depth of the situation when the team had to move hotels because they could not shower.

“We were a little scared,” said Locks. “Water is a part of life. It’s a part of our body.”

But the outpouring of gratitude from the residents had a positive reaction on all the members.

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

The mission was not without its risks. Several days into the mission, one of the Guardsmen began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

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

The team was taken off mission while they waited in isolation to see if they also would test positive. The state immediately mustered a Quick Response Force to fill the mission’s needs.

“Within six hours’ notice, the QRF was out here,” said Guerrero. “It was really awesome. Next morning at 7:00, they started doing our thing and they kept it up for two days until we got our tests back.

The rest of the team was relieved to receive a negative COVID test within a couple of days.

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

Sidebottom explained everyone was immensely grateful for the Citizen Soldiers who came to distribute water to their city.

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

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

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

Sidebottom said it takes a special person to serve.

“They’re very high spirited,” said Sidebottom. “They’re motivated. They understand the cause, and they’re always ready to serve.
 

They are Texans serving Texas.

From serving Texas to serving overseas, Arrowhead Guardsmen shoulder 2020 chaos to deploy forward

Story by Sgt. Christina Clardy, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas (Sept. 22, 2020) – The Headquarters of the 36th Infantry Division is slated to deploy to the Middle East this fall, and has been rigorously training and preparing for the past two years. Despite their hectic training schedule for the mobilization, many division headquarters Soldiers chose to volunteer for COVID-19 response efforts and the civil disturbance missions.

Army National Guard Spc. Jessenia Cano, an automated logistical specialist, and Spc. Tesely Cooley, a petroleum supply specialist, both with the 449th Aviation Support Battalion and assigned to Joint Task Force 176, load personal protective equipment into the vehicle of a medical provider in Austin, Texas, July 1, 2020. General Support Unit 18 is a team of Texas Military Department personnel assigned to Joint Task Force 176 who activated to help distribute medical supplies to health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Army National Guard Spc. Jessenia Cano, an automated logistical specialist, and Spc. Tesely Cooley, a petroleum supply specialist, both with the 449th Aviation Support Battalion and assigned to Joint Task Force 176, load personal protective equipment into the vehicle of a medical provider in Austin, Texas, July 1, 2020.
General Support Unit 18 is a team of Texas Military Department personnel assigned to Joint Task Force 176 who activated to help distribute medical supplies to health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

This year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott activated more than 3,800 service members from the Texas National Guard with elements of both Texas’ Air National Guard and Army National Guard for two separate crises. The first activation came on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic; Joint Task Force 176 set up over 150 sites where they administered over 530,000 tests. Service members assisted with the states’ decontamination efforts of nursing homes as well as delivered over 7,000 pallets of protective equipment to civilian-run testing sites across the state. The second activation came two-months later while the COVID efforts continued.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., civil unrest rocked many cities throughout the nation. Texas was no exception and the threat of unrest brought about a second wave of Guardsmen activations. Service members answered the call to support local and state law enforcement and assist in the protection of people and critical infrastructure necessary to the well-being of local communities.

Texas Army National Guard Soldiers attached to Joint Task Force 176's Task Force Capitol support law enforcement during protests at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, June 19, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas Military Department to ensure safety for Texans during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Texas Army National Guard Soldiers attached to Joint Task Force 176's Task Force Capitol support law enforcement during protests at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, June 19, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas Military Department to ensure safety for Texans during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)


COVID-19 RESPONSE

“I was in the process of transferring over to the 36th Infantry Division for the mobilization when my company contacted me looking for volunteers for the COVID support mission back in March,” said Texas Army National Guard 1st Lt. Juan Bonilla, an infantryman formerly from Texas’ 2nd Battalion of the 142nd Infantry Regiment. “The COVID-19 mission brought on a new kind of mission complexity within a state mission that, as far as I know, we have not encountered so far in our history -- definitely not at this widespread level.”

Bonilla worked in the Joint Operations Cell for the JTF 176 COVID-19 Response mission and got a small glimpse of the many moving parts that must synchronize to handle the magnitude of the state response.

“The hardest part of that mission was learning about all the different sections and parts within the mission, and how they moved and communicated to accomplish the mission as a whole,” said Bonilla about the comparison between the COVID-19 Response and the 36th Inf. Div. Headquarters’ upcoming mobilization. “And now, as the Division Headquarters moves forward with our mobilization, I have really started to see the complexities that go into the movements and operations from a higher headquarters down both in state operations and federal operations overseas.”

Bonilla says he’s looking forward to deploying after serving during part of the COVID-19 crisis this summer; to him, being a Texas National Guardsman is all about service.

“I want to learn as much as I can in order to use that knowledge to help our unit’s federal mission while deployed forward and when we return during our future state support missions,” he said. “I have great pride in my country and in my state. Our motto, ‘Texans serving Texans’ is a big thing for me.”

CIVIL DISTURBANCE RESPONSE

“I was having dinner with my family when I got an email informing me that I was activated for the state’s civil disturbance response,” said Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Eric Chacon, an Army medic formerly from Fort Worth’s 3rd Battalion of the 144th Infantry Regiment. “I reported to Camp Mabry that first week of June and we were issued our protective gear before heading down to Camp Swift for our civil disturbance training.”

All Texas Guardsmen activated for the civil disturbance mission spent 3 to 4 days training in crowd response tactics and non-lethal methods. 

Photo By Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell | (BAYTOWN, Texas) -- Texas Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to 712th Military Police Company out of Houston, look on a peaceful group of protestors as they pass by on their way to a rally at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, on June 5, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas National Guard to augment law enforcement throughout the state in response to civil unrest. The Texas National Guard will be used to support local law enforcement and protect critical infrastructure necessary to the well-being of local communities. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell)
Texas Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to 712th Military Police Company out of Houston, look on a peaceful group of protestors as they pass by on their way to a rally at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, on June 5, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas National Guard to augment law enforcement throughout the state in response to civil unrest. The Texas National Guard will be used to support local law enforcement and protect critical infrastructure necessary to the well-being of local communities. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell) 

“Our civil disturbance training was focused on things like non-lethal training: how to protect yourself and others; how to react or not react to certain threats or taunts; and practice in maintaining our professional manner and bearing when faced with civilians in groups that are in riots or potential riots,” Chacon explained.

The Texas Army National Guard sent Soldiers to more than a dozen areas around the state to support local law enforcement where large protests were happening or where rioting was an ongoing threat. Chacon’s group was sent to guard the State Capitol building grounds in downtown Austin.

“What is really interesting about the Guard to me, is that even though we are military, we are still civilians - we wear both hats,” said Chacon, a native of El Paso. “I feel that with our roots as Texan civilians and our ability to go out in a uniform as a trained force is important because we are a neutral force,” said Chacon. “We aren’t there to choose a side. We are there to protect everyone in general, regardless of which side or which group.”
Chacon, like many 36th Inf. Div. Headquarters Soldiers, spent the spring and summer away from their families supporting the COVID-19 and civil disturbance missions before rolling straight into their mandatory deployment training.

“There was so much to do and so much training we needed to go through to be prepared to deploy [overseas],” he said. “Since activating for the civil disturbance response mission, I have gone straight to my medic refresher course; then into deployment training where we run through our Soldier skills such as weapons qualifications, communications, squad tactics and military vehicle training; and immediately into a support role to assist with preparing and helping my unit pack up for the deployment.”

Even with so much going on at home in their state, Bonilla and Chacon reflect the focus that the 36th Inf. Div. Headquarters maintains as their deployment date fast approaches.

“I’m looking forward to networking with new people during this deployment,” said Chacon. The sense of service and care I have gained through the Guard really helps me connect and communicate with people better. I want to be able to take that forward with us as we deploy, and improve it for when we return home and continue to care for and serve our fellow Texans.

Unexpected Detour: Shelter-Deployed Texas State Guardsmen Step in After Accident

By WO1 David Brown

Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees. 
Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees.

Mesquite, TX - Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees. 

Before sunrise on the wet morning of September 2nd, five Guardsmen from the 3rd Brigade were traveling to an assignment at a hurricane shelter hub in Mesquite, east of Dallas.  As their van slipped through the light morning traffic of I-635 east of Dallas, CPT Lawrence Norotsky saw something ahead. Traffic was suddenly slowing and cars were veering across lanes to avoid a large obstacle. Norotsky directed the van’s driver, SFC Steven Lozano to pull over to a safe location.  

Scattered across the left three lanes of the highway was an SUV, parts of the bodywork mashed, one door ripped from its frame, bits of glass and plastic all around.  Not far behind it was a badly damaged four-door sedan, steam rising from its mangled front end, leaking fluids of some sort.  The car’s airbags had inflated around its driver.  The driver had managed to get out of his vehicle; his lower lip was bleeding, and he was complaining of chest pains.  

The young woman driving the SUV had managed to get out of her vehicle as well, but neither driver was safe. “On our arrival”, Norotsky says, “the witnesses and vehicle occupants were moving in and out of dangerous traffic. 

The Guard members’ training kicked in.  Texans who take the oath of the Texas State Guard, one of the three branches of the Texas Military Department, not only commit themselves to ongoing emergency and disaster management education, but often bring in years of real-world experience and specialized skills.  

Norotsky, who in civilian life is the Assistant Fire Chief of the Ingleside Volunteer Fire Department, unofficially assumed the role of Incident Commander.  Making a 360-degree assessment of the situation, he directed Lozano, PV2 Ruben Garza of Harlingen, and PFC Michael Ward of San Angelo to begin directing traffic away from the accident scene.  Norotsky approached the occupants of the apparent crash to perform triage, directing CPL Matthew Kotara to do a detailed examination of the 76-year-old driver of the sedan. 

Kotara, a trained Emergency Medical Technician, says he needed to ensure the driver of the sedan did not have life threatening injuries.  “The biggest concern for me, because the airbags deployed, and because of his age, was to make sure that he did not have a flail chest, collapsed lungs, any type of puncture wounds or signs of a concussion,” said the TXSG Medical Unit veteran.  “He was bruised and disoriented, but (there were) no signs of life-threatening problems or injuries.”  Kotara remained with the driver to comfort him and to ready a report for first responders who would eventually arrive at the scene.  

Norotsky had determined that there were no fuel leaks or apparent fire hazards, but the weather conditions and the traffic on the multi-lane highway still posed considerable risks to life. Lozano, Garza and Ward directed occupants of the vehicles involved and witnesses downstream from the wrecked cars to the median, creating an effective safety buffer and getting pedestrians out of the way of traffic. “Our uniforms gave us the perceived authority to take charge and bring order to the chaos,” Norotsky said, crediting the TXSG’s required Incident Command Training and the Guard’s military structure for effectively reducing further dangers and removing any sense of panic. 

Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees. Soon, an off-duty police officer pulled up on-scene and provided the TXSG team with flares.  Norotsky turned over Incident Command to the first arriving Fire Engine Company Officer, providing a full report. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the incident. 

Lozano, whose civilian job is with the Border Patrol, credits the diverse backgrounds of all involved as having made the unassigned mission-within-a-mission a success. “I truly believe all Guardsmen...bring with us a wealth of knowledge and experience from our lives outside the Guard.” This advantage is one reason TXSG recruiters are always on the lookout for Texans with a variety of skills and career specialties ranging from law enforcement to information technology, science, engineering, education, medicine, construction and more.

Although the TXSG may be best known for their decades of providing relief during major emergencies like Hurricane Harvey - and, more recently, Hurricane Laura, - troops never ‘let their guard down’. While routine traffic accidents seldom get much media attention, the incident along I-635 serves as an important reminder that the Guard’s mission as “Texans serving Texas” never sleeps. 

Several Texans in potential danger received quick, expert assistance on that rainy morning of September 2nd, 2020. Just another day of service for the members of the 3rd Brigade, Texas State Guard.  

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.”