By WO 1 Gregory Illich Texas State Guard and Robert Seyller
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – As a winter weather storm moved into Texas on February 13, 2021, Governor Greg Abbot activated the Texas National Guard in response to increasing precipitation and projections of record low temperatures throughout the state.
As snow and sleet continued to fall, water and power infrastructure were lost by more than 12 million Texans. In response, The Texas Department of Emergency Management in Coordination with the Texas Military Department began distributing bottled drinking water to those in need.
As Texas Guardsmen in San Antonio unloaded pallets of water from a C-17 Globemaster, Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, took a moment to highlight the importance of the mission.
"This is water, this is critical to life, you can only go two or three days without water so this is a life-sustaining mission you are taking on," said Norris.
Guardsmen from the Texas Army, Air, and State guard were joined by service members from multiple state National Guards including South Carolina and Illinois along with active duty Air Force members to fly pallet after pallet into distribution hubs in San Antonio and College Station, Texas.
The Texas Air National Guard’s 136th Airlift Wing out of Fort Worth, Texas is among the units bringing water to airports across the state. The 136 AW’s C-130 Hercules transport planes deliver thousands of pounds of water that are stacked into Texas Army National Guard helicopters and Medium Tactical vehicles for transport to county and city distribution centers.
Col. Keith Williams, wing commander, 136th Air Wing Texas Air National Guard, explained that the unit's personnel have been working to support water distribution efforts while still supporting overseas operations and homeland defense missions.
"It takes a monumental effort. A large portion of the 136 AW is deployed overseas. We overcome the challenges and provide services to the Texas Department of Emergency Management,” said Williams. "The 136 AW has a large team of guardsmen who are receiving and preparing water for air shipment, loading aircraft, and performing maintenance along with aircrews and operations support personnel, coming together as one big team to make the mission happen. We are proud to support our fellow Texans in their time of need."
Williams explained that service members who were assisting were not immune from the impacts of the storm explaining that the responding guardsmen had families they had to leave behind to help entire communities return to normal. Norris also shared that without that sacrifice the organization could not succeed, thanking each guardsman for their service.
"You have a family at home, probably without power, without water and here you are helping your neighbors and Texas recover,” said Norris. “Our number one asset in the Guard is our people and every time Texans need help you guys show up. You’re truly heroes.
For Texas State Guard Member Pvt. Mary Boscarino the water distribution was her first mission since enlisting last year but she knew why she had to help the people of Texas.
“College Station is my home and I feel so honored to be here, helping my fellow Texans in a time of crisis. My passion is helping others, giving back to the community. What greater way for me to start than to help right at home."
That sense of service was in full display among the assembled Texas Guard members and volunteers, each working to support the mission by leveraging their unique military training to increase the speed and amount of water being delivered to communities. That training provided the state with a key method of distribution as members of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade flew UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the airports to the distribution centers.
“We have completed seven round trips, flying water out from the College Station hub to local municipalities including Leon County and Brenham,” said Capt. Sean Thomas, a Black Hawk pilot with the 36th CAB. “It is always a pleasure to work with the Air National Guard, Texas State Guard, Texas Department of Emergency Management and other civil authorities to bring relief as we have done in previous natural disasters."
Guardsmen will continue to transport water and additional resources to impacted communities until the state's infrastructure is repaired and the people until our Texas neighbors have fully recovered from back-to-back winter storms.