Posts in Category: Texas Air National Guard

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.

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.

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."

Texas Air Guard F-16 students take on Coronet Cactus

Story by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis, 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, Texas Air National Guard

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Soon-to-be F-16 pilots, currently assigned to the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, arrived in Phoenix Feb 25 to begin Coronet Cactus, the culminating event in their journey to becoming F-16 fighter pilots for the United States Air Force.

First Lt. James Demkowicz, a student pilot assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, conducts preflight checks prior to launch during Coronet Cactus, Feb. 28, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis)
First Lt. James Demkowicz, a student pilot assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, conducts preflight checks prior to launch during Coronet Cactus, Feb. 28, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis)


Coronet Cactus is a 14-day training exercise where student pilots fly hundreds of missions, each simulating a different task that they may see later in their Air Force careers.

For many of these fighter pilots-in-training, this exercise brings them even closer to a dream they’ve held since childhood.

“I have always wanted to be a pilot since I was young,” said 1st Lt. Paul Vasta, an F-16 student pilot currently participating in Cactus. “Dad was an Army aviator who got me into aviation. Since then, I have always wanted to fly something fast.”

With more than eight months of intense studying and hundreds of hours of flight time behind them, the students comprising class 19-ABK of the F-16 Initial Qualification Basic Course use Cactus as an opportunity to show their instructors what they’ve learned during their training.

For the instructors, it allows ample time to gauge how the students will perform in an environment that is away from their typical airspace.

“It is a two-week deployment for the basic course students to come out and fly at a different base, in an unfamiliar field, to employ tactics and deploy both heavy and live bombs in different ranges before they graduate," said Lt. Col. Patrick Bridges, one of the course’s instructor pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing.

Bridges has been instructing F-16 students for 16 years now, and his experience tells him that this capstone exercise can cause a little anxiety because the students are not exactly sure what to expect during the event.

First Lt. Jared Wesemann and 1st Lt. Ian Bonner, two F-16 student pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, pose for a photo before take-off during Coronet Bronco, Feb. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Kaliea Green)
First Lt. Jared Wesemann and 1st Lt. Ian Bonner, two F-16 student pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, pose for a photo before take-off during Coronet Bronco, Feb. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The annual training event deploys members of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, to another environment in order to familiarize them with accomplishing mission objectives in an unfamiliar location. (Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Kaliea Green)


“We get together on our lessons learned and provide them with a road map to success,” Bridges said. “A successful Cactus is all the students and jets coming back in one piece, and the students getting a taste of what it's like to operate from a different base.”

As Cactus draws to a close, and these students begin to find their rhythm and understand expectations, they cannot help but express hope about that next step in their careers.

"I feel like my dream has been somewhat fulfilled, and it’s exciting to be able to continue to push [myself] and make improvements,” Vasta said. “I will continue flying jets as long as I can and am excited to see what the future brings.”

This article originally appeared on the Air National Guard website.

The 149th Fighter Wing Gunfighters compete in TMD’s Best Warrior Competition

Story by Tech. Sgt. Augustin Salazar, 149th Fighter Winger Public Affairs, Texas Air National Guard

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO- LACKLAND, Texas -Three airmen assigned to The 149th Fighter Wing participated in the Texas Military Department 2020 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas March 4-8, 2020.

Staff Sgt. Juan Garcia, Staff Sgt. Derek Guedes and Senior Airman Shara Lewis, all assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, all took on the annual four-day challenge designed to test tactical and technical expertise through scored events.

One of the events the competitors must complete is a water survival test. The water survival test is a 125 yard swim in full uniform, and then they must tread water for ten minutes.

“I would say the water survival test was the most challenging part," said Lewis. "It caught most people by surprise because we hear a 125 yard swim, and most people think, 'I can do that, I do that in the pool all the time. But when you’re in uniform and combat boots, the boots fill up with water, and they start sinking you real quick surprise water and sink you real quick.”

The purpose of the event is to build camaraderie and strengthen inter-agency relationships among Texas Guardsmen. With all of the members running the competition against one another, it may not seem like an excellent team-building event. Still, the competitors often help each other and cheer each other on during the challenges.

"I have learned a lot from my roommate," said Lewis. "Staff Sgt. Guevara, she has taught me a lot since I got here. She is awesome."

Bonds like the one between Lewis and Guevara are beneficial to the Texas Military Department as a whole during natural disasters like hurricane Harvey in 2017. During hurricane recovery missions, the Army and Air Guard often deploy together.

"The event is important because not only are they practicing their warrior skills, but they are also learning how to work with each other." Said Senior Master Sgt. Juan Flores, 149th Security Forces Squadron superintendent.
"We work hand in hand with the Army quite a bit, whether that be in natural disasters or the border mission. So it is important that we learn to work with them to learn how to do it well."

In total, 31 competitors participated in this year’s TMDBWC, including military members from the Czech Republic and Chile who are both partners of the Texas military under the State Partnership Program.
The competition gives all parties involved an opportunity to work with and learn from each other.

"The Chileans are great people," said Garcia. "I've been able to talk to them and become good friends with them. I was even able to help one of them learn how to disassemble and reassemble the Mark 19 Machine Gun because I speak Spanish. It felt really good to teach someone else and he was super appreciative."

The winners of this year’s Best Warrior Competition will be named and honored at a banquet in April. Winners from the Army National Guard will continue to represent Texas in the regional and national Best Warrior competitions later this year.

Governor Abbott Reappoints Norris As Adjutant General of Texas

Press Release Courtesy of the Office of Governor Greg Abbott

February 27, 2020

Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed Major General Tracy Norris as the Adjutant General of Texas. The adjutant general is commander of the Soldiers and Airmen of the Texas Military Department, and reports directly to the Governor in matters pertaining to the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas State Guard. General Norris is the first female to be appointed Adjutant General of Texas.  Major General Tracy R. Norris

“It is a distinct honor to reappoint Major General Tracy Norris as Adjutant General of Texas,” said Governor Abbott. “General Norris has faithfully served the people of Texas and continues to make great strides in the modernization of the Army and Air Force, while increasing the capacities of the Texas State Guard. Her dedication and expertise has guided Texas’ response to challenges ranging from natural disasters to cybersecurity threats. I am grateful for General Norris’ partnership and I am confident she will continue to serve Texas with utmost integrity.”

Major General Tracy Norris of Austin, currently serves as the 52nd Adjutant General of Texas and previously served as the Deputy Adjutant General for Army and as Director of Construction and Facilities Management for the Texas Military Department. She also served as commander of the 176th Engineer Brigade and as Chief of Staff of the 36th Infantry Division; responsible for oversight of command and control throughout nine southern provinces of Iraq in 2010.

During her tenure as the Adjutant General of Texas, the Texas Military Department has responded to multiple natural disasters both in Texas and other states, to include assisting in the recovery of several major cyberattacks. Additionally, under her command the state has continued to prepare and execute an aggressive mobilization schedule while maintaining positive relationships across the state. She continues to focus on the modernization of the Army and Air Force while increasing the capacities of the Texas State Guard. As the largest National Guard in the country, General Norris' Texas Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion was recognized as being the leader in the nation for Guard recruiting efforts.

Additionally, General Norris has had the privilege of serving the Army National Guard (ARNG) in Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, and at the National Guard Bureau in Washington D.C. She served the NGB as a program manager and executive officer, overseeing the Environmental Division; National Guard Range & Training Lands Division; and as Chief of the Training Facilities Team under the Training Support Branch of the ARNG.

During her almost 35-year career, she has earned several decorations and awards including the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal (with four oak leaf clusters), the Army Commendation Medal (with four oak leaf clusters), Iraq Campaign Medal (with 2 oak leaf clusters), and Humanitarian Service Medal for service during Hurricane Katrina and Rita. General Norris is also a recipient of the Department of State Franklin Award as well as the Army Engineer Association Bronze order of the de Fleury Medal.

General Norris earned a commission after completing the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Florida State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning. Additionally, General Norris received a Master in Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College and a Master of Business Administration from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

Col. Shaunte Y. Cooper achieves high honor as first African American Colonel for 147th Attack Wing

Article and photographs courtesy of the Marshall News Messenger

In its 102-year history, no African American had been promoted to the rank of colonel in the 147th Attack Wing in the Air Force. At least not until Marshall’s own Lieutenant Colonel Shaunte Y. Cooper.Marshallite achieves high honor as first African American Colonel for 147th Attack Wing

Cooper got a leg up into the military with a bachelor of arts degree with a double major in history and business administration from Wiley College in 1992. In 2015, she received her master of arts degree in professional development, graduating Summa Cum Laude, from Amberton University in Garland.

Col. Cooper’s military career started in 1989 when she joined the Texas Army National Guard. Cooper said she mainly originally joined the military to receive assistance with college tuition at Wiley College. She transitioned to the Texas Air National Guard in 1993 as an enlisted Airmen. In 1994, she was commissioned and became a personnel officer at the 136th Airlift Wing in Fort Worth.

She also earned her teaching certificate for Texas elementary education and taught fourth grade at John Neely Bryan Elementary School in Dallas.

In 1999, Col. Cooper’s leadership skills were recognized when she served as an assistant to the relocation officer for the successful relocation of the 136th Airlift Wing from Dallas to its current location in Fort Worth. She was praised for her determination to schedule and plan the effort, and high recognition was received on this project.

She then transitioned to the 147th Attack Wing in Houston and served as the director of personnel for a year in 2003-04, then as the Commander of Mission Support Flight from April 2004 – Nov. 2006, and went on to serve as the interim Mission Support Group Commander from May 2006 – Dec. 2006.

Marshallite achieves high honor as first African American Colonel for 147th Attack Wing

During her time with the 147th attack wing, she participated in the overseas missions of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom after 9/11 occurred.

Her federal military awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Air Force Longevity, Armed Forces Reserves Medal, Army NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, AF Training Ribbon and the Army Service Ribbon.

Col. Cooper’s state military awards include the Lone Star Distinguished Service Medal, Texas Outstanding Service Medal, Texas Medal of Merit, Texas Governor’s Unit Citation and the Texas Adjutant General Individual Award.

Col. Cooper is the daughter of Melba Jones and the granddaughter of the late Lorenza Washington and Warreen Washington of Marshall. She has been married to Ramsey Cooper for 28 years and they are the proud parents of one daughter, Sydnie.

“My husband Ramsey and daughter Sydnie Nicole have made many sacrifices over the years for my career. They have been very understanding of the demands of military life and are the reasons why I feel purposeful and accomplished,” she said.

Marshallite achieves high honor as first African American Colonel for 147th Attack Wing

She said her family is extremely proud of her and have always been supportive of her career. One of the reasons Cooper has made her way to the top is due to the perseverance her mom, Melba, taught her.

Her grandmother, Warreen, taught her about compassion, a characteristic Col. Cooper strives to emulate when it comes to mentoring others.

With her promotion, Col. Cooper is the Air National Guard Advisor to the Air Force Recruiting Service Commander at the Joint Base Randolph in San Antonio. She is responsible for directing the integrated Staff of the Air Force Recruiting Service. She represents the ANG on recruiting issues and is the primary point of contact for manpower and personnel actions.

 

This article first appeared in the Marshall News Messenger as "Marshallite achieves high honor as first African American Colonel for 147th Attack Wing" on February 9, 2020.

Airmen urged to be catalysts for innovation

By Airman 1st Class Charissa Menken, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

FORT WORTH, Texas – Technology is shaping the modern civilian world. But as innovation evolves, so does the mission of Air Force warfighters.

Capt. Jennifer Marrs, 136th Airlift Wing force support services officer, guides public affairs members through the AFWERX location while explaining what sharing and products they provide to Airmen and start-up companies Sept. 5, 2019, Austin, Texas. Marrs displays what facilities start-ups and AFWERX members can utilize to develop new ideas while networking. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by A1C Charissa Menken)
Capt. Jennifer Marrs, 136th Airlift Wing force support services officer, guides public affairs members through the AFWERX location while explaining what sharing and products they provide to Airmen and start-up companies Sept. 5, 2019, Austin, Texas. Marrs displays what facilities start-ups and AFWERX members can utilize to develop new ideas while networking. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by A1C Charissa Menken)

The Air Force has taken steps to encourage Airmen, education outlets, and new technology companies to be catalysts for change by partnering with AFWERX. The organization was established in 2017 by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to serve as the transition between contemporary ideas and real solutions.

"When you ask the average Airman, they probably have no idea that AFWERX even exists," said Capt. Jennifer Marrs, 136th Airlift Wing Force support services officer and chief of innovation at the 136 AW, Texas Air National Guard. She also is product manager and director of community outreach at AFWERX.

"Most people understand innovation as a buzzword, but they don't necessarily know how they are empowered to actually solve problems, which I think is a really incredible opportunity."

At AFWERX, Marrs works to connect Airmen who have problems or innovative ideas to academic outlets and technology start-ups.

"Innovation is something I'm really passionate about because we always say we are trying to get emergent technology in the hands of our warfighters," said Marrs. "My brother is a special operations pilot, so it's near and dear to my heart that my brother, and Airmen like him, have the latest and greatest technology."

"Airmen and NCOs are really shaping what innovation looks like," she said. "It's like they're steering the ship, but our leaders are giving us the latitude to try and do things we've never done before."

AFWERX has multiple products, including small business innovative research (SBIR), crowdsourcing and technology accelerators, available to Airmen, entrepreneurs and cutting edge companies.

All good ideas start somewhere. For the 136th Airlift Wing, that place is the Innovation Room or "Inno Room," where Maj. Mathew Joseph, 136th Civil Engineer Squadron commander, and Marrs facilitate discussion with Airmen.

"We're leading the way in innovation, and I would say it even goes beyond the 136th," said Joseph. "It's also the Texas Military Department and our Texas Adjutant General Tracy Norris."

One of the first partnerships created for the 136 AW, through SBIR, is with ICON, a company that creates printers, robotics and advanced materials for homebuilding.

"Just because we need to be standardized, we've been running on more of an antiquated system because it's something that everyone knows," Joseph said. "But if we can crack the code with getting emergent technology like ICON to work with us, we can catch up to where industry is" and use resources more efficiently.


Joseph touted the benefits of being part of the innovation team.

"Since we're in a standardized military organization, it lends itself to pushing you back into the box," he said. "So given the ability to work with these SBIR programs and AFWERX, we not only have the opportunity to think, but we get to play outside the box."

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.”