Posts in Category: Texas Air National Guard

Texas Guardsman and 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau retires to Texas

By Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas- On Friday, August 28, 2020 Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas hosted the retirement ceremony for Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau.

The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)
The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)


The ceremony was conducted outdoors at historic site of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. COVID-19 mitigation efforts were in effect at the ceremony, but despite the limitation in audience size, there was no limitation of gratitude and respect for Lengyel’s service.

Speaking at the ceremony, Lengyel expressed admiration and pride in the service and dedication of all men and women in the National Guard.

“One of the most impressive things about all of the men and women who serve in our military and who put on this uniform, is that none of us knows what the uniform will ask of them. You may deploy multiple times, you may serve domestically, but that is what we signed up for.”

Lengyel sought to focus additional attention onto the service members of the National Guard: “Let’s take a moment to acknowledge what we all have done together as Soldiers and Airmen in service of our country. As Guardsmen though, we not only serve our country, but we also have served in our states and our communities.”

Lengyel exits the military after nearly four decades of service to the Air Force and the Air National Guard. He served in various operational and staff assignments, primarily as an F-16 Instructor Pilot and Weapons Officer. His experience in the F-16 includes tours in Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, United States Air Forces in Europe and the Texas Air National Guard.

He has commanded a fighter squadron, operations group, air expeditionary group and the Air National Guard Readiness Center.

Lengyel is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours primarily in the F-16. Additionally, Lengyel served as the Senior United States Defense Official; Chief, Office of Military Cooperation; and Defense Attaché, Cairo, United States Central Command, Cairo, Egypt.

Prior to his assumption of command as the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Lengyel was the vice commander of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, the “Gunfighters,” who performed an fly-over above the Alamo in honor of Lengyel’s service to the Wing and to the United States Military.

Throughout his command, Lengyel dedicated his service to improving the quality of life for all the service members under his responsibility, as well as focusing on maintaining readiness and agility within the Guard.The Texas Military Department hosted a retirement ceremony for Texas Guardsman and the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel at the Alamo in San Antonio on August 28, 2020. The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, and Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th and current Chief of the National Guard Bureau. (U.S. Army photos by Charles E. Spirtos)

Lengyel’s command has seen the Guard usher in a new era as a strategic reserve force, which is relied upon by both federal and state partners for a variety of mission sets.

Under his tenure, Lengyel has seen National Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed in support of every United States Geographic Combatant Command.

Lengyel has also presided over one of the Guard’s most active periods of domestic support operations. From large scale hurricane response efforts like those seen after Hurricane Harvey, to the broad and varied mission sets in the response to COVID-19, to protection of liberty, life and property during the June 2020 civil disturbance, Lengyel has ensured that the Guard was ready to meet the call. As of his retirement, 180,000 Guardsmen were on some form of active duty order.

Because of Lengyel’s tireless dedication, and his advocacy of Guard issues to both the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, the National Guard has seen respect and admiration unlike any other era. True to the National Guard motto, Lengyel’s leadership truly has established a force that is always ready and always there.
Norris praised Lengyel’s lifetime of leadership and service:

“The same fighting Texas spirit that was displayed here at the Alamo centuries ago lives on throughout the entire Lengyel family, and especially through Gen. Lengyel’s decades of service to Texas and the United States.”

At the ceremony, Lengyel received numerous accolades from state and federal leaders, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who praised all that Lengyel has accomplished for the State of Texas. Lengyel also received the Texas Superior Service Medal from Norris, as well as the Defense Superior Service Medal.

These awards add to Lengyel’s numerous decorations over the years, including: Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, and many more.

Reflecting on the totality of his service within the National Guard, Lengyel said: “I never intended to be Chief of the National Guard Bureau, but I will never trade in my experience for anything in the world.”

Communication is key with Task Force Texas

Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Kornegay, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

AUSTIN, Texas - Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel.

CPT McCann and his team are responsible for support of the command, control, communications, cyber requirements and development processes that ensure joint interoperability.

"Our job is to make sure our people can reach the outside world," said McCann. "We handle communications and control through phones, internet, and computers. We have a team here that monitors the networks that allows information to flow from top to bottom and vice versa.” 

Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel.
Captain Michael McCann, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Telecommunications Officer, is currently mobilized with the Texas National Guard's Task Force Texas in Austin, Texas. The Task Force Texas mission is to provide personnel support and supplies to hospitals located in Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, and the Rio Grande Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPT McCann’s role is to assure the continuation of support by keeping communication strong between military and civilian personnel. 



CPT McCann’s 24 years of commitment to the Signal Corps, a U.S. Army branch dedicated to communication and information systems management, instilled within him the significance of clear communication.

"Proper information flow allows our commanders to make the best decisions,” McCann said. "It allows them to put soldiers where they need to be to support the civilians who need them right now.”

McCann appreciates the opportunity to serve his fellow Texans.

"I’m proud,” said McCann. “I’ve been doing this a long time and it gives me a great sense of purpose. It’s a different type of mission versus deploying somewhere. But this is very important to the nation and to the state of Texas. I’m honored to be able to step in and support.”

CPT McCann and his team accepted the challenge to keep Task Force Texas connected with multiple state agencies for the COVID-19 response.

“There’s always an uncertainty when it comes to working with new agencies,” said McCann. “It’s about how best to make things fit and putting the puzzle pieces together correctly. In no time at all, things began to work very smoothly.”

His prior experience with TMD’s Hurricane Harvey response afforded McCann with the necessary wisdom to better serve the citizens of Texas and the United States.

"While they’re both large, they are two very different operations. Both missions share the same goal and that is to mitigate suffering. That’s what we’re going to do here however we can.”

Texans serving Texas.

Texas Medical Provider Mission highlights partnership between National Guard and Active Duty

Story by Mr. Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas – More than 1200 service members are partnering together from the Texas National Guard and the Active and Reserve components of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force to support Texas hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gov. Greg Abbot has secured a partnership between the Texas National Guard and U.S. Army North that will provide local hospitals with medical professionals from the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas (left), converses with U.S. Army North Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson (right), during a visit to the Texas State Operations Center in Austin, Texas, July 16, 2020. While there, military and civilian leaders strengthened their partnership and discussed the joint military COVID-19 operation in support of federal efforts and the state. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to states in need as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of the whole-of-nation COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Col. Martin O'Donnell / U.S Army North Public Affairs)
Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas (left), converses with U.S. Army North Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson (right), during a visit to the Texas State Operations Center in Austin, Texas, July 16, 2020. While there, military and civilian leaders strengthened their partnership and discussed the joint military COVID-19 operation in support of federal efforts and the state. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing flexible Department of Defense support to states in need as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency in support of the whole-of-nation COVID-19 response. (U.S. Army photo by Col. Martin O'Donnell / U.S Army North Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, welcomed the additional healthcare providers that will be joining a Texas Military Department response that began in March 2020.

“By partnering with the Active duty and Reserve components, we will be able to provide this much needed support and relief to the Texas civilian healthcare workers who have been working tirelessly to care for the people of our great state,” said Norris.

According to Norris, the Texas National Guard already shares a strong working relationship with U.S. Army North. The San Antonio based U.S. Army North also provides defense support of civil authorities in times of need.

Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commanding general of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and the Joint Force Land Component Command, also pointed to the long-standing relationship between the Guard, Active Duty, and the joint force.

“This is a total force effort,” said Lt. Gen. Richardson. “Our joint service members are working determinedly to relieve stress on hospitals and to deliver care to communities in need.”

Maj. Gen. Norris, serving as the first female adjutant general of the state, and Lt. Gen. Richardson, serving as the first female commander of U.S. Army North, have both spent months working to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the nation.

“We are committed to assisting those in need as part of the ongoing whole-of-nation response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of FEMA,” said Lt. Gen. Richardson. “At the same time, we remain fully capable of conducting our primary mission of defending the homeland.”

Leading the effort on the ground will be Texas Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Thomas Suelzer. Appointed as the dual-status commander, Suelzer will provide direction to both Texas National Guard and federal service members.  The nomination and approval of the dual-status commander streamlines the process, ensuring a smoother and more effective collaboration of state and federal resources.

According to Suezler the dual status commander allows the governor to continue leading the response with both state and federal military assets. Under this structure, orders and guidance can simultaneously be received by the President.

“It is an incredible experience to work with our service members in this historic event. My position will allow for collaboration between orders directed by Governor Abbott and those by the President'” said Suelzer.  “I am proud to see how effortlessly our forces have integrated with each other.”

Among the medical staff is Maj. Tanya Island, of the 147th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard. Island is serving as the Joint Task Force Lone Star Surgeon where she works to position personnel and resources across the state.

Island represents what makes the Guard such a valuable tool for state response as she leverages both her civilian career as a nurse anesthetist and her military training to help her fellow Texans.

“This operation really opened my eyes as to how critical a role the National Guard has in this response,” said Island. “Since COVID-19 began we have coordinated over 320,000 tests and now we are standing up teams of medical professionals to backfill civilian hospitals.”

The 12 initial teams will consist of 100 medical staff, including doctors, nurses, medics and healthcare administrators from the National Guard, Active Duty forces and Military Reservists.

Current focus areas are Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, the Rio Grande Valley, and the Texas Coastal Bend. Suezler explained the mix of metropolitan and rural response areas highlight very different ways the Texas health system is strained. Cities like Houston and San Antonio are dealing with large populations that increase the communicability of the virus, while rural areas including the Rio Grande Valley and the Texas Coastal Bend struggle to find medical providers in the sparsely populated region. 

In addition to the medical personnel mission in support of COVID-19, Guardsmen across Texas continue to staff mobile testing sites and provide decontamination of critical facilities.

“Our Guardsmen continue to serve their neighbors and local communities’ months after activation,” said Norris. “I want every Soldier, Airman, and their family members, to know how much their dedication means to the people of Texas.”

 

Operation Guardian Support Soldiers Volunteer in the Laredo Community

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. De'Jon Williams, Texas Air National Guard

LAREDO, Texas – Along the south Texas border Guard Members put in many hours of their off time to serve the communities they now call home.

Although many of the soldiers and airmen assigned to the border mission are far from their homes, they have still found a way to give back the new communities they now call, home.

Texas National Guard members come together to volunteer their time in their new local community in Laredo, Texas.

“I actually feel like I’m more a part of the community around me,” said Master Sgt. Brian Franck. “I’m constantly trying to recruit people to volunteer and give back to the community down here in Laredo.”

Franck started the mission August 2019 and quickly got to work, looking for opportunities to help the community.

September, he began volunteering at the Laredo Animal Protective Society (LAPS).

“I was informed about a volunteer opportunity at LAPS,” said Franck. “I talked to some other Soldiers I work with and we started walking dogs and volunteering. I then informed the Laredo Company and my platoon about this opportunity.”

Franck went on to say the Company sent out an email about two volunteer opportunities, he then pushed the email to his fellow soldiers and they then began volunteering at many other companies throughout the Laredo area.

November 2019 was the second volunteer opportunity he had, but first with the local Habitat for Humanity (H4H).

“I was told on Veteran’s Day they were going to start building a house for a Texas veteran,” said Franck. “So, I showed up, found out I was the only one representing the National Guard down here to help start building on the veteran’s home. From that day habitat started to coordinate with me on their build days and needing volunteers.”

Franck and his team helped H4H build two homes since he began volunteering.

“After this point, the company sort of appointed me as the volunteer point of contact,” Franck said. “I was informing them of events and being there if a Soldier said they would be there to introduce them to the organization staff.”

Franck has worked hard to recruit 36 other soldiers in his company to help in the Laredo community. Together they have logged more than 1,600 hours of volunteering.

“I got started through Master Sgt. Franck,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Frost. “I heard about the volunteer programs that we can get involved with here in Laredo. He was the man people said to go to. I’ve been working with LAPS and Habitat for Humanity whenever I can.”

Frost, who is a squad leader with Team Laredo went on to talk about how much he enjoys volunteering at LAPS and helping with the animals.

“I take Tyson out to North Park because they have a dog park there,” said Frost. “He’s a brindle Pit Bull with tiger like stripes. I picked him because pits have a bad rap and he’s done great with me in public.”

Even a pandemic has not stopped these soldiers from continuing to do their part. Despite COVID-19, soldiers in Laredo still do their part to help the community.

“COVID-19 has made it, first where we could not volunteer,” said Franck. “Then for habitat only five volunteers at a time, but for the past months if we are staying away from the general population and working on projects, a small group of us can be there to volunteer. COVID-19 has put a damper on volunteering, but it has not stopped our soldiers from being able to give back to the community of Laredo.”

Team Laredo Soldiers continue to work with these organizations despite the recent pandemic. COVID-19 has not lessened the spirit of Franck who continues to put in time with these organizations.

“Honestly, I wish people would go back to the way it used to be,” Franck said. “Where we were not so focused on ourselves, per se, but more focused on helping each other. When people come down on these missions, they can experience what’s going on in the communities and be a part of the communities because while you’re down here, this is your home.”

Franck went on to say that he’s thankful for the opportunity to work with these organizations, without them and their volunteer programs this would not be possible.

Texas Guard launches innovation unit

Story by Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

After over a year of preparation, the Texas Guard is officially launching the Texas Military Department Joint Innovation Unit: TMDx.

Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.

The original plan called for a live event at the Capital Factory in Austin, home to the TMDx flagship innovation hub. However, recent concerns over COVID-19 forced the program to do exactly what it was designed for – partner, innovate and come up with a solution. That partnership came in the form of a livestreamed event, hosted by Capital Factory and simulcast across multiple social media platforms, July 15.

The launch, hosted by Sean Duffy, VP of partnerships at Capital Factory, featured appearances by Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas; and Maj. Alex Goldberg, TMDx managing director.

TMDx will utilize the Texas Guard’s position as the largest state military force in the country to leverage partnerships in industry and academia throughout the Texas innovation corridor to develop a new framework for military problem-solving.

Pilot Training Next, a technology-focused pilot preparation course founded in Austin, along with partnerships in construction, software programs and 3D printing technology, was just one of the TMDx noted successes highlighted during the event.

Lengyel focused on the 3D printing program during his remarks as he noted that Texas had won the National Guard Bureau’s national innovation competition. The program will allow F-16 maintainers to print replacement parts for the F-16 fighter aircraft, shortening logistical delays for parts and reducing costs.

“No one innovates like the National Guard and especially not like Texans,” said Lengyel. “This same technology was also able to print personal protective equipment and ventilator parts that we can use during our COVID-19 response.”

Speed and the ability to respond quickly to growing threats is imperative.

“It all comes down to needing to move faster,” said Goldberg. “Our adversaries are moving faster – faster in space, faster in hypersonic and faster in fielding commercial technology.”

The growing presence of near-peer threats are considered to be outpacing the U.S. in innovation.

“The status quo is comfortable, but what works today to ensure our national security will not be good enough for the challenges on the horizon,” said Norris. “The military moves slower than we would like and are moving away from a ‘no because’ mindset to a mindset of, ‘How do we get to yes?’”

The program’s launch in Austin will be a first step, according to Goldberg, who shared plans for expansion to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth and El Paso.

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.