Posts in Category: Texas Air National Guard

Candlelight Vigil for lost pilots of 1-149th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion

Story by: Sgt. Michael Fitzpatrick

Photo By Sgt. Michael Fitzpatrick | Hundreds gather on Jan. 14, at Ellington Field in Houston Texas, for a Candlelight Vigil in memory of CW3 Dustin Lee Mortenson and CW2 Lucas Lowe, pilots with the 1-149Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, who died when thier AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed Dec. 28, 2016 in Galveston Bay.
Photo By Sgt. Michael Fitzpatrick | Hundreds gather on Jan. 14, at Ellington Field in Houston Texas, for a Candlelight Vigil in memory of CW3 Dustin Lee Mortenson and CW2 Lucas Lowe, pilots with the 1-149Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, who died when thier AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed Dec. 28, 2016 in Galveston Bay. 

January 14, hundreds of servicemen and women, friends and family and the soldiers of the 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, gathered in a hanger at Ellington Field in Houston to mourn the loss of CW3 Dustin Lee Mortenson and CW2 Lucas Lowe, who died when their AH-64 helicopter crashed into Galveston Bay on Dec. 28, 2016.
Mortenson was a maintenance test pilot, and Lowe was an AH-64D pilot who graduated from Flight School weeks before the crash.
Though Mortenson and Lucas were unknown to many of those involved in the rescue and recovery efforts following the crash, they came to the vigil. Whether because of dedication, esprit de corps, or perhaps in solidarity for the loss of good people, they came. The Coast Guard, state and local police, strangers, friends and relatives; they all came to share grief, but also to celebrate the lives, service and sacrifices of Mortenson and Lucas – husbands, fathers and veterans.

Texas airborne infantry unit conducts night airborne exercise

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted: Dec. 2, 2016

https://tmd.texas.gov/texas-airborne-infantry-unit-conducts-night-airborne-exercise
Texas Guardsmen from the 1st Battalion (Airborne) 143rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, conducted a simulated airfield seizure during Operation Aztec, Nov. 17-19, 2016, near San Antonio, Texas. Operation Aztec is one of the first major collective training events under the 173rd Airborne Brigade. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)

HONDO, Texas – Texas Army National Guardsmen from the 1st Battalion (Airborne) 143rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, conducted a simulated airfield seizure during a major collective training from 17-19 November 2016, near San Antonio, TX.

The two units are partnered through the Associated Unit Pilots Program, which pairs Active-Duty units with those in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard for a multi-year period to meet increasing demands of the Total Army.  

“Our battalion is now a part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which is forward based in Europe,” said Texas Army National Guardsman Lt. Col. Kurt J. Cyr, commander of the 143rd Airborne. “Our brigade has the responsibility to be the contingency response force for U.S. Army Europe. It’s important for us to do collective training exercises such as this to maintain our proficiency in joint forcible entry operations.”

The training exercise, known as Operation Aztec, highlights the programs’ intent to increase the readiness and responsiveness of the Army as a total force. This was one of the first major collective training events for the battalion as an Associated Unit of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. 
 
“This weekend took about two months of drill time and preparations,” said Texas Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Johnson. “We are bringing a lot of guys that have never deployed before to see what it will look like, or similar to, and the types of engagements we would see.”

During Operation Aztec, Texas Guardsmen jumped onto South Texas Regional Airfield in Hondo to secure and control the airfield, worked through the night against opposing forces to seize key terrain from the enemy. 

“Our battalion only jumps at night,” said Cyr. “We always try to maximize surprise, security and protection of the force by jumping at night. The airborne relies on the element of surprise, and the cover of darkness gives that surprise. Hours of limited visibility allow us to utilize security to gain a tactical advantage over the enemy by parachuting under the cover of darkness.”

The partnership enables integration of formations from units prior to mobilization through collective training exercises such as Operation Aztec.

“Our airborne infantry battalion is no different than any other you’d find in the Active Component,” said Cyr. “We train to the same standards, and are required to be compatible with our Active Duty counterparts across all warfighting functions.”

“I have full confidence in our Paratroopers, their training, our unit’s leadership and the leadership of our brigade in Europe. If there is ever a call for us to mobilize and fight alongside of the Active Component, we will be ready” said Cyr.

Under the new program, units will see an increase in training.

“The training days are getting longer,” said Texas Army National Guard Private 1st Class Jeremy May, a Paratrooper with the 143rd Airborne. “But this is something bigger than ourselves so we are willing to make that sacrifice. My main motivation is protecting the people that I love. That is the whole reason that I joined.”

A total of 27 units have been selected to undergo the pilot; four of those units come from the Texas Army National Guard. These units will train, build readiness and ultimately fight as one Army. 

“There are three different Army components, but when you deploy, everyone wears U.S. Army,” said Capt. Aaron M. Lee, a Ranger Training Assessment Company Commander at Fort Benning, Georgia. “We have to work together and be on the same level as far as individual collective tasks.”

The 143rd Airborne is scheduled train with the Active Component during a major joint forcible entry exercise in Europe during the summer of 2017.

Texas TAG Encourages ANG Leaders to build partnerships

Texas TAG encourages ANG leaders to build partnerships

Story by: 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain

Posted: October 7, 2016

Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas, addresses members of the Air National Guard Strategic Planning System Central Region during a meeting at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, April 4, 2016. Nichols, a gubernatorial appointee, is the senior National Guard officer in Texas. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)
Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas, addresses members of the Air National Guard Strategic Planning System Central Region during a meeting at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, April 4, 2016. Nichols, a gubernatorial appointee, is the senior National Guard officer in Texas. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)

NAVAL AIR STATION FORT WORTH JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas – The Texas Air National Guard hosted members of the Air National Guard’s Strategic Planning System Central Region for a workshop earlier this year at the 136th Airlift Wing, in Fort Worth, Texas.
 
The Strategic Planning System is composed of general officers who provide input on potential missions and personnel considerations to higher headquarters at the state and federal level.
 
“It’s a go-between between the two-stars, all the [adjutants general], and the three-star, being the director of the Air National Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Matthew P. Jamison, South Dakota’s assistant adjutant general for air and the immediate past chairman of the central region.

“This is state representatives, it’s field-driven, it’s the ability to gain the pulse of what the issues are and to bring that into a strategic format where we can say, ‘in the future, we would like to fix or resolve some of the issues that are out there,’” Jamison said. “We take off our state hat and look at what’s best for the nation.”

During the workshop, the attendees heard from Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, who serves as the adjutant general of Texas and is also the chairman of the national Air Reserve Forces Policy Committee.

He encouraged the attendees to continue to look at long-term modernization and recapitalization issues, but to also build partnerships wherever they can.
 
Disaster preparation and relationship-building is critical to develop early and maintain in advance of the potential emergency, Nichols said. This is something the National Guard is adept at doing.
 
“We have 254 counties (in Texas), and each county has a judge,” Nichols said. “He or she has to deal with the mayors within the county.”

“We have the Texas Division of Emergency Management, that’s not over them, but they’re resource holders,” Nichols said. “All disasters are local. They make their requests – there’s a lot of interchange and planning before things happen – and then we come in as an advisor or as part of a team. We’re not in charge of disaster response.”

Additionally, Nichols said some states may not be maximizing their international partnerships through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program.

“I’m on the steering committee for partnerships,” Nichols said. “I think it’s the golden treasure of the National Guard.”

“We go to a lot of SPP events – we have two countries, Czech Republic and Chile – everything we do is nested (with the combatant command’s security agreements).”

Nichols discussed a recent SPP trip to Chile and the importance of building those partnerships.

“The Secretary of the Air Force was there, (and) the 12th Air Force commander was there,” Nichols said. “Of course, the ambassador was there and he supports the partnership program.”

“They realize that the trust that we (National Guard) built up in our partnership is important to international security and cooperation,” Nichols said. “My tidbit to you is to go back to your state and go to your partner and determine what they might need” and work with the combatant commands and NGB’s Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J5).

While service on the system is an additional duty for the general officers, there is a full-time field grade officer designated to support the system’s activities and be a conduit of information.

Maj. Terri Prosperie, an air battle manager with the Georgia Air National Guard, serves as the SPS’ liaison officer between the director and the regional committees.

“There’s a steady stream of communication that goes between leadership and the SPS members and all of this information is to inform the Air National Guard decision-making process,” Prosperie said. “Everything that happens on the SPS steering committee shapes the future of the Air National Guard.”
 
The steering committee is composed of the chairs and vice chairs from each of the six regions, Prosperie said.
 
“We’re a community of 54 – 50 states, four territories – everybody’s got different needs and requirements,” Prosperie said. “Not everything can be the same, so things just really have to be vetted through everybody to make sure that it’s not affecting anybody the wrong way.”
 
There steering committee has a direct-line to the director of the Air National Guard, Prosperie said. Their inputs are used to inform his decision-making.

Jamison said this meeting was a success.

“This workshop was a great one, in terms of getting a lot of inputs from the field,” Jamison said. “We got exactly what we would like to have at one of these regional meetings.”

Jamison also said SPS is a great way for airmen to get involved in the future of the Air National Guard.

“What we look for in many cases is field inputs on a sub-group or sub-committee that is going to work on an effort and it might be in the A1 (Personnel) area, for instance, and we go back to states and ask for experts,” Jamison said.

“It’s a force development plan, if you will,” Jamison said. “It’s a way for states to develop their officers and enlisted in areas that are strategic in nature, but will give them a great perspective, and help them develop for the future.”

Texas, Singapore military celebrate 20-year partnership

Texas, Singapore military celebrate 20-year partnership 

Story by
: Capt. Jessica Jackson

Posted: Sept. 6, 2016

Members of the inaugural Peace Prairie partnership participate in a photo during the 20-year celebration of the working relationship, Aug. 16, 2016, in Flower Mound, Texas.   The Peace Prairie partnership includes the Republic of Singapore Air Force and Texas National Guard. Pilots and crewmen from the Singapore military live and train in Texas to become proficient pilots before returning home. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Jessica Jackson)
Members of the inaugural Peace Prairie partnership participate in a photo during the 20-year celebration of the working relationship, Aug. 16, 2016, in Flower Mound, Texas. 
The Peace Prairie partnership includes the Republic of Singapore Air Force and Texas National Guard. Pilots and crewmen from the Singapore military live and train in Texas to become proficient pilots before returning home. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Jessica Jackson)

AUSTIN, Texas – Dozens of Singaporean airmen along with their Texas military counterparts gathered to celebrate a partnership that started 20 years ago, during a ceremony at Circle Ranch in Flower Mound, Aug. 16, 2016.

After the Singapore military did a commercial buy on Chinooks, the next step was to get their pilots the best training available. Leading them to the Texas National Guard.

Once their initial meeting with the Texas National Guard concluded, the Singaporeans were encouraged to research other state programs, looking at Mississippi’s, Pennsylvania’s and Nevada’s National Guards.

“I told them, go look at those states and when they were done looking, to get back to Texas and get ready to work,” said retired Lt. Col. Craig Rushing, the first U.S. Army Flight Training Detachment commander.

This was the birth of the Peace Prairie partnership. “And here it is 20 years later,” Rushing said.

With varying levels of flight experience, partnering with the guard provided both fictional and real-world training for pilots.

"Being part of the Guard, the RSAF was able to ramp up our Chinook capability as we participate in exercises like JRTC and Red Flag," said Lt. Col. Howe Siong Sen, Republic of Singapore Air Force Peace Prairie Detachment commander.

In addition to those exercises, the nature of Texas also provided unique training opportunities.

“Here in Texas we have to deal with fires and hurricanes, so we got them trained up on all those kinds of things — Army stuff,” Rushing said. “They knew about flying, but they didn’t know about being in the field or facing large-scale emergencies — they were tougher than I thought and I had some of the best to work with.”

When the Singaporean crewmen begin their training in the U.S., one of their first stops was with Master Sgt. Derek Smith, senior flight engineer instructor.

“We took what they learned in Singapore and expanded on it,” Smith said.

Newly assigned airmen to the Peace Prairie Detachment must go through three phases of training while here in the U.S., which can take up to six months.

“There’s a 90-day window between the different phases, but it’s all proficiency based,” Smith said.

Adding to the knowledge the pilots bring to the partnership, Texas Guardsmen ensure their Singaporean counterparts are aware of and abide by U.S. Army and Federal Aviation Administration regulations while flying in country.

This partnership does more than help develop confident pilots and aircraft engineers, it allows those involved to learn and grow, providing a rare opportunity for the airmen.

“It opens up the relationship base; there aren’t a whole lot of units that get to work hand-in-hand with a foreign military outside of a deployment,” Smith said. “They’re different on how they do things; we come together, meet in the middle and there’s some give and take.”

The Peace Prairie partnership has made strides to help continue positive relations between the two countries.

“The close ties we’ve built over the last 20 years, post operations, is very important,” said Sen.

Lone Star Gunfighter soars at Pentagon

Lone Star Gunfighter soars at Pentagon

Story By: 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain

Posted on: August 23, 2016

Photo By 94th Airlift Wing | Air Force Gen. (then Maj.) Joseph L. Lengyel (second from left), the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, stands alongside fellow F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during an overseas deployment, circa 1996. Lengyel was a member of the wing from 1991-2004. Pictured left to right: Bryan Bailey (unknown rank), Lengyel, Mike Littrell (unknown rank), and Ray Segui (unknown rank). (Photo courtesy of Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel via www.Facebook.com/GeneralLengyel)
Photo By 94th Airlift Wing | Air Force Gen. (then Maj.) Joseph L. Lengyel (second from left), the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, stands alongside fellow F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during an overseas deployment, circa 1996. Lengyel was a member of the wing from 1991-2004. Pictured left to right: Bryan Bailey (unknown rank), Lengyel, Mike Littrell (unknown rank), and Ray Segui (unknown rank). (Photo courtesy of Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel via www.Facebook.com/GeneralLengyel)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – A former member of the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard was promoted to the rank of general and became the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau at the Department of Defense, in Washington, Aug. 3, 2016.

Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel of Bulverde, Texas, succeeds Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, as the Pentagon’s senior National Guard leader and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Grass, a Missouri National Guardsman, is scheduled to retire later this month after four decades of military service.

Lengyel’s appointment follows his service as the first three-star, NGB vice chief.

“Gen. Lengyel is the right man for this critical position, and the depth and breadth of his experience make him exceptionally well-qualified,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas, during Lengyel’s Senate confirmation hearing, on June 22, 2016, in Washington.

“His 34 years of distinguished military service include an array of operational, staff, and command assignments,” Cornyn said, “as well as service in Operations Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Southern Watch, and Enduring Freedom.”

In his new role, Lengyel will serve as a key military advisor to the president, secretary of defense and the National Security Council, as well as serve as the Pentagon’s official channel of communication to the state’s governors and adjutants general on all matters pertaining to the National Guard.

He is now responsible for ensuring that nearly 470,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel are accessible, capable and ready to protect the homeland and to provide combat resources to the Army and Air Force.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with what I see with the integration of the active force with the reserve components,” Lengyel said. “We have no other choice but to leverage the business model of the reserve components as we go forward.”

While he’s at the peak of National Guard leadership, the general’s military roots run deep through the state of Texas.

Lengyel earned his commission through the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at the University of North Texas, in Denton, and earned his pilot’s wings at Laughlin Air Force Base, near Del Rio.

After serving nearly ten years in the Regular Air Force, Lengyel transitioned to the Texas Air National Guard, where he flew with the 182nd Fighter Squadron at San Antonio’s Kelly Field. The 182nd is a subordinate unit of the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, and the members of the unit are known as the Lone Star Gunfighters.

“I’m proud to serve alongside Gen. Lengyel,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the 51st Adjutant General of Texas, who served with Lengyel at the 149th Fighter Wing when both were colonels. “He’s been a wingman for me, in the air and in life. He has the character to do what’s right and takes care of his people.”

Lengyel served in numerous roles at the 149th Fighter Wing, culminating as vice wing commander, before he was selected to serve as an expeditionary operations group commander at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.

“He continues to make us proud,” Nichols said. “We stand behind him as he takes on this greater responsibility. Gen. Lengyel’s expertise, experience and dedicated service are a great asset to Texas and the United States.”

“As vice chief, and now chief, his charge is to look many years into the future and help guide and shape a National Guard force that meets our nation’s needs,” Nichols said. “I trust him to do what’s right for America. In addition to making the right decisions, I know he will continue to inspire those who follow him, just as he did here (in Texas).”

Throughout his time in the Lone Star State, Lengyel has touched the lives of those with whom he served.

“He genuinely cares about others,” said retired Lt. Col. Greg Whiting, a former Gunfighter and current chief of air operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, in Austin. “It’s who he is and it has always shaped everything he has done.”

Even as his military career has taken him away from the 149th Fighter Wing, Lengyel has remained connected with the Gunfighter community, taking time to interact with Gunfighters when their missions overlap.

Whiting said he first met Lengyel in 1990, at Diyarbakir Air Base, Turkey, prior to the start of the Gulf War. Later, they served together for several years at the 149th Fighter Wing.

“He’s always been approachable,” Whiting said. “Even as he moved up the leadership chain, his situational awareness was always there. He knew what was going on around him because he cared about the people around him - and still does.”

Whiting said he next served with Lengyel during the mid-‘90s, when they were both assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing. At the time, there was paradigm shift underway in the Air National Guard, leading to more professional operations.

“We started mirroring and employing active duty tactics,” Whiting said. “He was, without a doubt, the most foundational guy that brought the Gunfighters, and the 149th Fighter Wing, up to where we’re not just a sub for the active duty, but we’re on par with the active duty.”

Whiting said power and position have not changed Lengyel from the man he has known for 25 years.

“My first impression of him hasn’t changed as long as I’ve known him,” Whiting said. “He lived the Air Force Core Values (Integrity First – Service Before Self – Excellence in All We Do) long before they became officially embraced by the Air Force.”

Based on these innate values, Whiting said, Lengyel built trust with his fellow Gunfighters.

“He didn’t just do it, he excelled at it,” Whiting said. “Integrity is what builds trust, and trust is what you have to have in the fighter world. You have to be able to trust your wingman, those in your flight, and that’s what he did.”

Whiting attributes Lengyel’s success to leading by example and setting the standard for others to follow.

“If he says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it, and if you say you’re going do something, he expects you to do it,” Whiting said. “It’s a great thing, especially when a leader holds people accountable. It was a professional thing; that’s what makes everyone function at a higher level than they’re used to.”

Whiting also discussed the new chief’s proficiency as an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, including how Lengyel remained a top performer as a traditional, citizen-airman of the National Guard while also working full-time as a commercial airline pilot.

“He could be on airline trips for a month or more, and come back and lead an 8-ship strike package to the tanker, fight his way into the target against red air, and somehow know that six miles behind him, ‘No. 8’ was out of position,” Whiting said. “Everybody wanted to be paired with him, because they trusted him, and well, the guy is one of the most gifted fighter pilots I’ve ever flown with.”

During his first remarks as chief, Lengyel discussed the challenges of balancing a military and civilian career.

“One of the most important partnerships that I want to mention is with our employers,” Lengyel said. “Our business model doesn’t work without them. I have been on extended military leave (from a commercial airline)."

Lengyel said the airline he flies for has more than 200 pilots currently on military leave, allowing them to serve in uniform.

“There are hundreds more that have to manipulate the schedules,” Lengyel said. The airline “has to work around to make their model work so that we’re not late and there’s pilots and aviators there” to serve their customers.

Lengyel thanked the work of civilian employers, like his, who work with their National Guard employees to ensure the employees never have to choose one profession over the other.

Praise for Lengyel’s character was also shared up the military chains of command.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said, at the change of responsibility ceremony, “I know that the men and women of our National Guard, and the families that stand by them, will be well served by General Joe Lengyel who is not only an accomplished pilot and experienced commander, but is also a military son, husband, brother and a father.”

The general’s father, retired Lt. Col. Lauren R. Lengyel, was an RF-4 Phantom II reconnaissance pilot who was shot down over Vietnam and served six years as a prisoner of war. He returned to service and retired from the Air Force in 1990.

Lengyel’s wife, Sally, is an Air Force veteran, and their son, Capt. Michael J. Lengyel is following in his father’s footsteps as an F-16 pilot. Additionally, the new NGB leader’s brother, Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Lengyel, also an Air Force pilot, is the deputy commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command, headquartered at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Lengyel is a “proven strategic thinker and citizen warrior,” Carter said. “Gen. Lengyel will lead this force with certainty, clarity, and the full confidence and trust of myself and the president.”

Lengyel, a reserve officer on active duty who retains membership in the Texas Air National Guard, has also been praised by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s commander-in-chief.

“Having defended our nation both at home and abroad, Gen. Lengyel brings a wealth of experience to the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Abbott said. “Gen. Lengyel’s outstanding service at both the state and national levels has prepared him for this important role on our nation’s most critical body of military leaders.”

The new chief has remained humble and forward-looking throughout his transition.

“Although we are proud of our heritage and our past, I am more excited about our future,” Lengyel said after his nomination was announced. “The development of our most important assets, our people, will be our foremost task.”

Lengyel said his focus will be in three areas: supporting the Army and Air Force in any current or future warfight, defending the homeland, and building partnerships.

He also praised the soldiers and airmen of the National Guard in his first letter to the force, the day after he was sworn in.

“You serve with valor in combat,” Lengyel wrote. “Here at home, no matter the cause – natural disaster, crime, terrorism – you bring safety and resiliency to our communities. All the while, you partner with our allies around the world; with our federal, state, and territorial government partners; and with our fellow citizens throughout the country.”

“I look forward to working hard every day to tell your story,” Lengyel wrote.

Texas ChalleNGe Academy welcomes new candidates

Texas ChalleNGe Academy welcomes new candidates

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: July 18, 2016

Trey Rocha, Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East commandant, speaks to TCA-E candidates in formation at the TCA-E campus in Eagle Lake, Texas, July 18, 2016. TCA is a Department of Defense program through the Texas National Guard's Joint Counterdrug Taskforce. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy)
Trey Rocha, Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East commandant, speaks to TCA-E candidates in formation at the TCA-E campus in Eagle Lake, Texas, July 18, 2016. TCA is a Department of Defense program through the Texas National Guard's Joint Counterdrug Task force. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy)

EAGLE LAKE, Texas -- Lakesha Peterson can only describe the moment as bittersweet as tears streamed down her face while she watched her daughter board a bus to the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East campus in Eagle Lake, Texas, July 17, 2016.

Peterson, like many other parents and family members said their goodbyes to their teens before the 16-18 year olds begin their 22-week journey in the military-style, education program at one of the two TCA campuses in either Eagle Lake or Sheffield.

For this iteration, collectively, the TCA campuses at Eagle Lake and Sheffield have an enrollment nearing 200 candidates, who, after completing the acclimation process, will become cadets and eventually graduates of the program.

Peterson, of Frisco, said she brought her daughter to the program to help her get her life back on tracks.

“She’s a good kid,” Peterson said. “She’s just bad.”

Peterson said she hopes her daughter is able to recover credits and earn enough credits to qualify to be a senior so she can finish her diploma.

Like Peterson, Kaylon Cole, from Fort Drum, New York, dropped his 18-year-old daughter to the program in hopes of her earning her high school diploma.
Cole said he looked up the program online and thought it would be a good fit for Asia Baker.

“(There’s a lot of stuff) that brings her here,” Cole said. “She was not making the grades in school and making poor choices. It’s only up from here.”

Cole said he hopes to see a change in his daughter when he sees her in 22 weeks and that she joins the Air Force.

“I hope to see a completely different person,” he said, “somebody who is respectful, obedient and follows instructions.”

While at the academy, cadets get exposure to the military training lifestyle, while engaging with Texas National Guard airmen and soldiers.

Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce airmen and soldiers work with the candidates during the process, mentoring them and assisting the cadre.

TCA is a Texas National Guard-sponsored educational program to help at-risk youth between 16 and 18 years old get their lives back on track. The program is completely voluntary and requires a 17 and a half-month commitment.

All cadets must not have any felony convictions and be drug free at the time of entry.

The academy is broken down into the 22-week residential phase and a 12-month, post-residential phase.

TCA focuses on eight core components – academic excellence, health and hygiene, job skills, leadership and followership, life-coping skills, physical fitness, responsible citizenship and service to the community.

In addition to their schoolwork, cadets have the opportunity to participate in other programs like archery, student council, student leadership positions and the Commandant’s Challenge. Students also perform community service every Saturday and have the option to attend church and participate in intramural sports on Sundays.

TCA is a Department of Defense-funded program and receives 25 percent funding from the state. The program is free to Texas residents.

Texas Guardsmen, local authorities are ready to respond to Hurricane season

Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)
Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)

Texas Guardsmen, local authorities are ready to respond to Hurricane season (3 of 4)

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted: June 24, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas – This has been a busy year for the Lone Star State with the recent record-breaking floods. Texas Guardsmen conducted more than 135 missions, rescuing more than 900 people and 310 pets May 29-June 12, 2016, after severe weather caused flooding to large portions of the region.

But the job doesn’t stop there. As Texas rolls into Hurricane season, the Guardsman must be trained and ready to react to emergency disasters when the state calls upon them.

“You have to be ready for whatever is coming at you, if you don’t entertain the training aspect of it,” said Matthew Geller, Task Force 1 Helicopter Search and Rescue Technician, “you’re looking at the risk being great, and you can’t sacrifice that much.”

This year, the Texas Military Department and first responders conducted a state-level hurricane preparedness exercise across various Texas cities, June 2-9, 2016. This is the third-annual exercise for Guardsman, but the first one to include outside civil agencies.

“Two years ago we started with just the Army and just our internal components in the Air Operation Center, said Shawna Wood, air operation superintendent at Camp Mabry. “Last year we started involving our interagencies such as, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Incident Awareness Association and outside agencies, the Air Force, and then this year the big step was Texas Department Emergency Management.”

Texas Military Department set up an Air Operation Center headquartered in Camp Mabry, Austin to coordinate the moving parts throughout the exercise along with over 11 state and local civil agencies.

“The Air Operation Center is a multi-agency air coordination center, and is hosted and managed by the Texas Military Department under the authority of the State Operation Center,” said Col. Tom Suelzer, director of operation for the Texas Air National Guard, and for the state he serves as the Air Operation Center director. “So when there is a state level or higher response, we’re tasked by the state to set up the Air Operation Center to help develop an air operation support strategy.”

The scenario was based on a fictitious Category 5 Hurricane “Tejas” which struck the Lower Rio Grande Valley, causing 1.1 million people to evacuate. In turn, Austin experienced widespread flooding due to the weather patterns.

Nearly 500 service members from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard, and Texas State Guard participated in the state-level exercise. 

Several even acted as role players for the medevac piece of the exercise. 
“For the past two years we’ve done search and rescue and on ground we’ve done aeromedical preparation,” said Wood. “But this was the first time we’ve actually moved the patients so this is a stepping-stone for what we’ve done the last couple years.” 

Having these types of trainings help Texan guardsmen and first responders stay ready for natural disasters.

“It’s been eight years since we’ve had any kind of major hurricane activity and a lot of key leaders up and down our change of command have changed, said Wood. “Our partnership with Texas Division of Emergency Management is very important so it’s building those relationships so that when the time comes we can put them into play.”

This is 3 of 4 Texas Hurricane Preparedness. 

49 Texas youth receive fresh start through Texas National Guard's Texas ChalleNGe Academy

49 Texas youth receive fresh start through Texas National Guard's Texas ChalleNGe Academy

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: June 18, 2016

Photo By 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy | Cadets pose for a picture before graduating from the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East June 18, 2016, in Altair, Texas. The graduates finished the 22-week residential phase of the alternative education program with some recovering high school credits, earning their high school diploma or GED or both. The ChalleNGe Academy is a Department of Defense-funded program through the National Guard and the Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce.
Photo By 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy | Cadets pose for a picture before graduating from the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East June 18, 2016, in Altair, Texas. The graduates finished the 22-week residential phase of the alternative education program with some recovering high school credits, earning their high school diploma or GED or both. The ChalleNGe Academy is a Department of Defense-funded program through the National Guard and the Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce.

EAGLE LAKE, Texas (JUNE 18, 2016) – Their faces beamed with pride as the spotlights illuminated them. Some tried to maintain their bearing as they sat upright, but smiles emerged from others as cheers from their families, friends and staff who supported them throughout the residential phase of the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East echoed in the auditorium.

The day had finally come. They were moments away from being Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East graduates during a ceremony June 18 at Rice Junior High School in Altair.
For the past 22 weeks, the cadets adhered to a strict, military lifestyle, waking up at 4:45 a.m. for physical training, attending classes during the day and turning in at 8:45 every night.

The 49 graduates have their own stories and different circumstances that brought them to the alternative education program, which is a Texas National Guard program under the Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce.

For some, it was a last option to reclaim their lives after a few bad decisions or life circumstances led them to dropout of high school or go down a wrong path and fall behind in their school work. 

But regardless of the reason for attending TCA, they all finished with a new lease on life, with several earning their GEDs or high school diplomas or both.

For Samantha Villarreal, 17, of Houston, it was a way for her to not give up on herself and accomplish something she said she thought wouldn’t happen.
Villarreal said she began smoking when she was in the ninth grade. At that time, she started to lose interest in school and wanted to dropout, but because her parents stressed the importance of receiving an education, she began to look for alternative ways to complete high school.

“Dropping out was never an option for me because my parents didn’t graduate,” she said, “so they wanted more for me.”

Into her 10th grade year, Villarreal said she continued to smoke and eventually began a home school program, which she attended for only about a month before quitting that, too.

“I realized I’m here doing nothing and I’m supposed to be doing my school work and I’m not,” she said about the home school.
After traditional high school and home school didn’t work, Villarreal said she began searching for military schools and found the Texas ChalleNGe Academy.
Villarreal went in to the academy missing credits from her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, but due to her work in the program, she was able to earn her GED and recover most of her credits. Now she only needs three more credits to earn her diploma.

Even though she has a GED, Villarreal said she plans to go back to school and earn her diploma and eventually join the military and go to college.
Andres Martinez, 17, of Brownsville, has a similar story.

Martinez said he started doing drugs and his mom wanted to get him out of that environment.

Martinez said his mom and brother began looking for bootcamps to enroll him. When she found TCA, he said he was open to the idea of attending. 
“I was pretty nervous,” Martinez said, “ but I believed in myself and that I was ready for it.”

While at TCA, staff awarded Martinez the position cadet first sergeant. Staff holds the cadet first sergeant accountable for both student companies.
“I felt proud of myself to know that they were faithful in me to do that position,” he said.

While at TCA, Martinez earned his GED and high school diploma and participated in the Commandant’s Challenge.

Martinez said he plans to join the National Guard and attend college with hopes of becoming a border patrol agent.
“I’m glad I took the opportunity to come here because it helped make me more responsible and take care of my stuff, myself and have discipline to not follow bad influences,” he said. 

Throughout the cycle, TCA cadets were able to meet with and work with Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce airmen and soldiers, who helped mentor them through the process.

TCA is a Texas National Guard-sponsored educational program to help at-risk youth between 16 and 18 years old get their lives back on track. The program is completely voluntary and requires a 17 and a half-month commitment.

All cadets must not have any felony convictions and be drug free at the time of entry.

The academy is broken down into the 22-week residential phase and a 12-month, post-residential phase.

TCA focuses on eight core components – academic excellence, health and hygiene, job skills, leadership and followership, life-coping skills, physical fitness, responsible citizenship and service to the community.

In addition to their schoolwork, cadets had the opportunity to participate in other programs like archery, student council, student leadership positions and the Commandant’s Challenge. Students also perform community service every Saturday and have the option to attend church and participate in intramural sports on Sundays.

TCA is a Department of Defense-funded program and receives 25 percent funding from the state. The program is free to Texas residents.
TCA’s West campus in Sheffield plans to graduate 57 cadets June 24 in Iraan.
Both TCAs will begin its fall cycle in July.

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Visits Texas National Guard

Chief of the National Guard Bureau Visits Texas National Guard

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena 

Posted: June 17, 2016

Photo By Sgt. Elizabeth Pena | Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush, Senior Enlisted Advisor, right, talks with service members of the Texas Army and National Guard, left, during a town hall meeting at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, June 17, 2016. The meeting was part of the visit from General Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Brush gave servicemembers words of advice on how to be good leaders for incoming soldiers and airmen. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
Photo By Sgt. Elizabeth Pena | Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush, Senior Enlisted Advisor, right, talks with service members of the Texas Army and National Guard, left, during a town hall meeting at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, June 17, 2016. The meeting was part of the visit from General Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Brush gave servicemembers words of advice on how to be good leaders for incoming soldiers and airmen. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena) 

AUSTIN, Texas – The Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank J. Grass visited the Texas National Guard headquarters at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, June 17, 2016, along with his senior enlisted advisor Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush. 

During the visit, they met with key leaders from the Texas Air and Army National Guards to discuss operations within the Lone Star State.

“This is the best thing we get to do,” said Grass, “we love getting out and seeing what happens on the ground. The real world is out here and what you do every day. We are very happy to be here.”

Grass currently serves as a military adviser to the President, Secretary of Defense and National Security Council and is the Department of Defense's official channel of communication to the Governors and State Adjutants General on all matters pertaining to the National Guard.

“Just about every trip I take, I find out something that I didn’t know the National Guard was doing around the world,” said Grass.

After an operations brief from Texas National Guard leaders, it was Grass’ turn to brief Texas service members and thank them for their hard work and dedication to country. Grass expressed to Texas Soldiers and Airmen what a great opportunity it’s been to understand the different roles within the Guard and to actually share that information with people at the Capitol and people inside the Army and Air Force.

“You have two state partners, both Czech Republic, as well as Chile, and what you do there is so great. It has become so valuable all the way to the President of the U.S.”

Grass and Brush held a town hall meeting to talk with service members about past, present, and future operations within the National Guard as well as the Guards’ State Partnership Program, which currently includes 70 unique security partnerships with 76 nations globally. 

“It could be any one of our units that are building that mission whether it’s the war fight, the homeland or the partnerships,” said Grass. “Think about what’s happening this year in Texas alone. And between those three missions, says how heavily you’re engaged…everyday there’s something happening.”

With this visit, Grass has officially visited all the states of America. “Fifty four states, territories and the District of Columbia and he saved Texas for last,” said Brush.

As a part of his Texas tour, the leaders went on to visit a local gym where Grass caught up with mixed martial arts fighter and Texas Guardsmen, Sgt. 1st Class Tim Kennedy.

Lastly, Grass took a trip to Fort Hood, Texas, where he met with soldiers from the Mississippi and Kansas National Guard during their annual training.

Texas Guardsmen, local first responders exercise air and medical capabilities

Texas Guardsmen, local first responders exercise air and medical capabilities (1 of 4)

Story By: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted on: June 16, 2016

Photo By Sgt. Elizabeth Pena | An Air Guardsman evaluates Texas Guardsmen on their transport of mock patients to the military aircraft during an evacuation exercise at the Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, June 9, 2016. The Texas Division of Emergency Management along with the support of Texas Military Department and other state and local authorities conduct a state level hurricane-preparedness exercise June 1-9, 2016 across various Texas cities. The Texas Military Department practiced both general population and medical evacuation through embarkation hubs in the Rio Grande Valley. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)
Photo By Sgt. Elizabeth Pena | An Air Guardsman evaluates Texas Guardsmen on their transport of mock patients to the military aircraft during an evacuation exercise at the Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, June 9, 2016. The Texas Division of Emergency Management along with the support of Texas Military Department and other state and local authorities conduct a state level hurricane-preparedness exercise June 1-9, 2016 across various Texas cities. The Texas Military Department practiced both general population and medical evacuation through embarkation hubs in the Rio Grande Valley. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

HARLINGEN, Texas -- Just in time for hurricane season to begin, guardsmen from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas State Guard supported the Texas Division of Emergency Management with air and medevac capabilities during a state level hurricane preparedness exercise June 1-9, 2016, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and across various other Texas cities.

“This exercise is the first of its kind in all of Texas and the U.S., other than the real life occurrence with Katrina and Louisiana,” said Tony Pena, state coordinator for Texas Department of Public Safety Emergency Management, Region 3. “This is an exercise that has been long overdue for the Rio Grande Valley coastal area.”

The mock “Hurricane Tejas” mirrored the unforgettable 1980 “Hurricane Alan” which was the worst of its kind sweeping through the Rio Grande Valley coast at 190 mph. The scenario estimated 1.1 million people to be evacuated out of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“Allen is the only storm in the Atlantic basin in recorded history to achieve wind speeds of 190 mph,” said Col. Tom Suelzer, director of operations for the Texas Air National Guard, and for the state, he serves as the Air Operations Center director. “Allen is a great model for this exercise because it became a Category 5 two times in its life, and steered a direct path to the Rio Grande Valley from way out in the gulf."

The Texas Military Department practiced both general population and medical evacuation through embarkation hubs at the Valley International Airport in Harlingen, June 9, 2016.

“The reason that this exercise is so important is it validates the Texas Division of Emergency Managements’ plan to employ the Texas Military Department in assisting local authorities to ensure a safe evacuation of the Texas citizens from the potential harm.” said Col Williams, Air Expeditionary Group Commander.

During the mock hurricane evacuation, Texas Air National Guard, active duty Air Force, Oklahoma Air National Guard set up a Disaster Aeromedical Staging Facility for patients that are being transported to a higher level of care through military aircraft. These patients are brought in from local medical facilities and high school in Harlingen, Texas.

“The Disaster Aeromedical Staging Facility can process up to 140 patients in 24 hours,” said Col. Tami Rougeau, Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the assistant director of operations of Headquarters Air Mobility Command Scott Air force Base, Illinois. “We will run two C-130s for four missions. Each mission will have approximately 35 patients. All patients that are identified to be moved by the state are processed here into the DASF and registered nurses, medical technicians, critical care docs and flight surgeons care for them."

The Texas State Guard provided numerous service members to role play evacuees needing medical attention. Commercial aircraft carried members of the community role playing as general population evacuees out of the lower Rio Grande Valley to the shelter locations in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Dallas Love Field and also Austin Bergstrom International Airport.

“We have never had one where we do a full-scale evacuation of actual patients and/or general population,” said Pena. “So with the combination of military aircraft on one hand and civilian general population on the other hand, I personally believe it’s going very well.” 

“This is my first time doing this type of training, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Alice Salazar-Sherman, a medical technician with the 88th Inpatients Operation Squadron, at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. “We are overcoming a lot of barriers. It has been fun to see what the Department of Defense can do. This training is extremely important to prepare for what the state expects and to see what the Disaster Aeromedical Staging Facility is prepared to handle.

Texas Guardsmen are trained and equipped with military capabilities to help stabilize and improve the situation in the wake of a natural and man-made disaster.

“Within the Texas Air National Guard and Texas Army National Guard our aviation and air mission skill sets are directly applicable to domestic air operations,” said Suelzer. “The mission of coordinating a large aviation response naturally falls onto the Texas Military Department.”

The Atlantic Hurricane season runs from June 1 – Nov. 31, 2016.

This is 1 of 4 Texas Hurricane Preparedness)