Posts in Category: Texas Air National Guard

Airmen support Snowball Express 2015

Story by: Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Reed

Post: December 16, 2015

Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Reed U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Mize, a squad leader from the 136th Security Forces Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, and his therapy dog, Sully, welcome families arriving for Snowball Express 2015 at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Dec. 12, 2015. Snowball Express is an organization dedicated to the children of military members who have died while on active duty since Sept. 11. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Reed/released)
Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Reed
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Mize, a squad leader from the 136th Security Forces Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, and his therapy dog, Sully, welcome families arriving for Snowball Express 2015 at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Dec. 12, 2015. Snowball Express is an organization dedicated to the children of military members who have died while on active duty since Sept. 11. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Reed/released)

NAVAL AIR STATION FORT WORTH JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas - Texas Air National Guardsmen from the 136th Airlift Wing here, volunteered their time in support of Snowball Express 2015 at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Dec. 12, 2015.

Snowball Express is an annual gathering for children of fallen military members who died while on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. This year an estimated 1,700 family members traveled to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the event.

“I am in charge of 18 volunteers but we have almost 400 helping this year,” said Fernando A. Ospina, the DFW Airport coordinator for Snowball Express. “Most of the volunteers do it out of a love for kids, a love of our military and a love of our nation.”

This is the sixth year that Airmen from the 136AW work alongside military and civilian volunteers to meet and greet children and their escorts as they exit the aircraft and assist with luggage handling.

“We’re one of the few units that still participate in our uniform because they enjoy seeing that,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Camille LaDrew, Texas Air National Guard, military volunteer coordinator for the 136AW. “It reminds them that they are still part of the military family.”

Military volunteers were also joined by family members. One family brought along a group of 10 trained therapy dogs and their handlers.

“We heard stories today about how the kids miss their dogs and are so glad our guys are here,” said Kate A. Mize, a military spouse and dog handler with A New Leash on Life. “They bring a sense of comfort, a sense of home.” 

Snowball Express was founded in 2006 with the primary goal of supporting the families of fallen military members by providing them with new memories and hope.

Guard set to activate additional cyber units

Story by: Sgt 1st Class Jon Soucy - National Guard Bureau  

Posted: Dec. 14, 2015

Photo of two soldiers working at computersARLINGTON, Va. (12/9/15) – As part of ongoing growth of cyber forces throughout the Department of Defense, the National Guard announced plans to activate 13 additional cyber units spread throughout 23 states by the end of fiscal year 2019.

“Our goal for cyber-defense is to train, equip and provide highly skilled forces responsive to the needs of the nation,” said Army Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “Working with the Army and Air Force our cyber squadrons and teams will provide trained and ready Soldiers and Airmen to support requirements established by the services and U.S. Cyber Command.”

Seven new Army Guard Cyber Protection Teams will be activated across Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. They join four previously announced Army Guard CPTs spread across California, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio.

In partnership with the Air Force, the Air Guard will activate four new Cyber Operations Squadrons in Idaho, Michigan, Texas and Virginia. In addition, a cyber Information Surveillance Reconnaissance squadron will stand up in California Photo of soldier on laptop and a cyber ISR group in Massachusetts.

The current roll out of Guard cyber units is part of laying out a larger foundation for future cyber forces scheduled for activation.

“This is the beginning,” said Air Force Col. Kelly Hughes, chief of the Space and Cyber Warfare Operations Division at the Air National Guard Readiness Center. “This is a massive amount of force structure the Guard has laid into this mission, but this is just the first layer.”

Activating cyber units in these states allows for the Guard to fulfill Army and Air Force cyber missions while positioning cyber protection units in each of the 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency response regions.

“The focus is to get that presence in as many states as possible and especially making sure we have all the FEMA regions covered,” added Hughes about the current activation plans.

Ensuring each FEMA region has coverage, ties into the Guard’s mission to respond to large-scale emergencies and disasters at home, said Air Force Col. Timothy T. Lunderman, director of joint cyber operations at the National Guard Bureau, adding that because the Guard is community based there are already relationships in place. Cyber teams and squadrons, he added, are another asset governors can use at the state level should they be needed.

“If we have never met before, and I come knocking on your door and say, ‘I’m here to help you with a cyber incident,’ you’d close the door,” said Lunderman. “The Guard is in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia. We have the capability and relationships already established. If state and local officials need help they’re more likely to turn to the folks they know. The people they know are the Guard.”

And like other Guard assets, cyber protection units—whose members  only operate on DoD and government networks, including those of state governments—can be used in multi-state settings through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, said Lunderman.

While each state may not yet be home to a cyber protection team or squadron, Guard elements in each state, territory and the District of Columbia already have a computer network defense team or other cyber protection assets assigned, said Hughes.

“The Army National Guard has laid computer network defensive teams into every state,” he said. “Between the Army Guard and the Air Guard there is a level of cyber protection capability in each state.”

Armed with civilian experience in cyber security and network engineering, Hughes said, National Guard cyber specialists are able to provide robust capability.

“That’s the kind of thing you can get with the Guard,” he said. “Our longevity and knowledge is hard to match. That is what makes the Guard great.”

It’s also a mission that Guard members can easily transition from state status to federal status.

“We can do this mission from anywhere,” said Hughes. “We don’t have to physically relocate to do it. As long as we have the connectivity, we can operate from home station.”

Guard cyber protection units are part of larger service-specific requirements to provide cyber defense capabilities, explained Lunderman, adding those requirements have been spread throughout the active, Guard and reserve components. Each cyber team member, regardless of component, trains to the same service standard.

The future of cyber defense is open ended.

“When you look at the way the Internet was designed and built, nobody could even fathom what it has become today and it’s really even harder to think what it might become tomorrow,” said Lunderman.

The need for cyber defense assets is expected to increase.

“It’s only going to grow,” Hughes said. 

Gunfighters give back to local community

Gunfighters give back to local community

Story by Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem

Post: November 25, 2015

Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem Tech. Sgt. John Odum, 149th Operations Group, hams it up for the camera as he helps pack breakfast bags at a Meals on Wheels building located in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 23, 2015. Odum is part of the 149th Fighter Wing at Joint Base San Antonio.
Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem
Tech. Sgt. John Odum, 149th Operations Group, hams it up for the camera as he helps pack breakfast bags at a Meals on Wheels building located in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 23, 2015. Odum is part of the 149th Fighter Wing at Joint Base San Antonio.

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas – Texas Air National Guard members, assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing’s Operations Group, volunteered at a local Meals on Wheels organization, Nov. 23-24. 

Each weekday, Meals on Wheels of San Antonio prepares and delivers nearly 4,000 meals to homebound senior citizens of Bexar County, according to volunteer coordinator Kristin Rivera.

Rivera, who has been working there for the past three years, said the non-profit relies heavily on its volunteers who comprise about half of the workforce.

Master Sgt. Martha Vasquez-Medelez, volunteer and member of the 149th OG, called the organization this time last year to inquire about her family delivering Thanksgiving Day meals. This year she decided to recruit fellow members from her squadron to help with the high-volume food preparation that occurs each year during Thanksgiving week. 

“It’s been rewarding knowing that you’re helping seniors who can sometimes get forgotten, she said. “I also have a better appreciation for people who do food serving – now that’s work,” Medelez said after spending much of the morning serving food onto thousands of microwave-safe plates to be sealed and distributed later in the week. 

Fellow Meals on Wheels volunteer and 149th OG member Tech. Sgt. Tracy Potts agrees with his co-worker about it being a rewarding experience. Like Medelez, Potts is no stranger to volunteering. He and his family volunteer for various local churches and charity organizations. In addition to prepping and serving the food, he also volunteers to deliver the food to homebound residents on his days off. 

“There’s this one guy … we talk Spurs,” Potts said. “He loves Tim Duncan. He loves David Robinson. He’ll always be talking about how Robinson needs to suit up again, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, man.’ He also loves the Cowboys, so we have that in common.”

Potts said he enjoys the delivery aspect because he’s able to strike up these types of conversations with seniors who don’t always get a lot of outside interaction. 

For the volunteer coordinator, going out on deliveries is something she enjoys as well. Because of the organization’s reliance on volunteers, Rivera said she sometimes has to balance her administration duties with going out into the field. 

“As soon as you get out there, you remember, this why I do this,” Rivera said about being called upon to deliver the meals when someone can’t make it. 

For Rivera, volunteers are one of her favorite parts of the job. “I love dealing with the volunteers,” she said. “I mean how many other jobs do you get where you get to deal with nice people all day?” she added. 

Both Medelez and Potts said they volunteer because they just enjoy making a difference in the places around them.

Potts recommends checking out the myriad of opportunities available on the Internet if unsure of where to get involved. “After that, you begin to network and hear about other opportunities from the people volunteering with you,” he said.

Volunteering, for Medelez, is mostly a matter of follow-through. “Once you get that thought, just do it,” she said. “Rather than letting it linger then leave your brain, actually make it happen.”

Honing spiritual fitness, Texas ANG chaplain grows chaplain's program in Fort Worth

Posted: November 25, 2015

Courtesy Photo Chaplain Brig. Gen. Steve Chisolm, Air National Guard Assistant to the U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains, preaches to Texas Air National Guardsmen and their families during a chapel service held at the 136th Airlift Wing headquarters, Nov. 15, 2015, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Chisolm began his career as an Air Force chaplain at the 136th Airlift Wing where he helped build one of the largest chapel programs in the Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Seth Holderby/Released)
Courtesy Photo
Chaplain Brig. Gen. Steve Chisolm, Air National Guard Assistant to the U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains, preaches to Texas Air National Guardsmen and their families during a chapel service held at the 136th Airlift Wing headquarters, Nov. 15, 2015, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Chisolm began his career as an Air Force chaplain at the 136th Airlift Wing where he helped build one of the largest chapel programs in the Air National Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Seth Holderby/Released)

NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas – Chaplain Brig. Gen. Steve Chisolm, Air National Guard assistant to the U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains, led a packed room of Texas Guardsmen from the 136th Airlift Wing, during a service, Nov. 15, 2015, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth.

For Chisolm, this visit was a chance to spend time with a program he helped build and the airmen he served.

“Then-Lieutenant Colonel Chisolm was my mentor. He influenced me even before I became a chaplain,” said Chaplain Capt. Nathan Tucker, 136th Maintenance Squadron, 136th Airlift Wing, remembering how Chisolm inspired him to become a chaplain. “He has never lost touch with me since the first time we met.”

During his service in the wing, Chisolm mentored chaplains like Tucker and devoted his efforts to building a support network where airmen could maintain their spiritual fitness.

“I think with almost 15 years of continual deployments, constant war has worn on all of us, from all the different components, physically, emotionally, but certainly spiritually,” said Chisolm. “You think about comprehensive airmen fitness and about those four components, the spiritual aspect is just as important, more important in my opinion.”

It was this vision that inspired the program so many service members in the wing know today.

“We have an excellent chaplain program,” said Staff Sgt. Patricia Johnson, noncommissioned officer in charge of chaplain operations and chaplain’s assistant to the wing chaplain. “It’s growing. When I came to this wing about six years ago, we had single digits numbers.”

The growth in the program Chisholm helped start was obvious, as more than 100 airmen packed the chapel for service. 

“He laid the foundation to build the program,” said Tucker. “He built it through three things – trust with the leadership, being a man of integrity and understanding pastoral care.”

The chaplains’ program offers service members a time to set aside during drill to focus on their spiritual fitness. Because of the trust Chisholm built with wing leadership, wing chaplains have been able to work closely with unit commanders to ensure guardsmen have the option to attend chapel services with minimal effects on unit training.

“Seeing how it evolved to this, it is really refreshing to my soul,” said Johnson. “I know it’s making a difference in the members’ lives.” 

Military chaplains are charged with the responsibility to provide spiritual care and the opportunity for service members, their families and other authorized personnel to practice their faith through religious observances, providing pastoral care and advising leadership on spiritual, ethical, moral, morale, core values and religious accommodation issues.

“My job as a chaplain is to provide for the free exercise of religion, as provided by the founding document,” said Tucker. 

Placing spiritual fitness and pastoral care first, Chisolm honed a program that appears to do just that.

“Our members feel like we really do care about them, not just their personal growth or professional growth, but their spiritual growth as well,” said Johnson. “It helps them and their productivity. It helps enhance the mission.” 

Chisolm continues mentoring others in his job at the Pentagon, serving as the liaison between the director of the Air National Guard and Headquarters United States Air Force Chief of Chaplains to ensure that the Air National Guard is providing airmen needs, as well as, making sure the Air force understands the needs of the Air National Guard. 

Once in a while, Chisolm is able to make a guest appearance at units within Texas to provide spiritual guidance.

“Thank you for letting me do something that I haven’t gotten to do in years,” said Chisolm. “Preach here in this room.”

Coming back to the wing, Chisolm was able to see his vision for the unit’s chaplaincy program fulfilled.

“This chapel is successful because Chaplain Chisolm wanted to have the best program in the National Guard,” said Tucker. “And he succeeded.”

U.S. Air National Guard Seth Holderby and U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. William Gasch, Sgt. Jason Robertson, Sgt. Angela Melton, Sgt. Hector Valladares contributed to this article.

147th Reconnaissance Wing reaches 100K flight hours on MQ-1

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: November 9, 2015

Wing receives aircraft
Courtesy Photo
Members of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing Maintenance Group open the crate holding an MQ-1 Predator at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, Aug. 18, 2009. The wing is transitioning from the F-16 to the MQ-1 and this is the first of several Predators that the wing will receive.

HOUSTON, Texas – Achieving 100,000 flying hours takes years to realize.

But for the members of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, conquering this incredible feat is just a testament to their hard work and dedication to the mission.

The wing accomplished the milestone Oct. 8, 2015, just seven short years after receiving its new mission to fly the MQ-1B Predator.

“I’ve witnessed the constant hard work and professionalism required by the 147th Reconnaissance Wing to accomplish this achievement,” said Col. Gary Jones, vice wing commander . 

In 2005, the Department of Defense recommended retiring the then-147th Fighter Wing’s F-16 Fighting Falcons and replacing them with the reconnaissance aircraft, with plans for the unit to be fully equipped and operational by 2009.

This change required airmen to adjust and re-train on a new aircraft that began its initial operational capability in the U.S. Air Force only a few years before the wing took its first flight July 2008.

“There have been many milestones along the way for the 111th (Reconnaissance Squadron) since Ellington took on this mission, and there will continue to be more, but this is a very significant accomplishment,” said Lt. Col. David Peck, 111th Reconnaissance Squadron commander. “To put 100,000 hours in context, that amount of time is equivalent to flying for 11.41 years non-stop, and we did it in just seven years.”

Due to the unique structure of the National Guard, pilots can fly in different statuses from domestic Title 32 missions and federal Title 10 hours to flight hours during training exercises; however, the 100,000-hour milestone was all done while on federal Title 10 status.
The accomplishment cannot only be attributed to the pilots who fly the mission, but to the entire wing, from the member charged with writing orders to the maintainers who keep the aircraft mission ready and the combatant commanders who use the aircraft in theater.

“We have had to forge and maintain working relationships with a host of organizations over the years,” Peck said. “Additionally, we count on support from our advocates at NGB to give us the funding, manpower and voice we need to enable these missions.
In addition to the one team, one fight mentality, guard members accumulate years of experience, acquiring the expertise to be proficient in their jobs.

“What is not to be overlooked is the substantial amount of experience the Guard, and the 111th in particular, brings to the MQ-1 community,” Peck said. “I first began to fly the Predator in 2005. Over a decade later, I am still doing the same mission.”

“Many other members of the 111th have employed this asset for roughly the same amount of time,” he added. “That is experience that active duty simply cannot match, and the squadron anticipated converting to the MQ-9 within the next 18-24 months, and when that happens, I’m confident that our squadron will continue to be an ‘Ace in the Hole’ for the combatant commanders.”

TX Guardsmen compete in first ever apache helicopter competition

Inaugural Gunfighter Fly-In

Rows of Apache AH-64D helicopters are silhouetted by an Arizona sunset with the Ragged Top Mountains in the background Nov. 3 at Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, Ariz. The Gunfighter Fly-In pits some of the best AH-64D Apache attack helicopter crews from seven different Army National Guard units from across the nation in a competition to see who's best. Crews from Arizona, Utah, Idaho, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and Missouri competed for the top scores in various events such as a live fire scenario, unmanned aerial systems teaming, simulator test and a written evaluation.

Courtesy of Arizona National Guard Public Affairs Office

Air National Guard’s team effort achieves many firsts in Latvia

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Post: September 24, 2015

1st Lt. Alicia Lacy  Guests listen to speakers during a distinguished visitor and media day Sept. 8, 2015, at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia. Officials invited distinguished guests and media to the air base to learn more about the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and the Michigan National Guard's mission to fly the reconnaissance aircraft in its first non-combat deployment and its first flight in European air space. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy/Released)
1st Lt. Alicia Lacy 
Guests listen to speakers during a distinguished visitor and media day Sept. 8, 2015, at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia. Officials invited distinguished guests and media to the air base to learn more about the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and the Michigan National Guard's mission to fly the reconnaissance aircraft in its first non-combat deployment and its first flight in European air space. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy/Released)

LIELVARDE AIR BASE, Latvia - The combined efforts of Air National Guardsmen from several states helped execute the first noncombat deployment of the MQ-1 Predator and its first flight in Eastern European airspace.

From mid-August to mid-September, airmen traveled to Latvia for the short deployment. The objectives achieved during the mobilization made the nation the prime option for remotely piloted aircraft operations in the Baltic region, said Lt. Col. Chris Recker, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance access and interoperability officer for United States Air Forces Europe-Africa.

Planning, airlift and the successful execution of the historical mission included the contributions from the Texas ANG’s 147th Reconnaissance Wing, the Michigan National Guard, the Tennessee ANG’s 164th Airlift Wing, the Mississippi ANG’s Airlift Wing, the TXANG’s 136th Airlift Wing and the New York ANG’s 105th Airlift Wing.

The deployment was nearly a 100 percent Air National Guard-executed mission, said Col. Stanley Jones, commander of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard. From the conception to fly the RPAs at Lielvarde to the coordination, airlift, equipment and personnel, the Air National Guard accomplished nearly all of the efforts to make the mission a success. 

The contributions of all the units and agencies involved culminated with the first launch, operation and recovery of the Predator RPA on Sept. 1, 2015, at the Latvian air base. 

“This is a really historic day for Latvia,” said Latvia’s defense minister, Raimonds Bergmanis. “It’s the first time this system has been deployed in Europe, and I’m really proud that Latvia is hosting this aircraft.”

In addition to meeting objectives from the Michigan National Guard, the 147th and USAFE, the deployment was in direct support of the European Reassurance Initiative.

The ERI is a president-directed, congressionally-approved funding effort to bolster the security and capacity of the United States’ NATO partners.

“We are doing a lot to strengthen security in the Baltic region,” said Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis. 

The Michigan National Guard first conceptualized the idea to use Lielvarde Air Base for RPAs in September 2011 with Latvia’s State Partnership Program partners at the Michigan National Guard. From there, partnerships with the Michigan National Guard and several Latvian agencies, to include the Latvian Civil Aviation Authority, the Latvian National Armed Forces, Air Navigation Service Provider and the Riga Area Control Center helped make the execution of the historic flight possible.

With the flight of the Predator, Latvia became the first nation in Europe to develop nationwide RPA flight procedures with countrywide corridors that tie into special use airspace to de-conflict civilian and military flights, as well as allowing for nationwide use of surveillance capabilities to support a range of government needs, from search and rescue to firefighting and border control, said Col. James Andrew Roberts, Combat Readiness Training Center commander, Michigan National Guard.

The mission not only included an exchange with Latvian armed forces on RPA operations, but troops from Lithuania and Estonia also participated in the training mission to familiarize with air traffic management with MQ-1 operations, supporting one of the ERI’s objectives.

“The ERI is an important piece in European security,” echoed Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, the Latvian chief of defense.

The ERI demonstrates the steadfast commitment of the U.S. its NATO and European partners through a persistent, rotational presence of U.S. forces and by increasing the responsiveness of U.S. forces to contingencies in Central Europe.

US Air National Guard makes history in Latvia

US Air National Guard makes history in Latvia

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: September 17, 2015

An MQ-1B Predator from the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, based at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, is parked at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, Aug. 31, 2015. Wing members mobilized with other members of the wing to the Baltic nation where they deployed an entire MQ-1B Predator package, launching and recovering the first large-scale remotely piloted aircraft in Latvia. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy/Released)
An MQ-1B Predator from the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, based at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, is parked at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, Aug. 31, 2015. Wing members mobilized with other members of the wing to the Baltic nation where they deployed an entire MQ-1B Predator package, launching and recovering the first large-scale remotely piloted aircraft in Latvia. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy/Released)

LIELVARDE AIR BASE, Latvia - Airmen from the 147th Reconnaissance Wing made history launching, operating and recovering the first MQ-1 Predator in European airspace in the reconnaissance aircraft’s first non-combat deployment Sept. 1, 2015, at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia.

“Today at 7:47 a.m. Central Time, we made history with the successful launch, flight and recovery of our MQ-1 Predator in Latvia,” said Col. Stanley Jones, 147th Reconnaissance Wing commander, Texas Air National Guard, in a statement Sept. 1. “This deployment is a total wing effort with the critical contributions coming from every group in the wing. We could not have gotten to the point without every Texan contributing to the effort.” 

The guardsmen successfully executed this feat through a partnership with the Michigan National Guard and the Republic of Latvia. The coordination of all the components of the mission took four years to accomplish, from conception to execution, which began with Latvia’s State Partnership Program partner, the Michigan National Guard, and included the Latvian Civil Aviation Authority, the Latvian National Armed Forces, Air Navigation Service Provider, and the Riga Area Control Center. 

The Michigan guardsmen laid the foundation for the operation to take off. Inputs and contributions from Latvia, the Texas ANG and U.S. Air Forces in Europe helped finalize and eventually realize the mission. Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis stressed the significance of the U.S. presence in Latvia and the ability for Latvian troops to train side-­by-side with their NATO partners. 

“It’s important to train for interoperability between NATO partners,” Vejonis said. “It’s a good example of smart defense that we can use equipment that we don’t currently have.” 

The non­combat deployment allowed for country­wide corridors to tie into special use airspace to de­conflict civilian and military flights, as well as nationwide utilization of surveillance capabilities to support a broad range of government needs for Latvia, to include search and rescue, firefighting and border control according to Col. James Andrew Roberts, Combat Readiness Training Center commander, Michigan National Guard, and a major player in launching the operation.

In addition, the operation tested the wing’s ability to travel to a forward location and establish operations to assure its commitment to regional security and safety to its Latvian and NATO allies and European partners. The airmen trained using a satellite data link and trained Latvian military on long-range flights to help them understand the opportunities and challenges with remotely piloted aircraft operations.

The partner training included processing and sharing intelligence gathered by RPAs and close air support operations with Latvian forward air controllers. In addition to strengthening security in the region and the U.S. partnership with Latvia, the temporary deployment accomplished several objectives for those involved. For Latvia, it was the first use of the large-scale RPA in country. 

For the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, it was the first time the airmen deployed an entire package. Traditionally, when the MQ-1 Predator is deployed, maintainers and pilots are mobilized and equipment is moved from different locations, but for this mobilization, equipment and personnel deployed as an entire package.

“We palletized our own equipment, packed it up, and got our own people and equipment deployed as a package,” said Maj. Derek Weaver, 147th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, 147th Maintenance Group, 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas ANG. “We got it right. We came here and set up in a couple of days and it was so smooth.”

Weaver credits the efficient execution of the deployment to help from the Latvians, the Army stationed at Lielvarde and the professionalism of the 147th wing members. The forward deployment was executed in support of the European Reassurance Initiative – an effort by President Barack Obama and Congress to bolster the security and capacity of NATO allies. The ERI demonstrates the steadfast commitment of the U.S. to the security of NATO allies and partners in Europe through a persistent, rotational presence of U.S. forces and by increasing the responsiveness of U.S. forces to contingencies in Central Europe.

A Texas twang by any other name

Courtesy story: 211th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Story by:  Sgt. Jeff Daniel

Posted: June 2, 2015

 
Sgt. Jeff Daniel Sgt. Omar Anwar, a crew chief with Charlie Company, 1-108th Air Assault out of Austin, Texas, climbs into his seat on the UH-60 Black Hawk that he is assigned to for a flight May 26. The Texas National Guard is supporting Beyond the Horizon 2015. BTH15 is a joint humanitarian and civic engineering exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and the government of El Salvador to show support for the country of El Salvador. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jeff Daniel)
Sgt. Jeff Daniel
Sgt. Omar Anwar, a crew chief with Charlie Company, 1-108th Air Assault out of Austin, Texas, climbs into his seat on the UH-60 Black Hawk that he is assigned to for a flight May 26. The Texas National Guard is supporting Beyond the Horizon 2015. BTH15 is a joint humanitarian and civic engineering exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and the government of El Salvador to show support for the country of El Salvador. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jeff Daniel)

COMANDO DE INGENIEROS DE LA FUERZ ARMADA, El Salvador - A strange voice comes from ship 191 not often heard on this Salvadoran field covered in green grass. The ship is a UH-60 Black Hawk that belongs to the Texas National Guard and the voice has an unusual accent, sort of a different twang -- a British twang. 

Sgt. Omar Anwar, a crew chief with Charlie Company, 1-108th Air Assault out of Austin, Texas, is originally from London, England, and has lived in the U.S. for eight years. His story, he claims, is full of romance and scandal.

He, along with is unit, are here to support Beyond the Horizon 2015 in El Salvador by providing casualty evacuation support and site surveys. CASEVAC support is the means of picking up an injured person and transporting them to a medical facility for care. 

But how did a British citizen find his way to Texas and then El Salvador in the first place. Let’s go back almost a decade, to the beginning.

He was originally part of a military cadet exchange program between the U.S. and Great Britain. As the story goes, he met a female soldier from the Texas National Guard. He later returned to Texas, enlisted in the National Guard and by the end of his basic training was a citizen.

“Initially it worked out great. There was a point when I asked myself why did I do this, because that little romance ended in divorce,” said Anwar. “I am lucky enough to have a fiancé now. But at the time it was a little rough.”

“I only got interested in being a pilot when I came to the United States,” said Anwar. “The original reason I wanted to join the U.S. military was to become a pilot.”

“I wanted to fly Black Hawks more than any other airframe,” said Anwar. “I figured the best way to get a foot in the door was to actually work on the aircraft and then go to flight school.”

He is currently past the age to go to flight school.

As his story continues, when he enlisted he chose to be a Black Hawk maintainer. 

“I was actually working in a maintenance company. I got to do a couple of flights and I was picked to move into a flight company from there, I progressed to become a crew chief.”

I love the versatility of the Black Hawk, Anwar said proudly, referring to the fact they can perform different types of missions from medevac to combat to insertion and extraction.

“I love doing hoist missions,” said Anwar. “I really enjoy sitting on the edge of the aircraft with the doors open sending a medic down to be able to actually help someone, and rescue them and bring them up to the aircraft.”

His responsibilities as a crew chief include maintenance and readiness of the Black Hawk, and to make sure that any occupants are safely protected.

Anwar is expressingly proud of his job and his unit.

“In a million years I never thought I would I be working one of these things, let alone get to fly around in one,” said Anwar.

“The best part my job is the flying,” said Anwar. “Also I just love knowing that I can tell people that I am a crew chief.”