Posts in Category: Texas Air National Guard

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.”

Texas Military Forces Museum Honors Vietnam Veterans with Annual Program

Story: Courtesy of the Texas Military Forces Museum Staff

Posted: June 1, 2015

Volunteers from the Texas Military Forces Museum's Living History Detachment conduct a Vietnam War-era reenactment portraying U.S. service members engaged in battle with elements of the Viet Cong, May 3, 2015, during the Central Texas Air Show in Temple, Texas. The Living History Detachment conducts living history programs across the state and nation, in an effort to educate the public on the service and sacrifices made by veterans from the Civil War to present day. (Photo courtesy of Chris Hunt, Texas Military Forces Museum)
Volunteers from the Texas Military Forces Museum's Living History Detachment conduct a Vietnam War-era reenactment portraying U.S. service members engaged in battle with elements of the Viet Cong, May 3, 2015, during the Central Texas Air Show in Temple, Texas. The Living History Detachment conducts living history programs across the state and nation, in an effort to educate the public on the service and sacrifices made by veterans from the War of 1812 to present day. (Photo courtesy of Chris Hunt, Texas Military Forces Museum)

TEMPLE, Texas - The Texas Military Forces Museum’s Living History Detachment deployed 21 of its members to Temple to take part in the annual Central Texas Air Show, May 2-3, 2015.  

Although the museum’s reenactors usually focus on the history of Texas Volunteer Regiments in the Civil War or the 36th Infantry Division in World War II, every year at the air show they turn their focus to the war in Vietnam.  

For the Detachment, this was an opportunity to honor the men and women who served in Vietnam.

“We want to give ourselves and the public the chance to say thank you to all of those who answered their nation’s call and did their duty in Southeast Asia fifty years ago,” said Jeff Hunt, director of the Texas Military Forces Museum and commander of its living history detachment.  

After setting up an authentic Vietnam-era military encampment, the museum’s volunteers helped the thousands of people, attending the air show, better understand the service American troops had in Southeast Asia during the 1960s.  

Displays of weapons, equipment, period magazines, manuals, radios and even tape recorders are big attractions. Among the most popular items on exhibit are the M60 Machine Gun and M79 Grenade Launcher.  

“Veterans love to see the weaponry they carried during that war,” said Hunt. “You can see the excitement on their faces and the thrill when we let them hold one of the firearms. Certainly, the sights, sounds and feel of these historic objects bring back a flood of memories.”

Some of these memories are good and some are painful.  

“It isn’t uncommon to see a vet tear up as he interacts with us,” Hunt said.  “A few become so emotional they can only shake their head and smile at us before they walk away.  Many more take the time to tell stories of their time ‘in country’ or combat. As historians, we love hearing those stories.  We take what the veterans tell us and incorporate it into what we tell the general public.  Those stories make us better and more accurate interpreters of this important piece of our past.”

John Eli is the resident expert on the Vietnam War for the museum’s living history detachment. He served as an infantryman in the 25th Infantry Division in 1968 – at the height of the Tet Offensive.  Wounded in action and awarded the Purple Heart, Eli saw a lot of combat and often acted as a “tunnel rat” for his unit.  

A part of the museum’s living history team for more than 5 years, Mr. Eli shared his personnel history – including photos and mementoes he brought home from his service – with those who stop by the museum’s living history encampment.  Very often he finds himself speaking to a fellow Vietnam veteran. 

“You can certainly see the bond all the men who served in Vietnam have,” said Hunt.  “It doesn’t matter if they weren’t in the same unit or even if they weren’t in the country at the same time, they are brothers.” 

Having an authentic Vietnam veteran in their ranks is a special thing for the museum’s volunteers. 

“John is a great guy and a great historian,” said Hunt. “We are so incredibly lucky and honored to have him as part of our unit.  He has taught all of us more about the war than we could learn from reading 1,000 books.”

The most popular event of the detachment’s events at the air show was the Vietnam War-era air assault reenactment.  

Wearing the correct uniforms and equipment from the era and carrying actual weapons modified to fire blanks, the volunteers boarded a Huey helicopter and flew into “battle.” The scenario is the rescue of a downed helicopter crew being pursued by a group of Viet Cong guerrillas. 

With air show caliber pyrotechnics going off in the background, a Cobra gunship and an observation aircraft zooming overhead, the reenactors raced out of the helicopter as it touched the ground. A second “lift” brought in reinforcements as the rival forces exchanged fire.  At the end of the scenario a “wounded” crewman is carried on a stretcher to the Huey as it lands to conduct a medical aerial evacuation. 

The action only lasted for a handful of minutes.  It is all very dramatic, but the reenactors know that it is a mere shadow of the real thing. 

“There are no real bullets zipping through the air, little real danger,” said Hunt. “We know that we are all coming out of the scenario in one piece and that at the end of the weekend we are going home to the comforts of our daily lives and families.  That is certainly something the real combat veterans could not say or even count on.”  

That reality didn’t make the demonstration any less interesting or educational for the public. But reflecting on how truly dangerous what they just reenacted was in real life gives the museum’s living historians a deeper understanding and affinity for the men who did it on the actual battlegrounds of fifty years ago.  

“It truly dives home the risks they faced,” said Hunt. “The courage, skill and professionalism they embodied - it makes it unquestionably certain that all of the men and women who fought in that war are real heroes.”

As the nation moves through the coming years of the fiftieth anniversary of the Vietnam War, the Texas Military Forces Museum plans on doing more programs focused on that time period.  

“We want to help our fellow citizens learn the true history – not the mythology – of the Vietnam War,” Hunt said. “We want to help the veterans reflect and perhaps heal some of their lingering, painful, memories.  We want them to understand that their war was just one battle in the much bigger Cold War and that what they did helped us win that bigger war.  We want to let the veterans of Indo China know that they are our heroes every bit as much as the veterans of World War II or Korea of the War on Terror are our heroes.”  

The Texas Military Forces Museum is the official museum of the Texas Army and Air National Guard.  The museum’s Living History Detachment routinely puts on programs for visitors highlighting the role of The United States Armed Forces in American history from the War of 1812 through the Vietnam War.  

 

Multi Agency Task Force stands by for possible swift water rescues

Story by:  Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon

Posted: May 21, 2015

Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon National Guardsmen and members from Task Force 1 practice water rescues in preparation for possible floods in the Houston area, May 15-18, 2015. Guardsmen work side by side with local and state partners to help Texans in need during disaster situations. (Photo Courtesy of the Texas Military Forces)
Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon
National Guardsmen and members from Task Force 1 practice water rescues in preparation for possible floods in the Houston area, May 15-18, 2015. Guardsmen work side by side with local and state partners to help Texans in need during disaster situations. (Photo Courtesy of the Texas Military Forces)

HOUSTON – Rescue crews from three organizations geared up, flew into Ellington Field in Houston, and have been awaiting orders to launch over the weekend, May 15 – 18, 2015.

Due to the recent rainstorms, Texas has been on alert for floods and has put several rescue organizations on call, to include the Texas National Guard, Texas Task Force 1 and even the Louisiana National Guard for additional resources.

While most of the recent flooding and rescues took place in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, crews here are taking advantage of the down time to train with and build relationships with their counterparts. 

Joshua Powell, Helicopter Search and Rescue Technician with Task Force 1, likes the face time this provides with long time rescue partners from the Texas National Guard, as well as, new ones from the Louisiana National Guard.

“We try to train with the Texas National Guard about once a month, and it’s nice to have that connection, especially in the aircraft,” Powell said. “This weekend when we met the Louisiana guys we were a little nervous, but as soon as we did a little training here, it went really great. They showed us some of their techniques and we showed them ours.”

The Texas UH-60 Black Hawks the team flies in are scheduled to change hoist systems in the near future; a hoist system that the Louisiana aircraft already have, said Powell. 

“This weekend we have not only trained on and had a firsthand look at these new hoist systems we are getting, but doors have been opened for possible future rescue missions,” Powell said. “One day if Louisiana asks Texas to assist with a disaster, we already know their systems and their guys, so it’ll be a quicker and more effective response.”

UH-60 Black Hawk flight medic, Staff Sgt. Michael Hamilton, an experienced rescuer with the Louisiana National Guard, also believes this time meeting and training with new partners is valuable, but added that he is continually impressed by how state officials are able to come together and utilize each others’ assets in times like these. 

“It’s great that governors, adjutant generals and state aviation officers are able to coordinate and call upon each other to provide available resources to assist one another,” Hamilton said. “We’re here to help Texas out this time, and in turn, one day, they will come to help us out when we’re in need.”

Luckily, this time in southeast Texas, there was no need for any of the rescuers to be called out. They will be called home to rest for a day or two, then will reset and get ready for the next round of storms reported to come later in the week. 

Texas National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk pilot Maj. Edward Greber, has been on many missions like these before and stands ready with his crew,

“Wherever and whenever there is a need we will be prepared to provide assistance to rescue operations.”

Operation Crackdown returns to Laredo

Story by: Master Sgt. Ken Walker

Posted: April 16, 2015

Master Sgt. Ken Walker A heavy 45,000 pound Deere excavator tears down a house in Laredo, Texas, April 9, 2015. The house, identified by local law enforcement as being used for illicit drug activity was recently set ablaze and burned. Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown destroys drug havens in partnership with city officials and law enforcement agencies. The Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force partnered with The City of Laredo, the Laredo Police Department and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clean up the city and rid the community of crime associated with a drug nexus. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ken Walker/ Released)
Master Sgt. Ken Walker
A heavy 45,000 pound Deere excavator tears down a house in Laredo, Texas, April 9, 2015. The house, identified by local law enforcement as being used for illicit drug activity was recently set ablaze and burned. Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown destroys drug havens in partnership with city officials and law enforcement agencies. The Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force partnered with The City of Laredo, the Laredo Police Department and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clean up the city and rid the community of crime associated with a drug nexus. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ken Walker/ Released)

LAREDO, Texas — Operation Crackdown, a Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force program, known for demolishing houses connected with illegal drug trade, making neighborhoods safer and helping prepare students to make good decisions, returned to Laredo, April 9, 2015. 

The Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force partnered with the city of Laredo, the Laredo Police Department and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clean up the city and rid the community of crime associated with drugs after thirty-three properties in Laredo were selected for demolition over the course of two weeks, through a carefully planned, legal process that identified, qualified and validated inclusion of each site. 

Following an anti-drug presentation at their school, about 20 fourth grade students from Santo Niño Elementary School walked to a demolition site, less than two blocks from their school playground, and participated at the demolition of the dilapidated and burned out house on South Louisiana Avenue, by screaming “knock it down, knock it down,” giving workers a loud and clear order to start the demolition.

“If we take down this house, and other houses like it that are being used for drug purposes or other illegal purposes, we could turn it into a home for people who really need it or we could turn it into recreational areas,” said local fourth grader Mia Ramirez, 10, before one building was demolished.

Anti-drug messaging programs like this one and a presentation made right before the demolition, afforded law enforcement agencies the opportunity to educate the local community on the seriousness and extent of illicit drug activity in the neighborhoods, explained Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Jose Monserrate.

“Educational programs such as this are essential for our school, said Marissa Quiroga, the head fourth grade teacher at Santo Nino Elementary. “When the law enforcement and the military communities come together, a strong message is being sent to our young students. Choices will impact them throughout their lives, so we as adults have a responsibility to guide our students to make good decisions.”

This operation is a program in which Texas Military Forces soldiers and airmen demolish structures that have been connected with illegal drugs and related criminal activities. These drug houses, open air drug markets and other neighborhood drug hubs pose serious threats to neighborhoods, largely because they often lead to spillover crimes – robberies, gang violence, homicides and other problems - that go hand-in-hand with drug addiction. The crimes make it hard to live and grow up in the neighborhoods, and they drive down property values.

Operation Crackdown also brings law enforcement partners and community members together for a common purpose and allows the service members to keep their military skill set honed. 

A two-week mission costs the task force about $30,000. The city pays for the debris removal, asbestos testing and abatement, landfill use and permit costs. The city must also clear the demolitions with the Texas Historical Commission.

“It’s ironic that we use drug money to knock down drug houses,” said Col. Suzanne Adkinson, task force commander.

“We use asset forfeiture funds from apprehensions of illegal activity,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick M. Hamilton, Domestic Operations commander, Texas Military Forces. “They have money, they have houses and they have cars that are forfeited. We get a portion of that money to rent the equipment, purchase the fuel, lodging and personnel to actually tear down the houses.”

According to a task force presentation to the City of Laredo, 83 percent of abandoned dwellings showed signs of drug abuse, prostitution or other criminal activity had taken place there. Crime rates are twice as high on blocks with abandoned or open buildings as on other blocks.

Police Chief Richard Palomo from the Laredo Independent School District Police Department reminded the young audience that those who wear a uniform – policemen, first responders and the military – are the guardians and gatekeepers of our community. He encouraged all students to reach out and thank them for keeping our communities safe.

Local resident Minerva Castillo said she was happy to have the ugly burned out house torn down because people in the neighborhood would feel much safer.

“There were people sleeping there at night, said Castillo. “We were worried because we didn’t know who they were or what kind of people they were.”

Neighbor Rosario Munoz agreed. She said that when she was about to buy her house, her family was scared to buy there because she heard that neighborhood drug addicts were sometimes in the house.

“Before today, residents did not want to walk their kids to school or walk to our neighborhood church on this street because everyone knew the drug people were sometimes there,” Munoz said. “Thank God the City of Laredo and the Operation Crackdown service members are tearing the house down. No more bad people around our neighborhood. It is now safer for our children.”


To date, Operation Crackdown has demolished 1,462 structures, varying from frame houses to an abandoned warehouse, in 25 communities across Texas.

For more information about Operation Crackdown, call the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force at 512-782-5670.

Community, military team up for Laredo air show

Story by: Sgt. Michael Vanpool

Posted: Feb 16, 2015

PHOTO: Sgt. Michael Vanpool Brig. Gen. Orlando Salinas, the deputy assistant adjutant general of the Texas Army National Guard, gives a thumbs up after being designated the air marshal of the 2015 Stars and Stripes Spectacular Air Show in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 15. The Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association Stars and Stripes Spectacular Air Show is one of many events for Laredo’s month-long celebration for America’s first president. (Texas Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Vanpool, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Sgt. Michael Vanpool
Brig. Gen. Orlando Salinas, the deputy assistant adjutant general of the Texas Army National Guard, gives a thumbs up after being designated the air marshal of the 2015 Stars and Stripes Spectacular Air Show in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 15. The Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association Stars and Stripes Spectacular Air Show is one of many events for Laredo’s month-long celebration for America’s first president. (Texas Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Vanpool, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

LAREDO, Texas – Texas Guardsmen parachutists flew the American and Texan flags over Laredo to open the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association’s Stars and Stripes Air Show Spectacular at Laredo International Airport, Feb. 15.

Capt. Tim Hanrahan and Staff Sgt. Zachary Bowen lowered the flags onto the flight line. This was the fifth year for Hanrahan, who said he continues to jump because it’s an “opportunity to represent our country and the Texas Army National Guard.”

For those watching, seeing the flags drop down from the sky has a personal attachment.

“I no longer see red, white, and blue on our nation’s colors,” said Brig. Gen. Orlando Salinas, the air marshal for this year’s show. “What we see now is names and faces of friends and places.”

The air show was first included nearly 20 years ago in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration, a monthlong celebration for the Laredo area. That was when Carlos Garza took the position as the first sergeant for the Texas Army National Guard’s 436th Chemical Company. 

Garza knew the importance of the military in the history of the border town, not just from books but his family’s experience. Laredo is where his mother and family sought refuge during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. 

When Garza began to drill in Laredo, he felt that the city’s attachment to the military had waned. He said that he could grow the community’s patriotism by showcasing the aircraft that helped win World War II. So he helped put together the Stars and Stripes Air Show.

“It started small with war-birds,” Garza said, “but now it’s the biggest event for Laredo and Washington’s Birthday.” 

The spins and rolls captivated the audiences, making the show an integral event for the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association (WBCA). Garza served as a WBCA board member and currently is its military liaison. 

This year brought in nearly 40,000 spectators to the airfield, with countless others looking up to the sky.

The air show now features civilian and stunt pilots from across the country, but the event still holds onto its military roots. Every year, one Soldier from the Texas Military Forces is chosen to preside over the show as the air marshal.

This year, Brig. Gen Orlando Salinas, the deputy assistant adjutant general for the Texas Army National Guard, was selected for the honor. Salinas grew up in San Diego, Texas and said that he had fond memories of visiting Laredo. 

“To me, personally, it is extremely important to say thank you on behalf of a native south Texan to be invited to be your air marshal,” Salinas said to the crowd. “With all the duties that I have and all the places I have visited there is no place in the world I would rather be than sharing this great day with you.”

This year’s show saw the return of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, which was the only fighter plane produced in America during World War II. The particular plane flown was dug from its grave and completely restored to its original glory, said Garza.

For the city of Laredo, Washington’s Birthday is a month long celebration filled with pageants, parades, and so much more; many of which are reminiscent of the days of George and Martha Washington. 

The air show is one of the more grand departures from Washington’s times. However, the airplanes, helicopters and airborne Soldiers are very much a part of today’s military celebrated year after year here in Laredo.

Texas Army Aviators receive national award

Story by: Maj. Randall Stillinger

Posted: Feb 12, 2015

Maj. Randall Stillinger A C-12 aircraft from Operational Support Airlift Detachment 49 takes off from Dallas Executive Airport en route to Austin, Texas. The detachment, commanded by Chief Warrant Officer 5 Todd Moorehead, was selected as the best fixed-wing unit in its category by the Joint Operational Support Airlift Center. They had just returned from receiving their award at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. (36th Infantry Division photo by Maj. Randy Stillinger)
Maj. Randall Stillinger
A C-12 aircraft from Operational Support Airlift Detachment 49 takes off from Dallas Executive Airport en route to Austin, Texas. The detachment, commanded by Chief Warrant Officer 5 Todd Moorehead, was selected as the best fixed-wing unit in its category by the Joint Operational Support Airlift Center. They had just returned from receiving their award at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. (36th Infantry Division photo by Maj. Randy Stillinger)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – An Austin-based fixed wing unit from the Texas Army National Guard received special honors from the Joint Operational Support Airlift Center (JOSAC) during a ceremony on Tuesday.

Operational Support Airlift (OSA) Detachment 49, which utilizes C-12 aircraft to transport passengers and cargo from across the military branches, received this special honor during a ceremony at the headquarters for United States Transportation Command.

The unit, which is commanded by Chief Warrant Officer 5 Todd Moorehead, is a detachment assigned to the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, 36th Infantry Division, also headquartered in Austin.

Maj. Scott Messare, JOSAC’s Execution Operations officer, said, “These awards are a chance for us to publicly recognize units that are consistently performing at the top of their peer organization groups.”

Messare helps facilitate the awards program and praised the Texas aviators for their great work and willingness to support the Department of Defense mission.

“They are here for a reason,” Messare said. “They are definitely at the top of their group and a pleasure to work with.” 

The annual award is presented among various categories based on size, function and location. Detachment 49 was at the top of the 21 units in their category.

The primary selection criteria includes number of hours and missions flown, number of passengers carried and pounds of cargo hauled. The JOSAC branch chiefs also consider other aspects like aircraft and aircrew availability, flexibility in supporting missions, percentage of cancelled missions, and the accuracy of logistics flight records. 

The goal of the awards program is to recognize the success of flight crews in meeting the goals of JOSAC, which include preventing fraud, waste and abuse of Department of Defense assets, conducting operations with efficiency, and completing assigned missions with the most amount of cost savings to government and the taxpayers.

The program also rewards an aspect of the mission that can’t necessarily be measured in statistics: Excellent customer service for the passengers who fly on their aircraft. 

Moorehead, of Austin, said that this award is a nice recognition of all the work that the Soldiers have done. 

“We threw the Army work ethic at the mission and we make ourselves as available as possible,” Moorehead said.

Col. Micheal Dye, commander of the Army Aviation Support Facility at Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport, said that he’s not surprised that the detachment received the award.

“These are a great group of guys that work hard to accomplish the mission with a tremendous level of professionalism,” Dye said.

Same but different: Texas Air and Army National Guard compete for 'Best Warrior'

Courtesy Story

Posted: Feb 2, 2015

BASTROP, Texas – This year’s 2015 Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition brought out 35 guardsmen from both the Texas Army and Air National Guard who competed here to determine who would be the best of the best Feb. 5-7.

“The Best Warrior Competition is a big deal for Texas and the Texas Military Forces,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon, TXMF senior enlisted adviser. "It is one of the biggest joint events we have involving actual soldiers and airmen. This event allows the soldier and airman to compete with each other in both physical and mental challenges.”

The competition demonstrated the knowledge and skills of the guardsmen in seven events, spanning three days. The first day started with an essay, testing their aptitude, writing abilities and critical thinking and how well the soldiers and the airmen express their thoughts. Following the writing skills, the competitors met with a panel of senior enlisted leaders who barraged them with a series of questions pertaining to their military tasks.

“We are from the same Texas Military Forces,” said Command Chief Master Sgt. Kevin O’Gorman, state command chief for the Texas Air National Guard. “When we deploy in a joint environment, we work together side-by-side and we need to foster that early on. This competition brings camaraderie and jointness, even though soldiers and airmen do things differently.”

Day two started with a twilight land-navigation course, starting at 5 a.m. and finishing after daybreak. Once again, the soldiers and airmen battle-tested their skills in using a map and compass to plot the points and discover hidden flags throughout the course. 

Shortly after completing land navigation, the competitors went to the weapons-qualification range, then on to the 11 Army warrior task lanes, where both Army and Air Force participants demonstrated their ability to disassemble and reassemble weapons ranging from a 9 mm pistol to an M2 machine gun, as well as testing in combat-first-aid techniques.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Steven Hein, 136th Security Forces Squadron, and member of the Richardson Police Department, finished first during the land navigation course, coming in at 1 hour and 29 minutes, finding three of four flags. 

“It’s been a privilege to come out here and contend with the best,” said Hein. “It’s definitely good to come out here to compete and learn from the other guys like the Army and other guys in the tactical control party.”

Many of the competitors felt that the first day of the competition was the most challenging and exhausting. It included the mile-long obstacle course, containing nine stations with rigorous calisthenics in between obstacles, a six-mile ruck march and finished with three mystery events. The total course spanned eight miles as each competitor attempted to conquer each event with a go or no-go while carrying a 35-pound ruck sack on their back.

“The BWC is tougher than all the races I’ve competed in,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Candice Wade, a veteran competitor in the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Races, about the Best Warrior Competition. “The Best Warrior Competition is in a much higher level ... dealing with a land navigation course, eight types of weapons, combat casualty care, an obstacle course, ruck march and various physical events. I can say that this is absolutely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

Among the spectators present were Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general for Texas, and Maj. Gen. Edmundo Villarroel Geissbuhler, Chilean army liaison officer, who were both here to observe the competing guardsmen.

“There are two competitions going on here,” said Nichols. “One is the competition between Army and Air Force. The other is between the soldiers so we can send forth the best soldier in a national competition and be the best in the U.S. Army. This is a big deal to us.”

Geissbuhler strolled though the courses, closely observing each station, cheering on the soldiers and airmen racing through the obstacles.

“We have a lot of contact with the Texas Military Forces, both in the Air Force and Army,” said Geissbuhler. “This state partnership began in 2008 and there are a lot of activities we do together. I received an invitation to come here today and I’m very glad to be here.”

Texas and Chile are part of the State Partnership Program, using military-to-military relationships between the U.S. and Chile to increase military capabilities and interoperability. 

When asked if the Chileans have this type of competition amongst their military forces, Geissbuhler said, “We do have this competition in Chile, it is part of our training. We have been approved to send four competitors here to the BWC next year and compete among the TXMF. We will be sending two soldiers and two airmen and hope to do well.”

By the end of the three-day event, the competitors seemed both mentally and physically exhausted. 

“I’m here to do my best, not just as a woman, but as a soldier,” said Sgt. Wendy Farris, 149th Aviation Battalion, one of the four female competitors. “This was really exciting. I’ve learned a lot and grown in the process. I’m devising my plan for next year’s competition.”

There were 22 Army and 13 Air Force competitors, coming from all parts of Texas. Most of the competing guardsmen were drill status guardsmen. They also serve Texas as police officers, firefighters, physical strength trainers and other professionals. 

The overall winners for the competition will be announced at an award ceremony April 11, 2015.

Sibling rivalry adds edge during Best Warrior Competition

Story by: Spc. Michael Giles

Posted: Feb 7, 2015

Sibling rivalry adds edge during Best Warrior Competition

Spc. Michael Giles
Tech. Sgt. Matthew Renteria and Senior Airman Michael Pineda listen to a brief before the obstacle course portion of the Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, Feb. 5, 2015. The event tests the mental and physical proficiencies of the participants through various challenges. Winners will continue to compete at a multi-state regional level. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Michael Giles/Released)

BASTROP, Texas - When the Texas Air National Guard first joined the Texas Military Forces Best Warrior Competition in 2013, then Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Rentería proclaimed that he would "win it all." He did not end up winning "it all" in 2013, but he pulled a close second in the noncommissioned officer division of the competition.

Matthew returned to compete in the 2015 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift, this time bringing a lifelong friend who helped him forge his competitive spirit, Senior Airman Michael Rentería.

The fraternal twins are well known as highly motivated, with an intense drive to surpass each other in all pursuits.

"They are both outstanding individuals," said Master Sgt. Justin Tassin, a Tactical Air Control Party supervisor for the brothers in the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron. "But when you put the two together, you can see the sibling rivalry, and it pushes them harder to perform."

Competition between the brothers covered all aspects of growing up.

"Everything we were doing, we were doing at the same time," Senior Airman Rentería said. "We competed in getting the girls, school and sports. It keeps us going. It keeps us battling."
Matthew and Michael also credit their father and their role in the military for their drive to excel. 

"He's my hero," Michael said. "He did a lot for us growing up."

Matthew explained that their roles as tactical air control party Airmen require high standards of physical and mental readiness, and this also keeps them working to stay sharp.

"Primarily, my concern is the mission," Matthew said. "If something were to pop off, I want to be in combat shape to go and do my duties."

Matthew has served for 10 years in the Air Guard while Michael has served for eight. Matthew mentored his brother in preparation for the competition, giving him the benefit of his experience, but said that Michael has what it takes to do well on his own in his first Best Warrior Competition.

"He has learned a lot," Matthew said. "He has been through a lot of training, so he's squared away."

Both brothers earned bragging rights during this year's competition. Matthew and Michael each achieved the highest event score during the interview portion, and they both scored among the top three in the obstacle course. Matthew earned the highest score on land navigation and Michael succeeded in earning the highest overall score among the junior enlisted soldiers.

The 149th Fighter Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. George Longoria, evaluator chairman for the essay portion of the event, expressed that the brothers' competitiveness is a quality that strengthens Americans. "Competing and being the best is part of our make up."