Posts in Category: Texas Air National Guard

Airmen open hearts, homes to future military working dogs

Story by: 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain

YYork, a military working dog in training with the Department of Defense’s Military Working Dog Breeding Program, is pictured playing with toy in water. YYork is currently being fostered by Col. Susan M. Dickens, commander of the 149th Mission Support Group, Texas Air National Guard, a subordinate unit of the 149th Fighter Wing, at JBSA-Lackland. (Photo courtesy of Col. Susan Dickens / Released)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas – Two members of the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard have opened their hearts and homes to future military working dogs. The dogs are from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Military Working Dog (MWD) Breeding Program, which is operated by the U.S. Air Force’s 341st Training Squadron. The wing and the squadron are both based here.

Col. Susan M. Dickens, commander of the 149th Mission Support Group, and Tech. Sgt. Brandon M. Harrist, an aircraft electrical and environmental systems craftsman assigned to the 149th Maintenance Squadron, are each fostering military working dogs in training.

The puppies were born earlier this year at the program’s JBSA-Lackland facility, they said, and Dickens and Harrist took them home over the summer.

Dickens is caring for YYork, a Belgian Malinois, while Harrist is caring for DDexter, a Dutch Shepard.

“[YYork] is part of the YY4 litter,” Dickens said. “All the puppies in a particular litter have the double first letter in their names.”

The double first letter in the dog’s name indicates they are part of the DoD MWD program.

“Lackland is the largest military working dog training facility in the U.S., and possibly the world,” said Tracy Cann, a foster consultant with the DoD MWD Breeding Program. “This has been the place to train MWDs since the military started using dogs in wartime and in peace.”

Cann manages the recruiting and screening of potential fosters, and also evaluates the health and wellness of the puppies in the program’s care.

There are multiple MWD programs within the DoD, she said, but that all their dogs are processed through the Lackland facility. Cann said there are four programs to train the dogs: a trainer’s course, a specialized search dog course, a combat tracker dog course and a mine detection dog course.

This is not Harrist’s first rodeo when it comes to fostering a MWD in training.

Harrist and his wife, Lora, who is the primary trainer, have previously fostered three Belgian Malinois, he said.

There are some challenges to training working dogs.

“They are very intelligent and have a lot of energy,” Harrist said. “Trying to keep the balance of training them to be a working dog and becoming a pet can be challenging. But we have great people on the breeding program staff and other fosters that are always there to help out.”

Dickens agreed that there are a number of challenges.

“The biggest challenge is the logistics of taking him places with you,” Dickens said. “He is very active, mentally and physically, so you have to ensure he is getting enough activity or he will get into mischief.”

But with the challenges come some unique opportunities.

Harrist said he has escorted his dogs to interact with senior Air Force leaders and has been able to participate in numerous civic demonstrations.

The fosters are expected “to socialize the pups at a young age, so they learn to trust people and aren’t afraid of being in different environments,” Harrist said. They also work with getting the dogs to interact positively to various rewards.

Fosters like Dickens and Harrist are important to the training process and the dog’s success.

“Working dogs are very high energy and intelligent and growing up in a kennel could make them shy and introverted when we need them to be just the opposite,” Cann said. “Foster homes raise the puppies in their homes and socialize them in all kinds of environments, which would not be possible if they were raised in kennels.”

This initial training is important to get the dogs ready for their next level of training and careers.

Dickens said she regulates YYork’s diet to ensure he remains fit for his future training.

“We use the philosophy that he is an athlete and must train and eat right to be the best he can be,” Dickens said. “So no ‘people’ food and no ‘eating’ the toys. Needless to say, we are constantly picking up toy parts once they start getting torn up.”

After the dog’s comprehensive training is complete, Cann said they work on explosive and drug detection patrols, as well as tracking suspects, among other missions. Fosters are a critical component of the getting the dogs to where they need to be.

Beyond the basic training requirements, fosters are also expected to ensure the dog’s receive comprehensive medical care.

“When the puppies are little, you have to take them to the Holland MWD Hospital for their vaccinations,” Dickens said, “which are every few weeks until they are four months old.”

Additionally, all parties within the breeding program maintain close contact with program officials.

“We have monthly training sessions,” Harrist said, “so the heads of the breeding program can see how the pups are progressing and give us feedback, as well as pointers for keeping them on the right tract.”

Dickens said the monthly training sessions are “very helpful and gives you insight on what to expect as they get older.”

“This has been tremendously helpful as a first-time owner,” she said.

The toughest part of the program is saying goodbye, they both said. These dogs will soon head back to the 341st Training Squadron to begin their next level of training.

“The most challenging part for us, really, is their report day,” Harrist said. “You get attached to them as if they are your pet, and it’s hard to say goodbye to them. But then you just keep reminding yourself that these dogs are going to go out and save lives.”

YYork is Dickens’ first foster, and she has been preparing to say goodbye.

“It will be very difficult to not have him with our family anymore,” Dickens said. “But he is definitely ready for the next step. Since he goes to work with me almost every day, I will probably miss him the most and it will take some adjusting to not having my ‘little shadow’ following me everywhere.”

Harrist said the program coordinators attempt to keep him up-to-date with the dog’s training, when possible.

“Sometimes they even send us pictures or video of our dogs in action,” Harrist said. “On occasion, we are lucky enough to see our pups after turn in.”

After returning to the program, the dogs will undergo further training to be readied for transition to an active military unit.

They come back to our trainers and start their pre-training at the age of seven months,” Cann said. “After two weeks of acclimation in their new environment, they are tested in various areas. If they pass testing at that time, they stay in pre-training with our trainers until they are 12 months old.”

“At 12 months, the puppies are tested once more – this is the same test that all MWD's must pass,” she said. “Once tested and accepted, the dogs move onto their respective training schools to receive advanced training for 90-120 days. If the dogs make it through this training, they are tested once again (for certification). When the dogs are certified they are then assigned to a base [or] post and start their operational careers.”

Once in the field, the dogs work for about 10 years.

“They generally work until they are eight to 12 years old,” Cann said. “They are usually adopted by their (military) handler, or to the public, if it is appropriate for the individual dog when they retire.”

But it all starts with those willing to open their hearts and homes to this important program.

“Outside fosters are vital to our program,” Cann said. “Without them, we would not succeed.”

Read more: airmen open hearts homes future military working dogs

Vietnam War refugee, career guardsman honors Texas, America

Story by: 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain

Photo of Air Force Lt. Col. Don Nguyen Wedding

Air Force Lt. Col. Don Nguyen, assistant director of operations for the 273rd Information Operations Squadron (IOS), Texas Air National Guard, with his parents, Phuoc and Mai Nguyen, during his retirement ceremony in San Antonio, Nov. 23, 2014. Nguyen retired after 27 years of military service, including time with the Texas Army and Air National Guards. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Eric L. Wilson / Released)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas – A career guardsmen was surrounded by friends and family as he capped off a 27-year military career by paying tribute to Texas and the United States, his adopted home, during a retirement ceremony here, Nov. 23, 2014.

Air Force Lt. Col. Don Nguyen, assistant director of operations for the 273rd Information Operations Squadron (IOS), Texas Air National Guard, retired from military service after lifting himself up from unlikely circumstances – a child refugee of the Vietnam War.

In the late 1970s, Nguyen’s family took to the high seas to escape Vietnam’s Communist regime, which took control of that nation in 1975.

“Our family and other families barely survived the five days lost at sea as ‘boat people refugees,’” Nguyen said. “We experienced starvation, dehydration, turbulent weather, life and death situations, and (were) without fuel – drifting until rescued by Malaysia’s international humanitarian effort.”

Following the ordeal, Nguyen’s family was initially sheltered in Malaysia, he said, and was then sponsored to come to the United States.

“I truly understand the genuine meaning of receiving freedom and the opportunity that our magnificent nation has provided to me, my family and many others,” Nguyen said. “I want to remind other Americans that you should do your very best with the freedom, opportunity, and always remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom.”

“I was just 10 years old when we immigrated to America, in November 1979,” Nguyen said. “I grew up in Houston, Texas, and quickly learned the English language, and how to become a Texan and an American.”

Army Col. Suzanne D. Adkinson, commander of the Texas Military Forces Joint Counterdrug Task Force, presided over the ceremony. In addition to his traditional, part-time role with the 273rd IOS, Nguyen was assigned to the Joint Counterdrug Task Force, at a location in El Paso.

“’Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,’” Adkinson said, quoting the poem placed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. “’Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift up my lamp beside the golden door!’”

“You guys wanted to breath free,” she said, “and here you are.”

In 1987, Nguyen enlisted in the U.S. Army, and later served as a signal officer in the Texas Army National Guard before transferring to the Texas Air National Guard in 2002, when he became a U.S. Air Force cyber-communications officer.

“During my service with the U.S. Army,” Nguyen said, “I was naturalized and received my U.S. citizenship.”

Throughout his life and military career, Nguyen has sought ways to give back. This included making the most of his military service and volunteering with youth programs in his community.

He also volunteered and deployed in support of numerous state and federal missions. 

During the ceremony, Nguyen was presented with the Meritorious Service Medal, and the accompanying state award, the Texas Outstanding Service Medal. 

Nguyen’s service includes participation in state preparedness and response efforts related to Hurricanes Rita, Dean, Gustav, Dolly and Ike, which impacted Texas during the late 2000s, according to the medal citation. He led support teams for planning and engineering with the 254th Combat Communications Group, based in Grand Prairie, in north Texas, and deployed “six emergency command and control communications and supply distribution points” during the state’s response to the hurricanes.

He also supported the state’s Operation Lone Star (OLS) on three occasions, by “providing communications infrastructure support.” OLS is an interagency, state mission, led by the Texas Department of State Health Services, and has provided annual humanitarian medical and dental services in the Rio Grande Valley since 1999.

Additionally, Nguyen answered his nation’s call and deployed numerous times in support of federal combat operations abroad, including the Gulf War, in 1991, and twice for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

During his OIF deployments, Nguyen served as an operations flight commander leading more than 100 people, according to the medal citation. He provided “expeditionary combat communications and air traffic control landing systems support to U.S. Central Command while subject to over 100 indirect fire attacks.”

Nguyen tied his success to leaving his home of birth and immigrating to America.

“It wouldn’t have happened if I never left Vietnam – I thank my parents,” Nguyen said. “I do whatever I can to serve the state of Texas and the United States of America.”

Adkinson expressed appreciation for Nguyen’s service to the Texas Army and Air National Guards.

“What a true patriot,” Adkinson said. “It’s absolutely amazing to me.”

--

The 273rd IOS is a geographically separated unit of the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, which is headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas.

Read more: vietnam war refugee career guardsman honors texas america

Texas Air Guard represents US in Chile's Salitre exercise

Onlookers from various agencies and branches of the Chilean government, along with their families, visit with Airmen from the Texas Air National Guard.
Onlookers from various agencies and branches of the Chilean government, along with their families, visit with Airmen from the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing during an Open Day at Exercise Salitre 2014 at Cerro Moreno Air Base, Chile. The exercise also includes the air forces of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and focuses on strengthening partnerships and interoperability in a coalition format. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Bouchard/Released)

 

 Story by Capt. Bryan Bouchard

 
 ANTOFAGASTA, Chile - Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was on-hand today to officially kick off Exercise Salitre  2014 at Cerro Moreno Air Base on the northern coast of Chile.

 The exercise includes air forces from Chile, the U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and centers around enhancing  multilateral interoperability between nations.

 "The primary aim of this exercise is to prepare our Air Forces to work together in the future," said Lt. Col. Raul Rosario,  deployed detachment commander from the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard. "Whether this eventuality is  during a natural disaster or something else we need to practice together so we can work well together when needed."

 More than 80 Airmen, along with six F-16 Fighting Falcons from Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and a KC-135  Stratotanker from Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, represent the U.S. contingent.

 "This exercise provides an opportunity to strengthen our military-to-military relationships with regional partners," said  Col. Mike Torrealday, Reserve Advisor to the 12th Air Force Commander at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The  colonel also acted as exercise co-director along with representatives from the other nations.

 "Participating in events such as Salitre helps strengthen our relationships and increase operational capabilities within the Western hemisphere," he said.

The Airmen and F-16s from the 149th FW were selected as participants in this engagement because of Texas's link to Chile through the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program. SPP matches a National Guard state with a partner country to exchange military skills and experience, share defense knowledge, and enhance partnership capacity and further mutual security cooperation.

Earlier this year, Texas Air National Guard Airmen traveled to Santiago to take part in FIDAE, Chile's premier airshow and aviation expo. They also held exchanges between various specialties, further strengthening relationships between the two nations.

"We had a great encounter with the Chilean air force at FIDAE," said Master Sgt. Kyle Kuhlman, a crew chief with the 149th FW. "If we needed something, they were able to provide it to us and if they needed something, we were able to help them."

Continued interactions between the countries build upon each other to establish understanding and good relationships. At Salitre, Kuhlman represented the U.S. in ensuring proactive preparations were made in case of aircraft accidents or incidents.

"Each country had a representative for crash recovery, so I had to work with the Chilean airmen to find out what capabilities they had and work through what we'd need should something happen," he said.

Ultimately, it's the human interaction that makes exercises like Salitre worthwhile.

"The cultural exchange in the best part," Kuhlman added. "We're able to see how similar and how different we all operate, and make the mission work."

Texas Homeland Response Force welcomes visitors to certification training exercise

Soldiers from the Texas Military Forces' Homeland Response Force (HRF) treat a "casualty" during the HRF certification exercise at Camp Gruber, near Muskogee, Okla., March 5, 2014.
Soldiers from the Texas Military Forces' Homeland Response Force (HRF) treat a "casualty" during the HRF certification exercise at Camp Gruber, near Muskogee, Okla., March 5, 2014. More than 800 service members came together to train on disaster preparedness and emergency management during the exercise. Emergency management leadership from nine different states attended the exercise to observe the training. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle)

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 

 CAMP GRUBER, Okla. - Emergency management leadership from nine different states attended the Texas Military Forces  Homeland Response Force training exercise to observe disaster preparedness certification training at Camp Gruber, near  Muskogee, Okla., March 5, 2014.

 Civilian and military visitors ranged from various fire departments and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, or  TCEQ, critical infrastructure director to Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the adjutant general – Oklahoma.

 Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Texas Military Forces' Homeland Response Force, or HRF, is  conducting a weeklong exercise involving approximately 800 service members rehearsing their response to large-scale  disasters.

 “This is the reason the National Guard is such a great tool,” said Col. Patrick Hamilton, Domestic Operations Commander,  Texas Military Forces. He explained that the HRF often conducts training with other civilian agency first responders.  Hamilton further described how the National Guard provides first responders with additional resources to assist with crisis  management.

 As guests were led through the training area they witnessed soldiers and airmen dressed in chemical suits “responding” to  a large-scale chemical attack. “Casualties,” in the exercise, were evacuated with precaution as service members ensured  the chemical threat was contained.

The scenario involved two large chemical attacks and a broken water main, said Col. Lee Schnell, Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade commander, Texas Military Forces. Service members trained to assist first responders in casualty evacuation, triage, and search and rescue in a contaminated environment.

Even with snow covering the ground, and temperatures hovering around freezing, the service men and women seemed to maneuver easily through the makeshift village in their chemical suits to render aid. 

TCEQ, imbedded several hazardous material specialists into the training to work along side the HRF said TCEQ’s Critical Infrastructure Director Kelly Cook. 

“The HRF is a force multiplier,” said Cook. “We do a lot of the same things, but Texas is a big state and they provide much needed support for large disasters.”

There are 10 HRFs in the U.S. and each one has to certify every 24 months, said Schnell. Leadership from six different states came out to observe this exercise in order to assist with their own unit operations.

The training is a certification exercise for the HRF, but it is also preparation for the next time Texas, or any other state’s emergency response force may need their help.

“I came here today to check on the Texas Military Forces and show my support for the HRF concept,” said Cook, also explaining that this HRF falls under Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, Region 6. “The great Region 6 HRF, we love working with these guys.”

FEMA Region 6 states include Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

International history returns to the Texas National Guard

 The boxcar was one of 49 given to the U.S. in 1949 - one for each state and the then Hawaiian territory, and was inducted into the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry during a ceremony on Feb. 23, 2014.
The Texas Merci Boxcar arrives at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Feb. 13, 2014. The boxcar was one of 49 given to the U.S. in 1949 - one for each state and the then Hawaiian territory, and was inducted into the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry during a ceremony on Feb. 23, 2014. The "Gratitude Train" or Merci boxcars were given by the people of France as a gift to the American people as a gesture of thanks for relief supplies sent following World War II and the sacrifices made by American service members on French soil during World Wars I and II. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd. Lt. Alicia Lacy)

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 
 

CAMP MABRY, Texas - The Texas Merci boxcar, a gift from the people of France, was welcomed to the Texas Military  Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, in a ceremony held on post, Feb. 23, 2014. 

 In 1949, this boxcar, filled with gifts by the people of France, was delivered to Camp Mabry - as a gesture of thanks to the  American service members for the sacrifices made on French soil during World Wars I and II.

 The boxcar was one of 49 given to the United States that same year – one for each state and the then Hawaiian territory.  Grand Chef de Gare David Knutson, the Texas State commander for the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses, explained  that in 1947 the American people collected $40 million worth of relief supplies for the people of France and Italy who were  struggling from the aftereffects of World War II. In response, the people of France created the “Gratitude Train,” or the Merci  boxcars to thank the American people for these supplies, as well as the sacrifices made during both world wars.

 “This is a special day to commemorate a special relationship,” said Sujiro Seam, Consul General of France in Houston.  “French and American soldiers spilled blood together. That means much more than the dispute on how to name your fries.” 

 Although originally housed at Camp Mabry, the boxcar was moved and placed under the care of the Travis County American  Legion during the early 1950s, when space was needed to support war efforts.

 The Texas boxcar then was placed under the care of the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses, a separately chartered  veterans’ honor society established in 1920 by veterans of World War I. The society gets its name from the stencil painted on  the side of the boxcar, “40 and 8,” indicating that the car could hold either 40 men or 8 horses. These boxcars were used heavily for military operations during both World Wars I and II.

“One of the great symbols of World War I and World War II is the boxcar,” said Jeff Hunt, Texas Military Forces museum director. “It is very fitting that the boxcar will have a permanent place with the Texas Military Forces where we can remember what Americans and French did together and continue to do together, in various places around the world.”

The ceremony boasted several unique speakers. The mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell, read a proclamation, making Feb. 23, 2014 Texas Merci Boxcar Day in Austin. Retired Navy Lt. Michael Thornton, and Medal of Honor recipient, attended as the keynote speaker. 

“Freedom is built on blood, sweat, and tears,” said Thornton. “Today we commemorate this.”

Freedom and the relationship between the French and the American people was the dominant theme during the ceremony, as many recalled how the boxcar symbolized the struggle for freedom that both countries’ service members have fought for together throughout the years. 

“France was the first ally of the United States,” said Seam indicating the role the French military played during the American Revolution. “But France was also the first country to recognize the Republic of Texas. I hope you Texans know that France was the first ally of Texas.”

The boxcar is on display at the Texas Military Forces museum, along with several of the gifts that arrived inside of the boxcar in 1949. For more information on how to view the boxcar visit the Texas Military Forces museum webpage at   www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org.

National Guard senior enlisted adviser visits Texas National Guardsmen

National Guard Bureau senior enlisted leader Command Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell Brush takes time to meet with Staff Sgt. Nayda Troche, center, and Spc. Jennifer Cubero, Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard, after his town hall meeting held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2014.
National Guard Bureau senior enlisted leader Command Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell Brush takes time to meet with Staff Sgt. Nayda Troche, center, and Spc. Jennifer Cubero, Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard, after his town hall meeting held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2014. Brush discussed the value the National Guard brings to the nation, both abroad and at home, and the importance of looking out for each other to help reduce the numbers of suicide within the ranks. Brush also opened up the floor to questions or concerns by service members in the audience. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)

Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon

 AUSTIN, Texas – The National Guard’s senior enlisted adviser, Command Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell O. Brush, held a  Town Hall meeting for Texas National Guardsmen at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Feb. 9, 2014.

 Brush discussed various topics varied from suicide prevention to force structure and specifically highlighted the vital role  the National Guard plays both home and abroad.

 “Since 9/11, 800,000 deployments have been filled by National Guardsmen,” said Brush. “We total only 453,000 both Army  and Air National Guardsmen [at any given time], meaning multiple deployments for some.”

 The senior enlisted advisor explained to the Guardsmen in attendance that these deployments differ from those of the  active duty forces.

 “When we deploy, we cost the same as an active duty component,” Brush said. “However, when we’re done, we go  home; we go back to our communities. This makes us cheaper.”

 Brush is referring to the National Guards’ ranks, composed of part-time service members who have full-time civilian jobs  and careers. This allows the force to have ready trained citizen-soldiers and airmen without having employ them on a full-  time active status.

 In a time of budgets cuts and reduction in missions, Brush believes this is the Guard’s key message to help the fight for  funding for its programs. 

 He reassured the Texas National Guardsmen that this is a top priority for him and Gen. Frank J. Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. 

“Let us worry about force structure,” Brush said. “You guys out here need to concentrate on what you do really well.”

Brush shared a conversation he had with Grass about things that keep him up at night. Instead of responding with budgets and sequestrations, as Brush had assumed, Grass responded with, “Mother Nature.”

“A catastrophic event that will take out three-quarters of the United States,” Brush said. “This is what he worries about.”

The National Guard plays a vital role in support of civil authorities during emergency situations. These can be anything from hurricanes, floods, ice storms and even chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear attacks.

Just one more thing that makes the Guard so valuable, Brush believes.

Spc. Jennifer Cubero, Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard, attended the town hall and appreciated the visit from Brush.

“The fact that we have people at the national levels fighting for us is comforting,” Cubero said. “Regardless of budgets, I feel that they are trying to let the nation know what we do and what we bring to the fight.”

County resolution recognizes Texas Guardsmen

Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape reads a proclamation recognizing the soldiers and airmen competing in the Texas National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift, Bastrop, Texas, on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014.
Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape reads a proclamation recognizing the soldiers and airmen competing in the Texas National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift, Bastrop, Texas, on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014.

Story by: Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Griego

 BASTROP, Texas - National Guard supporters at the Bastrop County Commissioners Court issued a proclamation Feb. 8,  2014, in support of the Best Warrior Competition, held annually at Camp Swift. The installation, located near the city of  Bastrop in central Texas, hosts the joint, statewide event each February to recognize the fittest and most professional  Guardsmen within the Texas Military Forces.

 "We're very excited about this competition being here," said Hon. Paul Pape, county judge for Bastrop County. "We believe  in the mission of the National Guard. We are so thankful that men and women in the National Guard are here to protect our  country and to serve our country to promote freedom here and abroad."

 Pape, who read the resolution just prior to the confidence course event, welcomed the competition and all Texas  Guardsmen to the county and offered further support in the form of a fund-raising golf tournament benefiting the  competitors.

 "It's our way of saying thank you," said Pape. "I hope that they can go back to their homes in Texas and know that we  here in central Texas appreciate what they're doing."

 The day was celebrated by regional and national figures within the military community, including Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell  Brush, the National Guard Bureau's senior enlisted adviser.

"When we go out and get a chance to see these events hosted in our states," said Brush, "the biggest thing that we're looking for is support from the community because we certainly can't do any of this without our communities and our families supporting us."

The competition featured 16 non-commissioned officers and 11 junior enlisted Guardsmen engaging a three-day gauntlet of events, including land navigation, weapons qualification, a six-mile road march, the confidence course, an appearance review board, and a written essay.

"We're very unique as the National Guard," said Brush, speaking of the two branches that make up the component. "We fight fires together, we fight floods together. It's great that we can meet today and build those relationships instead of when we're in a crisis situation where we don't have time to make those introductions."

Strong working relationships are important to Texas Guardsmen, where the airmen and soldiers seldom have opportunities to train alongside each other. Events like this bridge the gap between the branches and reinforce the common ground in our missions.

"It's a good thing for Texas as a whole," said Don Nicholas, the district director for Texas Representative Ralph Sheffield. "People come from around the area, around the state, to witness this important event that takes place here."

The resolution demonstrates a commitment of support from the county only an hour from Austin's Camp Swift, headquarters for the Texas Air and Army National Guards. By celebrating the competition that highlights Texas' finest, the county recognizes the sacrifices and duty of the state's men and women in uniform.

"It gives the public an opportunity to see that our military is trained and prepared," said State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, "and it's not just sitting behind a desk somewhere."

"When the [judge] comes out here on a day that's overcast, cold and gray," said Brush, "and he wants to read a proclamation declaring that today is best warrior day, it just fills my heart with pride to see that we've got such amazing support from our civilian counterparts."

Doors opened for Texas students

"I feel prepared to handle the real world now," said Jessica Knofla, the class assistant corps commander, during the Texas ChalleNGe Academy Graduation at Iraan High School, in Iraan, Texas, June 22, 2013.
"I feel prepared to handle the real world now," said Jessica Knofla, the class assistant corps commander, during the Texas ChalleNGe Academy Graduation at Iraan High School, in Iraan, Texas, June 22, 2013. The academy is a youth challenge program, sponsored by the Texas Military Forces that targets students between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. (National Guard photo by Army 1st Lt. Martha Nigrelle)

Story by: 1st Lt. Martha Nigrelle

 

 IRAAN, Texas – Hundreds of family members cheered as 89 students marched into the Iraan High School gymnasium  on the morning of June 22, 2013. Coming from locations throughout the state of Texas, and each with their own troubled  past, these students were all celebrating the same achievement – graduation from the Texas Challenge Academy (TCA).

 The academy is located in the west Texas town of Sheffield, and is a Youth Challenge Program sponsored by the Texas  Military Forces. The program targets high school students between the ages of 16 and 18 who are high school dropouts  or are at risk of dropping out of high school. 

 TCA has the potential to significantly change people’s lives.

 According to the TCA leadership, each year up to 118,000 students drop out of high school in the state of Texas. A goal of  TCA is to help these students reclaim their lives through mentoring, education, physical fitness and volunteer service to  the community. After a five and a half month course of instruction, students graduate, and then spend the next 12 months  meeting with a mentor every week in order to maintain the positive changes in their life. 

 “I wasn’t even here for two weeks and I was trying to go home,” said Christopher Parkey, the class speaker. “I finally  manned up and I started doing great things. I made myself proud. For the first time my dad said he was proud of me…  But I am just one of 89 success stories here at TCA.”

 These students have a right to be proud, said Lauren Schulman, the academy’s commandant. “You have made the  journey from compliance to self-reliance” – indicating another goal of TCA, to help these students learn how to rely on  themselves.

 Col. Suzanne Adkinson, commander of the Joint Counter-drug Task Force and commencement speaker, spoke to the  students about choices and making the decision to better their lives. Opting not to stand behind the lectern; instead, she  chose to walk around the gym and speak directly to the students. 

 Adkinson reminded the students that sometimes life will present a situation that might not be fun, but is necessary to get  to the next step, making a comparison to household chores.

 “I hate to vacuum,” she said, “but I hate dirt even more.”

 Her solution? Put on some headphones, dance around and vacuum anyway. In life you have to work hard and “go get it yourself,” she said.

Corps commander, Joshua Tilley, a Waco, Texas, resident, said he is ready to do just that. Tilley said he appreciates the life skills he got while at TCA, especially learning how to stay calm and work through a problem.

While he said he has fond memories of the drill and ceremony competition and helping the Texas Military Forces (TXMF) build an obstacle course, he said he is looking forward to a future life serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Jessica Knofla, of Seabrook, Texas, and the assistant corps commander, said she was thankful that her mother encouraged her to participate in the program. She said TCA gave her the tools to take initiative and to find her voice. Knofla said she now feels prepared to handle the real world and is confident that she can push herself to achieve her dream of earning a degree in psychology, law, or filmmaking.

It is evident that this program had a positive effect on each of the students as they accepted their diploma.

“We learned to make our lives better here,” said Priscilla Lopez, one of the graduating students.

“A doorway has been opened for you here today,” said Adkinson, “Doors will continue to open for you. You just have to choose to go through that door.” 

As each student moved their graduation tassel to the left side of their mortar board, the TCA director Michael Weir congratulated the Class of 2013, and told them now was the time “to move from finish strong to carry on.”

National Guard senior leaders 'Like' Facebook, Twitter

Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain

Posted on: April 2, 2013

Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The adjutant general of Texas, visiting with senior leaders of the Texas Military Forces on Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, March 20, 2013.
Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, The adjutant general of Texas, visiting with senior leaders of the Texas Military Forces on Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, March 20, 2013. Nichols is the state's senior military leader appointed by the governor of Texas and posted this image to his official Facebook page (Major General John F. Nichols). (National Guard photo illustration by Air Force Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain)

 CAMP MABRY, Texas – Senior National Guard leaders are making their voices heard on a new parade ground, in the  online auditorium of social media. State and federal military officials have taken to the Internet to send messages directly  to their troops and the public.

 The adjutant general of Texas, Air Force Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, recently launched an official Facebook page, and has  been posting behind-the-scenes photographs and informal guidance on a range of issues. He is currently one of six adjutants general to have a registered Facebook page with the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va.

 “The idea is to reach out to our people in another, unique way,” Nichols said. “The vast majority of our service members  are younger than 30 [years of age] – and this is a way to reach them in a familiar forum. And many are traditional members  of the Guard and can sometimes be hard to regularly reach, by nature of their part-time service.”

 This can be a daunting task, particularly for a Guard organization with more than 25,000, actively serving citizen-soldiers  and airmen performing disparate missions across a geographically expansive state and in overseas operations.

 “In many ways, social media is a modern version of our traditional office bulletin boards,” he said. “The only difference is  the Internet has the ability to reach people almost anywhere in the world.”

 For example, the Texas Army National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, is currently deployed to Afghanistan as part of Task Force Centurion, and they have been able to share photographs and videos of their soldiers and the positive things they are doing for the nation on their Facebook page.

At the national level, Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, the 27th Chief of the National Guard Bureau, is active on Facebook, as is his senior enlisted adviser, Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall. Grass is also on Twitter as @ChiefNGB. The adjutant general of Pennsylvania, Army Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, is also on Twitter as @TAGPNG, the only adjutant general with an NGB-registered account.

Grass and Jelinski-Hall tend to post photographs and comments from events they attend, and give updates on their current activities and projects.

It’s a way for the leaders to interact with service members and the public in a less formal setting.

Facebook and Twitter have been ranked the first and second most popular social networking sites, respectively, according to an eBizMBA analysis of global Internet traffic, dated March 18, 2013.

“It’s important to actively engage people where they are,” said Rick E. Breitenfeldt, the bureau’s public information branch chief, who advises leadership on developing their social media presence. “It’s the way people are communicating today.”

Beyond typical organization pages, he said it can be helpful for leaders to communicate directly with service members and their families.

“Sometimes, it’s important for the force to hear – in first-person – from the leadership,” Breitenfeldt said. “This way, they are able to share messages they think are important, but also behind-the-scenes items that you typically wouldn’t put on an organizational page.”

Their posts range in formality.

Grass has posted official press statements, as well as informal videos of his testimony before a congressional committee, discussing major issues like the current federal budget sequester.

Jelinski-Hall uploads casual, weekly “Mentorship Moment” videos, where she has shared advice on issues ranging from resiliency, core values and ethics to money management.

On Twitter, the micro-blogging site that limits posts to 140 characters, Grass has been known to tweet similar messages that he puts onto Facebook, and to “retweet” messages from accounts he follows, such as the National Guard (@USNationalGuard), the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s account (@thejointstaff) and its chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey). Craig of Pennsylvania’s activity on Twitter is very similar.

Additionally, the National Guard’s senior ranking officer frequently uses the hashtag #NationalGuard in his messages, which allows Twitter users to quickly find all posts with that term included.

The use of unique hashtags can be helpful in aggregating information during a crisis or emergency management situation, said Breitenfeldt. It also helps you reach the group of people that would be most interested in hearing your message.

“Hurricane Sandy is a prime example,” Breitenfeldt said. “We operated on high-tempo for an 18-day, straight period of time.”

Breitenfeldt said they used not only #NationalGuard, but also other unique hashtags, including #Sandy, to get word out about the National Guard response to that hurricane last fall.

Beyond sharing information, the effective use of social media for leaders is about finding ways to make connections and share personal insights, Breitenfeldt said.

To date, one of the Texas adjutant general’s most popular posts was about leaders taking calculated risks.

“Don’t be afraid of failure – it means you’re trying,” Nichols posted, March 19, 2013. “If leaders are afraid to make mistakes, we won’t improve as an organization. Do the risk analysis; assess the variables; but be prepared to underwrite the mistakes of your people and take responsibility for them.”

Social media has the ability to spread a message exponentially.

Nearly 50 people “liked” Nichols’ post and it has been shared numerous times, which Facebook reports has been seen by nearly 850 people, more than three times the number of people that currently follow the general’s page.

Among those who “liked” and commented on the post, in his personal capacity, was Air Force Staff Sgt. David Porcelle, a noncommissioned officer assigned to the Texas Military Forces’ Joint Operations Center in Austin, Texas. He wrote, “Sir, a great philosophy… I make mistakes all the time; rarely the same ones twice,” and included an emoticon forming a smiling face.

Porcelle said he first discovered the senior Texas leader’s page when “someone I know ‘liked’ a comment made by Maj. Gen. Nichols, and that [activity] showed up in my timeline.”

He said he follows numerous senior leader and organizational pages, and thinks they are helpful with getting information to a broad cross-section of people, including those who’ve deployed, transferred to new units or retired.

“Social media’s another tool in the box to get instant feedback from every angle and echelon,” he said. “It’s a useful adjunct to more formal means and direct contact.”

This can be invaluable during those times of disaster, when messages need to get out quickly, in real time.

Breitenfeldt said there was a social media multiplier effect in relation to National Guard’s response to Hurricane Sandy, particularly though their follower’s sharing and commenting on the National Guard’s posts.

“We posted 35 stories on our website that received 17,000 hits,” Breitenfeldt said. “But on Facebook, we posted a fraction of the stories, and they were seen a half a million times. On YouTube [a social media video sharing site], our videos received 1.5 million views and were shown on major networks.”

This type of capability can be powerful, particularly in a state the size of Texas, which can face a myriad of disasters, potentially at the same time, including: hurricanes; tornadoes; wildfires; and even blizzards.

In addition to Nichols, other senior Texas Guard officers on Facebook include: Maj. Gen. Joyce L. Stevens, assistant adjutant general – Army and commander of the Texas Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Manuel Rodriguez, commander of the state-based, volunteer Texas State Guard, and Brig. Gen. William L. Smith, commander of domestic operations.

“With our armories and air wings spread across the state, and units and personnel mobilized around the globe, social media can be a powerful tool to quickly send a message,” Nichols said. “Additionally, I enjoy hearing directly from our soldiers and airmen – getting their feedback.”

While the senior Texas general is still new to the online community, he said he wants to use the platform to talk about more than just himself and his activities.

“I look forward to helping get the word out about the great things we’re doing, [as] a military organization with our inter-agency partners, for the state and nation,” Nichols said.

Texas Air Guard joins annual 'Best Warrior Competition'

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jose Veliz, a member of the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, attempts to negotiate an obstacle during the Texas Military Forces' Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift, near Bastrop, Texas, Feb. 9, 2013.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jose Veliz, a member of the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Security Forces Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, attempts to negotiate an obstacle during the Texas Military Forces' Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift, near Bastrop, Texas, Feb. 9, 2013. Veliz is one of the first Texas Air National Guard members to participate in the event as a competitor. (National Guard photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain / Released)

Story by: Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain

 CAMP SWIFT, Texas – The Texas Military Forces hosted the first joint-service “Best Warrior Competition” at the Texas  Army National Guard’s Camp Swift, near Bastrop, Texas, Feb. 8-10.

 The three-day long competition consisted of numerous events to challenge the Army and Air Guard participants –  physically and mentally, said Command Chief Master Sgt. Kevin O’Gorman, with the Texas Air National Guard’s  headquarters at Camp Mabry, in Austin.

 In recent years, senior leaders have been laying the groundwork for this event to be a joint-service competition, but care  has been taken “to ensure it was going to be compatible, a level-playing field,” said O’Gorman.

 “For the past two years, we’ve had some of our command chiefs sit on the boards,” O’Gorman said. “This year, we’re  fully integrated. We ensured they are in the cadre, and we have eight [Air Guard] competitors running.”

 Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, senior enlisted adviser to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, located at the  Pentagon in Arlington, Va., was on-hand to view the joint-service activities.

 “One of the many benefits that I’m seeing is soldiers and airmen competing side-by-side, getting to know one another,”  said Jelinski-Hall. “This is important, so when there’s a state natural disaster, a flood, fire or a tornado, they already  know each other.”

 The competition’s challenges included: a 6-mile road march; an obstacle course; the use of combat arms; a land  navigation exercise; proficiency in various warrior tasks; writing an essay; and appearing before a board that reviewed  their personal appearance, military bearing and knowledge.

O’Gorman said the Air Guard members came from “all different backgrounds and specialties.”

“So far, we’ve seen some great competitiveness,” O’Gorman said. “We’ve also started seeing the camaraderie that we knew would foster out of this event. We’re all one.”

The Texas Air Guard chief’s assessment was affirmed by an Army Guard participant.

The joint-service nature “benefits the competitors, because you all come along together,” said Spc. Cynthia Chavez, a member of the Texas Army National Guard’s 949th Brigade Support Battalion in El Paso. “I’ve learned a lot from the Air Force that I did not know – we’re all ‘one fight, one team.’ It’s motivating.”

O’Gorman said he sees the joint-service training continuing to build in the future.

“This is what we want to do, this is more of what we want to showcase in our state,” O’Gorman said. “It’s the Texas Military Forces theme, that we’re all one in the uniform.”