From serving Texas to serving overseas, Arrowhead Guardsmen shoulder 2020 chaos to deploy forward

Story by Sgt. Christina Clardy, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas (Sept. 22, 2020) – The Headquarters of the 36th Infantry Division is slated to deploy to the Middle East this fall, and has been rigorously training and preparing for the past two years. Despite their hectic training schedule for the mobilization, many division headquarters Soldiers chose to volunteer for COVID-19 response efforts and the civil disturbance missions.

Army National Guard Spc. Jessenia Cano, an automated logistical specialist, and Spc. Tesely Cooley, a petroleum supply specialist, both with the 449th Aviation Support Battalion and assigned to Joint Task Force 176, load personal protective equipment into the vehicle of a medical provider in Austin, Texas, July 1, 2020. General Support Unit 18 is a team of Texas Military Department personnel assigned to Joint Task Force 176 who activated to help distribute medical supplies to health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Army National Guard Spc. Jessenia Cano, an automated logistical specialist, and Spc. Tesely Cooley, a petroleum supply specialist, both with the 449th Aviation Support Battalion and assigned to Joint Task Force 176, load personal protective equipment into the vehicle of a medical provider in Austin, Texas, July 1, 2020.
General Support Unit 18 is a team of Texas Military Department personnel assigned to Joint Task Force 176 who activated to help distribute medical supplies to health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

This year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott activated more than 3,800 service members from the Texas National Guard with elements of both Texas’ Air National Guard and Army National Guard for two separate crises. The first activation came on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic; Joint Task Force 176 set up over 150 sites where they administered over 530,000 tests. Service members assisted with the states’ decontamination efforts of nursing homes as well as delivered over 7,000 pallets of protective equipment to civilian-run testing sites across the state. The second activation came two-months later while the COVID efforts continued.

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., civil unrest rocked many cities throughout the nation. Texas was no exception and the threat of unrest brought about a second wave of Guardsmen activations. Service members answered the call to support local and state law enforcement and assist in the protection of people and critical infrastructure necessary to the well-being of local communities.

Texas Army National Guard Soldiers attached to Joint Task Force 176's Task Force Capitol support law enforcement during protests at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, June 19, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas Military Department to ensure safety for Texans during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Texas Army National Guard Soldiers attached to Joint Task Force 176's Task Force Capitol support law enforcement during protests at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, June 19, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas Military Department to ensure safety for Texans during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)


COVID-19 RESPONSE

“I was in the process of transferring over to the 36th Infantry Division for the mobilization when my company contacted me looking for volunteers for the COVID support mission back in March,” said Texas Army National Guard 1st Lt. Juan Bonilla, an infantryman formerly from Texas’ 2nd Battalion of the 142nd Infantry Regiment. “The COVID-19 mission brought on a new kind of mission complexity within a state mission that, as far as I know, we have not encountered so far in our history -- definitely not at this widespread level.”

Bonilla worked in the Joint Operations Cell for the JTF 176 COVID-19 Response mission and got a small glimpse of the many moving parts that must synchronize to handle the magnitude of the state response.

“The hardest part of that mission was learning about all the different sections and parts within the mission, and how they moved and communicated to accomplish the mission as a whole,” said Bonilla about the comparison between the COVID-19 Response and the 36th Inf. Div. Headquarters’ upcoming mobilization. “And now, as the Division Headquarters moves forward with our mobilization, I have really started to see the complexities that go into the movements and operations from a higher headquarters down both in state operations and federal operations overseas.”

Bonilla says he’s looking forward to deploying after serving during part of the COVID-19 crisis this summer; to him, being a Texas National Guardsman is all about service.

“I want to learn as much as I can in order to use that knowledge to help our unit’s federal mission while deployed forward and when we return during our future state support missions,” he said. “I have great pride in my country and in my state. Our motto, ‘Texans serving Texans’ is a big thing for me.”

CIVIL DISTURBANCE RESPONSE

“I was having dinner with my family when I got an email informing me that I was activated for the state’s civil disturbance response,” said Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Eric Chacon, an Army medic formerly from Fort Worth’s 3rd Battalion of the 144th Infantry Regiment. “I reported to Camp Mabry that first week of June and we were issued our protective gear before heading down to Camp Swift for our civil disturbance training.”

All Texas Guardsmen activated for the civil disturbance mission spent 3 to 4 days training in crowd response tactics and non-lethal methods. 

Photo By Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell | (BAYTOWN, Texas) -- Texas Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to 712th Military Police Company out of Houston, look on a peaceful group of protestors as they pass by on their way to a rally at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, on June 5, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas National Guard to augment law enforcement throughout the state in response to civil unrest. The Texas National Guard will be used to support local law enforcement and protect critical infrastructure necessary to the well-being of local communities. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell)
Texas Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to 712th Military Police Company out of Houston, look on a peaceful group of protestors as they pass by on their way to a rally at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, on June 5, 2020. On May 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott activated elements of the Texas National Guard to augment law enforcement throughout the state in response to civil unrest. The Texas National Guard will be used to support local law enforcement and protect critical infrastructure necessary to the well-being of local communities. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Scovell) 

“Our civil disturbance training was focused on things like non-lethal training: how to protect yourself and others; how to react or not react to certain threats or taunts; and practice in maintaining our professional manner and bearing when faced with civilians in groups that are in riots or potential riots,” Chacon explained.

The Texas Army National Guard sent Soldiers to more than a dozen areas around the state to support local law enforcement where large protests were happening or where rioting was an ongoing threat. Chacon’s group was sent to guard the State Capitol building grounds in downtown Austin.

“What is really interesting about the Guard to me, is that even though we are military, we are still civilians - we wear both hats,” said Chacon, a native of El Paso. “I feel that with our roots as Texan civilians and our ability to go out in a uniform as a trained force is important because we are a neutral force,” said Chacon. “We aren’t there to choose a side. We are there to protect everyone in general, regardless of which side or which group.”
Chacon, like many 36th Inf. Div. Headquarters Soldiers, spent the spring and summer away from their families supporting the COVID-19 and civil disturbance missions before rolling straight into their mandatory deployment training.

“There was so much to do and so much training we needed to go through to be prepared to deploy [overseas],” he said. “Since activating for the civil disturbance response mission, I have gone straight to my medic refresher course; then into deployment training where we run through our Soldier skills such as weapons qualifications, communications, squad tactics and military vehicle training; and immediately into a support role to assist with preparing and helping my unit pack up for the deployment.”

Even with so much going on at home in their state, Bonilla and Chacon reflect the focus that the 36th Inf. Div. Headquarters maintains as their deployment date fast approaches.

“I’m looking forward to networking with new people during this deployment,” said Chacon. The sense of service and care I have gained through the Guard really helps me connect and communicate with people better. I want to be able to take that forward with us as we deploy, and improve it for when we return home and continue to care for and serve our fellow Texans.

Unexpected Detour: Shelter-Deployed Texas State Guardsmen Step in After Accident

By WO1 David Brown

Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees. 
Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees.

Mesquite, TX - Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees. 

Before sunrise on the wet morning of September 2nd, five Guardsmen from the 3rd Brigade were traveling to an assignment at a hurricane shelter hub in Mesquite, east of Dallas.  As their van slipped through the light morning traffic of I-635 east of Dallas, CPT Lawrence Norotsky saw something ahead. Traffic was suddenly slowing and cars were veering across lanes to avoid a large obstacle. Norotsky directed the van’s driver, SFC Steven Lozano to pull over to a safe location.  

Scattered across the left three lanes of the highway was an SUV, parts of the bodywork mashed, one door ripped from its frame, bits of glass and plastic all around.  Not far behind it was a badly damaged four-door sedan, steam rising from its mangled front end, leaking fluids of some sort.  The car’s airbags had inflated around its driver.  The driver had managed to get out of his vehicle; his lower lip was bleeding, and he was complaining of chest pains.  

The young woman driving the SUV had managed to get out of her vehicle as well, but neither driver was safe. “On our arrival”, Norotsky says, “the witnesses and vehicle occupants were moving in and out of dangerous traffic. 

The Guard members’ training kicked in.  Texans who take the oath of the Texas State Guard, one of the three branches of the Texas Military Department, not only commit themselves to ongoing emergency and disaster management education, but often bring in years of real-world experience and specialized skills.  

Norotsky, who in civilian life is the Assistant Fire Chief of the Ingleside Volunteer Fire Department, unofficially assumed the role of Incident Commander.  Making a 360-degree assessment of the situation, he directed Lozano, PV2 Ruben Garza of Harlingen, and PFC Michael Ward of San Angelo to begin directing traffic away from the accident scene.  Norotsky approached the occupants of the apparent crash to perform triage, directing CPL Matthew Kotara to do a detailed examination of the 76-year-old driver of the sedan. 

Kotara, a trained Emergency Medical Technician, says he needed to ensure the driver of the sedan did not have life threatening injuries.  “The biggest concern for me, because the airbags deployed, and because of his age, was to make sure that he did not have a flail chest, collapsed lungs, any type of puncture wounds or signs of a concussion,” said the TXSG Medical Unit veteran.  “He was bruised and disoriented, but (there were) no signs of life-threatening problems or injuries.”  Kotara remained with the driver to comfort him and to ready a report for first responders who would eventually arrive at the scene.  

Norotsky had determined that there were no fuel leaks or apparent fire hazards, but the weather conditions and the traffic on the multi-lane highway still posed considerable risks to life. Lozano, Garza and Ward directed occupants of the vehicles involved and witnesses downstream from the wrecked cars to the median, creating an effective safety buffer and getting pedestrians out of the way of traffic. “Our uniforms gave us the perceived authority to take charge and bring order to the chaos,” Norotsky said, crediting the TXSG’s required Incident Command Training and the Guard’s military structure for effectively reducing further dangers and removing any sense of panic. 

Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance.  Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees. Soon, an off-duty police officer pulled up on-scene and provided the TXSG team with flares.  Norotsky turned over Incident Command to the first arriving Fire Engine Company Officer, providing a full report. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the incident. 

Lozano, whose civilian job is with the Border Patrol, credits the diverse backgrounds of all involved as having made the unassigned mission-within-a-mission a success. “I truly believe all Guardsmen...bring with us a wealth of knowledge and experience from our lives outside the Guard.” This advantage is one reason TXSG recruiters are always on the lookout for Texans with a variety of skills and career specialties ranging from law enforcement to information technology, science, engineering, education, medicine, construction and more.

Although the TXSG may be best known for their decades of providing relief during major emergencies like Hurricane Harvey - and, more recently, Hurricane Laura, - troops never ‘let their guard down’. While routine traffic accidents seldom get much media attention, the incident along I-635 serves as an important reminder that the Guard’s mission as “Texans serving Texas” never sleeps. 

Several Texans in potential danger received quick, expert assistance on that rainy morning of September 2nd, 2020. Just another day of service for the members of the 3rd Brigade, Texas State Guard.  

Texas National Guard and Egyptian Military begin Long-Term Military Partnership

AUSTIN, TEXAS, Aug. 26, 2020 — On August 24, the U.S. State of Texas and the Arab Republic of Egypt took the first step in forming a long-term partnership under the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program. At the historic Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Secretary of State for Texas Ruth R. Hughs; the Adjutant General of the State of Texas, Major General Tracy R. Norris; and Egypt’s Defense Attaché to the United States Major General Abdelraouf A. Moussa affirmed their intent to form a long-term partnership between the Texas National Guard and the Egyptian Military.

At the event, Major General Tracy R. Norris highlighted past and future cooperation: "The Texas Military Department is proud to play a key role in the overall U.S.-Egypt relationship. From the Texas National Guard's continued participation in Exercise Bright Star - a decades-running, multilateral defense exercise, to Texas National Guard units supporting the MFO's mission in Sinai, Texas is a key player in the military partnership between our two countries. The formal establishment of our partnership through the State Partnership Program codifies and makes official a relationship between our militaries that has been in the making for decades."

In conjunction with the signing in Texas, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Jonathan Cohen noted that the U.S. military relationship with Egypt has been a foundation of the U.S.-Egypt strategic partnership for more than forty years. "Defense cooperation with Egypt is a cornerstone of our strategic partnership, spanning counterterrorism, border security, and joint training and planning to address complex geopolitical challenges."

Egypt’s Defense Attaché Major General Moussa and other Egyptian officials also toured Texas military facilities and observed operations at the U.S.-Mexico border. A formal signing ceremony of the State Partnership program is scheduled for later this year in Cairo, at which time Egypt will have the opportunity to showcase its military capabilities for visiting U.S. officials. This long-term partnership will benefit both Texas and Egypt through the conduct of exchanges and exercises in the areas of C-130 and F-16 flight maneuver and maintenance, cyber defense, logistics, special forces, homeland security response preparedness, military support to civilian authorities, and humanitarian and disaster assistance response.

While the Egypt-Texas partnership is the latest partnership, the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program has been successfully building relationships for over 25 years, and now includes partnerships with 84 nations around the globe. These programs link a unique component of the Department of Defense - a U.S. state's National Guard - with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

For more information about the State Partnership Program, please visit: https://www.nationalguard.mil/Leadership/Joint-Staff/J-5/International-Affairs-Division/State-Partnership-Program/

Texas Counterdrug supports LifeSteps for International Overdose Awareness Day

By Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Soldiers of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force partnered with the LifeSteps Council on Alcohol and Drugs and the Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team to create a video for Overdose Awareness Day Aug. 26 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, Texas.


Normally a live event, during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans changed to a virtual awareness message.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the planning and execution of the event,” said Sgt. David Dillon, a Drug Demand Reduction Civil Operations task force member for the Counterdrug program. “It was decided that the event would be held virtual.”

The fifth annual event helps not only bring awareness but much more to help those in need.

“It’s important to bring awareness of the increasing drug overdose issue, the lives lost, and the families and friends impacted,” said Dillon. “By bringing awareness, it allows for increasing support in science and evidence-based prevention efforts.”

The National Guard Counterdrug Program supports the communities they live and work in.

“We work with LifeSteps,” said Dillon, “a coalition that represents the Williamson County community to plan events and activities based on their needs.

“We released flowers into the lake representing the local lives lost to drug overdose.”

For more information on Overdose Awareness Day and other events, visit www.LifeStepsCouncil.org/events/

Amidst a crisis: At-Risk Youth Receive Second Chance

Story by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

EAGLE LAKE, Texas – Broken homes. Limited Opportunities. Marginal education. Drugs. Gangs. Violence. For some children, this is everyday life with no way to escape. Their reality is something many only see on the television or in nightmares.

What they may not know, is that there is stability, opportunity and education ready for them at the Texas ChalleNGe Academy located in Eagle Lake. With the support of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force, the 16-18 year old kids get a chance.

“The youth of TCA come to us from a variety of backgrounds with a myriad of challenges,” said David De Mers, Director of the Texas ChalleNGe Academy. “For most, the challenges they face are not self-inflicted, but they are likely to be a significant determining factor in their futures.

“At TCA, we put cadets back in a position of authority in their lives by assisting youth in removing the barriers to their success,” said De Mers. “In effect, TCA is a reboot for youth.”

Since approximately 2001, the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force has supported the Youth Challenge Program with training, mentorship and coaching to help mold the cadets into a more positive lifestyle.

“It is an opportunity to give them a second chance at life and to strengthen them to become a productive adult that is able to serve its country,” said First Sgt. Celsa Reyes, the Counterdrug Drug Demand Reduction Civil Operations non-commissioned officer in charge. “The opportunity to mentor and coach TCA cadets is immensely gratifying, and can only hope we have a positive impact on their lives and future.”

The 2020 summer class has some unique challenges never before seen in the world.

“This class includes almost 40 cadets who are returning to our campus after having the last class cancelled amidst the initial COVID-19 closures across the State,” said De Mers. “Because of the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, we are not able to accept our full capacity of candidates as only 110 were invited compared to our maximum capacity of 192.”

To make sure to stop the spread of COVID-19, many protocols and measures are in place.

“TCA is closely following the guidelines described by the Center for Disease Control and the Texas Military Department,” said De Mers. “All staff and candidates were tested for COVID-19 prior to the start of this class.

“Additionally, all staff and cadets are being monitored for symptoms and temperatures daily. Staff and cadets wear facemasks all day and socially distance except in rare cases. All classrooms, living spaces, and meeting rooms are sanitized immediately after each use.”

TCA and Counterdrug provided additional measures to ensure the safety of staff and students.

“Because of COVID-19 the class size has been reduced to facilitate social distancing, three masks per cadet have been provided as well as hand sanitizer dispensers installed throughout the campus,” said Sgt. Matthew Harrison, a Counterdrug task force member helping mentor students and staff.

Working through tough circumstances is what the military accomplishes daily, and COVID-19 is no different.

“Texas could not afford to have such an essential program be stopped by a pandemic,” said Reyes. “TCA makes an everlasting impact in our community by teaching youth the necessary tools to be successful and productive members in our society while also earning credits to graduate from High School or gain a GED.”

Texas Counterdrug brings something more to the youth program partnership than just the typical Soldier does in uniform.

“Many of our youth self-attest to the casual use of drugs and alcohol in the past,” said De Mers. “Counterdrug assists with messaging to our youth, but the youth see the positive interaction and role modeling from members of our military and are drawn toward a better model of citizenship.

“Additionally, Counterdrug members bring a wide variety of expertise that is valuable to staff who serve at TCA. Many TCA staff are not former military and do not have the experience with a number of our quasi-military standards.”

The 17 1/2-month ChalleNGe program includes a 5 1/2-month residential phase and a 12-month follow-up mentorship phase.

“During the residential component, candidates earn cadet status, attend school, participate in physical exercise, and focus on the 8 core components of the Youth ChalleNGe Academy,” said De Mers.

“They are Academic Excellence, Physical Fitness, Leadership & Followership, Responsible Citizenship, Job Skills, Service to Community, Health & Hygiene, and Life Coping Skills. During the post-residential phase, staff and mentors work with graduates on their next steps in education, career, and life.”

Eagle Lake is the third location for the Texas program as Hurricane Ike forced the program to move from Galveston Island to Sheffield in 2008 before consolidating resources to the Eagle Lake campus in 2020.

Counterdrug has helped the youth and staff at every location.

“Counterdrug supports TCA by providing professional Soldiers and Airmen that can train and mentor both staff and cadets in current standard operating procedures, in Drill and ceremony, physical fitness, leadership, etcetera,” said Harrison.

“With schools closed, unemployment high and most things a young adult likes to do closed, TCA is the best opportunity in these times to further their academic career and consequently their professional career.”

Many youth within the state struggle each day to survive in their environment and the Texas ChalleNGe Academy is working diligently to provide a safe, secure and empowering atmosphere for their cadets.

“We believe that there are youth throughout Texas that need this program, and we believe we can make this a safe location for programming by following the guidance that is available,” said De Mers. “We recognize that there is risk in any program that connects people together, however, the youth who are at greatest risk in our communities deserve the opportunities that this program provides.”

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

By Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daughter of Tuskegee Airman makes Texas State Guard history

By WO1 David Brown, Texas State Guard

SAN ANTONIO - During World War II, Sgt. Percy Howard Payne was assigned to the support team of the 332nd Fighter Wing of the U.S. Army Air Corps, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen— America’s first black aviators. A generation later, the Payne family would again make military history, as Col. Paula Payne became the first black woman to serve in the rank of colonel in the Texas State Guard.

As part of the Tuskegee Airmen, Percy Payne worked in procurement and used his talents as a musician and entertainer to support troop morale as part of Operation Happiness. Serving at a time when the U.S. military was racially segregated, Percy Payne found himself denied leadership roles, as black Soldiers were denied entry into the officers corps. Frustrated with a system that denied advancement based on race, Percy Payne left the military when the war ended. Photo of Sgt. Percy Howard Payne

Undeterred by her father’s treatment, Paula Payne enlisted in the Virgin Islands Air National Guard after finishing her undergraduate and graduate education. According to Paula Payne, the decision was not well received by her father. 

“He told me ‘I just hope they treat you better than they treated me,’” said Paula Payne.

Describing herself as “a rolling stone”, Paula Payne described her career in the Guard as highlighted by travel and full of support from her superiors. Her first move was to Andrews Air Force Base after transferring to the District of Columbia National Guard. Upon arrival, she met a commander with a link to her family’s past military service. 

Lt. Gen. Russell C. Davis was the commander of Paula Payne’s new unit, the 113th Fighter Wing, and also a native of Tuskegee, Alabama. According to Paula Payne, Davis took quick interest in her career development and coordinated for her to obtain a full time position with the Air National Guard. 

“When I arrived to the 113th, Lt. Gen. Russel asked ‘Why do you want to do weekend drills? We need some people for active duty at the Air National Guard Support Center and the National Guard Bureau!’” said Davis. 

Paula PayneDavis’ recommendation helped Paula Payne become the first enlisted airman to serve in the Chief of Chaplain’s Office at the Air National Support Center. The move also put Paula Payne on the path to joining the ministry. Payne went on the earn a masters degree in divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary, and direct commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

“I started all over again from the bottom of the officer’s ranks, separated from active duty, and transferred over to the Air Force Reserves as a chaplain candidate.” 

Paula Payne served in a variety of pastoral duties rotating between the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve following her commission,  until the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 called her back to full-time service as the Air National Guard’s first black female chaplain.  

Paula Payne’s first combat deployment led her to Balad, Iraq as part of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, a component of the 332nd Fighter Wing, her father’s former unit. Though prejudice kept Percy Payne from rising through the ranks, his daughter Paula was named the senior chaplain at Joint Base Balad. 

During her time in Iraq, Paula Payne described the attacks as non-stop, recalling one night when a mortar struck near her quarters.  

“You could hear the faint eeeee... boom, and it was close to my hooch, the housing location of the medical group. The rocket was launched in the middle of the night. I felt the thing hit the ground, PA-PUM. Then I heard ‘Nobody move, shelter in place!” said Payne.

An hour and a half went by as the Explosive Ordnance Team attempted to defuse the mortar. Paula Payne sheltered in place, praying.  Paula Payne sheltered in place, praying.

“I knew I was going to die if I stepped out that hooch and made one move.” said Payne. “Then came the sound of an explosion, the next thing I heard was someone shout for the chaplain.” 

Immediately, it was back to work for Paula Payne as she ran to the site where a young airman died attempting to save his fellow service members. 

“If it were not for him, it could have been me or anybody else. He was my hero,” said Payne.

Following her six months in Iraq, Paula Payne deployed to multiple assignments across Europe and the United States before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2014. Thinking of what life might hold next, she remembered the stories of her grandfather, who had grown up in Texas as the son of a Methodist preacher. It inspired her to pack her bags again, and this time, she and her twin sister Patricia Payne, an Army veteran, decided to relocate to Texas. According to Payne she sensed something waiting for her there.

Four years later, Payne took the oath of office becoming the first black female colonel to serve in the Texas State Guard. Payne had worked towards attaining that rank in both Air National Guard and Air Force reserve, but she was never selected.

“I had finally come to terms that the promotion was not God’s plan.” said Paula Payne. “Then the Governor signed the promotion order. When I die, my obituary will read, “Chaplain, Colonel, Paula M. Payne. Texas did that for me.” 

Paula M. Payne

Communication is key with Task Force Texas

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

McCann appreciates the opportunity to serve his fellow Texans.

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

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

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

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

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

Texans serving Texas.

The Texas State Guard: Woman Beyond the Uniform

Story by WO1 Kevin Farley, Texas State Guard

Captain Cyla Barron, of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) has been selected as a finalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition on October 11, 2020. As one of 25 finalists, she will be competing with contestants from the Army (8), Navy (7), Air Force (7), and Marines (2). Barron is the only contestant representing the TXSG. The competition, originally scheduled to be held in Florida, will be held virtually due to COVID-19. 

According to the Ms. Veteran America website: “The Ms. Veteran America competition highlights more than the strength, courage and sacrifice of our nation’s military women, but also reminds us that these women are Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Wives.” 

The purpose of the competition is to highlight the women beyond the uniform and was created to benefit The Final Salute, Inc., an organization established to help support homeless women veterans and their families.Captain Barron

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Barron has lived in Texas for approximately 12 years. Serving in the TXSG for almost seven years, Barron also served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a structural mechanic trained plane captain. 

“Initially, I did not want to be a part of [the competition] because I thought it was a pageant and that doesn’t fit who I am. However, once I found out that it was more of a competition with a good balance between pageantry and Veteran causes, I was on board,” said Barron. 

However, Barron had never heard of the event until a visit to the Veterans Affairs (VA) earlier in the year. 

“After an appointment at the VA, I was in line grabbing something to eat when I met a Vietnam Veteran. I was paying for my food and told him that breakfast was on me, thanking him for his service,” Barron said. 

Approximately six months later, the Vietnam Veteran, named Jim, located Barron via Facebook and informed her about Ms. Veteran America. 

Jim went on to tell Barron, “I never forgot what you did for me and it meant so much. You should run for Ms. Veteran America because you have a heart for veterans.” 

Still not very interested in the competition, Barron looked it up on the internet out of obligation. Then when she discovered that the Ms. Veteran America competition was focused on what she was already doing by supporting veteran causes, Barron had a change of heart. 

“My goal is to bring visibility to the causes that I believe are under-represented such as the struggles women face serving and outside of the uniform,” Barron said. “Additionally, I’m hoping to bring visibility to the Texas State Guard and other veteran causes that I am passionate about.” 

Barron serves as a volunteer for the Women Marines Association as President and founder of the Heart of Texas Austin Chapter, the OV-10 Bronco Association, PTSD Foundation of America, Patriot’s Hall, VFW Dripping Springs. She has also served as a Big Sister in the Big Sisters/Big Brothers of America, Drive a Senior and other volunteer organizations. 

The final competition will consist of interviews, questioning, gown presentation and talent. The questions will be focused on Women in Military History.

When asked how she is preparing for the competition, Barron stated, “I have been practicing my talent and studying a lot!” 

As a Texas State Guard woman who provides mission-ready military forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies, there is no doubt that Barron will be prepared for the final competition. 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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