Lone Star Gunfighters navigate challenges to produce F-16 pilots 

Lone Star Gunfighters navigate challenges to produce F-16 pilots

Story by: 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain

Posted: May 5, 2016

2nd Lt. Phil Fountain  Lt. Col. Bryan Carlson (right), an F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot and commander of the 149th Maintenance Group, visits with Chief Master Sgt. John D. Mead (left), the group’s maintenance operations flight superintendent, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, April 15, 2016. Carlson and Mead are members of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, which is currently operating at Luke while San Antonio’s Kelly Field undergoes runway repairs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain) 160415-Z-DJ352-001
2nd Lt. Phil Fountain 
Lt. Col. Bryan Carlson (right), an F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot and commander of the 149th Maintenance Group, visits with Chief Master Sgt. John D. Mead (left), the group’s maintenance operations flight superintendent, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, April 15, 2016. Carlson and Mead are members of the Texas Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, which is currently operating at Luke while San Antonio’s Kelly Field undergoes runway repairs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain) 160415-Z-DJ352-001

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Arizona (April 15, 2016) – Each year, the 149th Fighter Wing, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, trains F-16 Fighting Falcon student pilots for the Total Force – U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force Reserve. Their courses include: initial qualification training, instructor pilot upgrade training and senior leader re-qualification training.

This year, the Texas Air National Guard unit, whose members are known as the Lone Star Gunfighters, is overcoming unusual adversity to achieve their Air Force objectives.

The current challenges include a temporary relocation of operations from San Antonio’s Kelly Field to Luke Air Force Base, near Phoenix, to numerous maintenance issues affecting their aircraft fleet.

“Each year, in April, we come to Arizona to allow the students to be able to participate in a large force employment exercises,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Carlson, an instructor pilot and commander of the 149th Maintenance Group.

“It allows them to fly with other airplanes from other services and to fly beyond just a four-ship, to employ as an eight-ship and beyond, and to fly against multiple targets,” Carlson said. “And it allows them to drop heavy weights and live bombs.”

The trip to Arizona is not new, but the length of the stay is, Carlson said. Typically, the trip is a two-week temporary duty that incorporates the ANG unit’s annual training requirements, but now they have been in-place for nearly two months.

The annual trip is normally dubbed Coronet Cactus, and serves as a capstone, training event for the student pilots before they graduate and head off to their active or reserve component units. This year, the Gunfighters are calling the trip Super Cactus, due to their extended visit to the Grand Canyon State.

The temporary relocation is a result of ongoing repairs to Kelly Field, which are expected to be complete in May.

As a result of the relocation, the unit has had to adjust its training syllabus and integrate themselves into a new environment.

“We’ve had to figure out the nuances of operating at a location like Luke,” said Lt. Col. Kristian Thiele, an instructor pilot and the assistant director of operations for the wing’s 182nd Fighter Squadron. “We are competing with not only six other flying squadrons for airspace and range time, but also the Marine customers at Yuma, as well as Davis-Monthan and Tucson (units).”

“At home, we are the only user, typically, of our airspace, so we can drive our own schedule,” Thiele said. “Here, we’ve been at the mercy of their range airspace scheduling, so we’ve had some pretty wild shifts in takeoff times and where our days are from week to week. That’s been a challenge.”

But the mission goes on and the pilot training remains underway. However, a more serious threat to the unit’s training mission involves the structural integrity of some of their F-16s.

“We’re at a unique time, because our home station planes are going through a repair process that we haven’t had to do before,” Carlson said. “We’re operating with significantly less airplanes right now and still trying to be able to keep the student timeline relatively close.”

This is an issue for the Total Force, but mostly impacts Air National Guard units, which operate aging Block-30 F-16s, Carlson said. All of the Gunfighters’ two-seat training model aircraft were grounded last fall.

“It’s mainly a Guard problem,” Carlson said. “Right now, it’s only a D-Model, or two-seat, problem. But it affects the longeron, which is a main frame of the plane. Last November, we found a crack in a position of that longeron at the aft end of the canopy. The repair process takes about 21 days.”

Gunfighter maintainers are working with an aircraft depot team from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to work on the jets at Luke, Carlson said. After completing these repairs, the aircraft should be able to fly another 1,000 hours before further repair; afterward, they will have to undergo a yearlong repair process.

“We’re in historic times right now, we’ve never had to fly the airplanes that are still flyable at the rate that we’ve had to fly them,” Carlson said. “What ends up happening when you do that is: you compress the required maintenance that has to happen on those airplanes.”

To keep their training on pace, the unit reached out to other units to borrow available F-16s.

“We borrowed some jets from other Air National Guard units – from Vermont, Atlantic City and Alabama,” Thiele said. “We’ve just accepted some (active duty jets) from Hill (Air Force Base, Utah).” 

Unlike an agreement between active duty units, lending aircraft from the active component to the Air National Guard requires coordination between the Air Force major commands, the federal National Guard Bureau and the Texas Air National Guard’s leadership.

These borrowed aircraft are expected to allow the Gunfighters to get caught up on student production and get ahead going forward, Carlson said.

However, accepting the new aircraft is not as simple as it might seem.

“The front-end of accepting airplanes is a lot of work,” Carlson said.

“One, we have to gain it on the paperwork side, into the maintenance software system,” Carlson said, “and that takes several days to do that per airplane. Then, we physically go out and do inspections to make sure that it’s up to the standards.”

Further, the F-16s from Hill are a more advanced block than the Texas jets, Carlson said. This has required the aircraft maintainers, the avionics specialists in particular, to receive additional training to work on the Block 40 F-16s.

Even before receiving the aircraft, the Gunfighters have to send pilots and maintainers to the lending unit to pick up the aircraft for transport back to Luke.

This – in conjunction with the temporary relocation from Kelly Field to Luke – has created complexity for the Air National Guardsmen’s pay and benefits.

“I think anybody in this unit would say this is the most complex TDY that anybody has ever seen,” said Staff Sgt. John B. Solano, a military pay technician with the 149th Comptroller Flight. 

“Usually our mass TDYs are just two weeks,” Solano said. “Its two weeks there, two weeks back. There’s really not that extensive time for issues to happen, and if it did happen, it would get settled back home.”

Unlike their active duty counterparts, the Gunfighters have to manage through the complexity of a blended workforce of Active Guard Reservists, who are most similar to active duty airmen, dual-status, civilian technicians and traditional drill status Guardsmen.

“There’s a lot of ‘what ifs’ that we couldn’t answer until it happened,” Solano said. “We have individuals flying in and out of Luke to do other TDYs, which are also effecting their current TDY. We’re having to make multiple (travel) amendments to accommodate, to book plane tickets, rental cars, lodging at those duty locations, and in return, to get them back here.”

“Depending on where they’re lodging – whether they’re on or off-base – depends on how much per diem they get. So there’s also adjustments based on their status while they’re here,” Solano said.

Even with these challenges, Carlson said his maintainers are excited to accept the new aircraft.

“We pride ourselves on the cleanliness of our airplanes and the maintenance practices that we do,” Carlson said. “We are very fortunate in the Guard, we have continuity on airplanes. You have guys that have crewed the same airplane for 20 years. They know these airplanes, in-and-out.”

“There’s just a level of pride there that’s difficult to replicate,” Carlson said. “They’ll adopt these aircraft as if they were their own.”

Being away from home longer than expected can be a challenge, but the Gunfighter airmen have embraced the opportunities the trip presents.

“I think morale is really high,” Carlson said. “We’re able to focus on the mission. Another byproduct of that is, we’ve been able to get closer as a unit.”

“We spend a lot more time together, doing things together in the evenings and on the weekends, those are things we’re not able to do at home,” Carlson said. “Even though they miss being home for these months, I think that they cherish the time to build those bonds and to focus on the mission.”

In addition to the personal connections that are enhanced, there are professional benefits for the Gunfighters’ operation at Luke.

“We’re out of our comfort-zone,” Thiele said. “But I think that helps us, as pilots, not flying in our backyard all of the time. Not only for the student perspective, but also the instructors.”

Carlson said much the same from the maintenance standpoint.

“This gives us a great chance to get out of the comfort in our normal environment at home and act like we’re deployed,” Carlson said. “It also allows the maintenance personnel to pack up and operate out of a different location.”

The current student pilots are on track to graduate from their initial qualification course in June. Afterward, they are slated to go to units within the stateside Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe or Pacific Air Forces major commands.

“We continue to accomplish the 149th Fighter Wing’s federal mission,” Thiele said. “We’ve been able to – even with the aircraft issues we’ve had – continue the training role and get product out to the combat Air Force.” 

Thursday, May 5, 2016 11:38:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

Van Native breveted to Army Brigadier General 

Brig. Gen. Flynn received his new badges of rank from both Governor Greg Abbott and his familyAUSTIN, Texas (April 20, 2016) – The Commanding General of the Texas State Guard, Maj. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty, is pleased to announce the brevet of Army Col. Dan Flynn, interagency partnering officer, to the rank of Brigadier General.

In a ceremony at the Texas Capitol, in Austin, April 11, 2016, Brig. Gen. Flynn received his new badges of rank from both Governor Greg Abbott and his family. During his speech, Flynn thanked his friends and family for their continued support, as well as expressed his appreciation, to the leadership, for allowing him to join an exemplary group and give back to others.

“To get to serve the great state of Texas is an honor,” Flynn said. “It’s an honor I truly hope I am worthy of.”

Flynn joined the Texas State Guard in 2005. Since then, he has deployed on State Active Duty to in support of numerous state disaster responses. Additionally, Flynn has had a positive impact on the State of Texas and the Texas State Guard and has been instrumental in helping to develop policies and programs that have had a lasting impact on the training and readiness of the entire Texas State Guard. Other military service also includes several years with the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division.

On the civilian side, Flynn currently serves in the Texas House of Representatives where he represents House District 2 in East Texas, to include Hunt, Hopkins and Van Zandt counties. While in this role he has sponsored bills passed into law that accept military training for Texas occupational and professional licensing, as well as to issue those licenses in an expedited manner. The U.S. Department of Defense has recognized him with their Distinguished Service Medal for his service and strong legislative support of the department’s efforts.

Flynn lives with his wife Susan, in Van, and is the father of three, grandfather of five and recently a very proud great grandfather.

Friday, April 29, 2016 11:18:00 AM Categories: Blog

Texas Military honors fallen veteran 

Texas Military honors fallen veteran

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: April 26, 2016

Capt. Martha Nigrelle Soldiers from the Texas National Guard’s Honor Guard recognize the service of Airman 1st Class James Beatty with full military honors, during a Missing in American Project ceremony held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2016. The ceremony was a part of the Texas Military Department's annual Open House, an event that serves to honor veterans, service members and partner first responders. The Missing in American Project locates, identifies and inters the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle/ Released)
Capt. Martha Nigrelle
Soldiers from the Texas National Guard’s Honor Guard recognize the service of Airman 1st Class James Beatty with full military honors, during a Missing in American Project ceremony held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2016. The ceremony was a part of the Texas Military Department's annual Open House, an event that serves to honor veterans, service members and partner first responders. The Missing in American Project locates, identifies and inters the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans through the joint efforts of private, state and federal organizations. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle/ Released)

AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Military Department, along with Missing in America Project volunteers, American Heroes Air Show, first responders and American Legion representatives, honored a fallen Airmen during a ceremony held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2016.

Airman 1st Class James Beatty served honorably in the U.S. Air Force from 1975 to 1978. Shortly after being honorably discharged from the service, Beatty passed away. The events of his death are unknown and his body was never claimed. 

“There have been thousands of brothers and sisters in arms whose lives ended in a similar manner and were lost to any family or friends,” said retired Texas Military Department Chaplain, Col. John Price. “Not missing in action, but missing in America.”

According to their website, the Missing in America Project works with private, state and federal organizations to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans and provide honor and respect to those who served their country by securing them a final resting place.

The Texas Army National Guard’s Honor Guard rendered full military honors to Beatty, including a 21 gun salute. They presented a flag, on behalf of a grateful nation, to Javier Gonzalez, Post 83, American Legion Riders. Gonzalez received the flag on behalf of all veterans, since Beatty had no known next of kin.

“It’s so important for Camp Mabry to be hosting this and to share it with the public,” said Hunter Ellis. “It gives people a chance to honor those that have served and recognize the importance of serving. Hopefully we are fueling a new generation of freedom fighters for people who want to uphold those American values.”

Ellis understands firsthand the significance of honoring the missing. His father fought in Vietnam and never made it home, being listed as missing in action for more than 40 years. Ellis, a Navy veteran, said he recognizes the importance of ceremonies that return service members to families or provide a permanent resting place for American heroes.

“It’s important to be given full honors and return home,” said Ellis. “My Dad’s ID card is in a north Vietnamese museum. So I hope one day that it will be returned to American soil and at least I will have some part of him.

The Missing in America Project has interred 2,736 veterans’ remains in the last 10 years, said Price. 

“This was a memorable way for the community to finally identify and honor a long-lost hero that served our country,” said Wut Tantaksinanukij, Co-Event Director of Austin’s American Heroes Air Show. “It’s never too late to honor our American Heroes for their military service.”

Beatty’s remains were interred at the Central Texas State Veteran’s Cemetery in Killeen, April 18, 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 11:43:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

Texas and Chile, a partnership uniquely matched 

Texas and Chile, a partnership uniquely matched

Story by: Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert

Posted: April 26, 2016

Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert Critical Care Air Transport teams from the U.S. Air Force and Aerea Fuerza de Chile, load a mock patient onboard a C-130H2 aircraft belonging to the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during a medical air-evacuation exercise at Santiago, Chile, April 5, 2016. The one day exercise involved Texas and Oklahoma Air National Guardsman, Active duty USAF and Chilean air force medical teams as they collaborate and exchange techniques for domestic operations during natural disasters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert/released)
Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert
Critical Care Air Transport teams from the U.S. Air Force and Aerea Fuerza de Chile, load a mock patient onboard a C-130H2 aircraft belonging to the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, during a medical air-evacuation exercise at Santiago, Chile, April 5, 2016. The one day exercise involved Texas and Oklahoma Air National Guardsman, Active duty USAF and Chilean air force medical teams as they collaborate and exchange techniques for domestic operations during natural disasters. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert/released)

SANTIAGO, Chile—The morning after the ending of FIDAE 2016, the flight line at Fuerza Aerea De Chile in Santiago, emptied except for the lone C-130H2 Hercules aircraft from the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard; as it prepared for its second mission, a medical air-evacuation exercise with Chilean airmen, April 4, 2016.

The morning was cool and foggy, barely noticing the majestic Andes mountain range in the far off distance behind the rows of medical tents. Chilean medical teams scurried alongside doctors and nurses from the 136th Medical Group and 147th Medical Group, Critical Care Air transport Team (CCATT), Texas Air National Guard, preparing to receive patients at a moment’s notice. Texans and Chileans collaborated with each other, working side-by-side and learning from each other, a partnership equally matched.

“Texas is one of the best State partners,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kellie Williams, Chief Medical Operations and Plans Division, 12th Air Force, “because they are well equipped to respond to civilian domestic operations, same as Chile and uniquely matched to Texas with similar situations.”

In the distance, beyond the fog, one could hear the sounds of whirling blades approaching from the mock-crash site, bringing with it a helicopter full of mock casualties; a scene almost too familiar and reminiscent to the show ‘M.A.S.H.’ The moment the helicopter landed, corpsmen rushed to evacuate the helicopter and fill their gurneys with casualties. Seven patients were rushed into the medical tent for triage.

Doctors and nurses from both countries assessed the casualties and prepared them for an air-evacuation on board the C-130, where an aeromedical evacuation team from the 137th Medical Group, Oklahoma Air National Guard, waited for their embarkment. 

The most critical patients were passed on to the CCATT for stabilization prior to loading. The two countries worked seamlessly as if they had practiced together. This is the first time the Chilean medical team had worked side-by-side with the U.S. Airmen on a medical air-evacuation exercise in Chile. Language was only a slight barrier as medical terms were universally used.

The casualties were transported via litters onboard the C-130, which can carry up to 70 non-ambulatory patients, turning it into a high-capacity flying ambulance. 

Overall the exercise was a true success as each country took away valuable hands-on experiences from their time together. Future exercises are in the works to greater enhance the partnership between Texas and Chile.

“It was a wonderful experience being able to work with Chileans and exchange knowledge,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jong Lee, 147 MDG, CCAT physician and a burn specialist in his civilian job. “They were very knowledgeable and competent. They were also very hospitable.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 11:40:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

Texas Guardsman saves lives of Danish citizens; awarded Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Service 

Texas Guardsman saves lives of Danish citizens; awarded Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Service

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted On: April 22, 2016

CAPTION:  Capt. Bradley Grimm, center,Texas Army National Guard, receives the Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Efforts by Danish Defense Gen. Peter Bartram, left, and American ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, right, at a ceremony held in Denmark, April 19, 2016.  Grimm was instrumental in foiling a terrorist plot to bomb a Danish school and assisted Danish security forces in making an arrest. (Danish Military photo by Sune Wadskjær/Released)
Capt. Bradley Grimm, center,Texas Army National Guard, receives the Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Efforts by Danish Defense Gen. Peter Bartram, left, and American ambassador to Denmark Rufus Gifford, right, at a ceremony held in Denmark, April 19, 2016. Grimm was instrumental in foiling a terrorist plot to bomb a Danish school and assisted Danish security forces in making an arrest. (Danish Military photo by Sune Wadskjær/Released)

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas National Guard Capt. Bradley Grimm was awarded the Danish Defense Medal for Special Meritorious Service in a ceremony held in Denmark, April 19, 2016.

“Capt. Grimm provided actionable intelligence about a bomb threat against a school in Denmark,” said Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve. “The information he provided helped to foil a plot, and resulted in an arrest and a confiscation of explosives. Brad's work likely saved the lives of Danish citizens.”

The information included a bomb threat against a Danish school.

According to Warren, Grimm helped develop a system to speed the flow of intelligence from the ground up to national capitals. This system was paramount in identifying the Danish authorities of the terrorist threat.

“It’s not every day an American captain receives a very high, prestigious medal from a foreign country,” Warren said.

Defense Gen. Peter Bartram, Danish Defense Chief, presented Grimm with the Danish Defense Medal for Meritorious Service with special honors.

According to a Danish officer, not only is the award one of the highest awards in Denmark, but also the special meritorious duty citation makes this award very rare. The medal is awarded infrequently, even to Danes, and is roughly equivalent to something more than a Legion of Merit, but less than a Silver Star.

The medal was originally awarded for meritorious deployment outside of Denmark, but after 2010, the Danish government began awarding it to civilians or military personnel for meritorious service for the betterment of the Danish Defense.

“Capt. Grimm’s actions had a monumental impact on our allies in Denmark, and consequently on our coalition in the fight against international terrorism,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the Adjutant General of Texas. “He embodies what our force stands for – Duty, Honor, Texas.”

Friday, April 22, 2016 11:48:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas Air National Guard member continues military ambassador tradition 

Texas Air National Guard member continues military ambassador tradition

Story by: Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem

Posted: April 22, 2016

Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Crow, an intelligence analyst with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and fellow Air Force ambassador, Tech. Sgt. Steven Nowicki, 341st Training Squadron, both headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, talk to 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain, a 149th Public Affairs officer, during the Fiesta 2016 Media Day, March 16, 2016, in downtown San Antonio. Crow and Nowicki represent JBSA as Air Force ambassadors, a military community engagement program that annually selects the top two members, male and female respectively, from each service branch as representatives.
Staff Sgt. Mindy Bloem
Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Crow, an intelligence analyst with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and fellow Air Force ambassador, Tech. Sgt. Steven Nowicki, 341st Training Squadron, both headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, talk to 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain, a 149th Public Affairs officer, during the Fiesta 2016 Media Day, March 16, 2016, in downtown San Antonio. Crow and Nowicki represent JBSA as Air Force ambassadors, a military community engagement program that annually selects the top two members, male and female respectively, from each service branch as representatives.

For the second year in a row, a member of the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, is representing the U.S. Air Force in an official capacity at local area events.

Tech. Sgt. Jacqueline Crow, an intelligence analyst with the 149th FW, and Tech. Sgt. Steven Nowicki, a military working dog instructor from the 341st Training Squadron, are this year's Air Force military ambassadors, selected out of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Every year, military ambassadors from each service branch are chosen in pairs, one male and one female, to act as appointed representatives and engage with the community at various events throughout the year.

Crow competed for the special designation against Air Force active duty, Guard and Reserve members from all three surrounding JBSA installations: Fort Sam Houston, Randolph and Lackland.

"It's an amazing opportunity to represent the Total Force, both Air National Guard and active duty, going out and putting on one team, one fight," she said.

Before being chosen for the position, top-qualifying candidates go before a selection board. Crow's board was comprised of active duty chiefs and the previous year's Air Force ambassadors. Both of last year's ambassadors, Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Hall and Master Sgt. Juan Flores, are members of the 149th FW. But for Crow, that commonality didn't make the atmosphere any less intimidating.

"It was actually kind of more nerve-wracking with both of them on the board because they knew me - actually Juan didn't know me at that point," she said remembering the details of the panel. "They asked us questions in regards to Fiesta and what our involvement in the San Antonio community was."

Flores, one of last year's Air Force ambassadors, said the ambassador applicants get asked a lot of Fiesta San Antonio questions because the bulk of events that the ambassadors attend involve the annual event.

Every year, the city of San Antonio hosts Fiesta, which runs for ten days in April. This year marks its 125th anniversary.

Flores said that Crow had a lot of the characteristics the panel looks for when choosing its ambassadors.

"You want someone who has charisma," he said. "You don't want someone who is strictly all military, who doesn't show much emotion. You want someone who has good military bearing, yes, but you also want someone who is personable."

It took about a week for Crow to hear back about the board's decision. The then-wing executive, Maj. Cindy Storoy, who Crow credits as the driving force behind her decision to apply, called to congratulate her on being selected as an Air Force ambassador.

"I was excited," Crow said looking back on that moment. "I'm pretty sure there was some dancing around the living room. I don't think I realized just how extensive and how great of an opportunity this is to represent the Air Force."

Now having attended several events and gaining a little more insight into what the military ambassador program is all about, Crow said she better understands its significance.

"To be a member of the 149th [FW] that continues the tradition and to be a part of the ambassador program on this big of a stage feels amazing," she said.

In the spirit of continuing that tradition, Hall, last year's female Air Force ambassador, passed down her Air Force service cap for Crow to wear during this year's many outside events. "She said, 'you need this hat because the sun is going to be in your eyes a lot, so here's my hat. Does it fit?' And it fit perfectly, so we're already talking about next year, hopefully passing that hat onto somebody else that wins the ambassador program."

Hall said she was just glad it fit because she liked the idea of another Gunfighter continuing the tradition of the ambassador program, which she views as a "bond between the San Antonio community and the entire military community."

Like her military ambassadors before her have said, Crow remarked that one of the program's aspects she finds most rewarding is the interaction she gets with her fellow ambassadors from the other services.

"You don't really know that these other branches have a presence on these bases until you get to know these guys and they're like, 'yeah, we do this,' and I'm thinking I didn't know that was a mission here, so it's been eye opening to say the least," she said.

The learning experience seems to go both ways.

"I was familiar with the Guard because I had worked with them on deployments before, but I wasn't as familiar with the 149th FW, said Nowicki, who is Crow's Air Force ambassador male counterpart. "I didn't know it was a Guard unit. [Crow] has taught me a lot about its different roles and functions. I always joke that she's the brains and I'm the brawn in this operation. It really has been great getting to know her. I've just learned so much from her."

During the ambassador introductions, Crow states her job title and affiliation with the Air National Guard, which often generates interest from her military counterparts.

"They'll approach me afterwards and say, 'oh, you're Guard, that's awesome, Total Force. We're so happy to see the Guard representing this year.' It feels awesome to carry on the tradition," she said.

Having the responsibility of representing both her wing and her service could seem daunting, but Crow doesn't let it get to her.

"I'm just going to go out and have fun, and I'm going to be myself," she said. I'm going to do everything I can to represent not just the Air Force but the Air National Guard in a positive light. If I can just do that, then there shouldn't be any pressure."

Friday, April 22, 2016 11:46:00 AM Categories: Texas Air National Guard

Texas Guardsmen rescue 140 in Houston floods 

Texas Guardsmen rescue 140 in Houston floods

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: April 21, 2016

Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade, 36th Infantry Division work alongside local and state emergency responders to rescue Texans in need from severe flooding in Houston, Texas, April 19, 2016. Texas Guardsmen, working with Harris County emergency response units and Texas Task Force 1, rescued 140 people in five hours. (U.S. Army National Guard photo courtesy of 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade/Released)
Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade, 36th Infantry Division work alongside local and state emergency responders to rescue Texans in need from severe flooding in Houston, Texas, April 19, 2016. Texas Guardsmen, working with Harris County emergency response units and Texas Task Force 1, rescued 140 people in five hours. (U.S. Army National Guard photo courtesy of 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Sustainment Brigade/Released)

HOUSTON – Texas Guardsmen from the 736th Component Repair Company, 36th Infantry Division, pulled 140 people to safety from severe flooding in Houston, April 19, 2016.

Working alongside Harris County Police officers, firefighters, Sheriff’s Office and Texas Task Force 1, guardsmen worked through the night to help Texans in need.

After linking up with partner emergency responders at the Harris County Fireman Training Center in Humble, the soldiers split up to provide assistance to severely flooded neighborhoods, sending half of their trucks to Ponderosa, a neighborhood located on the north side of Houston.

“We went into the water for about an hour and a half and came out with about 20 people,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Hoover, 736th Component Repair Company. “One of our other trucks stayed in the water until after 9 p.m. and pulled out 90 people.”

Each truck went out with officers from the Sheriff’s Office or the local police department and some also went with boat rescue squads from Texas Task Force 1.

“Our trucks can only go into 40 inches of water,” said Hoover, explaining that some of their trucks went out worked with rescue boats. “Task Force 1 boats would go ahead of us in their boats and bring them back to the truck, then we would bring them to dry land.”

The Emergency Medical Technicians, working with 9-1-1 dispatch, received addresses of distressed citizens, and passed the addresses on to guardsmen and firefighters so they could respond. 

“As we would go to the address, we would pick up others who needed help,” said Sgt. Allan Abel, 736th Component Repair Company. “We were supposed to stop at dark, but we got four priority calls just after dark and that took us a while because we kept filling up with people.”

Deep waters made military land navigation training important in their ability to help those in need.

“In some places we had to go light pole to light pole; there were essentially no markers,” said Abel. “Our training in hasty navigation and terrain association was hugely beneficial – that’s what we were doing.”

Texas National Guard high profile military vehicles were essential in rescue operations, said Chief Bob Royall, Assistant Chief of Joint Emergency Operations, Harris County Fire Marshall’s Office. The majority of first responder vehicles are unable to maneuver through such deep waters and many rescue boats are limited to holding about six people, said Royall. 

According to Abel, the military trucks were able to safely seat up to 25 people, in addition to the necessary soldiers and emergency first responders that accompanied each mission. 

“Many Harris County residents underestimated the dangers of rising flood waters; they lost all power and were cut off from society. Simple things like going to the doctor became very dangerous,” said Royall. “Had it not been for the National Guard’s high water vehicles, we would not have been able to get to many of these folks. There are untold hundreds, possibly thousands, we would not have been able to get to.”

Members of the community also worked to support rescue efforts. 

“We went to Tin Roof Barbecue in Humble with Task Force 1 for lunch, about 60 people, and the owner refused to let us pay,” said Hoover. “There are a lot of civilians out here doing really outstanding stuff, supporting the guard, the task force and the police. They make our work a lot easier.”

Throughout Harris County, and the state, people worked together to help those in need.

“I’ve always felt the need to serve,” said Abel. “This is my main driver, to be able to do things like this for my fellow Texans.”

To date, Texas Guardsmen have helped rescue 221 people and 41 pets from severe flooding in southeast Texas.

Thursday, April 21, 2016 11:51:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard

Texas recruiter helping people to change their lives 

Texas recruiter helping people to change their lives

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: April 20, 2016

Courtesy Photo Master Sgt. Andrew Marmolejo , right, Texas Army National Guard, goes over administrative paperwork with one of the recruiters on his team. Marmolejo is the top recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, a unit consistently meets and exceeds their recruiting goals. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Mr. Steve Johnson/ Released)
Courtesy Photo
Master Sgt. Andrew Marmolejo , right, Texas Army National Guard, goes over administrative paperwork with one of the recruiters on his team. Marmolejo is the top recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, a unit consistently meets and exceeds their recruiting goals. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Mr. Steve Johnson/ Released)

AUSTIN, Texas – Master Sgt. Andrew Marmolejo has been a recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard for ten years; it’s a mission he believes in.

“It’s all about being able to help people,” said Marmolejo, “taking a 17-year-old kid, seeing him transition and being able to help him change his life.”

Marmolejo is the noncommissioned officer in charge of Texas Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion’s Recruiting Team 13 or Team Wolfpack.

The Wolfpack’s territory runs through Austin and into surrounding counties. From this area Marmolejo’s team is expected to recruit 96 soldiers in 2016. With 75 enlistments already processed Marmolejo expects to reach their goal by May. Most would be ready to rest, but Marmolejo says they will stay busy.

“We will continue to recruit and we will help with retention and transition,” he said.

The Recruiting and Retention Battalion mission is three-fold, said Lt. Col. August Murray, Recruiting and Retention Battalion commander, recruit the right people for the job, retain the best people for the job and to prevent losses.

“What we do is of critical importance to our organization and our state,” said Murray. “It is vital that our communities and our units have all the soldiers they need when called upon to accomplish a mission.”

To better prepare recruits for their transition into the military and help promote success, the National Guard developed the Recruitment Sustainment Program, a program designed to introduce new service members to the military environment, and to ease their adjustment to basic training. 

From the time they join the National Guard, recruits begin training monthly with their recruiters and other new enlistees to practice basic military skills that will help them succeed at basic training and advanced individual training. Recruiters continue to mentor their recruits through this training and even bring them to their first drill with their Guard unit.

The extra time recruiters spend with RSP recruits, not only prepares them for basic training, but helps them to excel, said Marmolejo. 

“This year we’ve had six Distinguished Honor Graduates,” he said.

Recruiting men and women to join the military can be difficult in some places, but historically, Texas has met and exceeded their recruiting goals, said Murray. 

Demographics may play a part in this being that Texas is home to five of the 10 fastest growing cities, but Murray thinks it has more to do with the spirit of Texas. 

“Texans are patriotic,” said Murray. “They are proud to serve Texas and the nation in the National Guard. We enjoy a lot of community and state support.”

Texas pride may help Marmolejo when recruiting, but his dedication to mentoring his team and his recruits is what sets him apart. 

In 2009, Marmolejo recruited Diana Lopez, enlisting her into the Texas Army National Guard. 

“I was skeptical at first, but he was very honest about what the National Guard was about,” said Lopez. “He encouraged me; the National Guard was so good for him.”

When Marmolejo found out Lopez wanted to obtain a master’s degree and become an officer, he helped her enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. 

To offset the cost of her education Marmolejo helped Lopez apply for state tuition assistance, a unique benefit for Texas Guardsmen.

“He set up everything and guided me through the process,” said Lopez. “I just filled in the blanks.”

Marmolejo stayed in touch with Lopez, always available to provide military guidance as she navigated her way through her career in the National Guard. 

When Lopez had to withdraw from the ROTC program due to a family issue, it was Marmolejo who reminded her of her goal to become an officer and helped her apply for Officer Candidate School. 

“He came to my commissioning at the Capitol,” said Lopez. “He puts a lot of focus on leadership; he takes it very seriously.”

An important part of that leadership is teamwork. 

“Either we are going to be great as a team, or we are going to be horrible, but we are a team,” said Marmolejo. “Team mentality – once accepted, it drives big numbers, because everyone wants to be a part of it.”

Marmolejo credits his team for their dedication to the job, recounting how many times a member of his team has called late at night, with a question. 

“They are very hardworking,” said Marmolejo “And they are truly a team. You would think they were a family as close as they are to each other.”

Whether it’s working with the recruiters on his team or mentoring new recruits, working to build and sustain quality service members for the Texas Army National Guard is a job he is committed to for the organization he loves.

“To me, joining the military should be a first resort,” said Marmolejo. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 11:53:00 AM Categories: Texas Army National Guard