NGAUS Conference Builds Families, Friendships

National Guard Officer and spouse have some down time to unwind early in the evening at the barbeque mixer at Austin's Schultz Beer Garden during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference.
National Guard Officer and spouse have some down time to unwind early in the evening at the barbeque mixer at Austin's Schultz Beer Garden during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference.


The National Guard Association of the United States supports Guardsmen across the country with advocacy efforts and standard of living improvements. This week's general conference for the association, held in Austin, Texas, brought together not just the service members, but also their spouses. While the association members enjoyed mixers, banquets, exhibits and professional meetings, their loved ones enjoyed shopping excursions and bonding events.

With events scheduled specifically for spouses, the conference enabled these dedicated family members to network with one another, develop a strong support system, and build lasting friendships.

The spouse shopping excursions to San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin and Fredericksburg offered participants the opportunity to see the colorful cultures of Texas, rich with Hispanic culture.

"I love it," said Gina Welch, the wife of Army Maj. Wyatt Welch and mother of three, from Bowling Green, Virginia. "I always look forward to attending these events. It is somewhat of a getaway." 

Nearly 200 spouses traveled to San Antonio for a day of sightseeing, shopping, and Texas history. The city's beautiful Riverwalk and the famous Alamo provided much-needed decompression and morale boosts to the busy participants looking to share an adventure. 

Pat Wilkinson chose the San Antonio excursion "to learn something about the history of the Alamo."

In addition to the bonding excursions, the spouses enjoyed the special opportunity to build a strong support system as members of NGAUS. Spouses are able to learn from one another's experiences and struggles by knowing that there are many other people on whom they can rely. 

Further, the conference affords family members education possibilities that foster support and trust for their service member and the service member's duty. For NGAUS and its representatives, becoming knowledgeable of the intricacies of the military lifestyle comes first in supporting a community of troops.

"We know it's not just the military member that serves," said Texas State Senator Leticia Van De Putte. "It's the entire family."

The senator encouraged her audience to support their spouses' call for duty, sharing an anecdote about how her great-grandmother showed love and support for her grandfather and great-uncle.

"My great-grandmother said that if her two sons return from World War II safely that she would go on her knees from her house to the church on Thanksgiving. She was from Mexico, it's very traditional to do these promesas, these promises." 

Military associations like NGAUS ensure the families and the livelihoods of servicemembers remain a priority throughout the nation. Building strong bonds of community and friendship, the conference continues to guide and enrich the lives and careers of Guardsmen from the newest lieutenants to the most experienced of generals. 

"Every [conference] get's better and better," said Jean Dobaschi, from Hawaii. "NGAUS has played a very critical role in my life and in my husband's life. We've been able to make friends across the country; friends that will be lifetime friends forever."

Industries support National Guard, bring new technologies for troops

A group of Backpack Journalists take some photos Aug. 22 on an expedition to the Texas Army National Guard airfield during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference in Austin, Texas.
A group of Backpack Journalists take some photos Aug. 22 on an expedition to the Texas Army National Guard airfield during the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference in Austin, Texas.


 Story by  Spc. Suzanne Carter

 A mariachi band struck up a song as Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga snipped the red ribbon  stretched across the entrance in two. The doors to the exhibit hall swung open Aug. 21, marking the official opening of  the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States General Conference exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas.

 Army and Air National Guard officers and their spouses from across the U.S. and its territories flooded the exhibit hall  floor for three days, interacting with more than 400 vendors. The exhibitors showed their support for the Guard by  demonstrating a variety of products and services, while conference attendees told vendors directly what they needed.

 Mark Saturno, Simulation Systems Division business development director for Cubic Defense Applications in Orlando,  Fla., said that the NGAUS convention is not the place to make sales, but a place to show support and appreciation for  the National Guard and its mission.

 "We have been dealing with the Guard for about a dozen years with our products," Saturno said. "The Guard has been  very supportive of our company and our products, so we want to come out and show our support for the Guard."

 With products ranging from combat training simulators to portable latrine devices and services from continuing  education programs to custom coin and tag manufacturing, the exhibit hall offered officers of all ranks the most up-to-  date technology, equipment and services available to their Guardsmen.

 "There's a lot of new technology," said Guam Air National Guard Capt. Josephine Blas. "As you know, technology  changes quickly, every day, so whatever they have that can help improve what we do for ourselves, for our troops, it's  always great to see what they have."

 By interacting with the vendors, attendees can discuss what improvements they want to see to best service their home  units.

 "It's an incredible opportunity for junior leaders to interact directly with folks in the industry," said Oregon Army National  Guard Capt. Jonathan R. Tipton. "We can explain to them what we need, what we like and what we'd like to see  happen." 

 Vendors in the exhibit hall said they use the feedback they receive to help guide the futures of their products and  services as they relate to the National Guard.

"We talk to everybody from soldiers all the way up to the adjutant general about what the needs are for the Guard, where the Guard is trying to go," said Arthur C. Wright, business development and marketing manager for the Washington-Harris Group, a health services and information technology group from Greenbelt, Md. "If we don't know where they're trying to go and what their needs are, we won't know what services we need to provide."

Exhibitors also said they enjoyed hearing from the family members in attendance as much as the officers.

"The Guard is certainly very family-oriented," said Cora Jackson-Chandler, the Management Support Technology vice president of Defense Department programs, a research, evaluation and planning company from Fairfax, Va. "Because we do some work in the areas of sustaining, training, life-cycle support and transition of soldiers, it's good to hear from the family members."

Jackson-Chandler went on to say that having this interaction with the servicemembers and their families helps give her the full perspective of everyone who needs her company's services.

After a year of planning, a week of set-up and three days of marketing and networking, Exhibit Promotions Plus Director of Business Development Kevin M. Horowitz praised the conference for making available so many resources to which military leaders might otherwise not have exposure.

"They don't know what products and services are out there and what's available and what's the most modern technology," Horowitz said. "They need to see it, feel it, touch it, use it."

Conference Addresses Issues, Builds Guardsmen Camaraderie

Attendees of the Texas Adjutant General Dinner at the Driskill Hotel during the National Guard Association of the United States Conference pass the time through laughter with new friends.
Attendees of the Texas Adjutant General Dinner at the Driskill Hotel during the National Guard Association of the United States Conference pass the time through laughter with new friends.


 Story by Officer Candidate Micah Barnes

 AUSTIN, Texas - Army and Air National Guard officers from all 54 states and territories descended upon Austin, Texas,  Aug. 21-23, for the 132nd National Guard Association of the United States conference. The attendees ranged from  single bar officers to a four-star general, with many bringing their families to share the experience.

 The conference, designed to bring together officers of all grades to discuss the issues currently facing the Army and Air  National Guards, provides a meeting point for NGAUS to ensure their voices are heard on Capitol Hill in Washington. 

 "NGAUS is one of the 10 recognized military associations that the Department of Defense can participate in," said Army  Maj. Jeffrey Larrabee, a National Guard Bureau Strategic planner. "They're advocates for the guardsmen, who lobby in  Washington for their specific interests."

 The discussions and resolutions of the conference move up to the National Guard Bureau for review, ensuring that the  coming year's agendas reflect the intentions of NGAUS members. 

"These could be anything such as better equipment, better health care and retirement benefits, " said Air Force Maj. Gen. Tod S. Bunting, NGAUS chairman and adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard. 

Keynote speakers included Texas Governor Rick Perry, Gen. Craig R. McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Senator Leticia Van de Putte, District 26 state senator for Texas.

"One thing I learned in my time in the Air Force is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease," said Perry. "I'm going to keep calling for the Guard for any job because I know that it's going to be done right."

In addition to the business meetings, the conference also featured events aimed at further strengthening the camaraderie of the Guard community. The events, which brought together spouses and children to bond over common interests, included the exhibit hall, youth programs, a rodeo, the spouse luncheon, and several dinners and mixers. 

The exhibit hall housed more than 400 vendors showcasing everything from military equipment to coffee mugs designed for different branches, installations, and services. Some booths featured interactive activities, including the National Guard Formula racecar, a simulated combat environment wherein players cooperatively engage a mission, and several fixed and rotary wing simulations. 

"These groups span really the spectrum of companies that do everything from sustainability for the Guard, to helping the families of the Guard," said Richard Goldberg, senior vice-president of Public Affairs for DRS Technologies. 

The children of the attending officers had a chance to experience practical exercises in public affairs through the backpack journalist program. Throughout the conference, the kids attended many events, such as the opening ceremony where the MacArthur High School drill team performed in front of the more than 1,000 audience members, a visit to the Texas Army National Guard Airfield in Austin, Texas, and a press conference with Bunting and Texas Army National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Joyce Stephens.

"I think this whole thing was awesome," said Gian Carlo Morales, 12, from Dallas, Texas. "I got to use everything from the video camera to the microphone that records everything."

The officers and their families enjoyed the nightlife offered by Austin, the live-music capital of the world. Evening events ranged from mixers for the warrant and company grade officers to a true Texas rodeo. 

"Some people don't know that we have rodeos in New Jersey, but it is not quite the same as being at a Texas rodeo, and I'm pretty jazzed to the be there for it," said Goldberg. 

The final night concluded with a cocktail reception and states dinner at the Austin Convention Center.

"Texas has been a wonderful host of this event," said Goldberg. "It's more about the people, building a relationships, and knowing what the needs are."

Texas State Guard Appoints two new leaders Olson, Hasting bring extensive military, professional experience to assignments

Maj. Michael Sullivan, TXSG Public Affairs
AUSTIN, TEXAS - The Commander of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) has announced the assignment of two senior officers to the TXSG Headquarters Staff. Col. Robert Hastings is assigned as Chief of Public Affairs and Col. Kimberly Olson is assigned as Director of Command, Control & Communications Systems (J-6).

“We’re pleased to have military professionals of Col. Hastings’ and Col. Olson’s caliber and experience join our ranks,” said Maj. Gen. Raymond Peters, TXSG commanding general. “Their leadership experience, professional qualifications and extensive military backgrounds make them valuable additions to the command.”

As Director of the J-6 section, Col. Olson and her team are responsible for providing joint emergency communications and information technology supporting the TXSG, as well as working with Texas Military Forces’ J-6 in providing communications in support of the “Defense Support to Civil Authorities” mission.

Col. Olson is a retired U.S. Air Force officer with 25 years of service and was part of the first generation of female military pilots. A command pilot, with nearly 4,000 hours of flying time, she was one of the first females to command an air refueling squadron. She served in the Pentagon on the Joint Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Air Staff. Col. Olson was deployed into several combat zones. In her professional life, Olson is the executive director of Grace After Fire, a Texas based non-profit organization dedicated to providing outreach to all women veterans and their families, offering confidential peer support and increased access to appropriate trauma, mental health, addiction and community services. She also serves as a trustee on the Weatherford Independent School District Board, recently recognized as the Texas Outstanding Board of the Year, 2009.

As the TXSG’s senior public affairs officer, Col. Hastings will serve as a member of the Commander’s special staff overseeing all aspects of the command’s public affairs program, including command information, public information, media relations and electronic media, as well as providing public affairs support to recruiting activities.

Col. Hastings joins the TXSG from the Maryland Defense Force where he served for five years as the Director of Public Affairs. He is a retired U.S. Army officer with more than 20 years active duty service as a Master Army Aviator and Public Affairs Officer. His assignments include command of an Apache-equipped Air Cavalry Troop and a Blackhawk-equipped Air Assault Company, as well as Public Affairs duties in Germany, Eastern Europe, Iraq and Bosnia. Hastings also served as acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs during the Bush Administration. As the senior public affairs official and principle spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense, he served as staff advisor and assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Administration officials for strategic communication, public information, internal information, and community relations, leading a worldwide public affairs community of some 3,800 military and civilian personnel. In his professional life, Hastings is an aerospace executive who lives and works in Fort Worth, Texas.

Texas Support the Valley with Humanitarian Mission

Texans Support the Valley With Humanitarian Mission
Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Photo of Operation Lone Star in action"Operation Lone Star is a humanitarian effort here in the valley," said State Guard Lt. Col. Jann Melton-Kissel, a registered nurse with the Texas State Guard's Medical Brigade. "It's a partnership between the Department of State Health Services, the Texas Military Forces and the community to provide needed health services."

These services, which include immunizations, physicals, diabetes screenings and check-ups, come to Texas' Rio Grande Valley residents each year courtesy of the collaborative efforts of state civil and military assets. Together, these disparate agencies provide low-income families with necessary and sometimes life-saving medical care through the annual Operation Lone Star (OLS).

"It's been a real privilege to work with our colleagues in the Texas Military Forces," said Dr. Brian R. Smith, lead for the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and regional medical director for Health Service Region 11.

Smith began OLS in 1999 as a joint venture expanding on his efforts with free clinics in the valley.

"I started off in South Texas doing free clinics," he said, "and this is a larger scale extension of what I started off doing about 20 years ago, which was providing free medical care in the [valley]. So the first places we started [OLS] were the same places that we were doing our the free clinics."

To augment the medical specialties of the DSHS, several other civilian agencies also contributed personnel, including the Texas Medical Assistance Team (TexMAT-1), the Department of Family Protective Services, the Human Health Services Committee and even local nursing students from Valley Grande Community College.

"It's a great opportunity to get people of all different types of disciplines in the medical field to get together and work," said Charles Neely, an EMT paramedic with TexMAT-1.

The military side of OLS, the Texas Military Forces, includes the Texas State Guard, Army National Guard, and Air Guard. These uniformed personnel function as both duty and medical support, performing roles ranging from security and administration to nurses and doctors. In recent years, the State Guard has taken the lead in executing OLS, providing the greatest number of personnel and assuming command responsibilities of the operation.

"We're working together as a team," said State Guard 1st Lt. Steven Trevino, a registered nurse with the Texas Medical Brigade. "We're just Texans helping Texans."

As a regularly scheduled exercise, OLS finds many of the same residents returning time and again for annual shots and physicals for school sports.

"I would just like to thank the Lone Star for coming in and doing the medical check-up for free," said Brenda Garcia, a Palmview resident and mother of a 2-year-old.

"This'll be my seventh year here," said Melton-Kissel. "I've seen the same people come back year after year."

OLS provides a unique opportunity for local residents to see their community support agencies face to face and meet the people behind the uniforms.

"I feel like I'm actually making a difference," said Trevino.

Texas State Guard Capt. James R. Owens, a registered nurse with the DFW Medical Group, says that the most rewarding aspect of working in OLS is "being able to serve the valley and the people of the valley, and also help our state out."

"We've got compassionate doctors who do a really good job with the health care," said Smith. "Then we're able to expand it with the pharmacy, the immunizations and provide a range of services."

To combat the occasional language barrier found in southern towns, OLS staffs each location with sufficient bi-lingual personnel to ensure the most accurate and complete medical coverage.

"As translators, we make sure we get the right words [patients] are looking for," said State Guard Sgt. Erasmo Chapa, translator and security service member for the Palmview High School location. "This is my first year and I'm glad to help out my community."

From the inter-agency cooperation to building strong bonds in the community, OLS stands apart as a joint mission that excels at bringing people together.

"It has been a real blessing," said Smith, "to be able to work with communities this closely."

Texas Train for Disaster with Humanitarian Mission

Texans Train for Disaster With Humanitarian Mission
Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Photo of people around a desk during trainingWESLACO, Texas - "What we do and what we're training for is a mass casualty," said Texas State Guard Capt. James R. Owens, a registered nurse with the DFW Medical Group. "It's about taking care of the population."

For the joint members of the Texas Military Forces, the Department of State Health Services and local civil agencies, preparedness means more than a ready standing force. With the persistent threat of hurricanes, flooding and seasonal pandemics, preparedness requires a fully trained, joint force capable of engaging a large-scale incident anywhere in the state.

This year, these state assets used the annual humanitarian event Operation Lone Star to conduct a complete exercise simulating a mass casualty incident. Providing the Rio Grande Valley with immunizations, physicals and various other medical services, the mission sought to stress and challenge the capabilities of state military and civilian departments, as well as reinforce their cooperation and inter-agency communication.

"At one level, we provide free care," said Dr. Brian R. Smith, lead for the public health agency sponsoring OLS and the regional medical director for Health Service Region 11. "At the same time, it provides a preparedness exercise for those of us in public health and the Texas Military forces to work together and to practice together in a major event."

Among the state agencies supporting the operation is the Texas Medical Assistance Team (TexMAT-1), populated by paramedics and medical practitioners from through the state.

"It's an opportunity under a training scenario to see a lot of people at one time," said Charles A. Neely, an EMT paramedic with TexMAT-1. "It just improves our capabilities in the long run."

The two-week operation, running from July 26 through August 6, featured sites in Brownsville, Palmview, Raymondville and San Juan during the first week and will include Laredo, Rio Grande City and Zapata during the second week. Many OLS locations rotate from year to year, but tend to stay centralized in local high schools or elementary schools.

Further bridging the spirit of cooperation, even service members from the Czech Republic and Chilean armies supported OLS this year.

"We need to practice for any kind of mass casualty occasion, too," said Capt. Petra Matulkova, an epidemiologist with the Czech Army. "We need to know these things, being military doctors."

With so many organizations working together, key leaders placed a premium on clear and effective communication throughout the operation.

"A lot of the training that we're doing is being able to communicate," said Owens. "At any level, at any issue, we will have to be able to communicate."

This finely tuned coordination allowed OLS to process 12,645 area residents in 2009, a number that event organizers expect will only grow in 2010 and future years.

Spanning six counties in Texas, Operation Lone Star functions as an ideal execution of a real-time public health crisis, uniting disparate agencies for a common and worthy goal.

"We set it up just as if we may have a thousand people or one person that needs the services," said Owens. "It may be small at one area or larger at another, but in the grand scheme of things, it provides a very good and very applicable training exercise for our units."

Texas State Guard - Texans helping Texans

Texas State Guard – Texans helping Texans
1LT Joy Schoffler, HQ, TXSG
Lower Rio Grande Valley (1 July 2010) - With the skills they learned during annual training still fresh in their minds, an estimated 755 Soldiers of the Texas State Guard mobilized from all areas of the state Monday to prepare for hurricane Alex duty.

The mission started Monday morning and for many of these Soldiers that meant driving as far as 12 hours to open shelters and assist the Red Cross. Excited and ready to begin their mission. The 3rd Battalion, 4th Regiment even conducted shelter drills while waiting in the assembly area.

“It has been a wonderful experience working with the Texas State Guard. They were ready to meet the needs of evacuees, offer comfort, ease fears and present a source of information for those in need,” said Director of the Red Cross TX, Charles Blake Jr.

Once the 17 shelters were opened and the estimated 850 evacuated guests began arriving, Soldiers set out performing their missions of in-processing, serving meals and providing care for their guests. In addition to completing their assigned 13-14 hour shifts many Soldiers went above and beyond.

Pvt. Coffee became a sports director setting up games and a play area for children so parents could have a much needed moment of quite time while they knew that their children were safe and secure. As one of only two spanish speakers, Pfc. Arrieta became the on-site translator serving double duty checking in evacuees and making sure communication needs of evacuees were meet.

“The soldiers really care. I didn’t have to ask a soldier to do anything. If they saw a guest in need they went out of their way to ensure their needs were met,” said Lt. Col. Peters, Shelter Manager in Alton and added: “These soldiers really went above and beyond.

While there have been countless stories of personal sacrifice and self-less service, the one that stands out is that the Texas State Guard was ready when they were called.

“The soldiers in the Texas State Guard acted in a professional military manner during hurricane Alex. Members of the community and their commanders are very proud of them,” said Incident Commander Brigadier General Ortiz.

The Texas State Guard’s mission is to provide mission-ready Soldiers and Airmen to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies; homeland security and community service organized under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities.

Authorities brace for threat of renewed flooding as Hurricane Alex moves inland, Texas State Guard wraps up hurricane shelter duties

Authorities brace for threat of renewed flooding as Hurricane Alex moves inland, Texas State Guard wraps up hurricane shelter duties
CPT Morgan Montalvo, HQ, TXSG
Map showing possible flood locationsLOWER RIO GRAND VALLEY - As floodwaters receded and power was restored, a small number of South Texas residents displaced by Hurricane Alex left the safety of shelters to find their homes damaged by rain, wind and debris. Of an estimated 850 evacuees who sought refuge inland, those unfortunate few resigned themselves to another night as guests of emergency management and social service agencies.

The prospect of residual rainfall from a weakening now-Tropical Storm Alex, or the possible release of water from Mexican reservoirs, had authorities bracing for other evacuees to return.

“Right now it’s a handful, but it’s hard to track,” said Jim Todd, an American Red Cross disaster supervisor.

Meanwhile,” Mr. Todd says, “the Red Cross is taking over responsibility for shelters from the Texas State Guard, which was mobilized earlier this week to assist with hurricane response.”

State Guard and Red Cross personnel were working to consolidate shelters and evacuees while preparing for more, should weekend rainfall again leave parts of South Texas underwater.

Emergency service agencies had one eye on the skies and the other on the release gates of several Mexican border reservoirs that retain water for agricultural use.

The National Hurricane Center said an additional six inches of rain could fall on the South Texas-Northeast Mexico region through the weekend, prompting flash-flooding; other meteorological models place the heaviest post-Alex rainfall between Houston and Corpus Christi.

More than 750 members of the Texas State Guard were called to duty beginning June 28 to staff shelters in support of state and local authorities as a strengthening Tropical Storm Alex meandered toward South Texas and northeast Mexico.

Alex was upgraded to hurricane status Wednesday.

State Guard personnel remain on duty at most of the 17 shelters ordered to open by state and local governments between Raymondville and Brownsville 2 July.

Many evacuees traveled nearly 100 miles to seek safety, while others “came from blocks away,” said COL Ray Peters, commander of the Denton-based 3rd Bn, 4th Regt. COL Peters’ unit staffed a shelter in Alton, about 80 miles from the coast.

“They came from an economically depressed neighborhood,” Peters said of the 104 people who fled to his shelter at Alton Memorial Middle School. Unlike their neighbors to the southeast, “They weren’t worried about the hurricane; they were worried about the rain.”

COL Peters said that an estimated 6-8 inches of rain fell on the Alton area beginning Wednesday. His unit spent Friday preparing their shelter for handoff to the Red Cross. Alton Memorial Middle School was the northeastern-most facility managed by the State Guard.

Most State Guard units were expected to be released from shelter duty before week’s end, unless renewed flooding leads to their extended deployment.

Hurricane Alex made landfall Wednesday along a lightly populated portion of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, about 110 miles south of Brownsville. The Category 2 storm generated peak winds of 110 mph and spawned at least two tornadoes but, apart from dumping from 6-12 inches of rain over parts of South Texas, spared the U.S. side of the border from serious damage.