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
2010/08/17
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
2010/07/29
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
2010/07/28
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
2010/07/07
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
2010/07/01
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.

TXSG Sergeant plays an important role in assisting the FAA & NTSB

TXSG Sergeant plays an important role in assisting the FAA & NTSB
MAJ Michael Spraggins, TXSG
2010/06/10

SGT Timothy Pruitt, a photojournalist, assisted the FAA & NTSB with the investigation of a Careflight helicopter crash.
SGT Timothy Pruitt, a photojournalist, assisted the FAA & NTSB with the investigation of a Careflight helicopter crash.

GRAND PRAIRIE, TEXAS

SGT Timothy Pruitt, a photojournalist, assisted the FAA & NTSB with the investigation of a Careflight helicopter crash. SGT Pruitt a professional photographer specializing in helicopter imaging, provided photos of the doomed aircraft, which were made 11 minutes before the fatal crash.

SGT Pruitt is a recognized expert in vertical lift photography, who has been widely published worldwide. Pruitt is assigned to J6 HQ TXSG TXMF as a photojournalist at Camp Mabry and is currently on SAD, supporting the Communications Coordination Group, and imbedded with Rapid Reaction Task Force Dallas in Beaumont for Exercise “HURRICANE SPIKE”

'Texans Observe Memorial Day with March For Fallen Heroes'

Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.
Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 AUSTIN, Texas -- While much of the country observed Memorial Day weekend with barbeques, sports and gatherings,  a small band of patriots came together on a hot Texas afternoon and marched almost seven miles in honor of their  fallen comrades.

 The fourth annual Texas March for Fallen Heroes, held Saturday, May 29, brought together families, servicemembers  and veterans for a four-hour event to remember and recognize the ultimate sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the  global war on terror. 

 "Today I'm here because it's a great event and we want to honor some of the Soldiers that we've lost over time," said  Army Master Sgt. Laurie B. Armstrong of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. 

 The event's architect, Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola, drew his inspiration after reading an article in the Guard  Experience Magazine. 

"It was about a Tennessee Guardsmen walking nine miles in honor of the Soldiers who passed away in his unit in Iraq," Mendiola said. "I saw a picture of [him] walking around with a rucksack with a flag behind it and that immediately caught my attention."

For the fourth time now, Mendiola has brought together patriots of all backgrounds to honor and celebrate their revered heroes. Up from three dozen last year, this year's march grew to 45 servicemembers, veterans and family members.

"I'm here to honor my nephew," said Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jose Calderon. "He died in '04; he was in the Marine Corps."

Calderon, who served in the Texas Army National Guard until 2001, had another reason for marching alongside bearers of the T-patch, the emblem of 36th Infantry Division. 

"I used to be part of the brigade," he said, "but back then it was 49th Armor."

Master Sgt. Armstrong wore her own significant patch for the occasion.

"The Red River 44 Patch. We were moving from Kuwait to Iraq and one of our Chinooks went down. We lost seven Soldiers that day; one of them was a really good friend of ours, CW2 Corey Edwards. We had [the patches] made while we were overseas and it just kinda spread around and everyone started wearing them. A little something to honor them."

Joined by her husband, warrant officer David S. Putman, she marched the full route for her fallen comrades in reverent esteem for their service and sacrifice. 

For this year's event, Mendiola reflected on how important something as simple as marching can be and how far-reaching its presence can be felt.

"We can actually make an impact on the community," he said. "It's open to all branches, all walks of life. I can only expect this thing to grow each and every year."