Guard helps local community reclaim neighborhoods


Story by Sgt. Lamine Zarrad 

HARLINGEN, Texas -- Members of the Texas Military Forces participate in the Operation Crackdown, a joint effort of the Harlingen community and the military to reclaim neighborhoods from the influences of violence and illegal drugs.

A flotilla of construction machinery, illuminated by the strobe lights of several police cruisers, resembled a Mardi Gras parade rather than a military convoy. However, the adults and children of the Harlingen communities, greet the soldiers and airmen of the motorcade like wartime heroes.

The service members and their equipment are part of Operation Crackdown, the Texas Military Force's effort to reclaim neighborhoods from the influences of violence and illegal drugs.

Operation Crackdown, employs seized drug funds to rent machinery and equipment for the demolition of houses utilized in drug-affiliated activities, said Army Staff Sgt. Michael Leslie, the NCOIC of the operation. 

"The National Guard is a community organization," said Army Col. Randal E. Davis, the commander of the Texas Military Forces Joint Counterdrug Task Force. "We live in this community. We are here to help." 

"It's a joint operation," said Air Force Capt. Samantha A. Martinez, the OIC of Operation Crackdown. 

During Operation Crackdown missions, the Army and Air Force personnel operate jointly with the local authorities and federal agencies in demolishing houses with nexus to illicit activities.

"This project is fantastic," said Tom Whitten, Harlingen's police chief.

Successful community policing relies on continuous cooperation between various local, state and federal agencies, said Whitten. 

“The joint effort will especially benefit the children in the communities, as some of the decrepit houses are in near proximity to schools,” said Carlos Yerena, Harlingen city manager. 

"We are very happy that we came together to help clean up the city," said Lt. Miryam Anderson, an officer with the Harlingen police department. "A lot of entities came together and joined forces to demolish houses that had been somehow linked to the drug and crime activity."

The fifth graders of the James Bowie Elementary, situated directly across the street from a house riddled with gang-affiliated graffiti, indicated plenty of enthusiasm about the project.

The children are expecting newly planted trees in place of the decrepit building, said Kiara Trevino, a fifth grader at James Bowie Elementary who formerly resided next-door to the targeted structure.

Prior to demolishing the house, service members with the Drug Demand Reduction program provided anti-drug education to children attending JBE. 

Law enforcement agencies consistently reported reduced crime rates in the communities participating in Operation Crackdown, said Martinez. 

Counterdrug leadership anticipates maintaining the current annual tempo of approximately four to five, two week long missions every year in addition to expanding the area of the operation to north Texas. 

Since inception in 1993, Operation Crackdown has demolished nearly 1200 dilapidated houses in over 40 Texas communities, said Davis.

“We are working side by side with our law enforcement partners and local communities,” Davis said, “to interdict the flow of drugs, remove safe havens for their use, and reduce demand within the State to make our communities safer."

Texas National Guard marks decade of post-9/11 service

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks at an event Sept. 10 at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, which commemorate a decade of Texas National Guard service in the global war on terrorism.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst speaks at an event Sept. 10 at Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas, which commemorate a decade of Texas National Guard service in the global war on terrorism. Representatives from the Texas National Guard hosted a ceremony marking the opening of a new exhibit called "9-11 and Beyond: The Texas National Guard in the War on Terror" at the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry. The exhibit highlights the extraordinary contributions of the 23,000 Texas Army and Air National Guard service members who have deployed in support of the global war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001.

 Texas National Guard marks decade of post-9/11 service 

 Story by Luke Elliot 
 AUSTIN, Texas - Texas National Guard soldiers and airmen, dignitaries and community members gathered at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, Sept. 10 to commemorate a decade of Texas military support to the global war on terrorism with  the opening of a new historical exhibit.
 Texas Adjutant Gen. Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols hosted the ceremony, which celebrating a new exhibit called "9-11 and  Beyond: The Texas National Guard in the War on Terror" at the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry.
 "The Texas National Guard has deployed more soldiers than any other national guard to this war," said Nichols, who noted  that the Texas National Guard has mobilized more than 29,000 soldiers and airmen since 2001, with about 23,000 of them  deploying overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. "The Texas military forces have sacrificed greatly."
 The exhibit includes displays on the Texas National Guard's support to Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi  Freedom, major Texas National Guard deployments, and many interactive displays and presentations.
 "We're very proud of our troops, especially for all the sacrifices that the members of the guard and their families make on  behalf of our nation," said Texas State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, District 29, El Paso, Texas. "I believe that Texas has  always honored and supported its veterans. We're a proud state. We like to brag about our state, and we like to brag about  our troops."
 "I think it's extremely significant on the tenth anniversary to open up an exhibit like this at Camp Mabry because it is  important, as Gen. Nichols said, to make sure people remember this day, remember the people who gave their lives," said  Rodriguez.
Brig. Gen. William Smith, who returned from Iraq a few days before the ceremony, said he was surprised about the emotions the event brought him.
"It just makes me respect our soldiers and the abilities that they have and the things they are doing," said Smith. "It's always a good thing to see other people acknowledge what those soldiers are doing."
Smith, who served as the assistant division commander for maneuver, 36th Infantry Division, also deployed with the 49th Armor Division shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.
This deployment was the first large-scale mobilization of the National Guard since World War II. 
"It was a huge challenge," said Smith. "It's been an almost continuous cycle since. If you go back in time, you'll find that since Sept. 11, we have had somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 Texas National Guardsmen deployed every year. That's a tribute to the sustainability of our system and more importantly to our soldiers."
Smith added that the Texas National Guard has changed significantly since 2001.
"We have had a couple of major events in the military that have changed the course of how we do business," said Smith. "For instance, if you find a regulation that was written before 1989, before the fall of the wall…it is probably not valid. If you find something that was written before 2001, it probably is suspect at least because everything has changed for us since 2001."
"This is not our fathers' National Guard," he added. "It's a marketable different organizations that we're in."
A common theme at the event was the display of gratitude toward soldiers and airmen for all they have accomplished during the past decade.
"What you do is inspirational. I appreciate you," said Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. "God bless every one of you all in our Texas Army and Air National Guard. Thank you all the men and women that serve abroad, and may we never forget the 3,000 innocent men and women who lost their lives on 9/11."

’SaberCats’ Get New Commander

’SaberCats’ Get New Commander
MAJ Michael Quinn Sullivan, PAO, TXSG

Photo of MAJ Alfred Sustaita, Jr., recieving the colors from COL Frank Woodall
MAJ Alfred Sustaita, Jr., receives the colors from COL Frank Woodall in the 1st Bn, 2 Regt, change of command ceremony in San Marcos. Sustaita takes over the SaberCats from CPT Robert Purcell.Photo by MAJ Michael Quinn Sullivan, PAO, TXSG

1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment Changes Command
SAN MARCOS, Texas - A new commander of the Texas State Guard’s 1st Battalion, 2nd Civil Affairs Regiment took charge today in a Change of Command ceremony held at the armory in San Marcos.

The battalion includes more than 50 TXSG soldiers working in and around Hays County, though some - like new commander Maj. Alfred Sustaita Jr. - travel across the state to drill with what is known as the “SaberCats” battalion.

The outgoing commander is Capt. Robert Purcell. He has spent more than 36 years serving the state and nation. He first entered the United States Army in 1968 and retired in 1988, assigned to duties in the infantry, logistics and military intelligence. He and his family settled in San Marcos in 1992. He was soon invited to join the TXSG and assumed command of what was then known as Company A, 4th Battalion, 1st Regiment.

“The men and women with whom I’ve served in the Texas State Guard have been remarkable soldiers,” said Purcell. “Every single one has demonstrated time and again a passion for serving their fellow Texans.”

Purcell has held numerous positions in the TXSG, and was involved in the realignment of units following deployment for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Along with his many awards from his time on active duty with the US Army, he has also been awarded the Senior Military Emergency Management Specialist badge, the Texas Outstanding Service medal and three Texas Medals of Merit for his service in the Texas State Guard.

Maj. Sustaita enlisted in the TXSG in 1989, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. In December 1993, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was a member of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Bioenvironmental Science.

Among Maj. Sustaita’s awards and decorations is the Texas Medal for Merit, the Adjutant General’s Individual Award, the Commanding General’s Individual Award, the Humanitarian Service Award, the Texas Faithful Service Medal, the Texas State Guard Service Medal, the TXSG General’s Staff badge, and the Basic Military Emergency Management Specialist badge.

Out of uniform, he serves as Program Director and Professor of Occupational Health and Safety Technology at San Jacinto College. Sustaita lives in Alvin with his wife and son.

The change of command ceremony is an important part of military tradition that symbolizes the change of the Commanding Officer of a military unit in a formal ceremony that can be traced back to Roman times. This ceremony emphasizes the continuity of leadership and unit identity despite changes in individual authority. This transfer of authority is physically represented by the passing of the Unit Colors, the tangible symbol of the unit, from the outgoing commander to the new commander.

Sustaita said he is honored to carry on the tradition of excellence started by Purcell.

“The success we have in the future working on behalf of Texans will be connected directly to the hard work and dedication of Capt. Purcell,” said Sustaita. “My job as battalion commander will be to ensure they remain prepared to successfully fulfill the missions we’re presented.”