Communities Enjoy 3rd Annual Oktoberfest


Story by Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

CAMP SWIFT, Texas- The sounds of local bands, helicopters and children's laughter rose up into a bright blue sky as the military and local communities came together during the 3rd Annual Oktoberfest here at Camp Swift on Saturday, Oct. 17. Highlights of the event included military demonstrations, local vendors, musicians, children's activities and the Volksmarch, a non-competitive distance walk through the woods in the Camp Swift training areas.

During the opening ceremonies, Texas Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga welcomed the citizens of the surrounding cities, as well as Soldiers and families. Stressing the close relationship the residents of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville have with the Soldiers training at Camp Swift, Mayorga stated it simply and clearly, "we are part of the community and the community is part of us."

Bastrop Mayor Terry Orr made it clear the city of Bastrop supports the Texas Military Forces. We have "been endeavoring to become known as a 'soldier-friendly town'," said Orr, by working with Camp Swift and the local chamber of commerce to welcome the local military presence. 

Highlighting some of the equipment Texas Military Forces use during both peace- and war-time operations, Soldiers from the 143rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment performed an airborne demonstration, jumping from Texas Army National Guard Chinook helicopters. After two Apache attack helicopters did a low-altitude fly-by, more Soldiers from the 143rd LRS, completed an "air assault" to deliver a walking stick to General Mayorga, kicking off the annual Volksmarch. 

For some, this was the closest they had ever been to the helicopters. "This is great," said Shandra Wilcox, an Austin resident. Her seven-year-old son, Jaris, "is helicopter-crazy," said Wilcox. For Jaris, the "chance to see [the helicopters] up close was just a great thing for him and all he could talk about on the way here." 

Supporting the local community and the military in a slightly different fashion, the animals from the Capital of Texas Zoo in Cedar Creek attracted adults and kids alike. Mo, the camel, was a striking sight under the oak trees and many children bravely held out pellets of feed in their hands to feed him. "This is a labor of love," said Carl Smith, Mo's handler. The zoo comes out every year to support the military "because it's a great organization." 

For others, the chance to take a look at a bit of history, both in the Texas Military Forces museum displays and in Camp Swift itself, was a big draw. "My uncle was in the Army in Vietnam," said Lorena Marquez, "but he lives in California and I never really got to see the stuff he used, so it's neat to be able to look at all the old equipment and think that he might have used some of it."

"I can remember coming out here at Swift for training, years ago," said Max Nelson, a Texas National Guard veteran. "I don't remember having this much fun, though," he said, "since I think it was raining the last time I was out here."

Vendors and informational booths lined the walkways, distributing both products and information.

"This is way more stuff available for Soldiers and their families than when I was in," said Mr. Nelson. "I learned more walking around here today than I thought I would."

"We understand the strength our Soldiers provide," said Mayor Marc Holm, from the city of Elgin. "We are very proud to partner with the military personnel at Camp Swift," he said. "We are a family and we want to make sure we all have the same closeness and respect for each other. We know it's going to be a great annual event."

Oktoberfest Hayride Excursion


Story by Officer Candidate Micah Barnes

CAMP SWIFT, Texas - The children laughed and cheered from the hayride as they rode past the military demonstrations. Parents held them close as the simulated artillery rounds fired into oblivion while Soldiers rappelled from dizzying heights. For more than an hour, patrons enjoyed a relaxing journey through operations and exercises by the Texas Army National Guard at this year's Oktoberfest at Camp Swift, near Bastrop Texas.

The hayride event, hosted by the 1st Battalion, 136th Regional Training Institute Combat Arms Unit, located on Camp Swift, featured battle simulations, ghillie suits, and exciting freefalls. A new highlight of Oktoberfest, the ride catered well to the youngest of attendees at this year's third annual festival.

The Combat Arms Unit had four different presentations for the attendees, which showed some commonly rehearsed operations from rappelling to reacting to contact in a war-like environment. Staff Sgt. Justin Fusik, a Laredo native, said of the event, "I have been in the Guard for the past five years and I believe this is a great way to showcase all of our day to day operations." Each lane showed the functionality of a different branch of the Texas Army National Guard: Infantry, Field Artillery, Cavalry, and Military Police.

Fusik comments on the reasoning behind focusing on these four branches. "Seeing theses four branches at Oktoberfest does two things: one, it helps make the festival a blast and it also helps the public associate a face with the Texas National Guard."

The field artillery segment of this intense exhibit showed how quickly the unit's fire team could dismount, coordinate, load and fire the M119 howitzer. To the amazement of the audience, the fire crew team was able to accomplish all tasks in less than two minutes. After the applause settled from the crowd, a practical application brought to light the reality as to why the team needs to be so highly and effectively proficient at their jobs. Soldiers in combat depend on the team to send fire support when they are in a tough situation.

Next in the excursion, the cavalry scouts displayed their covert abilities as they hid in a field no larger than a basketball court. For the next seven minutes, parents and children alike attempted to view through binoculars and their naked eyes for these well-trained Soldiers. Samuel Levi Weyand, a Georgetown native and cadet of the Georgetown High School Junior Regiment Officer Training Course said of the iteration, "Those scouts were superb, we could not even find the one that was ten feet away from the trailer!" Out of the nine soldiers placed in the field, hayriders discovered only three, and only because the scouts were in their Army Combat Uniform without additional camouflage. Further, to the surprise of these onlookers, they completely missed the Humvee and Bradley Fighting Vehicle that were out in the field as well.

Later in the ride, the battalion simulated a convoy operation returning home to a "forward observation base," passing an abandoned housing complex and encountering a roadside bomb. This explosion initiated an enemy ambush attack on the unsuspecting Soldiers, stopping the vehicles and forcing the Soldiers out of their Humvees. Once in their defensive positions, they engaged the enemy with a massive firefight. Before vehicle team bounded around the building, they threw smoke canisters into the battlefield to conceal their advancement. 

Within mere minutes of the threat's initial ambush, the U.S. troops suppressed and detained the enemy. This Military Police scenario, demonstrated the mental and physical agility to defend and eradicate an unknown yet fortified enemy through basic battle drills, such as room clearing. 

"I never knew this is the kind of thing you could expect do if you were an MP. I thought only infantrymen did those things," said David Rosebaun, a Georgetown native and member of his high school JROTC unit.

The final stop of the hayride brings its riders to a towering edifice, where the long descent has only one way down. The infantrymen of the combat arms unit gave the audience a detailed look into what it takes to rappel off structures of any size. From the standard, more traditional techniques to the intense Aussie jump, the viewers remained mystified throughout the twenty-minute demonstration. The Soldiers also showed the difficulty of rappelling with an eighty-five pound rucksack strapped to one's back along with how to stop an out of control jumper. 

By the end of the hayride, Oktoberfest participants cheered wildly and called for more from the combat arms unit teams. The demonstrators serviced the crowd with an enlightening look at the Texas Army National Guard and the training necessary to overcome any obstacle thrown in it's path. This fan favorite will surely grow as a new staple of Bastrop's annual festival.

Volksmarchers walk for health, community


Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

CAMP SWIFT, Texas -- Revived in Germany as an official sport in the 1960s, the centuries-old tradition of the volksmarch celebrates the new harvest and champions community fitness. Translated as "the people's walk," the volksmarch welcomed all groups of people to come together and celebrate health and life together as a unified population. The neighboring towns of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville could, in turn, think of no better way to collectively celebrate their Oktoberfest than with this iconic tradition.

The flagship event of Camp Swift's annual Oktoberfest, the volksmarch offers participants the opportunity to enjoy nature, new neighbors and fitness together with routes that tour the training areas of the military installation. 

"There are three routes," said Chief Warrant Officer James W. Hampton, Oktoberfest project officer. "We have a one mile route for the kids, a 5K and a 10K."

The trails opened up directly following the opening ceremony of this year's third annual festival. Texas Adjutant General Jose S. Mayorga kicked off the event by receiving the ceremonial walking stick from the preceding Airborne/Air Assault demonstration. With staff in hand, he marched directly to the start point of the trail and began his trek around the camp, with more than a hundred walkers following behind him.

"The volksmarch itself has been something that the entire Texas Military Forces has put on," said Hampton. "It's not competitive, it's just for fitness."

Participants enjoyed the sharper routes of this year's march after Camp Swift's recent renovations.

"This is her second time," Army Sgt. Angela L. Descant said of her daughter after completing the kid's trail. "It's better than it was when she came the first time."

"Last year they came out here and actually cut all these trails," said Hampton of the new hiking routes at the camp.

Many walkers enjoyed the exercise, despite some lagging in pace. "There were a lot more people walking in front of us," said Jose M. Hernandez, 6.

This year's march also featured the "Tag My Kid" program, wherein children wear pins identifying them as Oktoberfest attendees with their parent's phone number written on the back side in the event they become separated.

"It's good, especially when you have one who wants to run around in the woods or crawl in holes," said Descant. 

For fitness or for community, the tradition of the volksmarch calls to mind the rich history of fall festivals and our German heritage.

"There's a big German community in Texas and in the military," said Hampton. "We're using this event to draw together the local areas of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville and bring them out here to Camp Swift and help offer a better relationship."

HSC physician commands joint medical training exercise

HSC physician commands joint medical training exercise
HSC News

Col. Charles Bauer, M.D., (right) rides in a Black Hawk helicopter to the different sites of Operation Lone Star, a joint military and civilian training exercise and community service project.
Col. Charles Bauer, M.D., (right) rides in a Black Hawk helicopter to the different sites of Operation Lone Star, a joint military and civilian training exercise and community service project.

Nearly 13,500 residents in nine South Texas communities received free medical and dental care July 27-Aug. 5 through Operation Lone Star, a joint military and civilian training exercise and community service project that is the largest humanitarian effort of its kind in the United States.

The project was led by Charles Bauer, M.D., a colonel in the Texas State Guard who is also a professor of surgery, emergency medicine and orthopedic surgery at the UT Health Science Center. He also is director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness & Biomedical Research here.

Collaborative effort

The annual event is a collaborative training exercise that was coordinated this year by the Texas State Guard Medical Brigade and included the Army National Guard Medical Command, the Air National Guard’s 136th Airlift Wing, as well as state health and human services agencies, county health departments, local service groups and civilian volunteers.

Mobilizing health care

“We conduct this training every year to help key personnel in our state prepare for natural disasters and other events that would involve a large-scale mobilization of health care providers,” Dr. Bauer said.“It is also a huge humanitarian event. There are people who come for free health services who don’t go to the doctor or dentist any other time of the year.”

Disaster exercise

The headquarters the first week was in Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley. The second week, Operation Lone Star moved to Laredo, where the leadership conducted a fast-action response team exercise in which equipment and personnel were moved quickly to Zapata to simulate response to a disaster.

“As a School of Medicine physician and longtime participant in medical preparedness in Bexar County, I was pleased to lead Operation Lone State,” Dr. Bauer said.“This operation was successful due to the preparation, dedication and professionalism of everyone involved.”

Draws interest of state leaders

Among the state leaders who visited the exercises were Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Sen. Eddie Lucio and David Lakey, M.D., commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Besides the training and services we provided, we will use information from this exercise in research we are conducting on disaster response through our Center for Public Health Preparedness & Biomedical Research,” Dr. Bauer.

This is the 11th Operation Lone Star and the sixth year Dr. Bauer has been involved. Last year he was deputy commander.

Major General Raymond C. Peters Takes Command of the Texas State Guard

Major General Raymond C. Peters Takes Command of the Texas State Guard
MAJ J. Michael Spraggins, PAO, TXSG TMF

The Texas Adjutant General MG Jose Mayorga promotes BG Raymond Peters to Major General
The Texas Adjutant General MG Jose Mayorga promotes BG Raymond Peters to Major General

Camp Mabry, Texas - On Saturday morning July 25, 2009, Major General Raymond C. Peters assumed command of the Texas State Guard from the outgoing Commanding General, LTG Christopher J. Powers. After assuming command, MG Peters outlined in his remarks his vision for the future of the Texas State Guard:

  • An organization whose members understand the meaning of “selfless service”. We fail if our organization becomes filled by individuals with “self serving agendas”.
  • An organization whose members place their personal priorities in this order: their moral & physical health, their family, their job & then their duty to the Texas State Guard.
  • An organization that continues to grow in members and meets the adjutant general’s deployment rate of 90%.
  • An organization that adheres to law and policy and is mentally, physically and educationally prepared to accept any mission in support of the citizens of Texas.
  • An organization that continues to create an environment where the contributions of our members are respected and we are the force of choice.

Major General Peters received his commission as a 2LT from the Texas National Guard Academy in June 1965. He has served in numerous units of the Texas Army National Guard to include Co C 112th Armor, 1st Battalion 133d Field Artillery, 2d Battalion (Airborne) l43d Infantry, 386th Engineer Battalion and the 111th Area Support Group. His most key assignments were as Commander, 386th Engineer Battalion, Commander, 142d Support Detachment (RAOC) and Deputy Director, Surface Maintenance Directorate, Texas Army National. Upon his retirement from the Texas Army National Guard in 1997, COL Peters joined the Texas State Guard as its full time Director and Chief of Staff. Governor Perry appointed COL Peters as Deputy Commander, Texas State Guard on October 2005, and was promoted to BG. On July 25 2009 BG Peters was promoted to MG and assumed command of the Texas State Guard.

MG Raymond C. Peters
MG Raymond C. Peters

MG Peters is a graduate of the United States Army Armor, Field Artillery, Engineer and Quartermaster Schools, the Infantry Advanced Course, and the United States Army Command and General Staff College. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

MG Peters’ awards include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal (with 6 OLC), Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Military Volunteer Outstanding Service Medal, Lone Star Distinguished Service Medal, Texas Outstanding Medal, Texas Medal of Merit and the Master Parachutist Badge.

MG Peters and his wife Mary live in Austin, Texas and have one daughter, Susan.

Article originally from, Texas State Guard Changes Command.

Camp Mabry Prepares For Next Hurricane With DICE

Camp Mabry Prepares For Next Hurricane With DICE
Elizabeth Cohen, Texas Military Forces Public Affairs

Camp Mabry’s parade ground was transformed into a state-of- the art mobile communications park during the DICE exercise being conducted here June 1-4, 2009.Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson, Texas Military Forces Public Affairs
Camp Mabry’s parade ground was transformed into a state-of- the art mobile communications park during the DICE exercise being conducted here June 1-4, 2009.Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson, Texas Military Forces Public Affairs

Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas (June 8, 2009) – The Department of Defense Interoperability Communications Exercise, or DICE, was a four-day long event at Camp Mabry. This exercise included over 25 agencies participating on state, local and national levels, many of whom where communication experts who sought to test emergency communication through a simulation of hurricane conditions.

Situated on Camp Mabry’s parade field was a double line of vans, representing the first responders in the event of a natural disaster. Towards the center sat Sprint/Nextel’s Satellite Cell on Light Truck or SatCOLT, a vehicle designed to give a satellite-powered version of cell phone service to the hundred wireless handsets that Sprint had brought and charged for DICE. These were used in the exercise to simulate downed cell phone towers and snapped power lines.

“We are here to support the other units,” said Lee Martin, Raytheon Director of DoD Sales. He and his team ensured that the radio systems of the first responders were tied together, so they could talk to one another. “Everyone has their own system,” Martin added. “[but they] all have to talk on a common network.” Raytheon gear provided this synergy.

“This is what tax dollars get you,” said Cary Snyder, Technical Support Manager of Sprint’s Emergency Response Team, as he indicated the emergency response vans around his SatCOLT.

The inside of the vans were equipped with all the technology that each specific agency would need to complete their part in a natural disaster setting. Some, such as the Texas General Land Office, were visiting with communications consultants about upgrading their technology. “We are here to learn,” said Greg Pollock, Deputy Commissioner of Oil Spill Prevention and Response of the TGLO. He and his team were there to observe, and thus were not actively scripted into the exercise, Pollock added.

Chief Jack Colley, Division of Emergency Management, Office of the Governor, arrived on the final day of the exercise to discuss the objectives of DICE. “This exercise is extremely important because it shows the efforts of about eight years of not only funding but deployment of equipment across the state and our capability to work together as a team throughout the entire state of Texas. Our focus is on a single effort which is to provide a rapid and orderly response to any event,” Colley said.

Chief Colley was briefed on the event by Col. Kevin Turnbo, J6/Chief Information Officer. According to Col Turnbo, the DICE program consists of five phases: check-in, staging, training, and the breakdown and after-action report. Col Turnbo said that: “The after-action reports resulting from this training should prove invaluable to operators during the coming hurricane season.” The DICE exercise shows that many state, local and national organizations and first responders to disaster situations are gearing themselves up for the hurricane season.

TXSG Team Wins First Place In 2009 Texas Adjutant General’s Combat Pistol Sustainment Exercise Competition

TXSG Team Wins First Place In 2009 Texas Adjutant General’s Combat Pistol Sustainment Exercise Competition
MAJ J. Michael Spraggins, PAO, TXSG TMF

The QRT 19RGMT Team with their certificates pictured (L-R) SFC Dan Dzivi, SFC Mark Sliger MAJ Barry Hobbs, SGT Admir Pasalic and 1SGT Booth (not pictured).Photo by QRT 8RGMT TXSG TMF
The QRT 19RGMT Team with their certificates pictured (L-R) SFC Dan Dzivi, SFC Mark Sliger MAJ Barry Hobbs, SGT Admir Pasalic and 1SGT Booth (not pictured).Photo by QRT 8RGMT TXSG TMF

Camp Swift, Bastrop Texas - The Texas State Guard (TXSG) took top honors winning both the individual and the team combat pistol events on a rainy and cold weekend recently at Camp Swift. High pistol shooter was SSG Daniel Ernest, who won the competition last year. High team was 19th QRT (SFC Dzivi, SFC Sliger, SGT Pasaic, 1SGT Booth, MAJ Hobbs (19th QRT Commander). High Novice: 1LT Bornwell, 8th QRT, TXSG.

19TH QRT scores in the Individual category were: Hobbs Barry R. - 604, Sligar, Mark W. - 736, Dzivi, Daniel R. - 586, Pasalic, Admir - 527. Team score was 3141.

TXSG shooters were awarded four out of the eight coveted Governor’s Twenty tabs that were awarded. The TXSG citizen – soldiers awarded the Governor’s Twenty tab were SSG Ernest, 2LT George, 1LT Bornwell and SFC Sliger.

A total of 42 personnel participated in this year’s event. Second and third placed teams were the 136th AW TXANG.

The Texas State Guard is one of the three branches of the Texas Military Forces. However it operates a little different than the Texas Army and Air Nation Guard. The individual TXSG soldiers must pay for all, uniforms, equipment, ammunition, travel and training expenses out of their own pocket and only draw a small stipend from the State of Texas when they are activated by the Governor for State Active Duty (SAD).

The TXSG mission as a branch of the Texas Military Forces is to provide mission-ready military forces to assist State and Local authorities in times of state emergencies, with homeland security and community service through Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA). To augment the other two branches of the Texas Military Forces, the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as force multipliers.

Texas Maritime Regiment Swearing-In Ceremony

Texas Maritime Regiment Swearing-In Ceremony
PO1 George Monnat Jr., PAO, 2nd BN TMAR TXSG TMF

(L-R) SCPO Westberry, PO1 Lee, being sworn into the TMAR by CDR Cave, BGen BodischPhoto by WO1 George Monnat TMAR TXSG TMF
(L-R) SCPO Westberry, PO1 Lee, being sworn into the TMAR by CDR Cave, BGen Bodisch Photo by WO1 George Monnat TMAR TXSG TMF

New Braunfels, Texas - As one of his first acts as Commander of the Texas Maritime Regiment (TMAR) of the Texas State Guard (TXSG), Brigadier General Robert “Duke” Bodisch swore in the two newest members of TMAR’s Second Battalion (2nd Bn). The ceremony occurred inside the 2nd Bn’s monthly drill facilities, the National Guard armory in New Braunfels, in the early afternoon. BGen Bodisch and 2nd Bn’s Commanding Officer, Commander Joe Cave swore in Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO) Brad Westberry and Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Miriam Lee.

SCPO(SW/AW) Brad Westberry grew up in Bulverde, Texas and joined the Navy right after high school where he spent the next twenty-six years and retired as a Senior Chief Damage Controlman. His last assignment before retirement was as the Command Senior Chief and senior DC instructor at the Center for Naval Engineering Learning Site, Ingleside, Texas. He is currently employed by the State Fire Marshal’s Office. He and his wife Pat reside in Ingleside.

PO1(SW) Miriam Lee grew up in Houston, TX and joined the Navy right after high school where she spent twenty years

Foreground (L-R) BGen Bodisch, SCPO Westberry, PO1 Lee, making the commitment to serve Texas in times of State and Local emergencies.Photo by WO1 George Monnat TMAR TXSG TMF
Foreground (L-R) BGen Bodisch, SCPO Westberry, PO1 Lee, making the commitment to serve Texas in times of State and Local emergencies.Photo by WO1 George Monnat TMAR TXSG TMF

retiring as a PO1 Electronic Technician. Her last assignment was as an instructor of the AN/SPS-67(V)1&3 Radar System at Center for Surface Combat Systems, Norfolk, VA. After retiring, she worked in Admiral Lotring’s staff as a Data Analyst for the Navy’s Accessions Programs in Great Lakes, IL. She relocated to Texas and is now a full time student at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, a junior, majoring in Management Information Systems.

The Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment was created on November 1st, 2007 as the maritime branch of the TXSG. It consists of retired and honorably discharged members of the United States Coast Guard, United States Marines, and United States Navy as well as non-prior-service volunteers.

The mission of TMAR is to provide the Governor of the State of Texas and the Adjutant General of Texas with, highly trained, mission-ready military personal for Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA), for operations in the maritime, littoral, and riverine environments in support of Homeland Defense and in response to man-made or natural disasters.

MAJ J. Michael Spraggins contributed to this story

Kids participate in Firefighter Challenge


Courtesy Story

With a furrowed brow and tired arms, he carries the fire hose over his shoulder across the line. Once across, he picks up a mallet and begins to pound away at a forced entry simulator. Tired but relentless, the next task brings the individual to a mannequin rescue scene, wherein his strength is tested as he carries the body to safety. Finally, he must extinguish a simulated fire with the precise aim of a powerful pressure hose. Successfully completing the tasks, he greets his family as they praise and cheer for him. This three-year old has just completed the Kid's Firefighter Challenge.

The 2009 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry welcomed dozens of uniformed departments and organizations to show off their service to the community. The Austin Fire Department warmly embraced the youth of the event by putting on a small-scale version of their annual service competition, the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

"It's actually a competition that we train for quite a bit," said Scott M. Bartell, lieutenant for Engine 1 of the Austin Fire Department. "It's a fun thing for the kids to see what we do."

Showcasing the American Fire Service while promoting physical fitness for children, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge takes participants through four of the rigorous trials of the real competition.

"[The Firefighter Challenge] was developed as an assessment tool for fire departments," said Bartell. "It simulates our firefighting activities."

The children's version includes a fire hose carry, the Keiser block, which simulates forcible entry, victim rescue with the aid of a mannequin, and a fire hose drag and spray. The adult counterpart additionally includes wear of the full SCOTT Air-Pak breaking apparatus and climbing a five-story tower.

"I like the hammer because I liked to move the big block," said Elizabeth W. Schiesser, 10. "I would like to do it again because I had a fun time."

Jim Key, retired Austin Fire Department captain and coach for the AFD Firefighter Challenge Team, has been working with the competition since its conception more than 15 years ago.

"We brought some of the toys we play with on a daily basis that represent firefighting," said Key. "We want kids to have a good day."

"I like spraying the hose because it's like pulling a trigger on a gun," said Jack H. Waters, 5.

In addition to giving youths the opportunity to perform real firefighter activities, the Kid's Firefighter Challenge also educates children on fire safety, home evacuation during a fire and other safety topics. As an outreach program, it stimulates children to take an active role in their family's fire plan and engages them with related competitions such as fire safety posters and essay contests.

This year's national-level competition for the Firefighter Combat Challenge takes place in Dallas in October with the world competition following in November in Las Vegas.

Search and Rescue Dogs Find Receptive Audience


Courtesy Story

Camp Mabry's American Heroes Celebration this year brought together diverse groups of people from various backgrounds and professions. Uniquely suited to feature a massive gathering of departments and organizations, the weekend-long event combined the related efforts of two offices that have never before worked together, the Austin Police Department Search and Rescue Dog Team and the Travis County Sherriff's Office Dog Team.

During three separate demonstrations on Saturday, these teams came together to educate and entertain the public on the challenges, rewards and techniques of working with trained dogs.

"We start training our dogs the minute we get them," said Matthew W. McDermott, K-9 team head for the Austin Police Department's Search and Rescue Team. "Training is simply a matter of rewarding the [behavior] you want to keep and ignoring the stuff that you don't."

Though a part of the Austin Police Department and found within the 15-man Search and Rescue Team, the three-man K-9 team is not made up of police officers.

"We're an all volunteer team," said McDermott. "We're not sworn officers."

Contrastingly, the officers of the Travis County Sherriff's Office use their dogs in official police situations.

"My dogs are bomb dogs," said Jo A. Carson, a K-9 handler with the county office. "We also search for suspects who may have committed criminal acts."

The demonstration included the APD office describing training techniques and taking the audience step by step through the reinforcement process. McDermott led his Golden Retriever, Ruby, through search games and recognition exercises to highlight the dog's refined skills.

The county office followed with a discipline presentation about how obedient and focused the police dogs are. Darren Jennings, dressed in a protective suit, allowed Hutch, a German Shepherd, to subdue him as he played the role of a suspect. With perfect accuracy, Hutch subdued Jennings on command and immediately let go when the "suspect" began obeying the orders of the enforcing officer, Mike Stanley. True to training, the dog's actions never threaten the life of the suspect, they only serve to detain the individual.

Often misperceived as a violent attack dog, police dogs rarely engage their targets with biting or clawing. The handlers of both offices train their dogs especially for tracking, taking advantage of dogs' naturally heightened sense of smell.

A fan delight by children and adults alike, the search and rescue dog demonstrations brought to the American Heroes celebration a wonderful glimpse into specialized law enforcement.