An Evacuation System with Accountability

Story by: Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janet Schmelzer
Texas State Guard Public Affairs

In an Emergency Tracking Network system exercise in Huntsville, Texas, Pfcs. James Little and Lee McWilliams, 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, scan an ETN band attached to the collar of a dog, February 24, 2018.  The system would track the dog's location to a designated pet shelter during an emergency or disaster so that the pet can be located by the pet owner.  (Texas State Guard Photo by Cpl. Christopher Feriante)
In an Emergency Tracking Network system exercise in Huntsville, Texas, Pfcs. James Little and Lee McWilliams, 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, scan an ETN band attached to the collar of a dog, February 24, 2018.  The system would track the dog's location to a designated pet shelter during an emergency or disaster so that the pet can be located by the pet owner.  (Texas State Guard Photo by Cpl. Christopher Feriante)

When a hurricane, flood, chemical spill, wildfire, or other catastrophe strikes Texas, people may have to evacuate the affected area, often with little or no time to prepare.  Their lives have been turned upside down: they do not know where they are going; they do not know when they will return, and sometimes families and loved ones get separated.  They need someone to show them the way out of the danger zone to safety and comfort.  

When support for evacuation operations is needed, the Texas State Guard is trained and ready. Guardsmen provide a very specialized skill set during an evacuation, operation of the Emergency Tracking Network (ETN).   ETN is an electronic system that tracks evacuees from an evacuation hub to designated shelters away from the disaster area.  

“One of the big lessons learned during the Katrina and Rita hurricanes was the need to track the location of thousands of people rapidly evacuating the strike zone,” said Col. Robert Hastings, Commander, Army Component, Texas State Guard.  “In some cases, families were separated and ended up in different shelters with no means to communicate or locate each other.  ETN was designed to prevent that from happening.”

The Texas State Guard is the principal state agency with the Emergency Tracking Network mission.  

"Without a system of accountability, we would not know who we evacuated or which designated mass evacuation transportation they got on.  With the ETN system, we have information which tracks the evacuee from an embarkation point to a shelter.  Because we are trained on ETN, the Texas State Guard is performing a vital service to Texans who are evacuated during an emergency or disaster," said Staff Sgt. Greg Illich, 8th Regiment, TXSG. 

At an evacuation hub, one of the first people that an evacuee will encounter is a member of the Texas State Guard.  As evacuees enter the hub, guardsmen can answer their questions about what happens at the hub and show them where to register for transportation to a shelter.  At the registration table, guardsmen begin the process of registering evacuees into the emergency tracking system.  They can explain to evacuees how the system works to ease any concerns that evacuees may have about what will happen when they are registered into the system.  Family members at the hub are registered at the same time.  This process allows them to travel together and stay together at the same shelter.   

"During an evacuation, we want to assist family members in this way.  Keeping families together is comforting to them and helps ease their anxiety during this time of uncertainty," stated 1st Lt. Kendra Neuendorff, 4th Regiment, Texas State Guard.  

As the registration process continues, guardsmen place a wristband on each evacuee.  Each wristband has a unique identification number which is recorded into the ETN system along with the evacuee's information.  Personal medical equipment, such as a walker or wheelchair, is also banded and registered into the system.  And family pets are banded on the collar or travel kennel and evacuated to a designated pet shelter.  In this way, families know that their pet will not be abandoned but sheltered and fed until they can be reunited.

"Sometimes pet owners are afraid to leave a pet behind and as a result are reluctant to evacuate.  If owners know that their pets are going to evacuated, banded into ETN, and sheltered, they feel relief that their pet has not been left behind," commented Pfc. Sonya Martinez, 39th Regiment, Texas State Gaurd. 

Guardsmen then direct the evacuees to designated mass evacuation transportation located at the hub.  As evacuees board a bus, plane or helicopter, guardsmen scan the wristbands again to begin tracking their movement.  The system records each individual who boards the transportation headed to a specific shelter.  And when evacuees arrive at the shelter, guardsmen, for accountability, again scan the wristbands to log their location.  ETN now has recorded the evacuee's travel from the evacuation hub to the shelter.  

“ETN is a very versatile system,” said Hastings.  “During Hurricane Harvey ETN was used to manage evacuations, determine population at the shelters, and keep track of pets and medical equipment, among other tasks.  Keeping track of our evacuating citizens and helping families stay connected is one of the most important missions we train for.” 

 

Leading the Fleet: Texas Apaches First in Line to Receive New Strap Pack Meganut

""
Photo By 2nd Lt. Caitlin Rourk | AH-64 Apache helicopters retrofitted with the new strap pack meganut sit in the flight facility at Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, on June 12, 2018.

HOUSTON, TX, UNITED STATES

06.15.2018

Story by 2nd Lt. Caitlin Rourk

Texas Military Department

After months of development, the Army’s Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command has begun implementing the redesigned strap pack meganut on the Army’s full AH-64 Apache helicopter fleet. The Texas Army National Guard’s 1-149th Attack and Reconnaissance Battalion is the first unit in the Army to field the retrofit. Members of AMCOM and representatives from Boeing, which manufactures the Apache, visited Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, to brief the unit’s pilots, crew chiefs and mechanics, as well as Texas Army National Guard leaders Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, Assistant Division Commander – Operations of the 36th Infantry Division, and Col. Ronald W. Burkett II, commander of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, on the retrofit on June 12, 2018.

The region’s severe coastal climate, which can accelerate corrosion, made Houston a natural first stop for AMCOM. But a tragic accident solidified the decision to place the 1-149th at the top of the list to receive the new component. Two of the unit’s pilots, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dustin Mortenson and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lucas Lowe, died after their aircraft crashed into Galveston Bay, Texas, in December 2016. The accident investigation determined that a stress corrosion crack in the strap pack assembly that connects the main rotor blade to the rotor caused the crash.

“I know that crash in the Apache fleet was inevitable. It just so happened that it was in Texas and took the lives of two of our aviators,” said Burkett. “But that event triggered a sense of urgency and a series of events to make that component stronger and healthier and prevented the loss of lives elsewhere in the fleet.”

Following the crash, the Army instituted more stringent inspection standards throughout its Apache fleet. Maintenance crews use high-resolution bore scopes to inspect the strap pack any time an aircraft flies, a standard that applies to all Apaches, whether deployed overseas or training stateside. The added maintenance requirement not only places operational strain on the force, but it also hampers training and limits the speed with which Apaches can deploy. While the solution worked in the interim, the Army’s 24 attack and reconnaissance battalions were eager for a more permanent fix; a fix the new meganut addresses.

“Anytime an aircraft picks up off the ground, there is an inherent risk. We mitigate that risk by having really superbly trained aviators and crew members,” Burkett explained. “Mechanical failures, part failures, especially the strap pack is something that you really can’t anticipate. The rebuild of this strap pack assembly and that nut in particular is a very important step forward to restoring the confidence and faith in the aircraft and allows pilots and maintainers to focus on the things they can predict to try to mitigate and focus on their mission.”

The Army now designates the strap pack assembly as a critical safety item, meaning it faces increased production oversight and quality control. Engineers enhanced the meganut’s design to minimize stress corrosion cracking and increase its lifespan. The nut’s new geometry shifts pressure points, its thicker walls make it more durable and upgraded sealant improves corrosion resistance compared to earlier nut designs. Burkett lauded AMCOM for being “all in” the moment the crash happened and steadfastly seeking a solution to keep aviators safe.

“Looking at the changes in the part and how much more substantial the new part is, the new materials it’s being made of and the coatings they’re putting on it, much less susceptible to any kinds of issues they’ve had,” said Hamilton. “We’re continuing to test it and make sure that our pilots’ safety is our number one concern.”

Hamilton called the retrofit a “great readiness enhancer for us” and noted that the follow-up process will be highly collaborative, continuing long after AMCOM personnel depart Ellington Field. AMCOM and Boeing representatives will work hand-in-hand with attack and reconnaissance battalions across the force to track and audit the meganut’s performance. The 1-149th will ship the meganuts back to AMCOM after logging flight hours so engineers can continuously study and improve the new component. AMCOM officials complimented the unit for its participation and hospitality, noting that the 1-149th leaned forward and made implementation an easy and seamless process.

Both Hamilton and Burkett underscored the most significant takeaway from the retrofit: the need to reassure aviators and their families that the Apache is safe to fly. The retrofit initiative has been a high priority at every level of the Army, and its implementation marks an important step toward increased safety within the close-knit aviation community.

“Regardless of what your MOS is or where you work within the National Guard, our family members are so important to what we do. And having their support based on faith that their service members have great equipment, receive great training, have solid leadership is so important to them,” said Burkett. “I do hope the families see this as a very concerted effort by the senior leadership, from the top of the Army chief of staff down to the unit level, that we’re all committed to making a safer environment for their soldiers.”

AMCOM officials noted it will take time before the new meganut makes it out into the entire force. The team’s next stop is Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, then Fort Lewis in Washington, locations whose climates—like Houston’s—warrant swift implementation. For Texas, receiving the new component ahead of any other unit is an encouraging development in the wake of heartbreaking loss, providing aviators and families with peace of mind, while enabling the battalion to more effectively fulfill its demanding training requirements.

“The Army was very wise in making this the first battalion to field the new strap pack for this Apache helicopter in the entire Army,” said Hamilton. “That shows that we are dedicated to you and the families, showing that we’ve fixed this problem and we’re going to go forward from here.”

DANG visits the 136th Airlift Wing

''
Photo By Tech. Sgt. Lynn Means | Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Efren Perez Jr., the propulsion supervisor for the 136th Maintenance Squadron, briefs Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, the director of the Air National Guard, and Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Anderson, the Command Chief Master Sgt. of the Air National Guard, on capabilities and processes of the propulsion shop May 20, 2017, at NAS Fort Worth JRB, TX. The visit allowed for an up-close inspection of unit assets and equipment. (Air National Guard photo by Tech Sgt. Lynn M. Means.)

FORT WORTH, TX, UNITED STATES

05.20.2018

Story by Tech. Sgt. Lynn Means, Senior Airman Bryan Swink and Senior Airman DeJon Williams

136th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs (Texas Air National Guard)

 

FORT WORTH, Texas – Air National Guard Senior leaders visited the 136th Airlift Wing on May 20 to meet with the men and women of the wing and tour the facilities.

Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the Director of the Air National Guard and Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Anderson, the Command Chief of the Air National Guard, took a look at the 136 AW mission and spoke with hundreds of Airmen around the wing.

“There’s depth to this thing called patriotism and that’s what energizes me and drives me forward,” said Rice.

After arriving to the installation, the director and command chief received a mission brief by Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, the commander of the 136 AW, which highlighted key components of the wing’s mission.

Both Rice and Anderson were given the opportunity to meet with Airmen who will deploy overseas. They also spent time during lunch with outstanding performers of all ranks to discuss any concerns the Airmen may have and talk about the direction the ANG is headed.

“It was good to see someone so high in command like the DANG take time to come visit us. It’s really cool to have moments like these to remind us that we’re all in this together,” said Senior Airman Travis Garcia, a material handler with the 136th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

After lunch, the distinguished visitors spent time at the 136th Maintenance Squadron’s propulsion shop to receive an in-depth look at the turboprop engines which power the wing’s C-130 Hercules’ cargo aircraft. They also spent time getting a tour of the aircraft and discussing the C-130’s capabilities with aircrew members.

Rice and Anderson got a chance to witness 136 AW Airmen in action as they completed training in the Expeditionary Skills Rodeo, which focused on response to self-aid buddy care and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense drills.

“It’s incredibly important, and we’re absolutely honored to be able to spend a little bit of time with the wing today,” said Anderson. “We want to understand a little bit of how you’re so incredibly successful and what we can do to make you more successful in the future. And ensure that your kids and grandkids have a wing and future here if they want to be a part of the Air National Guard family.”

The final stop on the visit was a commander’s all-call at the base theater where Rice spoke with Airmen and answered questions related to force structure, physical fitness testing and career development within the ANG.

“And frankly,” said Rice, “with all the things you’ve done, all the things you’re doing, and all the hope and pride and excitement for the future that you have, you’re making a difference in this world. And for that I thank you all.” (Senior Airman Bryan Swink, Senior Airman De’Jon P. Williams, and Tech. Sgt. Lynn M. Means contributed to this article.)

Texas First Battalion Deploys to Africa

""
Photo By Master Sgt. Michael Leslie | The 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment of the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard held a deployment ceremony on April 16, 2018 at Joint Base San Antonio - Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Task Force Alamo is set to deploy to the Horn of Africa to take over duties from their Texas sister, the 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment of the 56th IBCT. Friends and family said farewell for the unit set to deploy later this month. (Texas Army National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs) 

SAN ANTONIO, TX, UNITED STATES

05.16.2018

Story by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie

36th Infantry Division (TXARNG)

 

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – “This is a historic unit,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, Assistant Division Commander – Operations of the 36th Infantry Division, “Task Force Alamo is aptly named. It traces its lineage back to when Texas was still just a Republic, fighting for its own independence.”

The Texas Army National Guard’s oldest unit, dating back to 1823, the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment of the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, conducted a deployment ceremony May 16, 2018 at Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston. The battalion is preparing to deploy to the Horn of Africa, partnering with more than ten nations to promote regional stability and prosperity.

“This is a vitally important mission,” said Hamilton. “All people are created equal, and we are defending that freedom around the world, so it is critical that we do a great job in helping the countries that we’re going.”

Hundreds of family members were in attendance to see their Soldiers off and show their support.

“Although your Soldiers wear the uniforms,” said Col. Rodrigo Gonzalez, the commander of the 72nd IBCT, “You also serve with them in your capacity as a family member and you wear the uniform in your heart.”

This will be the last time that Soldiers will see their families for the coming year and Maj Sean Ibarguen, commander of the battalion, addresses that hardship.

“For some, the toughest timeframe of the deployment is upon us and that is moving toward the final goodbye,” said Ibarguen. “Soon your Soldier will return home and the joy of that return will eclipse the sadness of saying goodbye in the coming days.”

The 12-year-old daughter of the battalion commander gave him advice on a painted rock to carry with him on his deployment that he passed along to his Soldiers that “time flies.”

“It may not feel like it right now, but time does fly and it will fly moving forward,” said Ibarguen. “We will be back in the Lone Star State before you know it.”

Mother's Day

""
Photo By Senior Airman DeJon Williams | 180429-Z-XR025-1134 Tech. Sgt. Lisa Menken, a contract specialist with the 136th Mission Support Group, Texas Air National Guard, poses with her daughter Charrisa Menken April 29, 2018 in the 136th Airlift Wing Public Affairs studio at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman De’Jon Williams)

FORT WORTH, TX, UNITED STATES

05.09.2018

Story by Senior Airman DeJon Williams

136th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs (Texas Air National Guard)

 

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Mother’s Day is a holiday that is celebrated in one way or another in many countries around the world. On the second Sunday in May, Americans celebrate by giving their mothers flowers, cards and various other gifts.

While motherhood itself can be a full-time job, some mothers make the choice to also serve in the United States Air Force. These women juggle the trials of parenting with the responsibility of maintaining operations, coping with deployment tempos, and upholding the core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.

There are almost 2 million children around the world with military parents. Of those 2 million, Charissa Menken, a student flight trainee with the 136th Airlift Wing, grew up around the Texas Air National Guard and will soon be serving alongside her mother at the wing.

“As a family, we all supported her,” said Charissa Menken. “It is awesome to get to see a woman and my mom be all these different things and still be strong, beautiful and be able to accomplish so much. That was inspiring for me.”

Charissa Menken grew up as a “military brat” and developed an appreciation for service early on, thanks to the influence of her mother. When the opportunity arose to follow in her mother’s footsteps, pursuing a military career herself, the decision was an easy one.

“What’s special about our relationship is that we get this little moment where we’re working in the same wing together,” Charissa Menken said. “I get to learn from her and not only be with her at home but be with her at the start of my military journey.”

Tech. Sgt. Lisa Menken, a contract specialist with the 136th Mission Support Group, Texas Air National Guard, and mother of Charissa Menken, has had many opportunities to share the responsibilities, joy, and hardships of military service with her daughter.

Sometimes, as military members, the cost of service may involve missing important holidays or events. While deployed to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Lisa Menken wasn’t able to physically attend her daughter’s enlistment ceremony, but with advances in technology and the support of her fellow Airmen, she was there via video chat.

“I was in a van coming back from Beaumont, Texas, while the ceremony was taking place,” said Lisa Menken. “It wasn’t something we could control, but I was just really proud of her making that decision to get in. Being a good citizen, being respectful, trustworthy, and having strong values are things we hope and wish our kids take on. I was proud.”

As unique as having a mother and daughter serving together at the same unit may be, many mothers across the wing are faced with leaving their families and even young children behind to ensure their state and nation’s safety. Senior Airman Briana Boggs, a public affairs administrator with the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, maintains this selfless perspective though she understands the gravity of a mother’s sacrifice.

“It is all a part of putting service before self and getting the job done,” said Boggs. “My daughter is turning two this year and luckily I haven’t missed any major milestones like her walking, her first words, or anything like that. It’s something other mothers have to deal with as well, but being a mother is great. It’s stressful, exciting and every emotion you could think of combined, but knowing that I serve my country to not only keep my daughter safe, but also the rest of the nation too, makes all my sacrifices worth it.”

During the Texas Air National Guard’s response to Hurricane Harvey, Boggs worked tirelessly for many long days through her civilian job to assist with evacuation and rescue operations in areas where victims could not access medical facilities. Her response, as well as that of many other Airmen moms, shows the heart of a mother and the character of an Airman transcends the uniform.

Moms like these show the true meaning of what it is to be a Citizen Airmen, and we wanted to take this moment to wish all our moms a very Happy Mother’s Day.

Supporting hidden warriors: Second Lady Karen Pence visits DFW military spouses

""
Photo By Tech. Sgt. Melissa Harvey | Second Lady Karen Pence speaks with military spouses from all branches about experiences and challenges they face as wives and husbands of service members, Friday, May 4, 2018, at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas. Pence has visited other locations to speak with military spouses, including Luke Air Force Base, Arizona and Yokota Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photos by Tech. Sgt. Melissa Harvey)

DALLAS, TX, UNITED STATES

05.04.2018

Story by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton

136th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs (Texas Air National Guard)

 

When considering the sacrifices of military members across the Armed Forces, many think of the various deployments, relocations and the physical tolls that are consistently associated with the cost of service.

One aspect that is often overlooked are the families that support service members across the globe. Millions of men, women and children willingly give up their stability, their careers, and their homes among many other things every few years in order to support the nation by being the backbone of those who fight to protect freedoms.

To offer support and gain insight on the challenges that military families face, Second Lady Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, arranged a listening session to hear from military spouses during her visit to Dallas, Texas, May 4. During the meeting at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the Second Lady was introduced to eleven spouses from all branches of the Armed Forces to hear about the benefits and struggles of military life, and improvements that could be made to aid transitions in the future.

"I think frequently the servicemember is the one in the limelight or there's more attention on our servicemembers when really behind the scenes we have these hidden warriors, who are the spouses and the children, and they make a lot of sacrifices as well," said Pence. "So sometimes it's needed just raising a little bit of awareness and letting them know 'we are grateful and we appreciate you,' and we hope they hear us."

The listening session ran for 45-minutes, allowing for every military spouse present to emphasize particular challenges and elevate issues that have potential to improve the lives and illuminate the problems of "hidden warriors."

"There are several challenges that have been brought to our attention," Pence said. "[Spouses] having a sense of identity, if they have to change jobs all the time or can't get a job in their chosen career, something they've trained for. It's difficult. [Having] a sense of community is difficult. Anytime they move, making new friends, finding a bank, stores, housing, education. There are a lot of issues they face just because they are such a mobile society."

Two military spouses from the 136th Airlift Wing were selected to attend the session with the Second Lady: Tech. Sgt. Dan Ledesma, 136th Airlift Wing production recruiter and Mrs. Heidi Bearden, 136th Force Support Squadron Airmen and Family Readiness program manager.

"It was a huge opportunity because we had the ability to represent not only our spouses but also the other members of the 136th Airlift Wing and their families," said Bearden. "From a spouse standpoint, being able to talk about some of the issues our Airmen face and being able to verbalize the stresses and strain that requirements cost our families is important. I was also able to bring up some key issues from a programmatic standpoint, and by listening to the spouses, learned ways we can improve our communication to make sure that information regarding programs and opportunities actually reach our military families."

The Second Lady will be continuing to participate in several listening sessions at military installations in the coming months. In the fall, her team aspires to gather the information presented, and focus on one or two issues they may be able to remedy to assist military families.

"There is something about military spouses, when you sit in a room with them, they are so resilient and so strong," Pence said. "They are amazing people in their own right, and their attitudes are so positive. I'm glad that so many of them are willing to be vulnerable and say if this were fixed, it would help a lot of other issues. They are amazing men and women and we appreciate them taking the time to help us get a better understanding. We don't know it all, and we really want to hear from them and what they want us to bring awareness to."

Texas Army National Guard Green Berets mentor U.S., Albanian and Lithuanian forces during Allied Spirit VIII

Photo By Sgt. Karen Sampson | Lithuanian National Defence Volunteer Forces (KASP) conduct familiarization with pyrotechnics to be used while acting as Observer-Coach-Trainers ahead of Allied Spirit VIII at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, January 19, 2018. Allied Spirit VIII was a multinational exercise which integrated special operation forces and conventional forces from ten nations, improving combined interoperability and interdependence. (U.S. Army photo by SGT Karen Sampson)

TX, UNITED STATES

05.01.2018

Story by Sgt. Karen Sampson

U.S. Special Operations Command Europe

 

Allied Spirit was a multinational exercise involving approximately 4,100 participants from 10 nations at 7th Army Training Command’s Hohenfels Training Area. The U.S. Army Europe-directed multinational exercise series Allied Spirit is designed to develop and enhance NATO and key partner’s interoperability and readiness.

The Texas Army National Guardsmen from 19th SFG(A) augmented the OCT team from U.S. Special Operations Command Europe and the JMRC Special Operations Forces Cell. OCTs acted as on-the-ground trainers supporting SOF and conventional forces during training exercise Allied Spirit VIII conducted January 15 through February 5.

The 19th SFG(A) team mentored a diverse group including U.S. SOF assigned to 1st SFG(A), Albanian SOF, and the Lithuanian National Defence Force Volunteers (KASP).

“Being an OCT assisting in unit tactical development, bridging the units together and integrating them into action was a great experience,” said a 19th SFG(A) team sergeant. “Everyone gained from completing the exercise.”

The Texas-based Green Berets were particularly impressed by the performance of their Lithuanian Allies. 
“Lithuania’s KASP trained smart, were decisive and their tactics were sound,” said the team sergeant.
The opportunity to observe and train other U.S. Special Forces Soldiers provided a training opportunity for the 19th SFG(A) OCTs, challenging them to remain experts in their doctrine.

“We drew upon their knowledge of Unconventional Warfare from the Special Forces Qualification Course and combined it with the training and deployment experience to provide training feedback to [the ODA from 1st SFG(A)],” said the 19th SFG(A) officer in charge of operations.

TXARNG OCTs reinforced the concept of “free play” during Allied Spirit VIII to the greatest extent possible to meet the rotational training unit’s training objectives.

“This experience was worthwhile as a guest OCT because you get to evaluate another unit's tactical training and standard operations and witness what works for them,” said the operations OIC. “As a Special Forces Soldier, observing a [team] from another group gives you the perspective they have from their area of responsibility and strengthens your unit\s repertoire.”

Texas Guardsmen improve disaster response skills in Slovakia

By Staff Sgt. Steven Smith

Texas Army National Guard

April 30, 2018

 

""
Texas Army National Guard engineers from the 836h Engineer Company, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, work alongside soldiers from the Indiana National Guard, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in support of Operation Toxic Lance, a search and rescue exercise involving a chemical warfare scenario, March 12-23, 2018, at Training Area Lest in central Slovakia. The soldiers were brought together as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program that focuses on building interoperability and strengthening international relationships through military-to-military exchanges. (Photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle)

Texas Army National Guard engineers from the 836h Engineer Company, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, work alongside soldiers from the Indiana National Guard, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in support of Operation Toxic Lance, a search and rescue exercise involving a chemical warfare scenario, March 12-23, 2018, at Training Area Lest in central Slovakia. The soldiers were brought together as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program that focuses on building interoperability and strengthening international relationships through military-to-military exchanges.

Texas Army National Guard engineers from the 836h Engineer Company, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, work alongside soldiers from the Indiana National Guard, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in support of Operation Toxic Lance, a search and rescue exercise involving a chemical warfare scenario, March 12-23, 2018, at Training Area Lest in central Slovakia. The soldiers were brought together as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program that focuses on building interoperability and strengthening international relationships through military-to-military exchanges. (Photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle)

TRAINING AREA LEST, Slovakia – Seventeen Texas Army National Guard engineers from the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade's 836th Engineer Company provided search and rescue support and participated recently in a multinational exercise, Operation Toxic Lance, at this site in central Slovakia.

The operation, which ran March 12-23, brought together chemical and engineer-trained Soldiers from the Texas and Indiana Army National Guards as well as the Slovakian and Czech Republic militaries, as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program that focuses on building interoperability and strengthening international relationships through military-to-military exchanges.

The Texas-based Soldiers are search and rescue qualified and provide real-world response to FEMA Region VI as one part of the Texas-run Homeland Response Force, under the command of the 136th.

The purpose of this exercise was to participate with and to demonstrate search and rescue skillsets to partnered service members in the Slovakian and Czech Republic military chemical response units.

"We do not have any type of search and rescue units, or soldiers trained in that discipline here in the Slovak army," said Lt. Col. Oliver Toderiska, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Battalion commander for the Slovakian army. "Seeing the Texas Soldiers integrated with our chemical response teams, working hand in hand with our own soldiers shows us how we could also use search and rescue."

While Texas brought refined search and rescue skills, techniques and procedures to the exercise to share with their partners, their Slovakian allies brought experienced chemical experts to share training and response procedures.

The Texas search and rescue team has trained countless hours on simulated exercises, involving scenarios such as accidental and terrorism themed mass explosions, radiation threats and hazardous chemicals. But the main effort during Operation Toxic Lance was a chemical weapons threat and each day a new scenario was presented around that threat forcing Soldiers to respond to new challenges.

One scenario presented a lab, run by a terrorist organization that manufactured chemical weapons and released a chemical.

"We've worked a lot with how to perform in and mitigate radiation threats, but we haven't spent a lot of time on weaponized chemical agents," said Sgt. Myles Merriweather, Texas Army National Guard search and rescue team member. "We can take what we've learned here and use it to establish our own (processes) back home."

Each service member involved in Operation Toxic Lance went through a scenario where a live chemical agent was used. For most of the engineers who are certified in search and rescue, this this was the first time they were exposed to a live chemical agent. The exercise built confidence in their equipment, proved the concept of proper decontamination and showed the importance of technical proficiency in a chemical environment.

"The Texas Soldiers have come a long way since they first arrived," said Slovakian Army Capt. Labraska, doctor of chemistry for the Slovak unit, speaking on the Texas National Guard Soldiers' ability to adapt to new tactics, techniques and procedures.

The Slovak army has state of the art chemical labs, reconnaissance vehicles, equipment, agents and they are subject-matter experts in combating chemical warfare, but have no formal training in search and rescue disciplines.

With the increased threat of terrorism throughout the globe, the Slovak chemical unit is studying how to improve rapid mobilization, response operations and augment rescue efforts in a chemical attack, should that day ever come.

"The Slovak military doesn't usually practice with its local first responders, nor is there a procedure in place for it, but luckily that's something that our task force does very well," said one of the Texas Guard members serving as a search and rescue evaluator for the exercise. "What makes our organization so good at working with any entity and in operational constraints is that we will augment the efforts on the ground and provide whatever support the incident commander needs. Even though we are a military unit, we don't take over an event, we provide the most good for the most people in whatever capacity we're needed."

Texas Guard members discussed these methods at the National Slovakia Emergency Response Conference, as well as, Slovak Lt. Gen. Pavel Macko, the deputy chief of defense, British Gen. Andrew Garth serving as the military attaché to Slovakia, and a group of military command staff comprised of leaders from several other countries.

"I don't know how you Guard Soldiers do it," Garth remarked. "How you're able to have a combat military specialty and also find the time to train on a completely different task such as this, as complicated as this, and be proficient, is beyond me."

Participating in Operation Toxic Lance was a huge endeavor for the Texas Soldiers involved, every day putting on a chemical suit and mask while conducting physically demanding complex search and rescue operations. But the end result was an experience that was once in a military career.

"The training gave me a new perspective on how search and rescue operations can integrate into chemical reconnaissance" said Spc. Katty Gracia, chemical noncommissioned officer for the 836th Engineer Company. "Even with a language barrier, it's amazing what you can accomplish when you have a common goal and the right motivation."

Airman fulfills long-held dream of military service

""
Photo By Airman 1st Class Katie Schultz | Airman 1st Class Rosa Vittori, a personnelist with the 149th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard, processes paperwork for Zach Pratka, a member of the 149th FW's student flight, April 28, 2018, at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Katie Schultz) 

TX, UNITED STATES

04.29.2018

Story by Airman 1st Class Katie Schultz

149th Fighter Wing (Texas Air National Guard)

 

During her freshman year of high school, Airman 1st Class Rosa Vittori, a personnelist with the 149th Fighter Wing, was inspired to join the Air Force after watching her school’s ROTC drill team perform.

Her dream was cut short, however, when she became pregnant at 15 years old.

“It was hard being pregnant in high school, and I just wanted to get out of there,” said Vittori.  “I dropped out of ROTC, took senior classes, and finished in three years. After graduating, I felt like I couldn’t go join the Air Force because I had a young kid.”

Many years and two more children later, Vittori was set in a routine of working eight to five as an office manager, going to school and raising her daughters when a thought occurred to her.

“There came a point where I asked myself, ‘what are you doing with your life? What do you have to show for yourself?’” said Vittori. “My sister-in- law told me about the Guard and said it might be a good option for me so I wouldn’t have to move my kids all around, but I could still serve.”

After hearing that advice, Vittori contacted a recruiter at the 149th FW then took the ASVAB, an aptitude test used to determine enlistment qualification for military service. Since it had been so many years since Vittori had seen the material being tested, she did not pass.

“After I failed, I thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be,” said Vittori. “It didn’t happen after high school, and it’s not happening now. I kind of got down about that, but I thought ‘let’s just go ahead and do it again.’”

While balancing work and motherhood, she took the ASVAB again and passed, enlisting into the wing in 2016. She then completed her job training in personnel and earned a technician position at the wing shortly thereafter.

“Serving in the Guard has given me so many more opportunities than I thought possible,” Vittori said. “I also feel like I’m setting a good example for my kids. My youngest and my middle one talk about joining the Air Force now, and honestly that’s the main goal – to be a good role model for them. I want my kids to remember me for going after my dreams even though I had a hard start. That’s what I want to show them.”

Trying to be that positive role model is not always easy.

“When I was at tech school, I missed two of my daughters’ birthdays,” Vittori said. “I also missed my oldest daughter’s cheerleading competitions which was hard because we have a routine where I do her make-up and get her ready. But with me gone, she had to have other
moms help her, so it was tough to know that she was alone on important days.”

According to Airman 1st Class Rubie Rodriguez, a close friend of Vittori and an aviation resource management specialist with the 149th FW, challenges don’t keep her friend from her goals.

“She’s open-minded and has a positive outlook even when she’s faced with obstacles,” said Rodriguez. “We always say ‘it gets better.’ And whenever anyone else is going through a hard time, she will drop everything at a moment’s notice to be there whether you just need to
vent or need an open ear. She’s an amazing friend and I’m happy to have her.”

Rodriguez said she periodically checks in on Vittori.

“Sometimes I call her in the morning as she’s going into work, either getting coffee or walking out the door, to see how she’s doing,” said Rodriguez. “We keep each other accountable, and she can always count on her second family at the Guard.”

And even though it took her longer to start her military career in the Guard, Vittori is glad she persevered and didn’t let fear of failure hold her back. She encourages others to do the same.

“I feel like a lot of people get caught up in the what-ifs and what could go wrong and they never think of what could go right,” Vittori said. “You just have to do it, if you want to do something, you have to do it without thinking. Don’t think about the things you’re going to miss, because sacrifices have to be made in order to reach your dreams. But once you reach that dream, it brings out another side you never knew was there, and it’s worth it.”

Live Your Mission. Make it Your Brand.

HOUSTON, TX, UNITED STATES

04.26.2018

Story by 1st Lt. Allegra Boutch

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

In our social media obsessed world, everyone and their pet has a personal brand. It’s the public-facing reputation you make for yourself or what people remember you by. As military service members, we chose our brand when we put on the uniform and promised to live the mission and values of our organization. When we wear the uniform, we should feel pride, but also remember that we were issued it so we could be easily identified.

Military public affairs professionals have an acute awareness of how individuals on-and-off duty affect the military’s public reputation. As a Public Affairs Officer (PAO), my job is to help our leaders make informed decisions and assist the civilian media to document and communicate the actions of the service. In this article, I’ll list some of my own experiences where the actions of service members affected our public standing. It matters, because that character and public reputation can help us win wars, save lives and build morale. 

It isn’t optimism, but observation that leads most of us to say we work with the best human-beings in the world. As the Executive Officer for the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, last year I had the privilege of leading a team of incredible soldiers who reported on incredible individuals. We began the year at Camp Williams in Utah, at Cyber Shield 17, an annual exercise that included members of the National Guard from 44 states and territories, the U.S. Army Reserve, state and federal government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and private industry. 

The two-week exercise was designed to assess participants’ ability to respond to cyber incidents. Over the weeks, we saw civilians, soldiers and government agents work together to ensure that government and civilian infrastructure was safe against cyberattack. While it’s our job to defend our nation, what struck me was most of the guardsmen and reservists on this mission were also members of local law enforcement and civilian emergency response. These citizen-soldiers worked week and weekend in their communities, and when we published our stories their communities noticed. 

It figured that my own soldiers did so well at their jobs that we were invited a few months later to provide public affairs support to Saber Strike 17 in Pabrade, Lithuania. While the potential threat during Exercise Cyber Shield 17 was invisible and unknown, in Lithuania, it was very real, and just next door. Exercise Saber Strike 17 was a NATO exercise hosted by four Eastern-European countries, including Lithuania, and designed to promote regional stability and security while strengthening partner capabilities and fostering trust in our Baltic allies. The exercise, which combined 20 partnered nations, focused on building interoperability and improving friendships between our allies. 

What started as a public affairs mission turned into something larger however when our presence as public affairs soldiers became key to mission success. Just as it was important for us to foster these friendships, it was also important for us to show locals across the participating countries that U.S. support does not waver. During a Field Day hosted for local Lithuanians, the number of ‘thank you’s” and hugs U.S. Soldiers received was enough to win any heart. But it was only with the realization that less than 30 years ago Lithuania was still under Soviet rule that the soldiers really began to understand how much their presence was appreciated. 

During the exercise, we were able to bring hope because the U.S. Army and the U.S. Soldier is still seen in the world as a refuge for those in need. So, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, people stranded by the flood water knew to look for camo. The 100th MPAD helped document soldiers rescuing Houstonians from their homes. My own duties also included embedding members of the media with soldiers, so they could help report the soldier story.

Through tragedy and uncertain times, service members need to be the figures our communities and allies can look to for help. When soldiers defame the uniform and our mission by behaving dishonorably, they are crippling the people we serve. It may be hard to correct a friend’s behavior, or take seriously staunch memos about how to behave, but the United States is still an example to the world, and our members of the military need to be as well. 

Live your mission. Make it your brand.