Texas Communications Team is ready to save lives

Texas Communications Team is ready to save lives 

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted on: July 22, 2016

Left, Senior Airman Jeremy Vance, right, Tech Sgt. Christopher Dorriott, set up a mobile sattelite dish as part of the Texas Interoperability Communications Package, during a Hurricane evacuation exercise in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, June 7 -10, 2016. The TICP provides commincation capabilities for the command and control center during emergency disasters. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)
Left, Senior Airman Jeremy Vance, right, Tech Sgt. Christopher Dorriott, set up a mobile satellite dish as part of the Texas Interoperability Communications Package, during a Hurricane evacuation exercise in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, June 7 -10, 2016. The TICP provides communication capabilities for the command and control center during emergency disasters. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

HARLINGEN, Texas -- Having the immediate communication assets during emergency situations gives military and first responders the ability coordinate and save the lives of local citizens. Texas Air National Guardsmen put their quick response skills action using the Texas Interoperability Communications Package, during a Hurricane evacuation exercise in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, June 7 -10, 2016.

“We have 14 TICPs and they could be sent to any type of scenario,” said Brian Attaway, director of J6. “They can support our own command and control purposes, or the state requests them to go support another agency. They’ve done fires and hurricanes; they’ve supported police departments and supported Texas Task Force 1. In this case, our TICP was assigned to the Air Guard that they needed to use in Harlingen.”

Texas Guardsmen and active duty Air Force worked with state and local first responders at the Valley International Airfield to transport mock patients through military and civilian aircraft. Within one hour of arrival, the four-man team set up the TICP to give key leaders the ability to coordinate those operations. 

“If you’re out in the middle of nowhere and a tornado touches down and you’ve got no cell phone, no power, no light, no anything we can roll up with our generator power and establish mobile satellite communications, and that’s pretty significant,” said Texas Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Lonnie Dunkin, a cyber transport specialist with the 149th Mission Support Group, out of Lackland Air Base, San Antonio.

For the exercise, the TICP provided satellite, Internet and phone services. Airmen also set up a mobile satellite dish to the portable network control center and extended services via cable router, said Dunkin. These services supported the tactical air control Party.

The tactical air control party is made up of Air Force personnel, who work alongside the Army on ground to provide airspace deconfliction and terminal control of close air support.

The TICP trailer comes equipped with many different assets.

“It has more than just phones and Internet,” said Attaway. “It has computers on board, WI-FI, a printer a fax, and it’s got an antenna tower, and radios, which are connected, to our network. All the radios are for our purposes and for interoperability with other agencies. We can also stream video.”

Additionally, the TICP can provide communication means for local citizens stuck in disaster situations.

“We can set up five or six terminals and that would allow for any user to come up and check their bank accounts or email, and send out a message to friends and family letting them know they’re okay,” said Dunkin. 

The TICP was first implemented during the 2008 hurricanes Ike and Gustav. Since then, the package has deployed to hurricanes, fires and various other support missions across the state,” said Attaway.

“During Hurricane Ike we got tasked by the state to go help the Pasadena Police Department, as it was completely down,” said Attaway. “They had no phones they had no radios, the hurricane had completely wiped them out. So we sent a TICP down and to PPD and the people had to call the TICP to reach the police. They were announcing on the radio ‘you cant call 911 you have to call this phone number.”

The command and control center, based out of Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, currently maintains the TICPs for the state. 

“We hand receipt them out to Army Guard, Air Guard and even State Guard who have them throughout the year and then when we have a big exercise or state emergency we send the nearest one that’s available,” said Attaway.

Disaster response exercises like these give Texas Guardsmen and local and state authorities the experience to handle situations should a real-world emergency occur. 

“In my opinion, communications is the bread and butter of successful operations,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Christopher Dorriott, noncommissioned officer in charge of the exercise training for the 149th Fighter Wing, based out of Lackland. “If they need to go on search-and-rescue missions, if they need to go medevac somebody out, or work with local law enforcement, there has to be somebody who can branch those organizations together so they can properly coordinate and get people where they need to go.”

This is four of the four Texas Hurricane Preparedness series.

Keith Graf

TagTalks

Keith Graf 

The importance of the TXANG recapitalize or acquiring new airframes to maintain the current three wings and remain relevant.  Approximately 50% of the DoD budget goes to healthcare and retirees and the percentage will continue to increase.  Along with retirement changes that are in the works, we need a focused wellness plan on the individual and not millions of dollars into state of the art gyms.  The template already exists for data masked special operations units and is propagating to the rest of the SOF world.  A focused wellness plan for all military personnel will mitigate the current epidemic of "disabled veterans," and decrease the DoD budget on healthcare and put the focus back on military capability.

Produced by Texas Military Department Public Affairs Office

Mike Cornitius

TagTalks

Mike Cornitius 

Initiate financial planning and budgetary programs to troops earlier in their career.  Most financial discussions do not occur until the troops is already having issues or a couple of years before retirement. Starting the process early would help alleviate later financial problems.

Produced by Texas Military Department Public Affairs Office

Texas Guardsmen contribute to medical relief effort

Texas Guardsmen contribute medical relief effort

Story by: Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton

Posted: July 20, 2016

 

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexandra Denio, 136th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard, medical technician, checks the current prescription on a patients classes during the Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training mission in Norwich, N.Y., July 20, 2016. The mission is a 10-day real world training exercise, providing medical, dental, optometry, and veterinary services at no cost the community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton)
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexandra Denio, 136th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard, medical technician, checks the current prescription on a patients classes during the Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training mission in Norwich, N.Y., July 20, 2016. The mission is a 10-day real world training exercise, providing medical, dental, optometry, and veterinary services at no cost the community. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton)

In an effort to provide medical relief, nine members from the 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, at the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, deployed to Chenango County, New York, to support The Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training mission July 20, 2016. The mission began July 15.

The 10-day real-world joint training exercise, ending July 24, allows for military service members to practice their skills in preparation for wartime operations while also providing a needed service to underserved communities.

“This is my first humanitarian mission and it has been such a great experience so far,” said Lt. Col. Harry Moore, 136th Medical Group public health preventative medicine officer. “Essentially, there aren't enough medical providers in the area and the population is greatly underserved. The services we provide are at no cost to the community and the patients have shown so much appreciation. We can really see the benefit that these services are having on the civilian population.”

Services are comprised of quality dental, optometry, veterinary, and medical services. In Chenango County, there is approximately one dentist to every 3,000 patients. With a population of more than 50,000, the understaffed medical field and lack of medical insurance have increased the overall need for assistance and is extremely beneficial to the community.

“We also provide health and nutrition education, as well as have a pharmacy to provide up to two weeks worth of medicine for patients in our care,” Moore said. “Our physicians can also give patients referrals for follow-up care and additional medication once their prescriptions run out. This ensures that they have the ability to maintain their health long-term.”

In 2015, the mission was able to help more than 4,000 residents in Chenango County. To better serve the community this year, the facilities have expanded to two locations, one in Norwich and one in Cortland. The separation will allow for an easier and more efficient method of dispersing medical services to individuals within the region. The goal for 2016 is to maintain or expand their patient outreach from 2015, continuing to offer necessary services. A huge contributor to the effort is the Chenango County United Way.

“I’ve been at the United Way for 17 years, and we’ve never done anything that’s as impactful as this project,” said Elizabeth Monaco, Chenango United Way executive director. “As chaotic as the process is to get to this point, I’m already sad about when it’s going to end. It’s life changing—for me too—as much as it is for the people we are serving. It does so much for the community.”

The United Way is the lead agency for the IRT and raised more than $40,000 to contribute to this effort. The organization’s mission is to assist with national income, education and health deficits, which tie in well with the overall project. Along with their executive committee, they recruited and trained more than 500 volunteers.

“There is something broken,” Monaco said. “There is a need that is not being fulfilled. Even with Obamacare and other programs that are set up, there are people who are unserved and it’s just not ok. If people don't have basic healthcare then they cannot accomplish other things. We have to do something to address it, and this effort is a step in that direction.”

Texas ChalleNGe Academy welcomes new candidates

Texas ChalleNGe Academy welcomes new candidates

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: July 18, 2016

Trey Rocha, Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East commandant, speaks to TCA-E candidates in formation at the TCA-E campus in Eagle Lake, Texas, July 18, 2016. TCA is a Department of Defense program through the Texas National Guard's Joint Counterdrug Taskforce. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy)
Trey Rocha, Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East commandant, speaks to TCA-E candidates in formation at the TCA-E campus in Eagle Lake, Texas, July 18, 2016. TCA is a Department of Defense program through the Texas National Guard's Joint Counterdrug Task force. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy)

EAGLE LAKE, Texas -- Lakesha Peterson can only describe the moment as bittersweet as tears streamed down her face while she watched her daughter board a bus to the Texas ChalleNGe Academy-East campus in Eagle Lake, Texas, July 17, 2016.

Peterson, like many other parents and family members said their goodbyes to their teens before the 16-18 year olds begin their 22-week journey in the military-style, education program at one of the two TCA campuses in either Eagle Lake or Sheffield.

For this iteration, collectively, the TCA campuses at Eagle Lake and Sheffield have an enrollment nearing 200 candidates, who, after completing the acclimation process, will become cadets and eventually graduates of the program.

Peterson, of Frisco, said she brought her daughter to the program to help her get her life back on tracks.

“She’s a good kid,” Peterson said. “She’s just bad.”

Peterson said she hopes her daughter is able to recover credits and earn enough credits to qualify to be a senior so she can finish her diploma.

Like Peterson, Kaylon Cole, from Fort Drum, New York, dropped his 18-year-old daughter to the program in hopes of her earning her high school diploma.
Cole said he looked up the program online and thought it would be a good fit for Asia Baker.

“(There’s a lot of stuff) that brings her here,” Cole said. “She was not making the grades in school and making poor choices. It’s only up from here.”

Cole said he hopes to see a change in his daughter when he sees her in 22 weeks and that she joins the Air Force.

“I hope to see a completely different person,” he said, “somebody who is respectful, obedient and follows instructions.”

While at the academy, cadets get exposure to the military training lifestyle, while engaging with Texas National Guard airmen and soldiers.

Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce airmen and soldiers work with the candidates during the process, mentoring them and assisting the cadre.

TCA is a Texas National Guard-sponsored educational program to help at-risk youth between 16 and 18 years old get their lives back on track. The program is completely voluntary and requires a 17 and a half-month commitment.

All cadets must not have any felony convictions and be drug free at the time of entry.

The academy is broken down into the 22-week residential phase and a 12-month, post-residential phase.

TCA focuses on eight core components – academic excellence, health and hygiene, job skills, leadership and followership, life-coping skills, physical fitness, responsible citizenship and service to the community.

In addition to their schoolwork, cadets have the opportunity to participate in other programs like archery, student council, student leadership positions and the Commandant’s Challenge. Students also perform community service every Saturday and have the option to attend church and participate in intramural sports on Sundays.

TCA is a Department of Defense-funded program and receives 25 percent funding from the state. The program is free to Texas residents.

Austin local retires after 49 years of service to TMD

retired Sgt. Maj. Elwood Imken’s service to the Texas National GuardCommentary by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Texas Military Department Public Affairs

Texas Guardsmen gathered to honor retired Sgt. Maj. Elwood Imken’s service to the Texas National Guard, June 30, 2016, during a ceremony held at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

“We’ve all been saying for the last 20 years, what are we going to do when Imken leaves, and today that day is here,” said Maj. Gen. William L. Smith, Deputy Adjutant General for Army. “We are going to have to figure that out and we have some pretty big shoes to fill to make all the things that 49 years of institutional knowledge has “

During the ceremony, retired Sgt. Maj. Imken thanked friends for attending the ceremony and gave five principles to live by.

  • Listen to people and listen to what they say.
  • Learn from others.
  • Teach the five W’s.
  • Use common sense and keep it simple.
  • Take care of your Soldiers

Imken began his military career in 1967, in the Texas Army National Guard. His career spanned every echelon from Platoon through Division and every level of leadership.

After honorably serving alongside Soldiers for 38 years, Imken immediately began working for the Texas Military Department as the Chief Training Specialist.

It was his plans and integration of many key organizations that led to success for Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ike and dozens of other droughts, fires and floods that have affected Texas in the last 15 years.

Imken’s tireless efforts and devotion to the Texas Army National Guard and the state of Texas for the last 49 years made a significant impact that will undoubtedly last far into the future.

Employment program connects Texas Guardsmen to job

Employment program connects Texas Guardsmen to jobs

Story by: Capt. Jessica Jackson

Posted: June 27, 2016

 

The Job Connection Education Program is offered by the National Guard, and provides dedicated training and development specialists, and a skilled business advisor to assist participants in making their job connections.
The Job Connection Education Program is offered by the National Guard, and provides dedicated training and development specialists, and a skilled business advisor to assist participants in making their job connections.

AUSTIN, Texas — Twenty-two percent of Texas Army National Guard service members returning from operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism were unemployed in 2010 — eclipsing the national average by 9 percent.

“Due to the high unemployment rate of veterans, the National Guard Bureau created the Job Connection Education Program to tackle this issue,” said Shandra Sponsler, deputy branch manager, Texas Military Department Family Support Services. “Texas’ size of force, large deployments and high population areas made us the ideal candidate for the pilot program.”

The Job Connection Education Program helps both Army and Air Guardsmen and their spouses, who are unemployed or burdened with financial problems, find careers.

The Family Support Services of the Texas Military Department currently oversees the program.

“Our staff is here to help,” Sponsler said. “We have training specialists and business advisors on-hand to offer catered services to best match participants with future employers.”

The program focuses on providing one-on-one counseling, employment and education assistance, resume review, workforce training and online job search assistance.

Six years after the launch of the Job Connection Education Program, Texas veteran unemployment is down to 4.3 percent.

“Soldiers should take advantage of the free resources offered through the program,” Sponsler said. “This fiscal year, we’ve had 630 requests for information and help with employment, last fiscal year we were able to place 780 people in jobs. We will continue to diligently work with those who need assistance.”

With offices located at Fort Worth Sandage and Shoreview Armories, Grand Prairie, Houston and Camp Mabry — a training specialist is within reach and available to help.

“It’s very difficult to be a National Guard soldier and the difficulties in balancing your civilian life and military life has its own challenges,” said 1st Lt. Alejandro Tejo, Texas Army National Guard.  “I would like other service members to know that there are a lot of tools our there to help…help make you successful.”

Since its inception, the Job Connection Education Program has placed 3,715 applicants in jobs.

For more information on this program visit https://tmd.texas.gov/family-support-service

Texas Guardsmen, local authorities are ready to respond to Hurricane season

Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)
Col. Thomas M. Suelzer, director of operations for Headquarters, Texas Air National Guard, addresses those assigned to the organization’s air operations center at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, June 7, 2016. The center was stood up to coordinate air assets participating in an aerial evacuation exercise being managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, a component of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Phil Fountain)

Texas Guardsmen, local authorities are ready to respond to Hurricane season (3 of 4)

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Posted: June 24, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas – This has been a busy year for the Lone Star State with the recent record-breaking floods. Texas Guardsmen conducted more than 135 missions, rescuing more than 900 people and 310 pets May 29-June 12, 2016, after severe weather caused flooding to large portions of the region.

But the job doesn’t stop there. As Texas rolls into Hurricane season, the Guardsman must be trained and ready to react to emergency disasters when the state calls upon them.

“You have to be ready for whatever is coming at you, if you don’t entertain the training aspect of it,” said Matthew Geller, Task Force 1 Helicopter Search and Rescue Technician, “you’re looking at the risk being great, and you can’t sacrifice that much.”

This year, the Texas Military Department and first responders conducted a state-level hurricane preparedness exercise across various Texas cities, June 2-9, 2016. This is the third-annual exercise for Guardsman, but the first one to include outside civil agencies.

“Two years ago we started with just the Army and just our internal components in the Air Operation Center, said Shawna Wood, air operation superintendent at Camp Mabry. “Last year we started involving our interagencies such as, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Incident Awareness Association and outside agencies, the Air Force, and then this year the big step was Texas Department Emergency Management.”

Texas Military Department set up an Air Operation Center headquartered in Camp Mabry, Austin to coordinate the moving parts throughout the exercise along with over 11 state and local civil agencies.

“The Air Operation Center is a multi-agency air coordination center, and is hosted and managed by the Texas Military Department under the authority of the State Operation Center,” said Col. Tom Suelzer, director of operation for the Texas Air National Guard, and for the state he serves as the Air Operation Center director. “So when there is a state level or higher response, we’re tasked by the state to set up the Air Operation Center to help develop an air operation support strategy.”

The scenario was based on a fictitious Category 5 Hurricane “Tejas” which struck the Lower Rio Grande Valley, causing 1.1 million people to evacuate. In turn, Austin experienced widespread flooding due to the weather patterns.

Nearly 500 service members from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard, and Texas State Guard participated in the state-level exercise. 

Several even acted as role players for the medevac piece of the exercise. 
“For the past two years we’ve done search and rescue and on ground we’ve done aeromedical preparation,” said Wood. “But this was the first time we’ve actually moved the patients so this is a stepping-stone for what we’ve done the last couple years.” 

Having these types of trainings help Texan guardsmen and first responders stay ready for natural disasters.

“It’s been eight years since we’ve had any kind of major hurricane activity and a lot of key leaders up and down our change of command have changed, said Wood. “Our partnership with Texas Division of Emergency Management is very important so it’s building those relationships so that when the time comes we can put them into play.”

This is 3 of 4 Texas Hurricane Preparedness. 

War-games from the inside-out: Army journalists go behind the scenes in multinational training operations

War-games from the inside-out: Army journalists go behind the scenes in multinational training operations
 

Story by: Sgt. Michael Giles
 

Posted: June 22, 2016

Photo By Sgt. Praxedis Pineda | Sgt. Michael Giles, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, interviews French Army Brigadier Gen. Eric des Minieres and British Army Col. Graham Livingston, commander and deputy commander of the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, during Exercise Swift Response 16 at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 21, 2016. The 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from Austin, Texas, participated in Exercise Swift Response 16 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 5 to June 26, 2016. The 100th MPAD's participation contributed public affairs assets to the JMRC public affairs mission as well as added training value to training units to enable them to rehearse their responses to the press. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)
Photo By Sgt. Praxedis Pineda | Sgt. Michael Giles, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, interviews French Army Brigadier Gen. Eric des Minieres and British Army Col. Graham Livingston, commander and deputy commander of the Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, during Exercise Swift Response 16 at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 21, 2016. The 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment from Austin, Texas, participated in Exercise Swift Response 16 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels, Germany, June 5 to June 26, 2016. The 100th MPAD's participation contributed public affairs assets to the JMRC public affairs mission as well as added training value to training units to enable them to rehearse their responses to the press. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)

HOHENFELS, Germany (June 22, 2016) -- We stood together, eight Army journalists in a dimly lit multimedia center. Here, the Joint Multinational Readiness Center’s operational environment team plans intricate training scenarios for massive multinational training exercises. The walls had posters and security notices, but no windows, like a vaulted basement. We were in Bavaria, near the German village of Hohenfels, but separated from the German public by two security checkpoints, a locked external gate and front door, and the reinforced door that prevented any trace of daylight from sneaking into this room.

The operational environment team is the beast of the JMRC, and we were in its belly, learning the role that we would play in the incredibly complex narrative ahead. “You’re getting a look at some things you would have never seen as a public affairs person working in this exercise,” says Doug Boyd, one of the minds behind this scenario. 
We are a team of journalists with the Texas Army National Guard’s 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, and the adventure we’re about to undertake will involve soldiers from the U.S. and all across Europe. This is Exercise Swift Response 2016.

WE CAME TO ACCOMPLISH TWO MISSIONS

We came here to contribute our skills to two distinct missions: one in the real world as Soldiers, and one in the scenario as fictional characters. Our real-world mission reflected what we normally do as public affairs soldiers in uniform: we told the stories of military service members through our news-writing, photography and videos. We accomplished this mission by capturing photos and footage as more than one thousand paratroopers from seven countries floated to the ground before our very eyes. We gave leaders a voice as they described the training, and gathered stories about female perspectives on the operation, medics in the field, Special Forces operators and multinational collaboration. Many members of my team, including print photographer Sgt. Praxedis Pineda and videographer Sgt. Marline Duncan, agree this exercise gave us opportunities to perform our craft at a higher level. “I created some of my best work during this exercise because it exposed me to types of military roles and situations that I’ve never seen before,” Duncan said.

Our scenario-based mission was to help JMRC teach training units how to interact with the press. To this end, we put on civilian clothes and civilian attitudes and entered the scenario as civilian journalists on the battlefield. 

“During these exercises, Army journalists simulate the immediate and nuanced effects of media on the modern battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Zach West, officer in charge of our detachment. “The most realistic and valuable role-playing force-on-force exercises attempt to replicate this aspect of contemporary warfare as closely as possible.”

Capt. Christopher B. Bradley, the JMRC public affairs officer, explained that the presence of civilian journalists makes the training more complex for the trainees. “The purpose of the Army journalists replicating civilians on the battlefield is to prepare the rotational training units for the media complexity of the modern battlefield, and to provide feedback to commanders, staffs and Soldiers about the effectiveness of their media engagement operations,” Bradley said.

We played our roles realistically and did our best to add complexity—a major theme of Swift Response—to the training environment. We cajoled our way into occupied towns. We promised easy interviews and then asked tough questions. We refused to go away, even when it led to us being physically—sometimes fiercely—handled by security forces. And we kept asking tough questions.

This was why the Army wanted us in the scenario: This multinational group of soldiers could learn a great deal by having reporters with agendas in their environment, and we witnessed their education progress.

Toward the start of the exercise, I interviewed a British leader in scenario who was evacuating civilians from a town. I asked the leader if he had a message for the civilians who were counting on his support. He said he didn’t. “I’m here to do my job, and I’ll do my very best at my job,” he said, declining to offer anything resembling what a civilian would want to hear from a military force that was supposed to be there to help. Toward the end of the exercise, however, we saw the British and French leaders begin to proactively reach out to us so we could help spread their message.

“With you being part of the scenario, it definitely helped them start understanding that they needed to allow more messaging to go out,” said Sgt. Andrew Reddy, a public affairs specialist with the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Despite the scenario's focus on training the rotational units--not us--we learned a great deal about our own craft from our in-scenario experience. We learned to generate products faster. We learned new tricks. And we gained perspective on the influence that media can have in war.

WE PRACTICED GETTING NEWS OUT FAST

Our in-scenario work was published within the fictitious training world and not in the real world, so we could comfortably make mistakes that we would forever regret if we made them in real world stories. This allowed us to experiment and develop our ability to produce stories quickly.

Speed is important for a journalist, especially a reserve-component journalist who works only one weekend a month, said 100th MPAD print journalist Sgt. Adrian Shelton. “It’s important for M-Day Soldiers before the end of their drill, and it’s really important to report on the news while it is still news,” Shelton said.

Sgt. Jacob Sawyer, the JMRC broadcast noncommissioned officer in charge who works with Bradley to facilitate reserve component PAO activities, says that developing speed is a key focus of in-scenario training. “The thing with roleplaying civilian media on the battlefield is that we want you to try to do it as fast as possible,” Sawyer said. “The civilian media gets the news out that day, that hour.”

Sgt. Duncan, who also participated in Exercise Saber Junction here in 2014, explained that both exercises have made her a more efficient journalist. “I came here with a goal of being a better videographer with faster turnaround time, and that mission is complete,” Duncan said. “I spent more time in the planning phase so that way I could be better prepared when I went out to the field. I spend a lot less time capturing out in the field, and it allows me to come back and have a faster post-production time.”

WE LEARNED HOW NEWS-REPORTING AFFECTS WAR

Here’s the scenario: An imaginary nation called Atropia is experiencing internal conflict. United States and NATO forces arrive in Atropia to stabilize the government, while a bordering nation named Ariana lends support to Atropian rebels. Soldiers with JMRC’s 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment play Arianan Special Forces who attempt to help rebels overthrow the Atropian government. Soldiers with NATO forces play themselves as they hone their abilities to intervene and support nations that find themselves in such a situation. Multinational actors play civilians on the battlefield, and reserve component journalists play civilian journalists on both sides of the conflict.

As we played the game, we learned how our reporting can influence the social and political challenges that the military faces. We discovered how we fit into the overall scheme: Military leaders give orders, soldiers execute, the media reports, and public opinion changes.

“As we operate in these roles and watch the exercise unfold, we learn crucial lessons about the complex ways that media on all sides of a conflict fundamentally affect the environment and even the outcome,” Lt. West said.

We took pictures, wrote stories and made news videos that represented various perspectives within the conflict. The civilian and military training participants were able to access these stories and incorporate responses into their role-playing.

“Every single one of these towns has civilians that are in play,” Sawyer explained. “They have access to the internet that has your stories on it. All the stories you do as media impact the rotations because the commanders of these units have to worry about how they're being perceived on the battlefield.”

Our role-playing affected how we regard our profession in the real world. “The opposing point of view is something that people rarely think about,” said MPAD broadcaster Sgt. Mark Decker. “As journalists, we have to try to understand both sides of a story so we can project an unbiased view of what the situation is.”

“I was allowed to witness how the different military work together to get a mission done,” Duncan said. “My role as a civilian journalist helps me understand that the media has a big influence on what people think on different issues in the world.”

Duncan also appreciated how interacting with the international participants enhanced her ability to connect with the people she interviews. “It’s easy to establish rapport with my fellow U.S. Soldiers, but now that we’re here in a foreign country, what do I need to do to gain their trust?” she said. "To get the story out of them, you have to gain their trust. You have to drink the coffee with them. You have to connect with them before you go in to get the quote. That was my biggest take away. I found myself engaging into their thinking.”

WE CHALLENGED SENIOR MILITARY LEADERS (RESPECTFULLY)

We huddled beneath fluorescent lighting inside our temporary office, surrounded by topographical maps, multinational flags and black-and-white posters of soldiers in action in the JMRC training areas. I heard the word "volunteer" and my arm went up. Then, I realized that Capt. Bradley was asking for a team to interview JMRC's new command sergeant major, and I'd just volunteered myself and MPAD broadcaster Spc. Zachary Polka for the job.

As a Texas National Guard journalist, I had only interviewed senior leaders within the familiar confines of our smaller community at Camp Mabry. Now my teammate and I had to represent that community to the highest-ranking senior enlisted service member at JMRC. We rehearsed our questions, got coached by our team’s leaders, interviewed the command sergeant major, and received additional pointers from Capt. Bradley afterwards.

Two weeks later, in another dimly lit room, we prepared to interview the commander and deputy commander of the British and French Airborne Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (ACJEF). This time, we were in a town built for the training scenario. We were filming inside; even though the light would have been much better outside, it wasn’t safe. Just minutes earlier, a series of explosions had French soldiers jumping on top of us to shield us from any danger. So the interview would happen inside.

Even though we were journalists friendly to the ACJEF, the scenario's operational team gave us some challenging questions to ask these seasoned military leaders. As we directed a French two-star general and a British colonel where to sit, the situation reminded me of my concern while interviewing the command sergeant major: We had to remain humble, deferring to their respective positions, while also giving them a training opportunity via some tough questions. Miles away from my own chain of command, in a notional environment, I had the opportunity to practice interviewing key leaders in a difficult situation. Thanks to this adventure, if ever I face such a situation in real life, I will--at least to a small degree--be prepared.

My colleague Sgt. Decker agrees. “I wish I had this training prior to deploying to Afghanistan with a public affairs mission,” he said. “I believe I would have been better equipped to handle key leader engagements before being sent off to interview someone who required an interpreter in order to complete a story.”

WE BECAME A STRONGER TEAM

MPAD members agree that the training functions as a giant team-building exercise where people develop in their ability to trust and collaborate with each other as they succeed together. “This type of training provides an invaluable boost to unit morale and cohesion because it imbues our Soldiers with a level of confidence and subject-matter expertise that typical exercises can't really achieve,” said Lt. West.

Duncan described the team-building as a gradual process that results from working and eating together for twenty-one days straight. “Day in and day out I am working with the same people, and trust gets stronger,” she said. “At first there is a hesitation among the group, but I start to notice that people let their guard down to work together and to have a successful mission.”

Spc. Polka, the newest member of the MPAD, said that this training event painted a picture of the unit’s camaraderie that he would not have seen from just one weekend at drill each month.

“We’ve been able to hone our skills and build new and possibly lasting workable relationships side by side, hand in metaphorical hand,” Polka said. “It was a blast working with our partners, one print and one video, to accomplish our overall mission.”

As Exercise Swift Response 2016 winds down and multinational participants say goodbye to new friends, the MPAD races to finish products. Today, final products are turned in. Tomorrow, we clean the vehicles that we have driven around in the mud for three weeks; then we enjoy a single day of sightseeing before we go home to our spouses, children and full-time civilian jobs. We also return to our drills with our unit, where we don’t photograph thousands of parachutes or interview leaders of occupation forces, but tell the Army’s story just the same. Now we’ll be telling the story with new insights and strengths that we gained in our adventure together: faster, more confident, and more in touch with what it’s all about.

Pflugerville resident promoted to Army Guard Colonel

Adjutant General of Texas, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, is pleased to announce the promotion of Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. Theresa K. Cogswell, Chief Information Officer-Army, to the rank of ColonelCommentary by Michelle McBride

Texas Military Department Public Affairs

The Adjutant General of Texas, Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, is pleased to announce the promotion of Texas Army National Guard Lt. Col. Theresa K. Cogswell, Chief Information Officer-Army, to the rank of Colonel.

In a ceremony at Camp Mabry, in Austin, June 10, 2016, Col. Cogswell thanked her friends and family for their continued support and mentorship over the years, as well the command group for their trust and confidence at this new level.

“As I reflect back on my life and my military career to this point, I realize that the people who influenced me throughout my life were setting me up for success and the ability to one day stand here in front of you humbled and blessed to be given this opportunity,” said Cogswell.

Cogswell began her military career in 1990, in the United States Army Reserve then, in 1995, received an Army ROTC commission from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Her first assignment was to the 348th Quartermaster Company, Camp Humphreys, U.S. Forces Korea. From there she transferred to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where she served as the Battalion S4, 636th Forward Support Battalion, 101st Airborne (air assault) Division and later as the Division Petroleum Officer and the General Supply Officer for the 101st Division Support Command.

After completing the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course in 2000, Cogswell was assigned to the First Infantry Division in Germany where she deployed as a Company Commander in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005.

Cogswell transitioned to the Texas Army National Guard and served in the 36th Infantry Division and the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team where in 2009, she deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and served in the position of the Director of Support Operations for the 72nd Joint Area Support Group in Bagdad, Iraq. Currently, Cogswell serves as the Assistant Chief of Staff, G6, and the Chief Information Officer for the Texas Army National Guard. 

In addition to her Bachelor’s of Science from Ball State University, Cogswell also holds a Master of Business Administration from Webster University in Kansas City, Missouri. Her military schools include the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Strategic Deployment School, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, the Combined Arms and Services staff school, the Resident Command and General Staff College and she is currently in the U.S. Army War College.