Joint Effort for Mass Casualty Exercise

""
Photo By Master Sgt. Sarah Mattison | U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen from the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron participate in a high altitude, low-opening tandem free-fall jump to bring in a medical doctor, in Djibouti City, Djibouti, April 24, 2018. The free-fall jump was conducted as part of a joint training exercise. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Sarah Mattison)

DJIBOUTI

04.24.2018

Story by Master Sgt. Sarah Mattison

Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa

 

DJIBOUTI, Africa - Service members assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and Camp Lemonnier participated in a joint mass-casualty exercise, April 24. This exercise enabled multiple units to work together to tackle complex issues, while securing, treating, extricating and evacuating simulated casualties.

The exercise, which started with a simulated improvised explosive device (IED) blast on a convoy, included twenty-five volunteers that had been moulaged with various simulated injuries requiring triage and treatment. Guardsmen from the Texas Army National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment arrived on scene as the quick-reaction force and secured the area. At the same time, pararescuemen (PJs) from the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron (82nd ERSQ) circled above in a C-130J Super Hercules operated by the 75th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, preparing to jump to the site below.

“The overall goal is to demonstrate a capability to interoperate with all of these different partners as part of a mass-casualty exercise,” said 1st Lt. Jake, with the 82nd ERSQ. “We can jump the PJs in, establish site security with the site security team and then the PJs can treat and determine who needs the most critical care.”

The PJs also jumped with a couple of tandem passengers, including the tactical air control party (TACP) and a doctor. After hitting the ground, the doctor took over the casualty collection point and began triaging and treating patients, while the TACP maintained airspace deconfliction and surveyed helicopter landing zones to expedite evacuation of the simulated casualties. Simultaneously, the PJs began extricating individuals that were trapped inside of the crushed vehicles.

Staff Sgt. Matthew, who works in material management support for the 82nd ERSQ, volunteered to be one of the simulated casualties.

“I volunteered because I wanted to support an exercise that could potentially be a real world medevac response,” Matthew said. “I think this [training] is important because being in a deployed environment, this could potentially become a real world situation.”

While planning for the exercise was lengthy, it was training that was well worth the time and effort that it took to put together

“Doing this exercise, not only does it demonstrate that we have these capabilities, but it also means that we are training with these capabilities as we go along,” said Jake. “So if this were to happen real word, then we’ve already done training with these guys and agencies before, so it would be easy to put together different pieces of what we’ve already done today.”

Texas Military Department as State Active Duty: The Heroes Next Door

""
Photo By Sgt. Amberlee Bouverhuis | A Guardsman assist a young guest to attach a helmet while at the Texas Military Department Open House and American Heroes Air Show on Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 21, 2018. This annual event is an opportunity for the public to interact with thier local Texas National Guard and State Guard. 

TX, UNITED STATES

04.22.2018

Sgt. Amberlee Bouverhuis

 

AUSTIN, Texas - Camp Mabry opened its doors to the public during its annual Texas Military Department Open House and American Heroes Air Show April 21-22 2018. During the event organizations State Active Duty mission was highlighted.

“ For a state active duty mission, we respond to a multiple of things whether it be forest fires, flooding, winter events, whenever we have ice or snow and of course hurricanes,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Cornitius, Command Senior Enlisted Leader for the Texas Military Department. “It’s a state support piece, so we can help Texans, which is what we are here for.”

The Texas National Guard and State Guard is composed of service members that the State Governor can activate to State Active Duty status in response to natural, man-made disasters or Homeland Defense missions.

Recently the Texas Military Department responded to the Governor's call for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, assisting local services in rescue and aid to those affected by the disaster. Two Soldiers with 551st Multi-Role Bridge Co., 386th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade out of El Campo, Texas, were present at the open house to share their stories about their role in the relief effort.

“We went out on the first day after Harvey hit to the nearby communities of Katy, Texas.” said Sgt. Robert Matthews.

“It was a challenge to see the loss, but we saved a lot of people and the lives are what matters.” said Sgt. Willie Wallace.

Opportunities for service members to share their stories with the public is why Cornitius says the open house is important.

“It’s a chance for us to showcase the tools, equipment, and the soldiers and airmen available to help the state and our citizens” said Cornitius. “The citizens of Austin get to come out and look at what we have and how we are supporting them.”

This two day event hosted over 5,000 guests, who were able to see and interact with Texas Military service members and learn about their State Active Duty capabilities.

From combat boots to a crown, Texas Guardsman named Mrs. Texas Galaxy

""
Photo By Sgt. Steve Johnson | Texas Army National Guard soldier and Mrs. Texas Galaxy, Staff Sergeant San Juanita Escobar poses for photos at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, Mar. 30, 2018.

TX, UNITED STATES

04.04.2018

Story by Sgt. Steve Johnson

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

AUSTIN, Texas - The southernmost tip of Texas falls into what is colloquially known as “The Valley.” No one really knows why it’s called this since the actual Rio Grande Valley proper consists of just the four counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr counties and the nearest mountains are hundreds of miles away. The land is flat, tropical and the home of a predominantly, Hispanic population.

It was there, in what she calls the “blink-and-you'll-miss-it” town of Premont that Texas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. San Juanita Escobar took the first steps that would both change her life and the lives of hundreds of young women in Texas and around the world.

These first steps consisted of beauty pageants in the nearby and even smaller town of Concepcion, where pageant competitions are the source of longstanding family rivalries, and defending a title is a matter of honor. Back then no one anticipated that this south Texas girl from the Valley would rise to the title of Mrs. Texas Galaxy.

“Pageants were always something that my family did,” Escobar said. “We had the crown for years, so it was something you just did when you reached a certain age. After that, I competed in several smaller, regional pageants and county fairs.”

Those pageants led to small, local modeling jobs and eventually to auditions in California. But as much as Escobar dreamed of getting out of the small town she lived in, she decided this was not the path she wanted to follow. Commitments at home made her decide to decline the audition call-backs.

“At the time, I wasn’t going to pick up and move to California,” she said. “I had sports, school and my friends that were more important to me. I also didn’t want to do that to the rest of my siblings, so I put all that on the back burner.”

So Escobar stayed in Premont, filling every spare moment of time with studies, volleyball, basketball, cross-country, tennis, and band until one day during her senior year she was approached by a recruiter from the Texas Army National Guard. 

Then everything changed, and it changed in a matter of days. 

“When the National Guard recruiter came and talked to me, and explained the education benefits, I was sold and it became a matter of ‘how fast can we do this?’” Escobar said. “So I met my recruiter on Tuesday and I was enlisted by Friday.”

Naturally, the abruptness of Escobar’s decision came as a quite a shock to friends and family. But while joining the military was a leap into unknown territory for Escobar and her family, the lure of education and travel while still being able to serve close to home was irresistible to the 17 year -old.

“I never really knew much about the military,” she said. “When they told me I could serve part-time, serve my country, still make a change in the world, better my community and still get my education, that’s really what made the National Guard stand out from the other services.”

In July of 2008, Escobar finally left the small towns of her childhood for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“I’m very competitive. I always want to win and be the best, so I used that as my driving force,” she said.

Basic Training was not without some challenges for Escobar. This was her first time really being away from her home and her family. Without them, she had to discover and nurture new internal strengths to help her get through some of the tougher moments on her path to becoming a soldier.

“My strength to continue was knowing that this was something that I truly wanted,” she said. “I knew it was going to change my life for the better and I knew it would make my family proud.”

When she graduated in November of that year, Escobar returned to Texas and was assigned to the 368th Engineer Battalion, in Corpus Christi. There she worked in personnel administration, processing paperwork for other soldiers to deploy. It was also while there that she quickly began to feel like it wasn’t enough.

“I was there for maybe two drills before I started seeing that all my friends were deploying and I really loved the National Guard active life, so I volunteered to deploy,” she said.

By this point many might look for a chance to relax, but Escobar was looking for a chance to be on the move again. She had been home for about six months when an opportunity came up to deploy to Djibouti, Africa with 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment as a member of the security forces for a civil affairs team.

While in Africa, the future Mrs. Texas Galaxy saw a problem, and in a move that would come to be a hallmark of her military career, she decided to help solve it.

“While I was assigned to the civil affairs team, I helped create the Women’s Initiative Program in Ethiopia,” Escobar said. “Because of how high the school dropout rate is for young women, we developed special groups to go to different villages and orphanages to educate and empower them to speak to their political figures and to also inform other women about different political and medical issues.“ In many parts of Africa, women are routinely subjected to discrimination and violence by virtue of tradition or customs. Escobar’s team was engaged to address these issues head on through a combination of education and strength.

“The women always felt alone, like it was them against everyone, so we brought groups together for school and we would teach them that if males don’t want to help them, they can help each other,” she said. “That effort fostered an environment of empowerment for them and let them know that their internal strength could be used to benefit each other.”

The first groups started with 20 girls who were between the ages of 18 to 23, but would eventually reach out to thousands of girls of all ages. The Women’s Initiative Program also worked closely with the Improving the Quality of Primary Education program and the National Women’s Coalition Against HIV and AIDS, to reach even further. When then Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno heard about the program he expanded it, leading to an outreach in 13 different countries that focused on teaching women to advocate for themselves.

When that mission was over, Escobar returned home and eventually became a recruiter for the Texas Army National Guard so she could continue to change young people’s lives the way her own life was changed. It was here that she again saw a specific problem that she felt she could solve.

“When I was a recruiter, my motivation was that I knew where I started and I know where I’m at now and I just want to tell people that there’s going to be light if that’s what they choose, if they choose to turn their challenges into a positive,” Escobar said. “When I would talk to students, the females would always say ‘Oh, I’m too girly to serve in the military,’ or they would worry they weren’t going to be able to ‘be girly.’”

So she did what any recruiter would do in that situation. She started doing pageants again.

“I started doing beauty pageants again and then I would go into schools and show them a pageant picture but I would be there in uniform and I would say that ‘you can’t tell me you can’t do this.’ It was after that I started seeing more of an ‘I can do this’ attitude,” Escobar said.< /p>

Going back in the pageant world after travelling the globe as a Soldier gave Escobar a unique perspective. She drew on those experiences and prepared as rigorously as she would for a military mission, using the training and confidence she gained while serving to make her an even tougher and more determined competitor. After three years, Escobar left the recruiting world to dedicate more time to school but was still competing in pageants.

On March 10th, 2018 she was crowned Mrs. Texas Galaxy. The Galaxy Pageant system ends with the Galaxy International Competition in Orlando, Florida. In July she will represent Texas against dozens of competitors from all over the world. Despite this potential for international celebrity, her primary focus remains serving those in need.

As Mrs. Texas Galaxy, she focuses on highlighting suicide prevention for veterans and spreading awareness. And as a Texas Guardsman she focuses on helping others around the world and specifically her fellow Texans.

“As a member of the National Guard I have been able to go to multiple countries but I have also been able to serve stateside,” said Escobar. “I saw the impact of what it meant when our soldiers went in to help during Hurricane Harvey, and how much our citizens appreciated that. To me that’s important because these are our friends and family. Who is going to take care of them better than us, ourselves?”

Texas State Guard Builds Partnerships

Story and photos by Sgt. Chris Feriante 
Texas State Guard Public Affairs

""
Privates 1st Class . James Little and Lee McWilliams, 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, scan an Emergency Tracking Network (ETN) identification wristband on a volunteer, role playing as an evacuee, and on her dog during a training exercise with Walker County Office of Emergency Management in Huntsville, Texas, February 24, 2018.  The Texas State Guard is trained on ETN which helps to track the location of evacuees and pets during an emergency or disaster.  (Texas State Guard photo by Cpl. Chris Feriante)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – In preparation for the 2018 hurricane season, the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, partnered with local and state emergency management agencies February 24, 2018 to practice and rehearse combined operation capabilities in Huntsville.

The Texas State Guard, in coordination with Walker County Emergency Management, Texas Division of Emergency Management and Sam Houston State University Emergency Management, participated in a joint evacuation exercise to strengthen skills using the Emergency Tracking Network system.  Operating the ETN is one of the Texas State Guard's mission-essential tasks.
    
"We are focused on this exercise as both a training opportunity for our guardsmen to use the ETN system and as an opportunity to build a strong relationship with the Walker County emergency management folks and the Huntsville community," said Lt. Col. Arthur Levesque, 2nd battalion commander.
    
The ETN provides a network to maintain accountability of evacuees throughout a disaster; from the time they board evacuation mass transit, to their arrival at a shelter and finally back to where they boarded the mass transit after a storm.  Each evacuee is given a yellow wrist band which has an identification number unique to each individual.  Family pets, as well as medical and mobility devices are also banded and can be tracked together.    
    
With students from Sam Houston State University acting as evacuees being transported to the Walker County Emergency Shelter, 40 guardsmen from the unit registered evacuees and tracked the role player’s movements from the simulated evacuation site at the university to the shelter.  To make the exercise as real as possible, both pets and medical and mobility equipment were required to be evacuated and tracked.  
    
"The objective of our training today is to give guardsmen hands-on experience using ETN so that we are ready to provide to our fellow Texans effective assistance during an emergency or disaster," said 1st Sgt. Charles Sumner.
    
Walker County Judge Danny Pierce stressed the importance of training with the Texas State Guard and emergency management agencies. 
    
“During Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, we sheltered 150,000 evacuees along the I-45 corridor within Walker County,” said Pierce.  “At that time we did not have a way to track the movement of evacuees.  So we lost people, and we couldn’t find them.  The Texas State Guard turned out in huge numbers for this ETN exercise which raised our comfort level knowing that we have these guys behind us in an emergency.”
    
The Walker County Office of Emergency Management coordinated the exercise which also included the Walker County Community Emergency Response Team, the Walker County Sheriff's Department, Huntsville Independent School District, the Walker County Animal Issues Group and the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council.
    
The Atlantic Hurricane season begins June 1st. 

Breaking the Language Barrier: Texas State Guard Utilizes Different Languages to Serve Fellow Texans

Story by Capt. Esperanza Meza
19th Regiment, Texas State Guard Public Affairs

""
Sgt. Allen Barnfield, 19th Regiment, Texas State Guard, communicates using sign language with a shelter guest during Hurricane Harvey at Athens Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas, August 27, 2017. (Texas State Guard photo by Capt. Esperanza Meza)

Whether rescuing families and pets from flooded homes, lending a helping hand to parents and children who need a place to sleep in a shelter, or distributing basic necessities and medical care during a natural disaster or emergency, the Texas State Guard knows that communicating with people is vital to every mission. When every minute counts these guardsmen do not want language to become a barrier for getting their fellow Texans help.

Sgt. Allen Barnfield, 2nd Battalion, 19th Regiment, Army Component, decided to learn American Sign Language because he wanted to assist people who could not hear.  Last summer when Hurricane Harvey displaced tens-of thousands of residents, he used his sign language skills to communicate with eleven evacuees at shelters.

“Being able to interpret for the deaf evacuees made me realize how important it is to be able to communicate with them,” he said. “The fact that I could provide them with information through sign language made them feel much better about staying in the shelter.”

Barfield said that he was brought to tears when one of the children he had interpreted for drew him a picture to thank him for making their stay more bearable.

For another member of the Texas State Guard, it was his knowledge of Spanish that helped place a frightened young by at ease when carrying him to a rescue boat.

“If time is of the essence and English skills are limited, providing direction and guidance in their language gives them confidence that we will get their family to safety,” said Master Sgt. Robert Lewis, 3rd Battalion, Texas Maritime Regiment.

While the size and geographic diversity of the state makes it a melting pot, guardsman like Cpl. Zaw Maung of the 19th Regiment, who speaks Burmese, become a critical language asset during times of need. Maung used Burmese with shelter guests at the NRG Stadium in Houston during Hurricane Harvey.  He created signs and gave announcements in Burmese and worked as a translator at a help desk.  
    
“If I had not been in the Texas State Guard, I would not have been in the position to help this community,” said Maung.  Communicating in my native tongue made the Burmese guests feel a little better during a most distressful time because of the hurricane." 
    
During Operation Lone Star, the largest medical humanitarian operation in the country and mass casualty training exercise in the Rio Grande Valley, Capt. Margarita Elestwani, Texas Medical Brigade, assisted patients and physicians through her ability to communicate medical terms in Spanish, Tagalog (Filipino language) and French.  Another Texas Medical Brigade member at OLS, who also speaks Tagalog, Capt. Abram Braza, 2nd Battalion, used his ability to communicate in a Filipino dialect to reunite a lost elderly Filipino man with his family.  
    
Although those with multilingual skillsets help serve fellow Texans, there are times these language capabilities also help communicate with the members of the media and dignitary visitors, further enhancing the delivery of needed messaging. For Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, his Spanish fluency enabled him to serve as an interpreter when a Chilean military delegation observed OLS.  
    
“One member of the Chilean delegation gave me a challenge coin for assisting them and I gave him my Texas flag patch from my uniform,” said Illich. “I was honored to be able to use my fluency in Spanish to assist the Rio Grande Valley community as well as act as interpreter for our Chilean guests.”
    

Texas Guardsmen partner with international allies; improve disaster response skills

""
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 12th – 23rd, 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. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Smith)

SLOVAKIA

03.21.2018

Courtesy Story

Texas Military Department

 

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 in a multinational exercise, Operation Toxic Lance, March 12th – 23rd, 2018, at Training Area Lest in central Slovakia.

The operation 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 TTP’s 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 that 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, proofed 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. “By the end of Toxic Lance, your soldiers were just as proficient in our TTP’s as our own.”

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 Guardsmen 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 Guardsmen 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.”

Story written by Texas Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Steven Smith