Texas Guard: A Life Interrupted by Duty

Photo By Spc. Nathaniel Free | Spc. Markeisha Dudley, a member of Company A, 949th Brigade Support Battalion from Fort Worth, Texas, arrives at a point of distribution station in the City of Orange on 7 September, 2017. Dudley has been collecting donations, transporting supplies on pallets, and distributing everything from trash bags to baby formula since she was activated with her unit in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Photo By Spc. Nathaniel Free | Spc. Markeisha Dudley, a member of Company A, 949th Brigade Support Battalion from Fort Worth, Texas, arrives at a point of distribution station in the City of Orange on 7 September, 2017. Dudley has been collecting donations, transporting supplies on pallets, and distributing everything from trash bags to baby formula since she was activated with her unit in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

ORANGE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.07.2017

Story by Spc. Nathaniel Free

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

BEAUMONT, Texas — In the early morning hours of August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey slammed into eastern Texas as a Category 4 storm, followed by days of record-breaking rainfall. 

“I was evacuated shortly after the hurricane hit,” said Staff Sgt. Ernesto Luevano, a local of Houston, who serves the Texas National Guard’s 551st Multi-Role Bridge Company, located in El Campo, Texas.

By the time Luevano had driven his wife and child to safety, he had received mobilization orders from his unit. As a citizen-Soldier, he dutifully said goodbye to his family, turned his truck around, and returned through flooded neighborhoods to retrieve his military gear from his home.

“I picked up my rucksack and it was full of water,” Luevano said.

Luevano is just one of thousands of citizen-Soldiers in the Texas National Guard who’s life has been interrupted by Hurricane Harvey. The 551st was one of the first units to respond to the call, and deployed in areas still flooded with over 40 inches of rain.

“We’ve been going out in trucks to neighborhoods where there’s water. We go as far as we can, then deploy the Zodiacs,” said Luevano. 

A Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft, commonly referred to as a Zodiac, is a versatile inflatable boat that can be carried in the back of a flatbed truck. The high-profile trucks can drive in floodwaters as deep as five feet before deploying the boats, Luevano said.

“We go house to house knocking, screaming, doing whatever we can to find people,” said Luevano. “We started out in Houston and we’ve been working our way east. The last place we went to was Orange.”

There are approximately 30 points of distribution stations, called PODs, set up in and around the city of Orange, to provide vital commodities like food and water. Mobile PODs also require Soldiers to brave floodwaters to reach people unable to obtain supplies because of road conditions, or because they’ve lost their only means of transportation. 

“I saw it on the news, getting worse and worse, so I told my fiancé it looks like we might be getting pushed out,” Spc. Markeisha Dudley said, a member of Company A, 949th Brigade Support Battalion, located in Fort Worth, Texas. 

The 949th BSB was activated August 28, and has since been managing various PODs across the hurricane-affected area, not only saving lives, but also restoring livelihoods.

Dudley said her fiancé, Brandon, has been extremely supportive. 

“We were planning to get married on September 3rd. We’ve been planning a big wedding for quite some time, and invited a lot of people,” she said. “We had to call everyone, and postpone it. He knows that the people out here need me.”

Dudley has been collecting donations, transporting supplies and distributing everything from trash bags to baby formula. With less than six months before the end of her military contract, it’s given her time to reflect.

“This is what I signed up for. This is the action that I wanted. It’s made me think about re-classing instead of getting out. When I was a young child, I saw the Army coming in and asked, ‘who’s that?’ It was the National Guard. That’s what I wanted to do,” Dudley said. 

Luevano and Dudley are just two of more than 16,000 military personnel currently on the ground, volunteering to live a life interrupted by duty.

Soldiers on the Moove

 

HAMSHIRE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.07.2017

Video by Sgt. Tim Beery

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, over 10,000 cattle remain stranded throughout Southeastern Texas. These animals are trapped and do not have access to good food and nutrition. Members of the Joint Task Force 56, Texas National Guard, have mobilized to deliver hay and feed to stranded cattle in rural Texas.

Texas Soldiers break language barriers to help victims of Hurricane Harvey

Photo By Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington | Pvt. Andres Lopez of the 3-133rd Field Artillery ground guides a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle through flood waters. Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division transported and distributed food, water, and supplies from Orange County Airport to standed residents in low-income areas of Orange, Texas on September 6th, 2017. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington/ RELEASED
Photo By Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington | Pvt. Andres Lopez of the 3-133rd Field Artillery ground guides a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle through flood waters. Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division transported and distributed food, water, and supplies from Orange County Airport to standed residents in low-income areas of Orange, Texas on September 6th, 2017. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington/ RELEASED

ORANGE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.06.2017

Story by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

ORANGE, Texas - “Stop, they might need something!” Spc. Laura Campa barked at Sgt. Andrew Felthous, the driver of our high water truck.

He obliged, stopped the vehicle and pulled back his window. Campa took off her seatbelt and leaned over him. “Ocupan algo?” she asked. ‘Do you need something?'

The two middle-aged women with two small girls shook their heads no and continued to walk. 

“They're Hispanic, they might need something and not be able to ask for it” she explained to me, “I always stop to ask, even if they don’t wave for us." Felthous put the vehicle back in drive to catch up to the lead truck.

As a public affairs specialist assigned to escort a journalist on a relief effort mission for the Texas Military Department, I was intrigued. But as a Mexican-American, my intrigue increased two-fold.

I asked Campa if she felt that her ability to speak Spanish had proven useful during their mission to distribute food, clean water, and supplies to Harvey victims in low-income neighborhoods of Orange. 

“We went to one shelter to give out supplies, and a woman there couldn’t speak any English. I had to translate for her” she replied. 

On this particular venture, Spanish was far from a foreign language. Out of 11 Soldiers and one civilian journalist on the mobile supply distribution mission in Orange, eight of us were bilingual. I soon realized there was no standard operating language for this mission.

We all found our operational tempo in the neighborhood we were assigned to bring relief to.

Texas National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division trekked through flooded streets asking residents what items they needed. They shouted the requests back to the truck and returned with the items. 

The embedded journalist and I took photos and captured videos of the Soldiers in action.

Several streets down, I found myself shouting requests "Agua, necesito agua!” I yelled down the road, ‘Water, I need water!' I had put my camera down to help. 

The Soldier on the truck handed me a case of water. 

As soon as I passed off the water, I asked for the next item. "Pañales, talla dos!” I shouted back to him, ‘Diapers, size two!’ Requests for supplies continued to bounce back and forth between driveways and LMTVs in English and Spanish. 

Language was fluid that day; there were no barriers. We acted and reacted rhythmically because we understood each other far beyond the words we were speaking.

Texas National Guard Soldiers distribute food and supplies to stranded residents in Orange

Photo By Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington | Soldiers ground guide a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle around an abandoned car. Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division transported and distributed food, water, and supplies from Orange County Airport to residents in low-income areas of Orange, Texas on September 6th, 2017. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington/ RELEASED
Photo By Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington | Soldiers ground guide a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle around an abandoned car. Texas Army National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division transported and distributed food, water, and supplies from Orange County Airport to residents in low-income areas of Orange, Texas on September 6th, 2017. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington/ RELEASED

ORANGE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.06.2017

Story by Staff Sgt. Melisa Washington

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

ORANGE, Texas — Texas National Guard Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division distributed goods ranging from food and clean water to diapers and baby shoes to stranded residents in low-income neighborhoods of Orange, Sept. 6, 2017. 

Orange County established a point of distribution, or POD, at the Orange County Airport following the devastating flood from Hurricane Harvey. The POD receives donated food, water, and hygiene, baby and pet products from private organizations, individuals and the military to distribute to the community. Most PODs are stationary; residents drive through to receive supplies.

Glynis Gothia, a local school teacher and the county commissioner’s wife, serves as the supply coordinator at the airport’s POD. She saw there was a need to transport food and water to residents in some affected areas with help from the Texas National Guard. 

"They’re still under water, the military is going to them and bringing them supplies. Because they haven’t been able to get out and get any supplies” Gothia said.

Soldiers encountered families with children and several elderly residents that lived alone. At most houses, the water had receded to the driveway, but the water was still too deep in the street to leave safely.

“Most of these residents are low income. They don’t have anywhere to go or a means to leave. Some people are afraid to leave their homes and their belongings,” said Texas National Guard Cpt. Patrick Lane, 1-133rd Field Artillery, explaining why so many people did not leave.

The Soldiers drove high water vehicles to get through neighborhoods where water levels were still waist-deep in some areas. Soldiers dismounted and trekked through the water on foot to guide the vehicles through the streets and run supplies from the vehicles to driveways and doorsteps. 

Texas National Guard Pfc. Jonathan Galindo, 3-133rd Field Artillery, stood on the back of the vehicle, sorting through food and hygiene products to find what the flood victims needed. This was his first experience assisting in a natural disaster.

"This is the way I serve my country. I’m here helping people out, it’s a great feeling. You know, the water is high, they’re not able to get out of their homes. It’s great we’re able to provide for them here” Galindo said. 

Soldiers also provided assistance to a Marine veteran and volunteer. His truck went into a ditch full of water while he distributed supplies to affected residents. Equipped with a rope, they pulled the truck out of the ditch. 

Teamwork was key for Soldiers on the mobile distribution mission as well as between the military and civilian crew at the POD. 

"The coordination effort has been working fairly well. We’ve been real impressed with our military” Gothia expressed, "As long as there’s a need, they’re going to take care of it.” 

The Texas Military Department is managing approximately 30 points of distribution in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.

56th Task Force Distributes Supplies

BEAUMONT, TX, UNITED STATES

09.06.2017

Video by Sgt. Cody Barber

56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (36th ID, TXARNG)

 

Soldiers from the 56th IBCT and Texas Air National Guard maintain Points of Distribution centers helping out victims from Hurricane Harvey as well as helping local volunteers who are helping those affected

Hurricane Harvey Support SPC Kyle Wampler (712th MP) Interview

BEAUMONT, TX, UNITED STATES

09.06.2017

Video by Pfc. Madeline Florian

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

SPC Kyle Wampler of the 712th Military Police Company describes search and rescue experiences and living conditions in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Distribution of household goods in Southeastern Texas

UNITED STATES

09.06.2017

Video by Sgt. Tim Beery

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

Soldiers with the 949th BSB, Texas Army National Guard distribute household goods and food to residents of Orange County, Texas during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

OPERATION HAY DROP

Photo By Sgt. Steve Johnson | Soldiers and Airmen from the Texas Military Department loading hay bales onto Chinook helicopters are joined by civilians in Hamshire, Texas, September 5, 2017. Texas Military Forces are using air assets to support local cattle ranchers protect their herds from starving, by air dropping hay bales to flooded areas.(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Steve Johnson/Released)
Photo By Sgt. Steve Johnson | Soldiers and Airmen from the Texas Military Department loading hay bales onto Chinook helicopters are joined by civilians in Hamshire, Texas, September 5, 2017. Texas Military Forces are using air assets to support local cattle ranchers protect their herds from starving, by air dropping hay bales to flooded areas.(U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Steve Johnson/Released)

HAMSHIRE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.05.2017

Story by Sgt. Steve Johnson

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

HAMSHIRE, Texas -- Soldiers and airmen from the Texas Military Department joined forces with civilians from the city of Hamshire, for “Operation Hay Drop,” Sept. 05, 2017. The goal of the operation was to feed the region's cattle that had been stranded by Hurricane Harvey related flooding.


The soldiers and airmen, along with CH-47 Chinook helicopters from Texas and Ohio National Guard units, local law enforcement, ranchers and farmers organized the operation as a way to ensure livestock across a five county area were fed. High floodwaters have made reaching the animals by land impossible for over a week. The operation targeted an estimated 10,000 animals across an area of over 50,000 acres.


This mission was a key part of ensuring that once the rescue missions wound down, the long term needs of Texas communities would be addressed. 
“It’s important for the Texas Military Department to use the assets we have on hand to help protect the livelihoods of people who have been impacted by the floods,” said Texas National Guard Maj. Alicia Schweitzer, 71st Troop Command. “This affects people’s lives from today to months down the road, if we don’t protect their livestock; their communities aren’t going to survive in the long run.”


Cattle ranches make up a significant part of the local economy in Hamshire. The benefits of the hay drop by Texas Military Department personnel were greatly appreciated by the residents of the small town that depend on it. 


“The cattle industry in this area is a $25 million dollar a year industry. Losing that type of dollar amount would be a tremendous hardship on the community,” said Tony Viator, a lieutenant with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, who was helping with the operation. 


With much of his jurisdiction still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, Viator was glad to have access to the resources Texas Military Department could bring to the region.


“We have a five-county area that due to the flood waters has approximately 10,000 head of cattle that are trapped on islands, unable to be fed and taken care of by their owners. We asked the Texas Army National Guard for help, and they have done an outstanding job, giving us everything we needed, from pilots, to logistics, ground support, and help loading the aircraft,” said Viator.

Before the operation ended for the day, Texas soldiers and airmen had loaded and air dropped approximately 1000 bales, and residents of Hamshire, like rancher Danny Drawhorn were thankful for the help in the wake of Harvey. 


“I have about 50 head of cattle in my pasture, probably about $100,000 worth of cattle, plus they’ve all got calves with them, “ said Drawhorn. “This part of the country is America's table-top and when we get 42 inches of rain like we did, it’s virtually impossible to get hay back there. This air-drop has just been tremendous for us. “