A Fight on the Home Front: The TXSG Joins the COVID-19 Battle

By WO1 David Brown, Texas State Guard

History will record that in the spring of 2020, a silent, invisible killer attacked on the home front.  

Even before the Governor officially activated Texas Military forces on March 17, members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) were taking steps to get ready for what most could see coming: a statewide deployment to help combat COVID-19.   

Conceived as a state defense force, one could say the TXSG was built for a battle like this.  But not even veterans of past disasters could expect what fighting the coronavirus would entail.  

“Unpredictability and dealing with the unknowns - that’s the biggest thing,” CPT Cyla Barron explained. Barron has served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the National Guard, and in several different posts in the TXSG, including Battle Captain in the TXSG Emergency Operations Center (TEOC), during Hurricane Harvey.  Now Barron is back in the TEOC, the operational hub for the State Guard, monitoring oversized screens with the latest numbers of coronavirus cases, tracking potential hot-spots  and helping to coordinate the deployment of TXSG troops with liaison officers from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas Department of Emergency Management. 

“Harvey was fairly predictable.  We could see it coming and stay one step ahead.  Now (with COVID-19) we have to monitor and respond to a constantly changing deadly threat and at the same time protect ourselves from getting ill.” 

On another screen in the TEOC, Barron, Asst. Battle Captain WO1 Jon Gimble and Battle NCO SGT Travis Ross tracked the progress of a team of TXSG engineers, evaluating potential medical overflow facilities in northeast Texas.  The TXSG team was part of a Joint Engineer Task Force which included specialists from the National Guard and the State Construction Management and Facilities office.

“The TXSG brings added value in a situation like this,” said LTC Cecil Bell, the recently appointed Chief of Engineers for the TXSG.  In addition to serving in the TXSG, Bell is a Texas State Representative, and a licensed expert in water infrastructure construction. “If you’re an engineer in the State Guard, you have an advanced degree, you’re a working professional, you have licensed state certification; what we drill on is what we do in our day jobs.”   

As a practical demonstration of that added value, potential medical overflow facilities were evaluated using a checklist designed by a TXSG engineer, Bell said. “That’s part of the uniqueness of our role in this fight against COVID-19: we have a skill set that includes many years of real-world facility operations and maintenance know-how.”  His observation echoes the ideal of the highly trained citizen-solider at the core of the TXSG.  

Though proficient in and tested on FEMA best practices, PFC Patrick Mejia, a Guardsman based in San Antonio, could hardly have anticipated what the fight against COVID-19 would throw at him: a constant parade of oversized 18-wheelers bringing in and hauling out personal protection equipment (PPE) to the Texas Department of Emergency Management warehouse in the ‘Alamo City’.  

By day, Mejia works as a recruiter for the Texas ChalleNGe Academy, a tuition-free education program for teens disengaged with traditional school, sponsored by the National Guard. Since his deployment on April 3rd, Mejia has put his work and home life on hold to serve his fellow Texans in 7-day-a-week shifts, from 0400 to 1600.  His job involves warehouse logistics for items such as face masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, blankets, and other critical goods in short supply statewide.  

As soon as Mejia could get a new load of pallets numbered and labelled, notice would come in from the State Operations Center (SOC) in Austin to prepare for a pick-up.  Working alongside members of the Army National Guard and the Texas A&M Forest Service, Mejia and fellow Guardsman PVT Ricardo Espinoza would help load up shipments for delivery to hospitals, armories and local institutions in Lubbock, Dallas, El Paso, and all points in between.  

“Working in the warehouse, sometimes you feel like you’re in a bubble. It hurts because you know there are people who need this equipment, these are your neighbors and the numbers are growing,” Mejia said.  “And there’s the fatigue, the lack of sleep...then you see on the (TV) news a delivery being made to a hospital...and it’s like “hey! That’s my writing on the side of that pallet!”  

Farther east down I-10, SGT Eseil Hernandez and PFC Johnathan Williams of the TXSG 2nd Brigade were working in warehouse support operations alongside colleagues in the 1st Squadron, 112th Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard providing assistance to the greater Houston area. Facing time pressures to get critical medical supplies into the distribution chain, Guardsmen employed technology originally designed for shelter and evacuation missions. “I use the same equipment I trained with to scan people and their belongings (during evacuations) to keep track of essential medical supplies that can be quickly dispatched from our distribution point as needed,” Hernandez explained. 

“I don’t mind stepping away from my job to be of service to the community,” Williams added.  “It is about the oath I took when I enlisted.”

It’s about Texans helping Texans.  It’s about making a difference.

“At a time of unprecedented uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I could not be more proud of the men and women of the Texas State Guard,” said Robert J. Bodisch, Sr, Commanding General, TXSG.  “This is not a normal mission, but these are not normal times.  From our medical professionals, engineer teams, logistics and staging, operations and administrative personnel, and many others, the TXSG has proven once again we are always ready and able to answer the call to serve our fellow Texans.  We are also recruiting new members and those who need a purpose and a chance to belong to something greater than themselves.”

“It is exhausting, the long hours,” TEOC Battle Captain Barron concedes, “but it makes me so proud to be here, working alongside people who come from all walks of private life bringing their experiences to the table to help their Texas neighbors...there’s a true sense of camaraderie.” 

And one might add, even in these trying times, a sense of something more.  A sense of: Duty. Honor. Texas.

Soldiers of the Texas State Guard 2nd Brigade help the Chaplain in a time of need

Story by Chaplain Richard Brunk, 2nd Brigade, Texas State Guard
 

Soldiers of TXSG 2BDE help Chaplain
Soldiers of the Texas State Guard 2nd Brigade really stepped up for Chaplain Brunk.

In April I wrote: “Most everything about COVID-19 is awful. How can we have high morale during such a unique, ongoing and devastating crisis?”
Well, the following is a story about some of our 2BDE Soldiers lifting my family’s morale!

It started with a casual comment. I was speaking with Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich about ways to match up Soldiers with skills with Soldiers and their Families with needs. One Soldier said he could tutor Chemistry and Math for kids having to homeschool due to COVID-19. Another Soldier offered to help a Soldier with some damage at their home.

So, what was the casual comment? I mentioned that my wife and I had been busy picking up debris from a storm that ran through our community. While many of our neighbors lost 50- and 60-foot oak trees, we got away pretty easy. Our portable greenhouse had been flipped over and destroyed, so we had a lot of repotting to do, fortunately we saved most of the plants. We still had a big pile of branches as well as some tree limbs that needed pruned, along with some other cleanup work.

Illich said that he would come up Saturday morning to help and that he would bring his chainsaw. Saturday morning, he knocked on my door and told me that there might be a few more Soldiers coming to help. A few turned into ten, with chainsaws and loads of tools. Everyone was masked, gloved and following COVID-19 guidelines and safety rules.

In a few hours, I had a stack of firewood, dead and damaged trees and limbs cut away, and after a lot of hard work, a clear path to my fence for the first time since I moved in five years ago. Dangerous debris is now safely disposed of. We had no injuries, lots of hard work, great training on equipment and problem solving as entangled old fencing and posts were making the whole thing challenging.

My wife, Kathy and I are very thankful for the Soldiers of Second Brigade who volunteered their time: Pvt. Steven Kahla, Pvt. Tyler Frankum, Cpl. Michael Prior, Sgt. Danel Emert, Pvt. Sean Mai, Pvt. Eric Hoffman, 1st Lt. Matthew Bramanti, and Col. Edwin Grantham. Thanks also to Sgt. 1st Class Gordon, and Staff Sgt. Alberto Dominguez for their help in organizing volunteers.

We are blessed to have troops of all ranks, including Commanders and leaders, from the company level right up to the State, that care about each Soldier. You and your family are indeed the lifeblood of the TXSG and a huge resource for the State of Texas. Thank you!

The Stern Reality Check: How the legacy of a fallen Soldier reminds us to do our best

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

CAMP MABRY, Texas⁠—Wade Slack was once a kid who loved hunting and video games. He was devoted to his family. And, he dreamed of becoming a Soldier.

As he approached adulthood, he quickly realized his dream, enlisting in the Army months prior to his graduation from high school. Wade died shortly after his 21st birthday, in the line of duty on May 6, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit.

His younger brother, Andrew Slack, recalled how the news of his death put an end to his own childhood, forcing him to face adult realities.

“I had been up to no good, doing my own thing,” he said. “I didn’t really think anything of the military. It didn’t really occur to me that people die overseas every day.”

“It was a stern reality check when we had those government employees show up at my mom’s house,” Andrew said.

Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)


Things didn’t get easier for Andrew or his family through the years that followed. His father, a Veterinarian much beloved by the local community in Waterville, Maine, died of a heart attack a year and a half later. Before another two years had passed, one of his sisters, who was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, took her own life.

“Today is a culmination of what the circumstances of my young adult life produced,” Andrew said on May 6, 2020, the 10th anniversary of his brother’s death.

Now a first lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard, a platoon leader in the 111th Engineer Battalion, and a liaison officer for Joint Task Force 176’s COVID-19 response mission, Andrew reflects on how these tragic events shaped his values and beliefs about Soldiering and leadership.

“As terrible as that was to accept in the beginning, as well as the deaths that followed within my family within the next four years, it puts things into the perspective of not taking things for granted, and not wasting time,” said Andrew, who applied this lesson to his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he was preparing to take on the role, he heard through the grapevine that liaison officers tend to feel useless, only answering phones day in and day out.

Regardless of whether that may have been true for anyone who had held a similar position in the past, Andrew seized the opportunity to develop himself and contribute significantly to the mission.

“I looked around at the collective knowledge in the room, realizing how much I didn’t know, and realized that you’re only useless if you don’t take advantage of a situation,” said Andrew, explaining that his eagerness to learn led to increased opportunity and responsibility. “I quickly went from dialing in phones, to successfully emulating the battle captain position, to being assigned in mission analysis of 176th Task Force construction objectives.”

Andrew’s insistence in seizing all the opportunities in his role aligns with the philosophy his brother demonstrated with his actions, to “Love what you do, and do it to its fullest.”

His brother had enlisted in the Army with the goal of disposing of explosives intended to kill service members or local civilians. Despite the obvious dangers involved in this profession, Wade had his heart set, and after basic training, he completed the 37-week explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training that is challenging enough to wash out 75 percent of the class.

“He knew what he wanted to do,” Andrew said. “He executed just that to EOD standard.”

On the tenth anniversary of his death Joint Task Force 176 finished the daily brief with silence and reverent words about Spc. Wade Slack. Col. Robert Crockem, the task force’s commander, said remembering fallen Soldiers can help us stay careful and not become complacent.

“We have to be aware of what we’re doing at all times, and not take for granted that things are always going to work out,” Crockem said. “It brings a sobering reality to the fact that we’re in the military, and the military can be a dangerous business.”

Texas National Guardsmen prepare to sanitize nursing homes

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard

CAMP MABRY, Texas—Texas Military Department service members prepared to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in long-term care facility COVID-19 disinfection operations on May 8- 9, 2020, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176 convened at the task force’s headquarters to receive personal protective equipment and sanitizing kits on May 8, 2020. The following day, they received training from the National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team on how to safely don and doff protective gear, as well as how to administer the disinfectants.

“This mission is important to protect our most vulnerable population,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Warth, battle captain with the Texas Military Department’s Joint Task Force 176, who explained that National Guard disinfection teams will work in support of Texas Division of Emergency Management efforts to sanitize facilities where occupants have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We will go in and ensure that residents are protected,” Warth said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Spc. Precious Watkins, a Texas Army National Guard culinary specialist assigned to Joint Task Force 176, said this mission hits close to home for her as an individual with elder relatives who have endured various significant health issues.

“In the class today we talked about how people who have had strokes or heart attacks are more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Watkins said. “That’s a little scary for me.”

As part of their preparation, the Soldiers received a day of training from the Texas National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team.

Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations officer with Joint Task Force 176, said National Guardsmen are capable of quickly learning and executing such tasks because their dual-footing in the military and civilian life makes them well-rounded and adaptive.

“Not only are they Army Soldiers and Air Force Airmen, but they’re also civilians who do a lot of different things,” Ammerman said. “They’re able to get out there and truly do whatever the State of Texas asks them to do.”

Mobile Testing Command Center coordinates mobile COVID-19 testing in Texas

Story by Second Lieutenant Daniel Martinez, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard

ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas -- Members of the Texas Military Department and other civilian agencies continue coordinating mobile COVID-19 testing throughout Texas from the Mobile Testing Command Center May 3, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

The MTCC is responsible for mobilizing missions to remote areas of Texas for COVID-19 testing by coordinating the logistics of each mobile testing team, while also ensuring all military members remain safe throughout the operation.

The MTCC was initiated on April 18, 2020, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott’s goal to develop a plan for reopening the state. The TMD is collaborating with multiple civilian agencies to bring that mission to fruition.

Each mobile testing site tests between 40-200 individuals daily. There are currently 50 mobile testing site teams. Each team consists of 5 medics, 17 support members, as well as support from community leaders, such as EMS workers and government officials.

The TMD has conducted over 12,000 tests from every corner of the state.

“The data coming out has demonstrated that our medics are following proper testing protocols. Considering the nature of a field-testing site in Texas, weather conditions and the challenges of a mobile mission, this is a huge win for our teams and for our state,” said Maj. Tanya Island, the Mobile Testing Command Center Surgeon, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard.

“We have been able to increase the volume of samples in a short amount of time while having the operational flexibility of being mobile. This directly supports the Governor’s efforts to plan for the future of our great state. ”


Mobile testing teams start and end their day at different locations throughout the state. They rely on guidance from the MTCC on where to go for testing each day.


“Traveling to each community has been a positive experience. The civilians we test, mayors and other public officials all greet us with kindness and thank us for serving,” said Senior Airman Tennelle Anderson, a 147th Medical Group Aerospace Medical Technician. “It is evident that we are impacting the great state of Texas as we have received the highest turnout numbers from our testing. It has encouraged me and strengthened my faith seeing our nation come together to help each other during this challenging time. I'm proud to be a part of history and will continue to do everything I can until we have defeated the invisible enemy.”


Inter-agency collaboration has been essential to completing the mission because there is currently a shortage of medical supplies. Mobile testing teams will arrive to a specific location and meet civilian agencies who coordinate with regional partners to meet any equipment shortfalls to ensure all Texans get the testing they need.


The components of the COVID-19 testing kit must be kept refrigerated. The inter-agency team has developed a distribution system that combines civilian and military personnel. It is one of the critical elements of the mission.


The agencies involved with the MTCC are the Texas Military Department, Department of State Health Services, Agrilife Extension Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife division, Department of Public Safety, Texas Engineering Extension Service, Texas Department of Emergency Management, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

 

Members of the 147th Attack Wing provide assistance to the Montgomery County Food Bank

Story by Second Lieutenant Daniel Martinez, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard

ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas -- Members of the 147th Attack Wing and Texas Army National Guard continue to assist the Montgomery County Food Bank May 3, 2020, in Montgomery, Texas.

The Montgomery County Food Bank provides food to the local community, but have been unable to do so due to their lack of volunteers since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Military Department has provided assistance to the Montgomery County Food Bank. TMD members have worked side by side with food bank employees to serve those in need.

“We’ve gotten along really well,” said Lt Col Mark Tacquard, the officer in charge. “We’ve been able to offer a lot of our abilities to help solve hurdles. We have 8 people from our 147th Logistic Readiness Squadron that have helped contribute their skills to overcome these hurdles.”

The TMD force consists of 34 Texas Air National Guard members from the 147th Attack Wing, and 10 Texas Army National Guard. Their daily duty is to break down pallets of food into smaller packages for the high demand from the local community that the food bank receives.

With the TMD’s assistance, the food bank has been able to keep up with the high demand from the local community. No family has been turned away to receive food.

“It’s very rewarding to fulfill the increased demands at the Montgomery County Food Bank,” said Technical Sgt. Matthew Baker, 111th Attack Squadron.

“They were previously not able to meet the demands, but now that the Texas Air National Guard and Army National Guard are here, we are able to do so.”

The TMD members arrived on April 23rd and will continue to serve the Montgomery County Food Bank as long as there is a need. Precautions are taken at the start of each work day by implementing health screens at the door by an on-site medic.

Putting Soldiers back to work

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

AUSTIN, Texas—She was a hardworking server in a small-town Texas country store. Less than a year out of high school, she paid her bills and saved for the future by working double shifts whenever she could. 

Army National Guard Pfc. Tori Stricklin, a human resource specialist with the 176th Engineer Brigade, updates the Joint Task Force 176 personnel status roster at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2020. Pfc. Stricklin is one of several service members who normally serve on a part-time basis, but were activated to full-time duty after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their full-time employment. “In the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” said Col. Robert Crockem commander of Joint Task Force 176. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.” (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Pfc. Tori Stricklin, a human resource specialist with the 176th Engineer Brigade, updates the Joint Task Force 176 personnel status roster at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 17, 2020. Pfc. Stricklin is one of several service members who normally serve on a part-time basis, but were activated to full-time duty after the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their full-time employment. “In the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” said Col. Robert Crockem commander of Joint Task Force 176. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.” (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)



“I like to make sure that I have all my ducks in a row,” said 18-year-old Tori Stricklin. “Even if I don’t necessarily need the extra hours, I’ll go ahead and do it. You never know what life is going to throw at you. For example, the coronavirus.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic started to threaten the economy, her ability to pay her bills suddenly seemed uncertain. The store initially stayed open, taking to-go orders, but the outlook wasn’t good.

“Because of the coronavirus, things started to head downhill pretty quickly, and I wasn’t quite sure where things were going to go,” Stricklin said.

“Without tips, there’s only so much you can make.”

Then she got a call asking her if she wanted to help out with the Texas Military Department’s COVID-19 response. Gov. Greg Abbott had mobilized several units of Army and Air National Guardsmen, as well as the Texas State Guard to support the basic needs of Texans through the pandemic. One of these units was Task Force 176, which included members of Stricklin’s unit, the176th Engineer Brigade.

Stricklin, now a private first class, enlisted in the Army National Guard when she was 17, and began working as a human resource specialist in the 176th’s personnel section as a traditional part time Guardsman. So when she received the offer to activate full-time for the COVID-19 response, she jumped at the chance knowing she could avoid being unemployed during a time of uncertainty.

“About two days after I got that call, my store had shut down, so I would have been without a job,” said Stricklin.

While the primary purpose of the activation is to protect Texans against the spread of COVID-19, it also created an opportunity for part-time service members to keep working, said Col. Robert Crockem, commander of the 176th Engineer Brigade.

“We’re in the business of taking care of Texans,” Crockem said. “Right now, we’re supporting Texans by distributing the medical supplies they need, and helping to provide increased hospital bed space and medical capabilities.”

“But in the chaos caused by this pandemic, some Texans are struggling to stay employed, and that includes many National Guard Soldiers,” Crockem continued. “By activating unemployed Guardsmen to full-time status, we seized another opportunity to help Texans thrive.”

One of the first teams of Texas Military Department personnel to activate following Gov. Greg Abbott’s order was Joint Task Force 176’s General Support Unit 4, a team of engineers with the 840th Engineer Mobility Augmentation Company.

“We had to mobilize and assemble at the armory within 12 hours with a 34-person unit,” said 1st Sgt. Denton Humphrey, first sergeant with the 840th, explaining that “after getting the call the evening of March 18, the team was assembled and fully mission-capable by 8 a.m. the following morning.”

With the majority of this first group being made up of college students, Humphrey said that it was a good opportunity for them to earn money and serve their state by building medical facilities and supporting food bank operations.

“Now we can provide them with some income and the availability to work on their online classes,” Humphrey said.

When additional personnel were needed, half of the next wave of activated individuals were struggling to stay employed due to the pandemic.

“Very specifically, we combed the unit for Soldiers who had lost a job due to the COVID-19 and those were our first choice,” Humphrey said.

Matthew Faulkenberry, a corporal in the Texas Army National Guard, is another hard working Texas whose livelihood was put in jeopardy by the pandemic. Over the last few years, he had established himself as the informal project manager for both the office and the warehouse at a construction company.

“I made a lot of connections through there,” Faulkenberry said. “It led me to accepting another job with my official title as project manager.”

He gave his two weeks’ notice, and in two weeks, he was without a job. COVID-19 had struck, severely impacting employment in several industries, to include the construction sector. The company still wanted him as a member of their team in the future, but for the time being, they wouldn’t be able to keep him busy or give him a steady paycheck.

“The company called me and said, ‘you still have the job, but you don’t have a job,’” Faulkenberry said.

He immediately assessed his finances to determine how much he would need to earn to keep the bills paid, and then focused on getting back to work. What kind of work he did was less important to him than it was for him to fulfill his obligation to support his family.

“I started reaching out for jobs that I was overqualified for, but I needed to have income for my family,” said Faulkenberry. “I applied at Whataburger and McDonalds just because I needed something.”

Fortunately, the National Guard was able to put him to work. Faulkenberry previously served part-time as a reconnaissance sergeant in the 176th Engineer Brigade. He heard that his unit was looking for volunteers to help with the COVID-19 response, and he seized the opportunity.

“I’m thankful for that,” Faulkenberry said. “It’s very good for me because I have a family to take care of. I have a daughter and a wife, and the income I’m bringing from here helps me make sure they have a roof over their head.”

Since the Texas Military Department initiated the COVID-19 response, Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard, Airmen with the Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guardsmen have been working to meet the basic needs of their fellow Texans. Their efforts have included construction in support of medical facilities, distribution of medical supplies and even preparing and distributing meals in support of food banks. Helping to meet these employment needs is just one more way the activation is about serving the common good in Texas, said Humphrey.

“As Guard members, it’s beneficial for them both ways, whether we’re protecting them and we’re working with the public to protect the public,” Humphrey said. “Texans supporting Texans--that’s what we do.”

National Guard engineers convert barracks into medical isolation support facilities

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

CAMP MABRY, Texas—Army National Guard combat engineers completed the conversion of Camp Swift barracks into medical isolation support facilities on April 16, 2020, at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas. 

Texas Army Sgt. Keith Huffstuttler, a team leader with Task Force 176’s 840th Engineering Mobility Augmentation Company, installs curtains to separate beds in Camp Swift barracks to adapt them into medical isolation support facilities in Bastrop, Texas, on April 17, 2020. The TMD has established this isolation facility for Soldiers, Airmen and State Guardsmen suspected of having COVID-19 so that they may recover in a safe environment and prevent further spread of the virus. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles)
Texas Army Sgt. Keith Huffstuttler, a team leader with Task Force 176’s 840th Engineering Mobility Augmentation Company, installs curtains to separate beds in Camp Swift barracks to adapt them into medical isolation support facilities in Bastrop, Texas, on April 17, 2020. The TMD has established this isolation facility for Soldiers, Airmen and State Guardsmen suspected of having COVID-19 so that they may recover in a safe environment and prevent further spread of the virus. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles)



The 840th Engineer Mobility Augmentation Company, which operates within the Texas Military Department’s Task Force 176, mobilized in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance medical infrastructure in Texas.

The Soldiers, in conjunction with other engineering units, adapted existing barracks into treatment facilities for any Guardsmen who become infected while serving during the COVID-19 response.

Spc. Javier Vega, an engineer with the 840th Engineer Mobility Augmentation Company, expressed pride and sense of duty in the work his team is doing.

“If everybody does their part, it’ll stop the spread and everything will go back to normal,” Vega said.

Members of the 840th were silent in response to being asked about who is concerned about contracting COVID-19 while on duty, implying a collective confidence that they will remain safe from the contagion through the pandemic response.

Sgt. Keith Huffstuttler, a team leader with the 840th, attributed their confidence to the discipline with which they are following infection control protocols.

“We’ve been following good safety precautions and practicing social distancing, not even intermingling with other squads in the same platoon,” Huffstuttler said.

Keeping squads separate from each other promotes unit effectiveness through the pandemic because it prevents an infection from spreading from a smaller team to members of the larger unit, said Staff Sgt. Thomas McCraven, a squad leader with the 840th.

“That way, if one squad gets infected, it reduces the chance of the whole platoon getting infected,” McCraven said. “Losing one squad is not as bad as losing the whole platoon.”

Capt. Dillon Horn, commander of the 840th, commended his Soldiers’ discipline and cohesion, promising their high-quality work through the remainder of the pandemic.

“This group of Soldiers really just want to help their fellow Texans in this difficult time,” Horn said. “They will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and they’ll get it done quickly and with expertise.”

“Together, the 840th Engineer MAC Soldiers are a well-oiled machine,” Horn said.

The Texas Army National Guard stays ready

Story and photos by Spc. Jason Archer, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

AUSTIN, Texas – In 1636, the first members of the original thirteen colonies’ military gathered on an empty field and improvised new methods to conduct training crucial to their defense. In the more than 276 years since that first muster there have been many homes to National Guard units. Some met in empty schools, on private lands and in the late 1800’s more frequently in armories spread throughout communities.

One thing has not changed over all of this time—the need for Guardsmen to train for national defense. The COVID-19 pandemic has again changed the way citizen-Soldiers assemble, as this month units across Texas experienced their first digital muster. 

Texas Army National Guard Spc. Jason Archer, attached to the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 71st Troop Command, logs on to a video conference at his home in Leander, Texas, April 6, 2020. Archer’s unit continued training remotely during the state ordered shelter-in-place in order to be ready to serve the people of Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Archer)
Texas Army National Guard Spc. Jason Archer, attached to the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 71st Troop Command, logs on to a video conference at his home in Leander, Texas, April 6, 2020. Archer’s unit continued training remotely during the state ordered shelter-in-place in order to be ready to serve the people of Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Archer) 



As the pandemic continues across Texas Soldiers will be relying on the use of telework and virtual training to allow both full-time and traditional Texas Guardsmen to stay at home and maintain their health but not lose access to vital information.

Lt. Col. Rita Holton, 36th Special Troops Battalion Commander, said the Texas Military Department is continuing business as usual.

“The current health crisis has not changed the mission, just the focus,” Holton said. “The National Guard as a whole, is a trained, ready force and prepared for all types of contingencies, however difficult.”

The Texas Army National Guard has more than 23,000 members who have been standing by waiting to serve the state. These service members are ready to faithfully carry out the mission to serve Texans in their time of need.

Army 1st Sgt. Crystal Barton, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 71st Troop Command, said there were adjustments to the way work was being done, but the same objectives were being met.

“The MPAD did some classes and formations online over Zoom,” Barton said. “I’ve heard of other units using WhatsApp, not to send sensitive information, but to keep everyone abreast of any safety concerns.”
Everyone was ready to get on calls and complete online administrative tasks,” Barton added. “Even our commanders that work one weekend a month are used to having meetings online.”

Holton also said the service had systems in place for operational security whenever conducting telework.

“Telework is authorized for non-essential Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees during the current crisis,” said Holton. “Having telework policies in place is an important element which preserves steady state operations, while taking care of our service members. This keeps them healthy by supporting their families’ needs.”

Texas Army National Guard leaders and Soldiers continue to meet routinely through virtual means in order to remain a relevant fighting force, ready to take-on COVID-19 and any other mission wherever else they are needed.
“COVID-19 has impacted how we are conducting our steady state operations,” Holton said. “However, the number one concern is to keep our Soldiers, Airmen and employees safe and healthy. We have several action plans in place to ensure that daily operations are not interrupted while simultaneously supporting the response effort.”

The effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has been witnessed at all levels of the Texas Military Department, in the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air Guard, and at all levels of command.

“This response is a true team effort,” said Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, The Adjutant General of Texas. “Community by community, state by state, our nation is coming together, showing tenacity and grit of the human spirit as we work together to beat back COVID-19.”

Morale is high in National Guard COVID-19 response

Story and Photos by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

"We’re always looking on the bright side,” said Spc. Dakota Goode, a National Guard infantryman who’s helping distribute needed medical supplies during the COVID-19 response.

Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Toby Mendoza,the Joint Task Force 176 command sergeant major, recognizes Soldiers with General Support Unit 10 for their contributions to the COVID-19 response efforts. Sgt. Antonio Maldonado, a team leader with General Support Unit 10, received a coin for his willingness to accept responsibility beyond his position without hesitation. Spc. Dakota Goode, an infantryman with General Support Unit 10, received a coin in acknowledgement of his relentless dedication to maintaining a positive attitude during challenging times. Joint Task Force 176’s General Support Unit 10 is one of several Texas Military Department elements that mobilized to augment medical capabilities and support supply distribution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Joint Task Force 176’s General Support Unit 10 is one of several Texas Military Department elements that mobilized to augment medical capabilities and support supply distribution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)


“We look forward to getting up every day and doing our part to serve the community and the great state of Texas!”


Goode is a member of General Support Unit 10, which includes Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment as well as Texas State Guardsmen. General Support Unit 10 is one of many teams that operates within the Texas Military Department’s Joint Task Force 176, which assembled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While other teams of service members are helping to mitigate the effects of the pandemic by supporting food banks or building medical infrastructure, General Support Group 10 is operating a regional staging area where supplies are distributed out to disaster districts.

“We are distributing PPE that includes latex gloves, masks, face shields and hand sanitizer,” said 2nd Lt. Cody Bodine, a platoon leader with General Support Unit 10. “We’re providing Texas communities with protective supplies so they can maintain their health and well-being.”

“We have a really good system in place in our shipping department,” said
Sgt. David Freitag, a squad leader with General Support Unit 10.

Freitag explained that supplies are organized according to their destinations, and when county representatives arrive to receive the materials, State Guardsmen scan the supplies out for inventory control. After that, the Soldiers and Airmen of the Texas National Guard get to work.

“Our hard working [personnel] bring everything, put it on the truck for the counties, and try to get them out of here in 5 minutes so they can go help the people who need the supplies,” Freitag said.

Goode’s level of motivation, as well as that of Sgt. Antonio Maldonado, a team leader with General Support Unit 10, was recognized by Command Sgt. Maj. Toby Mendoza, who awarded them with coins during a visit on April 14, 2020. Maldonado was recognized specifically for his willingness to step into a role of more responsibility without hesitation when asked to do so.

Mendoza said the motivation and dedication that Maldonado and Goode demonstrate is what being a Soldier in the Texas Army National Guard is about.

“That’s the nature of our soldiers,” Mendoza said. “They want to help. They want to help out” the citizens of their state. Whenever they’re asked to do something, they want to go do it. They give it all they’ve got.”