Texas Guardsmen are Warfighter ready

Story by:  Sgt. Elizabeth Peña​

Posted: November 9, 2015

Texas Guardsmen are Warfighter ready
Sgt. Elizabeth Peña
Spc. John Volkmer, a satellite operator with the 625th Signal Company of the Texas National Guard's 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, ensures his equipment is ready during the Warfighter exercise Nov. 12-22 at Fort Campbell, Ky. For this brigade, headquartered out of Round Rock, Texas, Warfighter tests coordination and methods of battle through a command and control simulation. (Photo by U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Elizabeth Pena/Released)

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Texas boots hit the ground running Nov. 5, 2015, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as approximately 200 soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade engage a three-week, combat-oriented training event known as Warfighter.

“Warfighter is an opportunity for a division, in this case the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to conduct main combat operations,” said Col. Scott Mac Leod, commander of the 136th MEB. “It also enables its brigade combat teams and functional and multi-functional subordinate brigades to exercise their tasks as part of main combat operations.”

For this brigade, headquartered out of Round Rock, Texas, Warfighter tests the headquarters’ coordination and methods of battle through a command and control simulation.

“In this scenario, the enemy is the Arianans,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Johnson, the brigade’s noncommissioned officer in charge of current operations. “They are after the oil infrastructure in Atropia, and we are sent in after the United Nations’ resolution to [push] out the Arianans and secure the oil fields. The 136th MEB are here supporting the 101st Airborne Division through assured mobility and survivability.”

Warfighter features a number of Army units conducting their combat validation, with the MEB just one of many brigades supporting Fort Campbell’s Air Assault division. The 136th MEB is distinguished as the only National Guard outfit participating. In the scenario, the brigade deploys with battalions of military police, engineers and support companies as it would in a real-world mobilization.

“Working with active duty components is the same as working with National Guard units or Reserve units,” said Sgt. Mikael Lopez, the 136th MEB intelligence team leader. “Soldiers are soldiers wherever you go. We train together. We deploy together.”

Soldiers from the 136th MEB spent months gearing up for the exercise. In September, they engaged in a condensed, three-day command post exercise in anticipation for Warfighter. This gave soldiers the chance to exercise their duty roles and prepare for what would be expected in Kentucky.

“We had a nice, long train up,” said Lopez. “I feel very confident in my team; I have good soldiers. We have a great chain of support up top and our peers are very strong.”

While stateside, the 136th MEB is custodian of the FEMA Region VI Homeland Response Force mission, designed to combat the threat of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-Yield Explosive incidents. Warfighter allows these versatile Guardsmen to also train on their overseas combat mission.

“The HRF has a great reputation, and now this is a great opportunity for us to come and do what we call a green mission,” said Mc Leod, “and to practice those tasks that are common to an actual overseas scenario.”

The 136th MEB will use Warfighter to exercise mission command in maneuver support and area support operations. 

“We’ve met with the 101st and we are getting a lot of positive feedback on our setup and the way we are operating things,” said Johnson. 

The Warfighter scenario runs Nov. 12-22, with the preceding week dedicated to preparations and battle drills.

“I am extremely confident in our troops,” said Mac Leod. “Today, we completed the combined arms rehearsal. I think that we are all proud to be here and represent the Texas Army National Guard and to put a strong foot forward.”

147th Reconnaissance Wing reaches 100K flight hours on MQ-1

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: November 9, 2015

Wing receives aircraft
Courtesy Photo
Members of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing Maintenance Group open the crate holding an MQ-1 Predator at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, Aug. 18, 2009. The wing is transitioning from the F-16 to the MQ-1 and this is the first of several Predators that the wing will receive.

HOUSTON, Texas – Achieving 100,000 flying hours takes years to realize.

But for the members of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, conquering this incredible feat is just a testament to their hard work and dedication to the mission.

The wing accomplished the milestone Oct. 8, 2015, just seven short years after receiving its new mission to fly the MQ-1B Predator.

“I’ve witnessed the constant hard work and professionalism required by the 147th Reconnaissance Wing to accomplish this achievement,” said Col. Gary Jones, vice wing commander . 

In 2005, the Department of Defense recommended retiring the then-147th Fighter Wing’s F-16 Fighting Falcons and replacing them with the reconnaissance aircraft, with plans for the unit to be fully equipped and operational by 2009.

This change required airmen to adjust and re-train on a new aircraft that began its initial operational capability in the U.S. Air Force only a few years before the wing took its first flight July 2008.

“There have been many milestones along the way for the 111th (Reconnaissance Squadron) since Ellington took on this mission, and there will continue to be more, but this is a very significant accomplishment,” said Lt. Col. David Peck, 111th Reconnaissance Squadron commander. “To put 100,000 hours in context, that amount of time is equivalent to flying for 11.41 years non-stop, and we did it in just seven years.”

Due to the unique structure of the National Guard, pilots can fly in different statuses from domestic Title 32 missions and federal Title 10 hours to flight hours during training exercises; however, the 100,000-hour milestone was all done while on federal Title 10 status.
The accomplishment cannot only be attributed to the pilots who fly the mission, but to the entire wing, from the member charged with writing orders to the maintainers who keep the aircraft mission ready and the combatant commanders who use the aircraft in theater.

“We have had to forge and maintain working relationships with a host of organizations over the years,” Peck said. “Additionally, we count on support from our advocates at NGB to give us the funding, manpower and voice we need to enable these missions.
In addition to the one team, one fight mentality, guard members accumulate years of experience, acquiring the expertise to be proficient in their jobs.

“What is not to be overlooked is the substantial amount of experience the Guard, and the 111th in particular, brings to the MQ-1 community,” Peck said. “I first began to fly the Predator in 2005. Over a decade later, I am still doing the same mission.”

“Many other members of the 111th have employed this asset for roughly the same amount of time,” he added. “That is experience that active duty simply cannot match, and the squadron anticipated converting to the MQ-9 within the next 18-24 months, and when that happens, I’m confident that our squadron will continue to be an ‘Ace in the Hole’ for the combatant commanders.”

National Guard Gunfighter Fly-in competition unites seven Apache helicopter states

Story by:  Spc. Elizabeth Smith

Posted: November 9, 2015

Gunfighter Fly-In
Spc. Elizabeth Smith
Spc. Ryan Santana, a member of the Arizona National Guard, arms an AH-64D Apache attack helicopter for the Utah Army National Guard for the inaugural Gunfighter Fly-In in preparation for the gunnery event.

MARANA, Ariz. – The Arizona National Guard is hosting the inaugural Gunfighter Fly-in at Silverbell Army Heliport here Nov. 1 to Nov. 6. Seven of the eight states in the National Guard that operate the AH-64D Apache helicopters—Arizona, Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah—sent two of their best company-grade crews and maintenance support personnel to participate in the four-day event.

The crews are competing head-to-head in the Gunfighter Fly-in competition, which includes a variety of graded flying and gunnery scenarios: manned unmanned teaming with the small unmanned aerial system, a live fire exercise at the Goldwater Gunnery Range, performance in the simulator and a written gunnery skills test. 

The top team will receive an award for its performance and bragging rights for its home state. 

“We welcome competition,” said Capt. Ben Hickman, Commander of 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion with the Texas Army National Guard. “That’s one of the things about being a gunfighter. We all have type-A personalities and so we look forward to getting to compete but at the same time the underlying thing of this is to integrate with other units.” 

The Gunfighter Fly-in is an opportunity to share tactics, techniques and procedures, best practices and lessons learned throughout the National Guard Apache community. The competition also builds a unity of effort among National Guard Apache helicopter states. 

“This is a great opportunity to network with your peers,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Leonard Vidalez of 1-149 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion Texas Army National Guard. “Everybody has experiences and knowledge to share with one another; it’s just more information for your tool kit to use at a future date or implement at the very next mission.” 

The vast amount of skills and experience throughout the National Guard Apache community are invaluable to the Total Force. 

“We have the same skill sets, we have the same capabilities, same abilities, so we’re a key enabler and contributor to the active component fight, both for foreseen and unforeseen events across the globe,” said Col. Christopher Baril, the 98th Aviation Troop Command and Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site Brigade Commander.

The presence of Apache assets in the Army National Guard continues the guard’s ability to conduct training and is critical to the safety of deployed forces.

“Apaches are vital because in times of war or having to go solve a problem overseas with our active duty counterparts we need to be manned and equipped the same way so that there is synergy on the battlefield once we get there,” Baril said.

The Gunfighter Fly-in isn’t just about the lessons shared, the skills gained or the experience traded. It also has a little bit to do with the competition that brings these units closer together and makes the overall experience more effective for training purposes.

“It’s a competition but you wish everybody the best and you want everybody to be safe,” Hickman said. “We’re a close-knit community; we’re a very small community. When we come together we’re one team. We’re one family.”

TX Guardsmen compete in first ever apache helicopter competition

Inaugural Gunfighter Fly-In

Rows of Apache AH-64D helicopters are silhouetted by an Arizona sunset with the Ragged Top Mountains in the background Nov. 3 at Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, Ariz. The Gunfighter Fly-In pits some of the best AH-64D Apache attack helicopter crews from seven different Army National Guard units from across the nation in a competition to see who's best. Crews from Arizona, Utah, Idaho, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and Missouri competed for the top scores in various events such as a live fire scenario, unmanned aerial systems teaming, simulator test and a written evaluation.

Courtesy of Arizona National Guard Public Affairs Office

World War II-Close Assault Re-enactments Kick off Saturday

Close Assault 1944AUSTIN, Texas (November 3, 2015) – Close Assault 1944 will kick off on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 and conclude Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015 at Camp Mabry, in Austin, to honor the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans and focus on the history of the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, during World War II. Show times are at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. both days.

The free program, now in its ninth year, features members of the Texas Military Department’s Living History Detachment exhibiting the uniform and equipment worn by the American GI in the European Theater of the Second World War, and those of his German opponent. In addition, the two-day event will provide guests the opportunity to witness firing demonstrations of the most famous U.S. and German small arms of World War II, as well as see everything from tents and radio equipment to GI baseball gloves and mess kits and operational vehicles such as an M4 Sherman Tank, M3 Halftrack and Jeeps. At the end of each hour and 15 minute program, the re-enactors will recreate a combined arms assault on a German held village, using small arms and automatic weapons as well as a Sherman tank, halftrack and jeeps.

The Brig. Gen. John C.L. Scribner Texas Military Forces Museum will be open to the public throughout the weekend as well as on Veterans Day with docents standing by to teach every visitor what it was like to fight or serve during the Texas Revolution, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and the Cold War, as well as the story of today’s soldiers and airmen fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

This free event will take place rain or shine and bleachers will be available for seating. Camp Mabry is open to the public and adults only need to show a valid photo ID to enter post.

For detailed driving directions or more information please visit the museum’s web site at www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org or call 512-782-5770.  The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is free.

Wings Over Houston: A Texas State Guard Tradition

Story by: Warrant Officer Malana Nall

Posted: November 2, 2015

Flight line safety
Texas State Guard 8th Regiment soldiers provide safety instructions to visitors along the flight line and around vehicle movement during the Wings Over Houston Airshow at Ellington Field, Houston, October 17-18, 2015.  The Texas State Guard provides essential services, such as shelter management, traffic management, and food and water supplies, to Texans during a disaster or emergency. (Photo by: Warrant Officer Malana Nall, Texas State Guard Public Affairs/Released) 

HOUSTON - For almost thirty years the Texas State Guard has provided logistical, operational, and medical support to the Wings Over Houston Airshow.  Working alongside the Commemorative Air Force and local law enforcement, soldiers from the Texas State Guard Army Component 8th Regiment, 447th Air Wing, Maritime Regiment 2nd Battalion, and Medical Brigade 2nd Battalion guided visitors through entrance and exit gates, supplied information on airshow venues, and offered other assistance to ensure that the 50,000 visitors had an enjoyable time at Ellington Field, Houston, October 17-18, 2015. 

This community event allowed the soldiers to hone their mission-essential skills, such as shelter management, food and water distribution, radio communications, and medical support.  Soldiers practiced working together in a joint operation with different units of the Texas State Guard.  These skills are necessary to support residents and local communities during a disaster or emergency, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding.

Recruiters
Texas State Guard recruiters from different components band together to man a recruiting booth at the Wings Over Houston Airshow at Ellington Field, Houston, October 17-18, 2015.  Recruiters provide information about the Texas State Guard and its mission. The Texas State Guard provides essential services, such as shelter management and food and water supplies, to Texans during a disaster or emergency. (Photo by: Warrant Officer Malana Nall, Texas State Guard Public Affairs/Released)

Soldiers had a great time, too.  They handed out candy and ear plugs.  They set up a recruiting tent in front of the 447th Air Wing communications trailer, where children enjoyed trying on Texas State Guard caps, boots, and equipment belts.

Veteran
Texas State Guard Sgt. Gregory Illich, 8th Regiment, talks with a U.S. Marine veteran from Houston during the Wings Over Houston Airshow at Ellington Field, Houston, October 17-18, 2015.  The Texas State Guard assisted visitors with airshow information and entering and exiting the airfield.  The Texas State Guard provides essential services, such as shelter management and food and water supplies, to Texans during a disaster or emergency. (Photo by: Warrant Officer  Malana, Texas State Guard Public Affairs/Released)

Two 8th Regiment soldiers, Staff Sgt. Cheryl Lemmings and Sgt. Sasha Shepard, volunteered to escort  children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to a VIP tent to watch the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds practice that day. Lemmings and Shepard spent time meeting the children and their parents and answering questions about the Texas State Guard.

Col. Edwin Grantham, commander, 8th Regiment, explained that "the job here is part of our support to civil authorities.  We want Texans to have a high confidence level in our ability to take care of them when called upon.  We take great pride in what we do for Texas residents and events like the airshow allow us to practice our mission skills."

Wings Over Houston is one of the top airshows in the country and attracts visitors from around the world.   Featured were the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who are known for their aerial acrobatics in F-16 Fighting Falcons, as well as Breitling Jet Team, "Tora, Tora, Tora" air re-enactors, and the U. S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet.

From fires to floods, Texas National Guard helicopter crews are always ready to serve

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Posted: October 29, 2015

1st Lt. Alicia Lacy  A Texas Army National Guard Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk hoists a member from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1 during a search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014. The joint, interagency exercise simulated emergency response following a hurricane, with members from the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1, the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety integrating to form a joint response team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy/ Released)
1st Lt. Alicia Lacy 
A Texas Army National Guard Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk hoists a member from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Texas Task Force 1 during a search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014. The joint, interagency exercise simulated emergency response following a hurricane, with members from the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1, the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety integrating to form a joint response team. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy/ Released)

AUSTIN, Texas - After six days of fighting wildfires, Texas Army National Guardsman Sgt. Steven Nesbitt thought he was going home. Then the call came in – they were needed for floods.

“There’s not much to think about when the call comes in,” said Nesbitt, a helicopter crew chief and standardization instructor with the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “Just get your assets ready.”

Texas Guardsmen supported a total of seven wildfires in central Texas, Oct. 15-20, 2015, dropping more than 1 million gallons of water on the fires and saving hundreds of homes from destruction. As quickly as the fires had come, they were gone. 

The day after the fires, it rained so much that several areas in Texas experienced flash flooding. 

Switching gears from firefighting to swift water rescue operations, the same pilots and aircraft took to the skies, once again, to support local first responders and serve Texans in their time of need.

“The Department of Emergency Management calls us whenever the local and state resources are exhausted and need extra help, whether it be fire, floods or hurricanes,” said Col. Michael Dye, commander of the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility, Texas Army National Guard. 

Defense support to civilian authorities is the official title the military uses when referring to this type of mission. Each National Guard unit has both a DSCA mission, working alongside local, state and federal partners to support domestic operations, and a combat mission. 

Primarily, these guardsmen train to support Texans at home during wildfires, hurricanes and flash flooding, as well as, combat operations overseas; they even support the Department of Homeland Security with aerial interdiction along the Texas-Mexico border. 

“We are constantly training throughout the year in order to remain proficient in these mission sets,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Cordero, a pilot for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “So when we have an incident like we did, where we are fighting fires and the mission set changes and it’s time to go and respond to a flood event, we’re ready, that’s what we do.”

The combat aviation unit is equipped with several types of aircraft, UH-60 Blackhawks, CH-47 Chinooks, LUH-72 Lakotas and AH-64 Apaches, each with different capabilities, but each that can support a variety of missions.

“We bring a valuable dimension to the fire and search and rescue missions,” said Dye. “There are a lot of situations where ground crews cannot get to a location and the only way to get rescuers or fire suppression to an area is with aviation assets.”

Helicopter crews train regularly with first responders from the Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Task Force One. The training the unit does with these and other partners helps prepare them for this diverse mission set. 

“When the call came in to respond to the flooding, we just reset our aircraft,” said Cordero. “We removed the bucket we used to fight fires and our Task Force One partners came in and equipped the aircraft with their rescue basket, medical equipment and anything they needed to rescue individuals from rapidly rising water.”

Training and experienced helicopter crews work together to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

“My crews bring a high level of experience and dedication to mission accomplishment,” said Dye. “They have learned over the years to anticipate when events will occur and are prepared when the call comes in for support.”

And even though it doesn’t happen every year, crew members say battling different natural disasters back to back is not unheard of in Texas.

“In 2005, we were on the way home from fighting fires in the Davis Mountains, out in west Texas, and we got moved to respond to Hurricane Rita,” said Nesbitt. “Texas is a big state to protect – a lot of dry areas and a lot of wet areas.”

But regardless of what Mother Nature throws at Texas, the men and women of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade say they are ready to support.

“We are strategically located throughout the state in order to respond to that DSCA mission, wherever it may be,” said Cordero.

Providing this support to local first responders and helping their fellow Texans is what drives most guardsmen said Nesbitt.

“That’s what motivates us,” he said. “Protecting the citizens of Texas.”

36th Division and the Choctow Code Talkers

Native Americans who were a part of the 36th DivisionPhoto and Commentary by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

The normal individual would never link Native Americans to World War I. And for Texas Military Department members, most don’t know the history of Native Americans who were a part of the 36th Division. During a brief program at Camp Mabry Oct. 21, Robert Bass, program director for the Great Promise for American Indians, and Sandy Duncan, a volunteer for the organization, told the history of Native Americans in the U.S. and their military contributions through storytelling and traditional Native American songs.
The TMD members learned of the Choctaw Indian Code Talkers of World War I. A group of 19 code talkers helped devise a system of communication to transmit messages, which the Germans were never able to decipher. Their contributions during World War I helped establish a standard for code talkers and they forever left their imprint on U.S. and Texas military history.
 

National Guard engineers ready to rescue

Story by: Sgt. Michael Giles

Posted: October 25, 2015

Sgt. Michael Giles  Members of the Texas National Guard's 236th Engineering Company stand ready within Light Medium Terrain Vehicles to engage in flood rescue operations in Huntsville, Texas, Oct. 25, 2015. Members of the 236th Engineering Company, part of the 111th Engineering Battalion, mobilized to Corsicana and Hunstville, Texas, to stand ready to respond to any rescue needs caused by the rainstorms resulting from Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)
Sgt. Michael Giles 
Members of the Texas National Guard's 236th Engineering Company stand ready within Light Medium Terrain Vehicles to engage in flood rescue operations in Huntsville, Texas, Oct. 25, 2015. Members of the 236th Engineering Company, part of the 111th Engineering Battalion, mobilized to Corsicana and Huntsville, Texas, to stand ready to respond to any rescue needs caused by the rainstorms resulting from Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Michael Giles/Released)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas —"Everybody here, myself included, is ready to do what we have to do," said Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Frawley, a squad leader in the National Guard's 236th Engineering Company. He traveled with his team from Lewisville, Texas, to Corsicana, and then to Huntsville, anticipating a need for flood rescue operations.

Spc. Steven R. Hankins, an engineer who helped rescue upward of 30 people during the storm of May 2015, has a lot of experience with these sorts of disaster missions. He said that they are equipped to rescue flood victims because of how their trucks are built. Their height and weight allows them to navigate in deep and flowing water, and they are airtight enough to almost entirely submerge for up to 15 minutes. They rescue people by driving toward the houses, vehicles, and even trees where they are stranded, and pull them on board.

"We pulled a man out of a tree after water had surrounded his car," Hankins said. "This man popped his trunk, climbed out the back and up a tree. Luckily, we could get to him."

This team of citizen-soldiers, led by 1st Lt. Clayton C. Harrison, consists of military-trained engineers, plumbers, and electricians, many of whom have participated in multiple flood rescue operations.

"Some people really get stuck in jams," said Sgt. Charlie W. Brown. "Sometimes we're the only people who can get to them. I love what I do."

The ability of the 236th to rescue also comes from their readiness to be where they need to be. These citizen-soldiers were called up on Oct. 23, 2015, and activated for days of swift water movements throughout central and east Texas. They traveled to Corsicana the following morning, where floodwater derailed a train and neighboring guardsmen rescued a reported 14 civilians from homes and vehicles.

"We're out here, we're ready and we're prepared," Harrison said. "The people of Texas are much safer because units like the 236th anticipate needs and prepare to respond." 

Later that day, they drove in a convoy of six vehicles to Huntsville, Texas, where they stood by at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in case they were needed. The following morning, it was determined that the risk in Huntsville was low enough that it was safe to depart. 

"We try to minimize risk, but there's always risk when dealing with mother nature," Harrison said. "In the end, it's a good thing we didn't have to go out today."