Texas Guardsmen fight fires in Bell County, save 200 homes

Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

Post: October 21, 2015

A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk drops 660 gallons of water on the Comanche Fire in support of firefighting operations in Bell County, Texas, Oct. 19, 2015. Texas National Guard helicopter crews, supporting Texas A&M Forest Service, responded to six wildfires across central Texas Oct. 14-21, 2015, saving hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black/ Released)
A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk drops 660 gallons of water on the Comanche Fire in support of firefighting operations in Bell County, Texas, Oct. 19, 2015. Texas National Guard helicopter crews, supporting Texas A&M Forest Service, responded to six wildfires across central Texas Oct. 14-21, 2015, saving hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black/ Released)

BELTON, Texas – Texas Guardsmen helped save close to 200 homes, while supporting firefighting operations in Bell County, Oct. 20, 2015.

After almost a week of battling the Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop, four Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawks were rerouted to take on a second fire and support ground troops in suppressing the Comanche Fire, just off of Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

“When we arrived on scene, we knew we needed air support and a large volume of water to fight the fire,” said Rhea Cooper, assistant chief, North Branch, Instant Response, Texas A&M Forest Service.

The forest service requested National Guard support and four aviation crews were sent to help.

“We were going out to the Hidden Pines Fire,” said Texas Army National Guard pilot Chief Warrant Officer 2 William Black, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. “As soon as we landed, we were directed to the Comanche Fire.”

The fire covered approximately 50 acres and was in close proximity of almost 200 homes.

“It wasn’t too big,” said Black. “But it was threatening a lot.”

Ground crews made up of several local fire departments and members of the Texas A&M Forest Service were already on the ground working to put out the fire. As the fire moved through, it left behind hot spots and smaller fires, all of which ground crews were working to extinguish as quickly as possible, said Black. Ground crews also used bulldozers to create firebreaks in attempts to stop, or direct, the fire.

Toward the end of the day, Black’s crew was called to a smoky area on the northeast side of the lake, by the marina.

“There were some really huge flames,” said Black. “We rushed up and were able to put them out; we definitely saved some houses there.”

Cooper estimates that the four helicopters dropped almost 396,000 gallons of water; an effort he claims was instrumental in putting out the fire.

“The Texas National Guard was absolutely necessary to the operation,” said Cooper, who said he was also impressed with the crews’ ability to maneuver their aircraft in such a small space. “Fifty acres is a relatively small space to operate four helicopters and they were able to do it very safely.”

For Texas National Guard pilots, this type of mission is not new. 

A part of the Guard’s mission statement is to provide the governor and the president with ready forces to support state and federal authorities at home and abroad, and they have done just that on many occasions.

“Our unit has been on many fires in the past,” said Black. “And I’ve also been on the other side of it.”

In 2011, Black’s company was mobilized to deploy when the Bastrop County Complex fire hit. Because they were mobilized, that company was unable to support the fire, but fortunately, many other firefighting assets were, to include their sister Texas National Guard aviation companies.

“I live in Bastrop,” said Black. “And those guys saved my house.”

Being able to pass on the favor is important to Black.

“It’s such a good feeling to have your house saved and then to be able to save someone else’s house and property – the feeling is indescribable,” said Black. “It makes me proud to do what I do.”

That feeling seems to be mutual.

“I’m really proud of the hard work our Guardsmen have done all over Central Texas to support firefighting operations and serve our fellow Texans,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, Domestic Operations commander, Texas Military Department.

Helicopter crews responded to six wildfires across central Texas during the week. Partnered with local fire departments and the Texas A&M Forest Service, they helped save hundreds of homes and numerous acres of property.

“It was very rewarding to help – it makes you feel good,” said Black. “Helping people and saving houses.”

Texas National Guard fights Bastrop wildfire

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Posted: October 16, 2015

Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility helps fight wildfires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)
Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon
A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility helps fight wildfires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon)

BASTROP, Texas -- The Texas Army National Guard’s aviation assets joined the fight to help its neighbors in Bastrop County battle a wildfire that ignited Oct. 13, 2015.

Since the initial request Tuesday evening, the Guard supported local officials and the Texas A&M Forest Service to help suppress the Hidden Pines fire that, as of Friday, has burned more than 4,500 acres of land and destroyed about 40 structures.

The TXARNG provided two UH-60 Black Hawks from the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility and two CH-47 Chinooks from Grand Prairie to support fire suppression efforts, with two additional UH-60 Black Hawks on standby from the Guard’s San Antonio facility.

As of 8 p.m. Thursday, the four TXARNG aviation crews flew nearly 50 hours and dropped nearly 700,000 gallons of water that they loaded into their Bambi Buckets from local lakes and ponds.

Bastrop County officials said the fire is 25 percent contained, but weather conditions may change that.

“The fire has spread and the wind has picked up today, so we’re bringing in more assets,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Schmidt, a line pilot from the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility, said Thursday morning.

The scene was too familiar to some area residents, aviators and Texans who remember the Bastrop County Complex fire just four years earlier that burned more than 34,000 acres of land not too far from the heavily-wooded Hidden Pines area where the fire continues to burn.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Drew Segraves, an instructor pilot from the Austin facility, said he remembers crews from the facility who helped battle the 2011 fire.

With the devastating Bastrop County Complex fire still fresh on their minds, TXARNG aviation crews continue to provide aerial fire suppression efforts.

An Astonishing Victory: The legacy of the Texas Military Forces

Army National Guard gathered in the prolific shadow of the 567-foot San Jacinto MonumentCommentary by LT Zachary West 100th MPAD

LA PORTE, Texas – On a hot, humid morning in late September, the commanding officers of the Texas Army National Guard gathered in the prolific shadow of the 567-foot San Jacinto Monument.  One of the tour guides fished a Kentucky rifle out of his truck and began reviewing the specifications of the venerable nineteenth-century weapon. The temperature seemed to rise several degrees every minute, and with the heat came swarms of hungry mosquitos.

Thus began the annual Texas Army National Guard Commanding General’s Staff Ride. Since the first staff ride in 1906, at the Chattanooga battlefield in Tennessee, these events have served as a powerful and enduring tool to further the professional development of U.S. Army officers. Texas, with its particularly colorful and often violent history, offers plenty of sites to accommodate Army staff rides.

This year’s location holds a special place in the heart of every Texan:  San Jacinto, where Gen. Sam Houston and the last of his embattled Texan rebels mounted a daring and strategically devastating assault against an overextended Mexican invasion force. After just 18 minutes of combat, 11 Texans and some 650 Mexicans had fallen.

Despite this astonishing victory, the true triumph came shortly after:  Gen. Santa Anna, the totalitarian leader of Mexico, fell into Texan hands twenty-four hours later. Chased out of his camp by the Texans’ attack at San Jacinto, Santa Anna donned the clothes of a junior enlisted soldier and went on the run. He was soon picked up by a Texan patrol, but his identity remained a secret until he arrived at a hasty camp for Mexican prisoners.

“He had spent so long inculcating extreme drill and protocol into the ranks of his army,” the tour guide told the commanders, “that his men didn’t think twice about saluting him and calling out his name in front of their captors.” The Texans brought Santa Anna to Sam Houston, who gave the Mexican leader an ultimatum:  Sign a treaty granting full independence to Texas, or hang by the neck from the nearest live oak. After three weeks of negotiation, the disgraced Santa Anna signed an agreement, and the Republic of Texas was born.

One hundred seventy-nine years later, no one would call the Texas Army National Guard an underdog. From the mounted charges of the Mexican-American War to the brutal Comanche ambushes atop the Llano Estacado, from the perilous landing in the Gulf of Salerno to the nighttime raids in Korengal Valley, Texas military and irregular forces have earned a reputation as fearsome, cunning warfighters. Yet, every victory traces back to that warm April morning in 1836, when an exhausted, badly-outnumbered group of rebels managed to defeat one of the greatest armies in North America.

The officers at the staff ride who stood and listened to the history of this battle are the collective embodiment of its legacy. They may have arrived in helicopters and taken digital photos with smart phones, but the reason they wear the uniform hasn’t changed in almost two centuries. Staff rides like this remind them that they might one day be in Sam Houston’s shoes, with the odds never worse and the stakes never higher.  If, or perhaps when, that day comes, they must echo the raw determination and deadly cunning of our Texan ancestors, who, beneath the San Jacinto sky, won the right to call themselves free in a storm of fire and blood.

Guardsmen mentor El Salvador, Honduran forces to counter organized crime

Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego

Posted: October 14, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion stand with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts following their four-month mentorship training program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 1, 2015. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations. (Courtesy photo by Texas Army National Guard/Relesed)
Courtesy Photo 
Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion stand with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts following their four-month mentorship training program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 1, 2015. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations. (Courtesy photo by Texas Army National Guard/Released)

Members of the Texas Army National Guard's 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion recently trained with their Honduran and El Salvadoran counterparts for a four-month mentorship program at the Honduran Army Signal School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The training, held May through September 2015, was part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership and featured Texas Guardsmen providing instruction on intelligence, reporting, and security operations.

Recently, Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division, traveled to El Salvador and Honduras for several missions as part of a joint task force mentoring program with local and national law enforcement.

The missions, held May to September 2015 as part of the Regionally Aligned Forces’ Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) partnership, were designed to focus training and mentoring for El Salvadorian and Honduran forces in order to enhance their capabilities to detect, disrupt, and detain persons involved in illicit trafficking within their respective regions. The Texas Guardsmen assisting the effort were designated Task Force Coyote.

“TF Coyote’s particular mission was to facilitate, through instruction, the better development of the intelligence production flow and the analysis of human reporting,” said Capt. Kurt Clawson, the intelligence officer for the 72nd IBCT.

Thirty-seven Guardsmen volunteered to participate in this series of missions, and were selected for their experience and language proficiency crucial to the success of the mentorship program. Many of them have specific experience in U.S. agencies such as Counterdrug, U.S. Customs, Border Patrol, local and state law enforcement, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. These backgrounds contributed immensely to the value of the training. 

“The focus of the overall mission was to develop intelligence training that gave students an overview of the intelligence environment, while practicing their analytical skills,” said Clawson. “The mission requirements varied by country and TF Coyote even differentiated instructional topics between the two trips to El Salvador.”

The task force’s teams targeted key communities and coordinated schedules with the partner nations to maximize the reach and potency of the operation.

“Our teams are well-trained and proud to be representing the Texas Army National Guard in El Salvador and Honduras,” said Lt. Col. Robert Eason, commander of the 72nd BSTB. “We get to learn from each other and these events are a great opportunity for our Soldiers.”

The training focused three main aspects of combating organized crime: Intelligence Support Operations; Surveillance and Reporting Operations and Procedures; and Intelligence Targeting and Superiority. While the main focus was on intelligence, the teams used the U.S. Army’s train-the-trainer approach to not only teach the mentees relevant skills, but also to equip them to be able to teach others in their departments and agencies. 

“Any beneficial CTOC training helps our entire hemisphere and helps relations overall,” said Clawson. “The training was mutual because presenting the U.S. Army way of doing things, you learn how foreign militaries try to accomplish the same mission set.”

The mentees received detailed classroom instruction, scenario-based training, and proficiency certification before moving forward to the next advanced topic. The Guardsmen also shared vital experience in force protection, personnel recovery, anti-terrorism, and medical and casualty evacuation practices.

“Our troops conducting these missions really enjoy the opportunity to work with members of the army of our partner nations,” said Eason. “Very few units get to do this; this training will greatly increase our Soldiers’ capabilities and the capabilities of our partner nations.”

Due to the security situation, Task Force Coyote conducted the training on the Army’s Signal School’s Headquarters’ compound. The culminating training event involved pattern analysis, evaluating summaries, and developing targeting packets.

“The preparation and presentation of even the limited intelligence process allows for good training,” said Clawson. “We always learn better when we are responsible for teaching concepts to others. Through their comments, all the countries respected the training due to the quality of product and presentation provided by the 72nd military intelligence Soldiers.”

Rescue conference recognizes TexasGuardsmen with service award

Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego

Post: October 14, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 receive the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, October 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas. (Texas National Guard Photo by Texas State Guardsman Staff Sgt. Timothy Pruitt/Released)
Courtesy Photo 
Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 receive the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, October 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas. (Texas National Guard Photo by Texas State Guardsman Staff Sgt. Timothy Pruitt/Released)

Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 received the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, Oct. 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.

The Texas National Guard is no stranger to emergency response and community support. From hurricane relief to wildfires, citizen Soldiers have stepped up and served in times of need. Recently, those efforts received special recognition when the 16 crew members of the Texas Guard’s four rescue air crews were honored with the prestigious Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue for their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.

The award, presented during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference, hosted by the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals, recognizes the tireless efforts of the 16 crew members and their interagency cooperation with fellow recipients from Texas Task Force 1.

“This is not an individual award,” said CW5 Matthew B Reynolds, the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Command Chief Warrant Officer. “This is a situation where quality training involving many people and many hours allows the mission to go smoothly. Through coordination, the Texas Military Forces and Texas Task Force 1 are provided funding, time and equipment to become a coordinated "Mission" aircrew.”

The award recognizes excellence in the field of flood and swiftwater rescue and is presented for several categories, including outstanding achievement, program development, special commendation, swiftwater rescue incident, and lifetime achievement. The Guardsmen were honored with the rescue incident award for their late spring helicopter operations.

“Together with Texas Task Force 1 and its rescue swimmers, we train as a crew monthly in preparation for events like the one for which we received the award,” said CW4 John Silva, call sign Alamo 07 and the pilot in command. “Through training and hard work we work as a team responding to incidents that need our services and successfully and safely conduct our operations.”

Although the two units have been involved in independent rescue missions in the past, this was the first real-world demonstration of their coordinated, interagency effort. The results of this partnership were beyond expectations. Together, the teams performed 132 rescues during the flooding period in May. 

“In the 90s and 2000s, the National Guard did not work with Task Force 1,” said Reynolds. “We just placed a rescue net beside the stranded personnel and hoped they could get in. Since then, we have come a long way with the integration between our two agencies. We provide professional, quick reaction aircrews throughout Texas, consisting of highly trained aircrews and rescue swimmers.”

The teams both bring to the table years of experience and expertise that were instrumental in the successes of May’s flood rescues.

“It is important to note that aircrews from Texas Military Forces have been performing these operations in response to natural disasters for many years,” said Silva, “and that countless lives have been saved by professional crews and people both in the air and on the ground. I see this award as recognition for all of the people involved and the decision to put the teams together. I'm honored to be a part of that team.”

The awards presentation was just one event in the four-day conference, held Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at the Century Center in South Bend, Indiana. The annual gathering brings together members from all disciples of the water rescue community to promote safety, training best practices, and risk management.

Also present during the ceremony was Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, the commander of the Texas Military Forces’ Domestic Operations Task Force and senior military officer in charge of the rescue efforts.

"It's a great honor to be recognized by an international organization that looks at swift water rescue efforts around the world,” said Hamilton. "To be that extensively recognized is humbling and shows that Texas is doing all the right things in preparation for future swift water rescue events."

What struck the Texas Guardsmen most was the international attention garnered by their actions and the acknowledgement of just how immense the rescue community is. 

“Because this is a civilian award, it has special meaning to the Military crewmembers,” said Reynolds. “It is job recognition from an entity that is outside our normal channels. Being recognized by the Civilian Swiftwater Rescue community is a memorable event for all of us.”

For the award recipients, who included pilots, crewmembers, and divers, the May floods were simply one aspect of a big picture of what it means to be a citizen Soldier.

“Within 24 hours I had flown an airplane for the National Guard as my duty on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I was flying a UH60 Black Hawk on state active duty for the rescue of an elderly man who would otherwise have died in San Marcos,” said Silva. “Along with Alamo 11, we evacuated more than 20 floodwater victims in Wimberley who were surrounded by water. When I got home to the ranch that night after a long day, I found a cow with a breached calf in a pasture who needed assistance delivering.”

Reserve soldier finds unexploded ordnance during multi-component range road project

Courtesy Story: 176th Engineer Brigade (TXARNG)

Posted: October 08, 2015

Courtesy Photo  Texas-based Army engineers unearthed an 81-millimeter mortar round during a multi-component range road project, July 12, 2015. Active-duty soldiers from the 79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group based in Fort Hood, Texas responded and detonated the mortar using C4 explosives. The 17-mile roadway construction is a 25 day project, 6-30 July, along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center in Brownwood, Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo Courtesy of 111th Engineer Battalion)
Courtesy Photo 
Texas-based Army engineers unearthed an 81-millimeter mortar round during a multi-component range road project, July 12, 2015. Active-duty soldiers from the 79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group based in Fort Hood, Texas responded and detonated the mortar using C4 explosives. The 17-mile roadway construction is a 25 day project, 6-30 July, along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center in Brownwood, Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo Courtesy of 111th Engineer Battalion)

BROWNWOOD, Texas – A U.S. Army Reserve engineer soldier got more than he bargained for when he unearthed unexploded ordnance (UXO) while participating in a multi-component roadway construction project at the Camp Bowie Training Facility, July 12, 2015. 

“I was grading down the road and I felt the vehicle shift a little,” said Sgt. Dwayne Goodell, horizontal construction engineer, 277th Engineer Company, 980th Engineer Battalion, 420th Engineer Brigade, U.S. Army Reserve (USAR), based in Camp Bullis, Texas. 

Looking down the sergeant saw what caused the unexpected movement; his heavy equipment vehicle blade struck a teardrop-shaped green metal tube with fins. The object was a fully intact 81-millimeter mortar round. The highly explosive projectile is used by the military to destroy vehicles, structures, and equipment from a distance of three to four miles away. 

“I saw the fins, and I was like, ‘here we go again,’” said Goodell. “The mortar popped up, it spun a couple times in the air, and then it hit the ground.”

Locating the mortar was an unmistakably-unnerving feeling for the combat veteran. And Goodell had reason to worry. UXO can remain dangerous for years, or even decades, after failing to detonate. Exposure to the elements can cause the explosives inside a UXO to destabilize, making it respond unpredictably to shock or impact.

Fortunately for Goodell, the round came to rest without detonating. 

“I didn’t think it was going to go off, because of how long it had been here, so I stopped the equipment and got off,” said Goodell. “I got a good distance away and called the NCO that was with us, and then we did the UXO report.”

The Army has well-defined procedures for dealing with UXOs, beginning with safeguarding the area. 

“I went down and set up a cordon, another Humvee rolled up with the NCOIC and he set up the outer cordon on top of the hill, so that we would have visibility over the area,” said Goodell. 

Several staff personnel overseeing the roadway construction project reacted to the UXO find. 

“I looked over at the battalion commander and asked ‘Sir, did he just say UXO?,’” said Maj. Ed Zook, operations officer, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG). 

“When the find was confirmed soldiers in the Tactical Operations Center followed protocol and called for an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team,” said Zook.

“EOD soldiers are highly prized for their knowledge of explosives and munitions. Although we, as Army engineers, routinely deal with explosives, the EOD are the experts when it comes to disposing of ordnance quickly and safely,” said Capt. Michael Fellers, headquarters commander, 111th Engineer Battalion, TXARNG. 

The nearest EOD team was located at Fort Hood nearly 100 miles from the Camp Bowie Training Facility. Unsure of how quickly the team would be able to make the trip, the 111th and 277th made preparations to keep the area protected indefinitely. 

Fortunately, the active-duty soldiers from the79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group (EOD) team were on the scene in about two hours. 

“Response from Fort Hood was excellent,” said 1st Sgt. Lucia Estrada, 277th Engineer Company, USAR. “We appreciated the speedy arrival.”

When dealing with UXOs, the EOD teams have the option of disarming the ordnance or destroying the device. After viewing the mortar, the EOD professionals determined to detonate the mortar where it was found using C4 explosives. 

After placing the charge, the EOD team joined Goodell on the hill several hundred meters away. The honor of detonating the mortar fell to the man who found it. Goodell triggered an M-81 firing device and was rewarded a second later with a thunderous blast. 

“It was pretty cool,” said Goodell. 

The 17-mile roadway construction is a 25-day project, 6-30 July, along the perimeter of the Camp Bowie Training Center. The multi-component project planned and led by 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG) included active duty soldiers from the 36th Engineer Brigade based in Fort Hood, Texas and U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from 420th Engineer Brigade headquartered in Bryan, Texas.

TAG Talks: LTC Michelle Bryant

Lt. Col. Michelle Bryant speaks about Texas Army National Guard women soldiers, primary caregivers and services. TAG Talks are a series of unique presentations put together by students in The Adjutant General's Executive Leadership Development Program offering the perspective of future Senior leaders of the Texas Military Forces.

Col. Sustaita Takes Command of the 4th Regiment

Story by:  Chief Warrant Officer Two Janet Schmelzer

Posted:  October 2, 2015

Col Sustaita
                    Col. Alfred Sustaita, Jr.

GRAPEVINE, Texas - The 4th Regiment, Texas State Guard, welcomed a new commander, Col. Alfred Sustaita, Jr., during an assumption of command ceremony at the 9/11 Flight Crew memorial in Grapevine, September 12, 2015. Sustaita will lead 4th Regiment headquarters and three battalions in Weatherford, Decatur and Arlington. 

"I am honored to be the commander of the 4th Regiment.  The soldiers in this unit are the best trained and I plan to continue the strong leadership role of Col. Lietz," commented Sustaita.

Sustaita has spent his entire military career in the Texas State Guard.  Enlisting as a private in 1989, he joined the 202nd Military Police Battalion. His was commissioned a second lieutenant  and was assigned to the 8th Military Police Brigade in 1993.  Other assignments included aide-de-camp to the deputy commander of operations south and commanding officer, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Military Police Brigade. 

Sustaita was promoted to the rank of colonel, September 26, 2015.

After the Texas State Guard was reorganized, Sustaita became the 2nd Regiment operations officer,  commanding officer of the Quick Reaction Team, and commanding officer, 1st Battalion.  His most recent assignment was operations officer, Texas Medical Brigade. His state active duty deployments include hurricanes Rita, Dean, Dolly, Edouard, Gustav, Ike, and Alex, and Operation Lone Star, the largest humanitarian operation in South Texas.

His professional military education includes the Texas State Guard Basic Reserve Component Non-commissioned Officer Course, Basic Officer Training Course, Advanced Officer Training Course, Infrastructure Protection Detachment Training Course, Command and General Staff Course, and the Texas Adjutant General Leader Development Program. 

He has received the Texas Outstanding Service Medal, Texas Medal of Merit with one bronze acorn cluster, Adjutant General Individual Award with four star devices, Commanding General Individual Award with one silver oak leaf cluster, Texas Humanitarian Service Ribbon, Texas Faithful Service Medal with two bronze cactus devices, and the Texas State Guard Service Medal.

He supported Operation Iraqi Freedom as a contractor through the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program in Iraq from 2003-2005. 

Sustaita holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bioenvironmental Science from Texas A&M University where he was a member of the “Fightin’ Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets.”  He is married to Dawn Lei and resides in Alvin. They have one son, Wyatt Tomas Sustaita.

Houston Local Promoted to Brigadier General

 Col. Richard Noriega, Assistant Division Commander for Support of the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, was promoted to the rank of brigadier general during a ceremonyCommentary and photo by MAJ Randy Stillinger

HOUSTON (Sept. 30, 2015) – Col. Richard Noriega, Assistant Division Commander for Support of the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, was promoted to the rank of brigadier general during a ceremony on Sept. 26, 2015 in Houston.

Deputy Adjutant General and Commander of the Texas Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. William “Len” Smith, promoted Noriega to the one-star rank in the shadow of the San Jacinto Monument with many friends, family members and colleagues present.

After enlisting as a private in the Army Reserves, Noriega received his Army Commission in 1984 through the University of Houston ROTC.

Over the course of his military career, he has deployed to Afghanistan and along the Texas-Mexico border during Operation Jump Start. He has also commanded units at the platoon, company, battalion and brigade levels, most recently serving as the commander of the 71st Theater Information Operations Group. He is now responsible for all support activity within the 36th Infantry Division.

On the civilian side, Noriega is the President and Chief Executive Officer of AVANCE, Inc., a non-profit organization that offers early childhood education, parenting and comprehensive family services to families. Noriega also served five terms representing District 145 in the Texas State House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009.

During the ceremony, Noriega thanked the friends, family and his colleagues that were in attendance, and also recognized his 3rd grade teacher, who was also present for the promotion.  

Noriega, who was born and raised in Houston, said, “with this rank comes a responsibility to talk to young Soldiers and ensure they know that if they work really hard, they can have opportunity and achieve their dreams.”

“He’s achieved a lot of things that we knew he’d be able to do, and he has strived to provide the best opportunity for those coming up behind him,” said Maj. Gen. Les Simpson, commanding general of the 36th Infantry Division. “I appreciate your hard work in all you do, and look forward to serving with you over the years.”

The event was family-focused with his mother, Tommie placing the new shoulder boards upon his uniform and his sons presenting him with traditional gifts: Ricky Noriega gave him with the signature general officer belt with brass buckle and Alex Noriega unfurled a red flag with a white star, symbolizing the new rank.

I want to dedicate this day to the rock of our family, my mother, who celebrated her 84th birthday this week,” Noriega said. “My mother was the drill sergeant in the house, and she embraced it.  Mom, this day is for you.”