Texas Military Department Best Warrior competitors push through mystery event

Video by Spc. Zach Polka 
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment  


Best Warrior competitors work through unknown challenges during final "mystery event" of the 2017 Best Warrior Competition, March 4, 2017.

The BWC brings together the best junior enlisted and noncommissioned officers from the Texas Air and Army National Guards to compete for the prestigious title.

The BWC is intended to reflect real-life combat situations, stress, endurance and convey how important both intelligence and dedication are to being a National Guardsman. At the end of the grueling three-day competition one junior enlisted and one noncommissioned officer with the highest overall ranking is recognized as the Texas Best Warrior.

Three countries compete for the title of best warrior at Camp Swift

Photo By Senior Airman DeJon Williams | Air Force Staff Sgt. Juan Nunez, a security forces specialist with the 136th Security Forces Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, Fort Worth, Texas, plots points on his map during the land navigation event during the 2017 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition, March 2, 2017 at Camp Swift, near Bastrop, Texas. Land navigation tests the competitors ability to read maps, use a compass and other skills to traverse through unfamiliar terrain to different points throughout the course. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman De'Jon Williams)
Courtesy Story
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment


BASTROP, Texas — Soldiers and Airmen from three nations gathered at Camp Swift, Texas last weekend for a three-day competition that tested each soldier's skill, strength and endurance, March 3, 2017. 
In the Texas Military Department's fifth annual Best Warrior Competition, members of the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and invitees from the Chilean and the Czech Republic militaries, squared off against each other for the title of Best Warrior.
27 Best Warrior candidates competed in one of two categories: Best Junior Enlisted and Best Noncommissioned Officer. Service members were rated in nine events, including a 12-mile road march and an obstacle course, that closely imitate real combat situations. Two additional events gauged the soldiers' military writing and their professional appearance.
Integrating three countries into one competition presented challenges for event organizers, but command senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon, said that every effort is made to offer a fair playing field for competitors from every contingent.
It took an almost year-long effort to bring the three nations together, but Weedon says the effort pays off because it offers more than just an opportunity for Soldiers to compete for the title; the real training value comes from learning to work with other nations in real-world operations.
"It gives them and us confidence that we've got partners around the world, so that if anything went bad in any of our countries, we've got some help we are accustomed to," Weedon said.
Both Texas components participating in the competition were comprised of citizen Soldiers and reflect the readiness of members of the Texas Military Department to don their uniforms and operate at the level necessary for high-tempo operations.
Sgt. Juan PonceDeleon with the Texas Army National Guard’s 112th Cavalry Regiment, 72 Infantry Brigade Combat Team, described his preparation for Best Warrior after winning his unit’s internal competition.
"The first thing I did was talk to people that have competed in the event before so that I could learn from them," PonceDeleon said. "After that, I had to make an honest assessment of where I was at with my warrior tasks and drills."
Competitors first participated in unit-level selections to earn their spot in the statewide competition. Chilean soldier Cpl. Camilo Leal says his unit’s competition helped prepare him for the weekend.
The Texas Military Department was the first state to open its Best Warrior Competition to all components—including the Texas Air National Guard and international partners — in 2013. Now, other states like Nebraska, hope to follow in Texas' footsteps by welcoming foreign militaries into their Best Warrior competitions. 
This year marked Chile's second appearance in Texas’ Best Warrior competition but was the Czech Republic’s first year to attend.
Although, the winner won't be officially announced until April 7, Leal said that no matter who wins, the friendships and comradery the competition fostered will endure.
"It's been a very wonderful experience. I have had a chance to talk to the other soldiers and hope to keep that communication going," Leal said. "If they come to Chile, I will welcome them with the same hospitality they have shown me."

Connect, understand, motivate: Command Sgt. Maj. Weedon's life as a student of leadership

Photo By Sgt. Mark Otte | Command Sgt. Maj. Mark A. Weedon speaks with Soldiers during the Texas Military Department's Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, March 3, 2017. The 2017 Best Warrior Competition is considered the final event that Command Sgt. Mark A. Weedon will spearhead before retiring March 25, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. Mark Otte/Released)
Story by: Sgt. Michael Giles
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment


BASTROP, Texas (March 3, 2017)—Long before serving the Texas Army National Guard as its senior enlisted leader, Mark Weedon ran a homeless shelter. This job presented him with a troubling question: why couldn’t he do more for the people he was trying to help?

"I wanted to figure out why it is that there are people who come to this organization that I can't fix," Weedon said.

To better understand the problem, he took a leave of absence and spent two weeks hopping trains, deliberately living as a homeless person. His journey brought him closer to accepting and respecting people with a different mindset. 

"You can survive or thrive," Weedon said. His weeks on the trains helped him realize some people are not ready to let go of the survival mindset that inhibits them from thriving.

"Having spent that time out there living and surviving helped me to understand that you can't fix everything," Weedon said. "It's allowed me not to cast people aside as quickly who don't meet my expectations." 

Now, Weedon approaches the end of a 26-year National Guard career in which he made his mark by demonstrating the same commitment to serving and understanding people that he embraced when he served the homeless. He has gained a reputation as a selfless mentor, a leader who succeeds through building relationships, and an advisor who strives to understand what Soldiers need.

"He's definitely a people person," said Master Sgt. Ramon M. Ruiz with the 136th Regional Training Institute. "I felt comfortable knowing that I could seek guidance from him." 

Ruiz said that Weedon has the ability to see Soldiers' potential and give them good career direction. Weedon once called him into his office to advise against a transfer Ruiz was planning. "If you go to that unit, your skills will waste away," Weedon told him, encouraging him to instead pursue a more challenging position.

"He can just see people, inside and out," Ruiz said. "He can see what they’re capable of—their strengths, their weakness—and he puts the pieces in the right place." 

Weedon demonstrates selfless service to Soldiers and inspires others to take care of their Soldiers, said Sgt. Mitch R. Guile, a medic with the Texas Medical Command, remembering how Weedon came to the aid of a Soldier who had forgotten to bring some crucial gear to a training event. 

"Command Sgt. Maj. Weedon took off his gloves he had—since it was about 20 degrees outside—and gave them to him," Guile said. "When you see the top enlisted guy taking care of even the lowest ranking guy out there, you definitely have to take care of your guys, and make sure the guys below you are taking care of the guys below them."

While Weedon led junior-enlisted Soldiers through demonstrations of selflessness, he also led senior enlisted members by encouraging them to integrate their ideas, said Command Sgt. Maj. Murphy L. McCardell, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

"We all have a Type-A personality. He has the ability to get his agenda across while allowing other command sergeants major to have a say," McCardell said. “He has the ability to allow other leaders to bring their insights together to collectively come up with a way ahead." 

Improving collaboration was also Weedon's desired outcome for the Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior Competition, which he coordinated during the last month before his retirement. Weedon said the competition creates opportunities for members of both the Air National Guard and Army National Guard forces to adapt to joint force operations. 

"For me, this joint competition is about that," Weedon said. "It's about bringing us together."

Weedon said that one of primary goals of Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general of the Texas Military Department, is to overcome obstacles that the two forces experience when working together. As Airmen and Soldiers compete together over three days, they develop relationships that will improve their ability to function in joint force missions. 

"By the time we get to Saturday night and we've been sharpening the edge together, now you're going to see some lifelong friends made," Weedon said. "They'll have a relationship, and we will become better at protecting Texas because of that."

Weedon does not attribute his strengths in working with people to any unique talent, but rather to the basics. 

"Part of that is human nature—we tend to want to help our fellow man," Weedon said.

He also credits the basic ideals of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps, which he said he received repeatedly during Army leadership courses. The most basic of these ideals: placing the welfare of one's Soldiers before one's own. 

"Putting that in practice and watching the level of influence rise, when you put other people first, it's incredible, so it stuck with me," Weedon said.

Simply embracing the tenets of Army leadership is how Weedon succeeded in strengthening the 136th Regional Training Institute when he served as commandant, Ruiz said. 

"He went back to the basics and instilled leadership and discipline into the NCO Corps," Ruiz said. "He really got us back on our azimuth of making sure we were doing what's right."

"He sets the example," Ruiz continued. "He sets the standard. He's the mold of what right looks like and gives us the inspiration to be like that."

TXANG Guardsman finds success despite challenges

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Orlando Duarte, an aerospace propulsion mechanic with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, pulls a weighted sled during the 2017 Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior Competition, March 4, 2017, Camp Swift, Bastrop, Texas. The sled pull was an obstacle that was a part of the mystery event at the BWC. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman De’Jon Williams)


BASTROP, Texas -- BASTROP, Texas -- Members from the Texas Air and Army National Guard, Chile and the Czech Republic competed in a series of events March 2-4 to determine who would be among the year’s top contenders of the 2017 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition.

Prior to attending the three-day event, participants prepared themselves for the rigorous conditions, physical tests and mental challenges that awaited them during the competition.

For Senior Airman Orlando Duarte, Best Warrior wasn’t just a competition. It was also a testament to the obstacles he’d faced and overcame throughout his entire life and career.

Duarte, an aerospace propulsion mechanic with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, was born and raised in Mexico before moving to the United States to finish high school.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Orlando Duarte, an aerospace propulsion mechanic with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, inspects his M4 carbine shot grouping during the Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior Competition March 2, 2017 at Camp Swift, Bastrop, Texas. During the BWC competitors had the opportunity to zero their weapons before moving on to the M4 qualification course. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman De’Jon Williams)

Separated from his family, he had to conquer language and cultural barriers to reach his overall goals.

“I wanted to move here to become a pilot,” Duarte said. “My parents didn't think I was going to take it seriously, so they sent me to California by myself. When I got there, I was told by the school they were going to downgrade me to freshman because I wasn’t fluent in English. So I was required to do ninth, tenth and eleventh grade English before I could graduate.”

Despite the setback, Duarte excelled, finishing the classes and graduating in just one year.

“On my graduation day my dad came from Mexico to pick me up,” Durante said. “He and I then drove to San Antonio, looked for a house, and a week later my two sisters, my little brother and my mom came.”

After moving to Texas, Duarte joined the Air National Guard. The language barrier continued to be an obstacle but with the support of his family and leadership, he continued to achieve his goals. Now, having earned his private pilot’s license flying Cessna 150 and 172 model aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Orlando Duarte, an aerospace propulsion mechanic with the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, writes an essay for the Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior Competition, March 2, 2017 at Camp Swift, Bastrop, Texas. Duarte was graded on his essay question as well as an appearance board on the first day of the competition. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Marline Duncan)

Training for the competition was not an easy feat for Durante. With only three weeks to prepare and a heavy work schedule, Duarte had to push himself to be performance ready. But for Duarte, opportunities like the Best Warrior Competition, keep him from getting complacent.

“I’m a full-time technician,” he said. “I would train from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and then had to work 2 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday. It’s been tough for me, but it’s something I wanted to do and I wanted to do my best. I’m representing my unit and my family. I feel like a lot of people are counting on me. Every time I was tired and wanted to give up, I just kept pushing.”

Duarte won first place for three of the nine junior enlisted categories.

Sergeant Major of the Army Dailey Visits Texas State Guard 8th Regiment

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey presented his Sergeant Major of the Army challenge coin to the 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, during the regiment’s training drill at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8790 in Spring Branch, Texas, February 25, 2017.  The highest ranking non-commissioner officer of the U. S. Army, Dailey praised the selfless service of the 8th Regiment to the people of Texas.  Accepting the coin was Col. E. A. “Buddy” Grantham, commander, 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard.  (Photo by Warrant Officer One Malana Nall, Texas State Guard/Released) 

Story by: Warrant Officer Malana Nall, Texas State Guard


Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey praised the selfless service of the 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard during the regiment’s training drill held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8790 in Spring Branch, Texas, February 25, 2017.  The highest ranking non-commissioner officer of the U. S. Army, Dailey was in the Houston area to visit the 75th Army Reserves Training Command and meet with local and community leaders. (Photo by Warrant Officer One Malana Nall, Texas State Guard/Released)

SPRING BRANCH, Texas – Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey made a surprise visit to the  soldiers of the 8th Regiment, Texas State Guard, when he stopped by a training drill held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8790 in Spring Branch, Texas, February 25, 2017.  Dailey was in the Houston area to visit the 75th Army Reserves Training Command and meet with local and community leaders regarding the United States Army mission and recruiting.  

Dailey thanked the 8th Regiment soldiers for their selfless service as volunteer citizen soldiers in the Texas State Guard.  Watching the regiment conduct a rehearsal of concept hurricane evacuation training exercise, he commented that Texas was most fortunate to have such a well-trained state defense force to assist the people of Texas in times of disaster or emergency.

Dailey then presented his challenge coin to the regiment.  

Col. E. A. “Buddy” Grantham, commander, 8th Regiment, returned the honor by presenting Dailey with the regiment’s challenge coin and made him an honorary member of the unit.  

Command Sergeant Major John Marshall, 8th Regiment, observed that “you can go your entire military career and never meet anyone above your unit.  Today we were honored to meet the Sergeant Major of the Army, the highest ranking non-commissioner officer of the U. S. Army.  He spoke to us as members of the Texas State Guard and as a force multiplier within the Texas Military Forces when called upon to assist our fellow Texans during an emergency or natural disaster.  This is something that I will always remember.”

Camp Buehring breaks ground on $3.7 million Essayons Village

Courtesy Story By: Capt. Maria Mengrone

Posted On: Feb. 22, 2017

Photo By Capt. Maria Mengrone | On Feb. 14, 2017, Camp Buehring officials broke ground on the $3.7 million Essayons Village complex which will include a series of buildings for future engineer brigades and battalions supporting operations in the Middle East. Pictured (left to right) Mr. Raymond Soto, Program Operations Senior Director for Vectrus and resident of New York City, N.Y., Lt. Col. Carl W. Aufdenkampe, Director of DPW-North and hails from Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Lt. Col. Christopher M. Leung, Camp Commander of Camp Buehring and resident of Champaign, Ill., and Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Maurice D. Millican, representing Soldiers of the 176th Engineer Brigade (Task Force Chaos) and resident of Harker Heights, Texas. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Maria Mengrone/Released)

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Camp Buehring officials broke ground on the construction of the $3.7 million Essayons Village complex which will include a series of buildings for future engineer brigades and battalions supporting operations in the Middle East, Feb. 14, 2017, Camp Buehring.

The village will consist of seven pre-engineered buildings which will include workspace for one engineer brigade, two engineer battalions, and four company headquarters.

“Right now the brigade headquarters and a lot of their battalion headquarters are in tents; the environmental control isn’t as good and they work out of temporary partitions and cubicles,” said Camp Commander of Camp Buehring Lt. Col. Christopher M. Leung and resident of Champaign, Ill. 

Planning for the project began as early as February 2016 and final approval was granted in September 2016.

“Each building has its own scope of work so each building required its own development plans,” said Project Manager Capt. Joshua J. Flury, 308th Engineer Facilities Detachment, Brigade Support Troops Battalion, Directorate of Public Works-North (DPW-N).

The work for the project is contracted with an expected completion date of Sep. 12, 2017. 

“The brigade headquarters building will be able to support about 50 personnel. But some of the other buildings are roughly 100 square meters, they will include space for a company commander, company first sergeant and a common area where administrative tasks can be completed. Each building will have its own male and female latrine directly connected to the building,” said Flury.

Onlookers at the ceremony included currently serving Soldiers of the 176th Engineer Brigade, Task Force Chaos, of the Texas Army National Guard. 

“I know we won’t be able to enjoy the Essayons Village but it was important that we were able to be part of this ceremony. It’s always great to know that the follow on engineer units will have a more suitable work environment,” said Senior Enlisted Advisor of the 176th Engineer Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Simms, a native of Copperas Cove,Texas. 

The ceremony for Essayons Village is the first of many projects expected for Camp Buehring.

“This is just another part of Camp Buehring’s continued progress. We are growing and continuing to look at new projects to improve things for the tenants who live and work here,” said Leung. 

“This investment in Essayons Village is evidence of the important role the Engineer Regiment is playing throughout the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility,” said Task Force Chaos Commander, Col. Charles M. Schoening, a Georgetown, Texas resident. “Engineer operations in this theater will continue to be a primary focus and will require enduring facilities for headquarters elements to support mission command functions.”

“Essayons” is French for, “Let us try,” and the adopted motto of the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment.

Texas guard engineer mission making history

Story by: Capt. Maria Mengrone, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard

Posted On: Feb. 09, 2017

Soldiers from the 310th Multi-Role Bridge Company work alongside engineers from the British Army to dismantle an Acrow bridge they built together. The Acrow bridge built helped hone the skills of U.S. and British engineers in preparation to train Iraqi Army bridge engineers at Camp Taji, Iraq, Jan. 31, 2017. The 310th MRBC is assigned to the 153rd Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade (Task Force Chaos). (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Maria Mengrone/Released)

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Approximately 135 Soldiers of the 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard continue to provide command and control of more than 1,600 Active Duty, National Guard and Army Reserve engineer forces across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility while deployed.

“This is a historic mission for the engineer brigade. This is the first time an engineer brigade headquarters has had this type of mission in a contingency environment,” said 176th Engineer Brigade Commander, Col. Charles Schoening, a resident of Georgetown, Texas.

Since arriving in theater, the brigade tackled many challenges in order to develop operational capability.

“The greatest challenge we initially faced was not having our network infrastructure and connectivity in place,” said Schoening. “We overcame these shortfalls and were able to become fully operationally capable within the first 30 days.”

The brigade is responsible for engineer forces spanning eight countries in 19 separate locations.

“Our primary focus is providing command and control for engineer missions in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. This includes providing support for our down trace battalions and companies. Since arriving in theater, we have made it possible for battalion and company commanders to conduct battlefield circulation, and we immediately started pushing our brigade resources, such as behavioral health, religious services support, and medical support to all the different locations,” said Schoening.

Many of the missions across the various countries are heavily focused on general engineer construction tasks.

“We are in charge of troop labor construction planning; we help the stakeholders plan the project all the way through execution,” said Lt. Col. Robert Crockem Jr., operations officer of the 176th Eng. Bde. and native of New Orleans, La.

To facilitate the execution of the engineer projects the brigade assigned portfolio managers to each area of operation.

“Our portfolio managers coordinate with stakeholders to understand their requirements and we help them build those requirements into construction projects. Once coordinated we push the project through the funding process to get materials and then start tasking our battalions against that,” said Crockem.

The brigade also touts a ready and equipped geospatial team that utilizes geographic data to compile maps which support military engineer operations.

“We provide geospatial products that enhance decision making,” said Warrant Officer 1 Steven Machado, geospatial technician and native of Hobbs, N.M.

“We have received positive feedback because we are able to provide perspective on the ground for the entire CENTCOM area of responsibility,” said Machado.

Allowing movements across the various regions is required to obtain critical data to assist in the planning process.

“We survey different base camps and use our instruments to map out what you see on the ground,” said Spc. Quincy Daniels, technical engineer, 176th En. Bde. and native of Dallas, Texas.

“We then get important to know information for things like drainage flow,” said Daniels.

The arrival of the engineer brigade also helped serve as a conduit to assist its two battalions in prioritizing its various missions.

Additionally, the brigade provides liaison officers to help support and build the various higher command relationships, and provide visibility of future construction requirements.

“There is a lot of pride in the work being done. Our Soldiers are motivated and there are a lot of eyes on the work that they are doing. They are doing everything they can to make Texas proud,” said Schoening.

The headquarters element of the 176th Engineer Brigade is a Texas Army National Guard unit based in Grand Prairie, Texas. The unit is serving a nine-month deployment to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield, Operation Inherent Resolve, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

The power of Motivation

Story by: Senior Airman DeJon Williams, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

Posted On: Feb. 06, 2017

Senior Airman Benjamin Le, a services apprentice, 136th Force Support Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, poses for a photo at Metroflex Gym-Plano, Plano, Texas Jan. 4, 2017. Le trains at Metroflex-Plano where his powerlifting coach works. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman De'Jon Williams)

FORT WORTH, TX – For many Airmen, the New Year is about new beginnings. This can be an opportunity to start fresh and a chance to begin working toward new fitness goals.

For Senior Airman Benjamin Le, 136th Force Support Squadron services apprentice, Texas Air National Guard, Fort Worth, Texas, 2017 will be just another year and opportunity to continue to improve in what he loves. His love for the sport of power lifting gives him new goals to strive for every day.

“Lifting weights is not only my passion, but it shows who I am,” said Le. “It’s something I’ve been into since high school, but I was never serious about until I got to my first base.”

Le was introduced to powerlifting in 2012 at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. While there, he was convinced by his supervisor to continue pursuing his fitness goals. Under his mentor’s guidance, Le trained and prepared for his first bodybuilding competition just four months later.

“My first supervisor and powerlifting coach was First Sergeant Lorenzo Peterson, whom I met at my first base,” Le said. “He was like my Jedi master; he showed me the ways of powerlifting. We trained together and he saw my lifts were pretty good. He told me he wanted me to get into powerlifting more seriously, and through a lot of hard work I could see my numbers starting to rise up. I’ve been competing in it ever since.”

Le has continued training as a powerlifter for the last four years, and now represents the Air Force powerlifting team.

“Every year there are military powerlifting nationals, where all branches compete against each other,” Le said. “Since its Air Force related, my wing commanders have always really liked that. Depending on where you are, you may be able to represent your unit, your base, and also yourself in the competition.”

During his last meet, he competed at the 148 pound weight class. He squatted 452 pounds, benched 308 pounds and deadlifted 490 pounds, which was a personal goal for him.

Being able to represent the Air Force at a national event like this was an honor for Le, and the ability to exceed his own expectations has been a highlight in his career.

“When you get back from a meet, everyone compliments and recognizes you,” Le said. “It’s an amazing feeling, having my peers take interest in powerlifting and fitness. It’s helped my Air Force career too. The fact I can also compete with the team is another reason why I’m still in the Air Force.”

Outside of the Air Force, Le continues to exemplify fitness as a personal trainer. He uses his skills to better others in the Air Force and assists his peers in exceeding their own personal standards. He is very adamant about encouraging anyone he trains to be better than their best.

“I conduct fitness tests also,” Le said. “People ask me how to do more pushups or run faster, and I give them advice on routines to help them get stronger, or to run faster; squatting, getting on a treadmill, stuff like that.”

Looking back, Senior Airman Le uses his passion for powerlifting to stay fit to fight, as well as to help and inspire others around him.

“Whether someone is really into fitness or not, it’s important to go to the gym. Not a lot of people realize it’s one of the greatest stress relievers ever. It helps you be really productive, changes your lifestyle and helps with your nutrition. It’s a great way to better yourself, and to discipline yourself.”

Texas National Guard conducts final roll call for 10-year-old Spc. Rowan Windham

Texas Military Department 

Posted: Jan. 24, 2016

Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena

Carrie Windham, mother of deceased honorary Texas Army National Guard Spc. Rowan Jameson Windham, attends final roll call ceremony, Jan. 25, 2017, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Windham was enlisted back in March of 2015, after telling his nurse his dream of becoming a soldier. Texas Military Department The roll call serves as a memorial ceremony to represent the permanent loss of a soldier. Windham, 10, spent the majority of his 10 years battling a rare genetic disorder called Shwachman-Diamond syndrome. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)

AUSTIN, Texas --There wasn't a dry eye in sight during the final Roll Call ceremony, for the honorary Texas Army National Guard Spc. Rowan Jameson Windham, Jan. 24, 2017, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. 

A final roll call ceremony is a military ritual designed to serve as a tribute paid by soldiers to their deceased comrade.

Each soldier sounds off, Here, first sergeant!‚ when their name is called. But on this day, the auditorium fell silent as Rowan's name was echoed throughout the packed room. Spc. Rowan Windham.

Traditionally, the ceremony includes a visible reminder of the deceased soldier. The head gear and identification tags signify the fallen. In most cases, an inverted rifle with bayonet, but this case a wooden cross and gear stand, signals a time for prayer, a break in action to pay tribute to their comrade.

"He was an incredible kid," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark A. Weedon, senior enlisted advisor for the Texas Military Department. "He did more in his small 10 years of life, than some of us do in a lifetime."

Rowan's ever lasting impact on the Texas Military Department was evident during the emotional roll call ceremony, as hundreds of service members came to pay their respects with Kleenex in hand.  

Also present at the roll call ceremony were Windhams parents. 

"He would be crying happy tears as Rowan would say, said Brian Windham, father of Rowan. He would be skipping out of here with joy," said Carrie Windham, mother of Rowan, through her own tears of happiness.

Rowan was born with a rare disease, and spent the majority of his 10 years in a hospital battling a genetic disorder called Shwachman-Diamond syndrome. 

The young trooper became a member of the Texas Military Department, just two years prior, at the age of eight, during an honorary enlistment ceremony at Camp Mabry, where he was awarded the military occupation specialties of Cavalry Scout and Apache Pilot.

Thank you and this is the best day ever of my whole entire life, Rowan said in front of hundreds of people, following his enlistment ceremony in March of 2015.

On Dec. 15, 2016, Rowan took his final breath at the Seattle Children's Hospital, following complications from two consecutive bone marrow transplants.

A native Texan, Rowan was an avid, thespian, video gamer, Lego builder, chef, Bigfoot fan and philanthropist who touched the lives of thousands around the world. 

He is survived by his father Brian, his mother Carrie, his sister Zoe, his brother Ian, family members, friends and Texas Guardsmen across the force. 

To read more about Windham's story please visit: http://rowansstory.blogspot.com

ANG member represents as AF ambassador for third straight year

Story by: Tech. Sgt. Mindy Bloem, 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard

Posted On: Feb. 02, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas – A member of the Texas Air National Guard will once again represent the Air Force in an official capacity for Joint Base San Antonio's 2017 Military Ambassadors program.

Tech. Sgt. Marie Sarabia, a recruiter with the 149th Fighter Wing, cements her place in wing history as the latest member to be chosen for the special designation three years running.

"I was honestly humbled to be selected because you're going up against the best of the best," she said. "(The board) is not just looking at the Air National Guard, they're looking at the Air Force Reserves and active duty Air Force - really sharp folks that truly believe in what the Air Force is and what JBSA is, so when I got it, I was truly shocked. It's definitely a humbling moment."

The Military Ambassador program is an annual tradition for the JBSA military community. Official representatives from every branch of service are chosen from the three administratively-combined installations -- Fort Sam Houston, Randolph and Lackland -- to engage with their community at local events, the majority of which involve Fiesta San Antonio.

Master Sgt. Jacqueline Crow, an intelligence analyst with the 149th FW and last year's female Air Force ambassador, said she was happy to see the Texas Air National Guard once again represented in this way.

"It's a good deal for the Guard," Crow said. "The Guard can come out and represent -- Total Force once again. It also shows how valid the Guard is in today's war fight, today's military and today's Air Force. The Guard is an essential part of that, and I thought it was an amazing thing that (Sarabia) got selected for the program.

As someone who's been through the selection process herself, Crow understands how intense it can be for Air Force candidates.

She said Air Force applicants must first submit an extensive paper package that includes military history, special achievements, community involvement and job skills, among other qualifications.

The applicants who make it past the paper process must then meet before a board made up of active duty chief master sergeants and the previous year's Air Force ambassadors.

"It was pretty nerve wracking. I'm not going to lie," said Sarabia, remembering what it was like to meet before the selection board. And although Sarabia's said she's had experience with boards in the past, she confessed it was still a little intimidating.

"I went in there and had a lot of nerves, but I just had to calm myself down and take it one step at a time," Sarabia said on how she managed to quell her unease.

Crow was one of the people seated on this year's panel and remarked on how well Sarabia presented herself and said she impressed everyone on the board.

"She's going to do well. I'm really proud of her," said Crow about her successor.

Crow even decided to carry on a tradition that was started by the 2015 female Air Force ambassador, Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Hall, another fellow 149th FW member.

When Crow was first selected as ambassador in 2016, Hall gave Crow a service cap she had worn to keep the sun out of her eyes at various Fiesta events. The hat fit Crow perfectly and seemed to serve as a positive symbol for what lay ahead.

"To me, it symbolizes the passing on of the torch but also shows how we take care of one another in the wing, and really the Air National Guard," said Sarabia. "Some people say, 'well, what's the difference between you and anyone else?' and I would say we're very family oriented. We take care of one another and we're very proud of where we come from and what we represent."

As for Crow, she sees nothing but good things ahead for Sarabia.

"She is going to meet some amazing people along the way that really care about the San Antonio community, and she's going to meet some remarkable Air Force leaders," Crow said. "My advice to her would be to represent the Guard and the 149th well and to just be herself and have fun with it."

A fellow co-worker and another former ambassador from the wing, Master Sgt. Juan Flores, expressed the utmost confidence in Sarabia's abilities.

"I'm very proud of her," he said. "Not only is it a big accomplishment to compete and be selected among so many top performers, but I know she'll have a great experience and represent the Air National Guard in a great fashion."

Sarabia said she feels some pressure to keep the legacy going because of the strong representation the wing has had in the past but is simply going to focus on what she does best.

"Being an Air Guard recruiter, I know a lot of people don't know about the Air Guard," she said. "They just know about the Air Force Reserves, and of course active duty. I want to let them know we're here in the community and tell them about our state mission -- that we have unique missions that involve going out and actually defending our local communities. I really want to bring awareness into what we do."