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.” 

Woodmansee Takes Command of 2nd Regiment

Woodmansee Takes Command of 2nd Regiment

Story by:  Chief Warrant Officer Two Janet Schmelzer

Posted:  September 25, 2015

Col Woodmansee
Col. Robert Woodmansee assumed command of the 2nd Regiment, Army Component Command, Texas State Guard, at Camp Swift, Bastrop, Texas, September 19, 2015.  Woodmansee accepted the 2nd Regiment colors from Brig. Gen. Howard N. Palmer, Jr., commander, Army Component Command.  The 2nd Regiment is trained to provide mission essential tasks, such as shelter operations and food and water distribution, during an emergency or disaster.  (Photo by Chief Warrant Officer Two Janet Schmelzer/Released).

CAMP SWIFT, Bastrop, Texas - The 2nd Regiment, Texas State Guard, welcomed a new commander, Col. Robert A. Woodmansee, during an assumption of command ceremony at Camp Swift, Bastrop, September 19, 2015. Woodmansee will lead the 2nd Regiment, with headquarters in Gatesville and three battalions in San Marcos, Gatesville, and Taylor.

"Leading soldiers is an incredible honor,” commented Woodmansee.  “But more important, I’m looking forward to both serving and learning from these men and women.  They are the ones who are known for their selfless contributions, in the Central Texas community, during times of need.  It’s up to me to show them that I’m worthy to be in their ranks.”

Woodmansee received his commission as an armor officer from the United States Military Academy, West Point, in 1984.  His military schooling includes the Armor Officer Basic and Advance courses, Combined Arms and Services Staff School and the Command and General Staff Officer Course.  He is also a graduate of Air Assault, Airborne and Ranger school.  

His career includes overseas service in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  He has served both on active duty and as a member of the Texas Army National Guard.

His command assignments include commander, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor, 2nd Armored Division; commander, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 144 Infantry, 49th Armored Division; commander, 5th Battalion,  112th Armor, 49th Armored Division; commander, 36th Infantry Division Rear Operations Cell;  commander, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade; and commander, Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

His operational assignments include three combat tours overseas.   In 1990 he deployed for Operation Desert Shield while serving as the Battalion Motor Officer for 3-67 Armor.  He later took command of Alpha Company, 3-67 Armor prior to Operation Desert Storm, 1990-1991.  His unit culminated operations at what was known as the Highway of Death, the road that leads from Kuwait City to Basra, Iraq.  

He deployed to Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division, 2009-2010, serving as the Deputy Team Leader for the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team.  He helped deliver essential services to the Province of Baghdad, as well as supporting State Department mentoring efforts to the local and provincial leaders of Baghdad.  

He deployed to Afghanistan with the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 2012-2013, serving as the commander of Camp Eggers in Kabul.  He provided life support and security for over 2,500 personnel from over 20 coalition countries.  

Woodmansee joined the Texas State Guard as the Army Component Command chief of staff, February, 2015.

Colonel Woodmansee is married to his 5th grade sweetheart, Caree.  They have seven children.

Ross Davis

TagTalks

Ross Davis speaks about Adult learning Theory and the differences between Pedagogy learning and Andragogy learning.

Produced by the Texas Military Forces Public Affairs Office

Air National Guard’s team effort achieves many firsts in Latvia

Story by: 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy

Post: September 24, 2015

1st Lt. Alicia Lacy  Guests listen to speakers during a distinguished visitor and media day Sept. 8, 2015, at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia. Officials invited distinguished guests and media to the air base to learn more about the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and the Michigan National Guard's mission to fly the reconnaissance aircraft in its first non-combat deployment and its first flight in European air space. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy/Released)
1st Lt. Alicia Lacy 
Guests listen to speakers during a distinguished visitor and media day Sept. 8, 2015, at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia. Officials invited distinguished guests and media to the air base to learn more about the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard, and the Michigan National Guard's mission to fly the reconnaissance aircraft in its first non-combat deployment and its first flight in European air space. (Air National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Alicia Lacy/Released)

LIELVARDE AIR BASE, Latvia - The combined efforts of Air National Guardsmen from several states helped execute the first noncombat deployment of the MQ-1 Predator and its first flight in Eastern European airspace.

From mid-August to mid-September, airmen traveled to Latvia for the short deployment. The objectives achieved during the mobilization made the nation the prime option for remotely piloted aircraft operations in the Baltic region, said Lt. Col. Chris Recker, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance access and interoperability officer for United States Air Forces Europe-Africa.

Planning, airlift and the successful execution of the historical mission included the contributions from the Texas ANG’s 147th Reconnaissance Wing, the Michigan National Guard, the Tennessee ANG’s 164th Airlift Wing, the Mississippi ANG’s Airlift Wing, the TXANG’s 136th Airlift Wing and the New York ANG’s 105th Airlift Wing.

The deployment was nearly a 100 percent Air National Guard-executed mission, said Col. Stanley Jones, commander of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, Texas Air National Guard. From the conception to fly the RPAs at Lielvarde to the coordination, airlift, equipment and personnel, the Air National Guard accomplished nearly all of the efforts to make the mission a success. 

The contributions of all the units and agencies involved culminated with the first launch, operation and recovery of the Predator RPA on Sept. 1, 2015, at the Latvian air base. 

“This is a really historic day for Latvia,” said Latvia’s defense minister, Raimonds Bergmanis. “It’s the first time this system has been deployed in Europe, and I’m really proud that Latvia is hosting this aircraft.”

In addition to meeting objectives from the Michigan National Guard, the 147th and USAFE, the deployment was in direct support of the European Reassurance Initiative.

The ERI is a president-directed, congressionally-approved funding effort to bolster the security and capacity of the United States’ NATO partners.

“We are doing a lot to strengthen security in the Baltic region,” said Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis. 

The Michigan National Guard first conceptualized the idea to use Lielvarde Air Base for RPAs in September 2011 with Latvia’s State Partnership Program partners at the Michigan National Guard. From there, partnerships with the Michigan National Guard and several Latvian agencies, to include the Latvian Civil Aviation Authority, the Latvian National Armed Forces, Air Navigation Service Provider and the Riga Area Control Center helped make the execution of the historic flight possible.

With the flight of the Predator, Latvia became the first nation in Europe to develop nationwide RPA flight procedures with countrywide corridors that tie into special use airspace to de-conflict civilian and military flights, as well as allowing for nationwide use of surveillance capabilities to support a range of government needs, from search and rescue to firefighting and border control, said Col. James Andrew Roberts, Combat Readiness Training Center commander, Michigan National Guard.

The mission not only included an exchange with Latvian armed forces on RPA operations, but troops from Lithuania and Estonia also participated in the training mission to familiarize with air traffic management with MQ-1 operations, supporting one of the ERI’s objectives.

“The ERI is an important piece in European security,” echoed Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, the Latvian chief of defense.

The ERI demonstrates the steadfast commitment of the U.S. its NATO and European partners through a persistent, rotational presence of U.S. forces and by increasing the responsiveness of U.S. forces to contingencies in Central Europe.