Minuteman Brigade, inter-agency training at Disaster City

Story by: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

Posted: April 26, 2015

Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson As the start of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season approaches, the Texas Guardsmen of Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) capitalized on the chance to work with other military and civilian agencies during their annual training in Austin, Camp Swift and Disaster City, April 19-25. The nine-day training period was the latest in a long line of exercises to build partnerships and skills to help more Texas communities survive another hurricane season. Soldiers and Airmen transitioned from home station armories to a field environment, testing their response time and mobility capabilities. By responding to a full scale "disaster" and deploying their suite of lifesaving capabilities both civilian and military responders got the opportunity to truly see what each other agency was capable of. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson
As the start of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season approaches, the Texas Guardsmen of Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) capitalized on the chance to work with other military and civilian agencies during their annual training in Austin, Camp Swift and Disaster City, April 19-25. The nine-day training period was the latest in a long line of exercises to build partnerships and skills to help more Texas communities survive another hurricane season. Soldiers and Airmen transitioned from home station armories to a field environment, testing their response time and mobility capabilities. By responding to a full scale "disaster" and deploying their suite of lifesaving capabilities both civilian and military responders got the opportunity to truly see what each other agency was capable of. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)

DISASTER CITY, Texas - The “Galveston Hurricane.” Celia. Rita. Katrina. Ike. All of them were large-scale, deadly Atlantic hurricanes that touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of Texans; many of them triggering disaster responses across multiple military and civilian agencies to care for the communities in harm's way.

As the start of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season approaches, the Texas Guardsmen of Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) capitalized on the chance to work with other military and civilian agencies during their annual training in Austin, Camp Swift, and Disaster City, April 19-25. The nine-day training period was the latest in a long line of exercises to build partnerships and skills to help more Texas communities survive another hurricane season.

Soldiers and Airmen transitioned from home station armories to a field environment, testing their response time and mobility capabilities. By responding to a full scale "disaster" and deploying their suite of life-saving capabilities both civilian and military responders got the opportunity to truly see what each other agency was capable of.

The National Guard outfit, also called the “Minuteman Brigade,” is the custodian of the Federal Emergency Management Agency homeland response force mission for FEMA Region VI, supporting local, state and federal assets throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. This mission means the Round Rock-based unit can, and does, partner with agencies from all over the region and country.

"This is great preparation for hurricane season. It really exercises the complex nature of a large-scale disaster," said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commander for the Texas Military Forces’ Domestic Operations Task Force. "There are numerous inter-agency partners here. For some, it's the first time they've seen what we do."

“Mobilized” at the request of the governor and local civil authorities as “Hurricane Matthias” barreled down on Houston, the troops refined their life-saving techniques and improved inter-agency communication, ensuring that if disaster strikes, all support elements will be prepared to integrate seamlessly with units and personnel outside of the Texas Military Forces.

“It’s just so great for our Soldiers and our Airmen to get a chance to work with all of those different entities that they would see in a real world situation,” said Col. Lee Schnell, the commander for JTF-136 (MEB).

Saturday, April 25, was the day for the Guardsmen to truly stretch their legs. Some worked with Texas Urban Search and Rescue to search for and extract casualties, while others went deep under collapsing structures to share shoring and rigging techniques with the Texas Task Force 1 structures crew. Experts from Texas A&M Veterinary School passed along canine decontamination procedures while medical teams practiced triage and treatment on a variety of “wounds.”

According to Texas A&M Engineering Extension service, the agency in charge of Disaster City, more than 900 personnel took part in the exercise. These first responders were in turn supported by the 560 members of the Minuteman Brigade, bringing specialized military capabilities to the overall lifesaving efforts.

“In this particular scenario, really one of the highlights is working with our civilian first responder partners,” said Schnell. “Wednesday, we worked with Austin Fire Department, Williamson County Hazmat, Austin Hazmat, Austin Fire Department, Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, and on Saturday, we got a chance to work with the Texas and Utah Urban Search and Rescue team.”

At the end of the day, the depth of knowledge gained by hands-on time with diverse partners allows everyone involved to better serve their communities and fellow Texans.

"Working with the Texas National Guard is one of the best parts of my job,” said Brett Dixon, TX-TF1, Helicopter Search and Rescue Program manager. “We all have a genuine shared interest in helping the citizens of Texas."

Growing up Army (Part 2)

honor of the Month of the Military Child. Commentary by Michelle McBride

The summer before the start of high school was a big turning point for me. I had spent many years swimming competitively and training with swim coaches year round. That summer I tried out for the High School team, and made it. I was beyond excited. A lot of my friends from around the city were going to be joining me and I felt like I found my place. On top of that, it was the longest we had stayed in one place and the stability was comforting.

A week after making the team, my parents dropped the bomb. We were moving to Colombia at the end of summer. On top of that, my sister, who had just graduated from the high school I planned on attending, would not be moving with us. I felt alone and I was devastated. The news turned me in to a person neither me nor my parents recognized- a whiny brat refusing to accept change.

I did everything I could to fight it including attempting to guilt my parents in to letting me stay. I had to accept it though, and the move happened.

I ended up living in two different cities, attending two different high schools. Each school presented its own unique challenges. The first one, in Santa Marta, was mainly Spanish speaking. There were a few people who spoke English and among them I did make some very good friends who I still keep in contact with, but I struggled. I was failing my classes and had to have three different tutors for the different subjects. This did not last long.

The next year, my dad was able to move us to Barranquilla where I was placed in an American school.  The school was the exact opposite of my previous one. Everyone spoke English, everyone traveled to the U.S. regularly and everyone was very wealthy. There also weren’t uniforms, which was a plus for me. The downside, however, is that this group of kids was extremely tight knit and not as open to newcomers. I was very different from them. Having spent a lot of my time alone for the past year, I spent all of my time reading and writing. I felt dark and angry and if people did not want to accept me, I wasn’t going to accept them.

This all changed of course, as it always does. Eventually, I became part of the group and made some lasting friendships. I will always look back at my memories of Colombia fondly and with gratitude. How my parents dealt with me at the same time as dealing with their marriage and all the changes they were dealing with is beyond me. When my parents made the decision to move to Colombia, my dad had already been going back and forth for a couple years. They spent most of their marriage long distance at that point and I was too selfish to accept what they needed.

(Part 2 of 3 documenting my experience as the daughter of a soldier in honor of the Month of the Military Child. If you or someone you know is a military family member in need of support please contact Family Support Services at their 24/7 hotline 1-800-252-8032 or visit their website at https://tmd.texas.gov/family-support-service)

Texas State Guard signal unit prepares for emergency response

Story By: Capt. Esperanza Meza

Posted: April 24, 2015

Courtesy Photo Cpl. Christopher Parrish, 19th Regiment signal unit, Texas State Guard, conducts a radio exercise during part of a communications exercise conducted at California Crossing National Guard Armory in Dallas, Feb. 6-8, 2015. The exercise tested communications at great distances, operations management and how to provide support to the communities and officials involved during a natural disaster. (Texas State Guard photo by Capt. Esperanza Meza)
Courtesy Photo
Cpl. Christopher Parrish, 19th Regiment signal unit, Texas State Guard, conducts a radio exercise during part of a communications exercise conducted at California Crossing National Guard Armory in Dallas, Feb. 6-8, 2015. The exercise tested communications at great distances, operations management and how to provide support to the communities and officials involved during a natural disaster. (Texas State Guard photo by Capt. Esperanza Meza)

DALLAS - With natural disasters a constant threat, coordinating emergency response efforts is important to provide assistance and resources to communities. 

The Texas State Guard, 19th Regiment signal unit conducted a three-day field communications exercise at the National Guard armory in Dallas, Feb. 6-8, 2015. 

The exercise tested the unit’s ability to communicate over great distances, as well as across the local community to effectively manage operations and provide support to the communities and officials involved.

“During actual emergencies, there is a strong likelihood that the Texas State Guard will be working hand-in-hand to pass emergency radio traffic and digital messages back and forth,” said Maj. Glen Fowler, the regiment’s communications officer. “This means that establishing relationships in advance preparation is a good idea.”

Guardsmen worked with communications equipment powered by an 8,000 watt generator, emergency battery backups, and digital equipment that enabling high frequency messaging capabilities, for both near and remote locations, without the need for Internet access.

Guardsmen were able to connect with other state emergency resources without internet or phone communications, using mobile dual band very high frequency and ultra high frequency transceivers with vertical antennas and high frequency transceivers, something that is often needed in the event of a disaster, said Fowler.

The field exercise involved voice and digital modes, using high frequency and very high frequency transceivers, communicating with other military stations and Military Auxiliary Radio System volunteers across Texas and several other states. 

MARS volunteers are amateur radio operators, licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and trained by the Army to operate as government auxiliary radio stations on the high frequency spectrum provided by the Department of Defense. The 19th Regiment has three Army MARS station licenses issued by Army MARS headquarters in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

“The Texas State Guard has its own communication systems, but they need to be closely connected with other regional, state and national communications resources,” said Fowler. “Such interoperability helps to ensure that we can reliably communicate over great distances as well as just across a local community to be able to effectively manage our own operations as well as provide support to the communities and groups that we serve.”

The regiment’s signal team sent digital messages between Dallas and Austin using high frequency messaging modes, during the three-day exercise, and made numerous voice and digital communications connections with components all over the state. 

Warrant Officer 1 Lew Thompson, Texas Army MARS Texas Military Forces liaison officer, worked one on one with the regiment during this exercise, providing additional technical support and remote communications test message reception and transmission.

“The exercise was used to further the communications capabilities and individual knowledge and skills of members of the signals unit and to show that long-range high frequency communication is a valuable resource for the Texas State Guard that should not be overlooked,” said Fowler. “It allows various components of the Texas Military Forces to be able to communicate state-wide to serve as the voice of command and carry out our important and diverse disaster and community support missions.”

Texas Guardsmen double annual training value

Story by: Sgt. Suzanne Carter

Posted: April 24, 2015

Courtesy Photo Guardsmen with the Texas National Guard's 836th Chemical Company, 6th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package, Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), move an injured civilian into a chemical decontamination line during a training exercise at Govalle Waste Water Treatment Plant in Austin, Texas, as part of their weeklong annual training period April 22, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Martha Guerrero/Released)
Courtesy Photo
Guardsmen with the Texas National Guard's 836th Chemical Company, 6th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosives (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package, Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), move an injured civilian into a chemical decontamination line during a training exercise at Govalle Waste Water Treatment Plant in Austin, Texas, as part of their weeklong annual training period April 22, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Martha Guerrero/Released)

BASTROP, Texas - National Guard troops of the Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade) conducted dual mission training exercises at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas and other locations around the state during their weeklong annual training period April 19-26, 2015.

Service members practiced their Soldier skills while performing emergency response operations in order to build competence as the custodians of the FEMA Region VI Homeland Response Force mission.

“Any time that we’re training, we’re going to be doing both our Defense Support to Civil Authorities mission as well as our Army mission,” said Col. Lee Schnell, JTF 136 (MEB) commander. “It’s kind of just what we do.”

Training for the brigade’s DSCA mission provided opportunities for Soldiers to apply their warrior tasks and military occupational specialty skills. Members of the 436th Chemical Company, part of the 6th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package, said that their experience with Army equipment supports their HRF mission readiness.

“We are conducting reconnaissance operations in buddy teams using a joint chemical agent detector,” Sgt. Cody Hammond said. “We use these to find a contaminated area so that we can mark the terrain and give the command element a picture of the area of operations. If necessary, we can use these during a [DSCA] mission.”

Soldiers and their leaders valued the chance to work with their military (green) equipment, getting back to the basics of their traditional Army role while still supporting their disaster response (white) mission.

“This year we are going to continue with more green training in combination with the white because we need to be ready for both missions,” said Capt. Marilu Wilkinson, commander of the 436th Chemical Company. “[The Soldiers are] getting some good training with the equipment. They’re very excited to do this green training.”

Maintaining their HRF mission means that the brigade must be prepared to react to natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or other devastating incidents that may occur in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, or New Mexico. Covering such a diverse region means that Soldiers must be mobile and adaptable to any environment, which is why the troops trained at the Govalle Waste Water Treatment Plant in Austin and Disaster City in College Station, in addition to Camp Swift. Training for the HRF mission includes responding to notional scenarios with the full force of the brigade’s capabilities like chemical decontamination, search and rescue and medical triage. 

“We responded to a plane crash that involved a large number of personnel in a contaminated environment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Sanchez, a platoon sergeant with 836th Engineer Company, also part of the 6th CERFP, about the Govalle scenario of their annual training. “During that exercise we allowed our junior members to go ahead and take charge while our senior leaders became the worker bees. The results were astounding.”

Sanchez said that giving junior Soldiers control of the situation allowed them to take ownership of their role in the response efforts and perform above expectations.

“They reacted well to the situation, called up reports, kept everybody informed, provided a good plan for their response, and then sent up a clear picture of the situation to the leadership in the [tactical operations center],” he said.

Spc. Kimberly Pena with the 236th Military Police Company, part of the CBRNE Assistance Support Element, appreciated the opportunity to be more responsible for her role in supporting emergency response efforts, which includes guiding civilians toward help.

“We have to be in communication with other elements on the ground to find out the information that we need,” she said. “It’s not up to the [noncommissioned officers] to always do that for us. It’s more individual responsibility to talk to civilians and get them where they need to go to get help.”

Pushing junior service members into leadership roles expands their capacity for overcoming obstacles and accomplishing any mission that comes their way.

“What Soldiers do best is solving problems creatively,” Schnell said. “This training puts leadership in the environment where they have to use the Soldiers to the best of their abilities and challenge everybody all the way up and down the chain of command. Our junior members are very smart when it comes to solving problems and our leaders are learning that if they give their Soldiers broad directions, they can count on the Soldiers to figure out a solution.”

Conducting dual trainings like this not only encourages Soldiers to take on more active roles in their training, but also brings them together as a team and builds morale.

“The teamwork, the adventure, the excitement, the communication,” said Pfc. Espinoza Mariano of the 836th Engineer Company, “everything about it has been awesome.”

Soldiers, employers bridge gap between military, civilian worlds

Story by: Staff Sgt. Amanda Zuniga

Posted: April 23, 2015

Staff Sgt. John Sands A civilian employer fires a machine gun at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas, during an Employer Support for Guard and Reserve event with the 636th Brigade Support Battalion, Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), as part of the unit's weeklong annual training period April 21, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. John Sands/Released)
Staff Sgt. John Sands
A civilian employer fires a machine gun at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas, during an Employer Support for Guard and Reserve event with the 636th Brigade Support Battalion, Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), as part of the unit's weeklong annual training period April 21, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. John Sands/Released)

BASTROP, Texas - Guardsmen of the 636th Brigade Support Battalion, Joint Task Force 136 (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade), welcomed their employers to spend a day in the life of a Soldier at Camp Swift in Bastrop, Texas, during the unit’s weeklong annual training period April 21, 2015.

The “Boss Lift” experience, coordinated through the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, allowed participants to gain a better perspective on what the National Guard can do in response to natural disasters and what training is like for their citizen-Soldiers.

“The military has other capabilities than just the combat role,” said City of Marshall Mayor Ed Smith. “Now I know how the military would fit into a city’s disaster plan.” 

Civil servants from Marshall, Texas, attended the event with employers because the city is home to the 636th BSB Headquarters.

“Even though they may not be a direct employer, constituents that live in that community are here in this formation,” said Lt. Col. John Crawson, 636th BSB commander. “Harrison County and the City of Marshall are extremely supportive of our National Guard units, and they never get a chance to see what we do. This is great community outreach."

The visitors had the opportunity to fire machine guns, enjoy a Meal, Ready-to-Eat, ride in a military helicopter, and visit a tactical operations center. Many of the employers only had a vague idea of what their employees do on training weekends. 

“I think that it’s one thing to regale [our bosses] with stories of the stuff that we do,” said Capt. Lucas Hamilton of the 636th BSB. “It’s a completely different thing when [they] can come out here and see what we do, the area that we’re in, some of the operations that we do and see some of the training that we do.”

Boss Lift participants got a first-hand look at what it takes to be a Soldier, whose job in the National Guard may be completely different from their civilian job. Soldiers train long and hard to be proficient in each of their military professions. 

“It made me respect the military more and appreciate the dedication you put into your training,” said Anthony Miller of Full Thrust Taekwondo, whose wife serves in the 636th BSB. “I will support the Guard more and the job my spouse does.”

This was not the first time that bosses have visited their Soldier employees, nor will it be the last.

“It’s really important that employers see why their soldiers are missing work,” Crawson said. “It’s almost like a family, and your employer is a part of that family."

Growing up Army

The month of the Military childCommentary by Michelle McBride

Starting with Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger in 1986, each serving Secretary of Defense has designated April as “The month of the Military child.” Although I am an Army brat myself, this is a very new and interesting concept to me.  In fact, I never even knew it existed until I began working for the military. Like most members of our Armed Forces, recognition and praise has never been necessary or even wanted.

For me, it all began in El Salvador in the 1980s. My dad was conducting some training missions as part of a Special Forces unit in San Salvador when he met my mom. For my dad, it began in the 1970s when he made the bold decision to enlist in the Army right out of high school.  I’ve always been very proud of my dad for making this decision, even when it meant not recognizing him at the airport when he returned from a deployment.

As a child, I traveled all over. I spanned the globe from Panama, to El Salvador, to North Carolina and back again. I went to three different elementary schools in the span of five years and I cannot begin to tell you what an amazing/terrifying experience that was for me. It was hard moving from place to place-saying goodbye and then starting over.  Rinse, wash and repeat. There were always tears, but there was also always laughter, love and patience. There was also an incredible amount of opportunity to grow as a person and get immersed in different cultures and languages.  I even went through a phase when we moved from El Salvador to North Carolina where I refused to speak English to anyone.  I pretended to forget, but really I just missed speaking Spanish. 

My mom was a rock wall, never faltering, never showing any kind of weakness (there should probably be a month, or year, or decade dedicated to the military spouse). I remember thinking my parents must not have enjoyed having friends, since they were always ready to move on to the next place. Now I know better. It was probably harder for them, especially adding in the pressures of real estate shopping, school district searching and grumpy children.

For me, being an Army brat was just that. It was nothing special or unique. You did what you had to do every day to support the people that meant the most to you. It may have been different, but my dad still taught me how to ride a bike (or at least tried to; I was a very stubborn child). And we still celebrated birthdays and holidays together. Sure it may have been Christmas in October, but that didn’t change the sentiment. 
And then I became a teenager.

(Part 2 of 3 documenting my experience as the daughter of a soldier in honor of the Month of the Military Child. If you or someone you know is a military family member in need of support please contact Family Support Services at their 24/7 hotline 1-800-252-8032 or visit their website at https://tmd.texas.gov/family-support-service)

Community interacts with Texas Military Forces

Story by: Sgt. Praxedis Pineda

Posted: April 19, 2015

Courtesy Photo A Soldier with the 36th Infantry Division fights against enemy German Soldiers during a WWII reenactment at the Texas Military Forces Open House and Air Show at Camp Mabry April 18, 2015. Camp Mabry and its facilities are open to the public. Events like these help to form a better relationship and understanding between Texas Military Forces and the Austinites who live around the post.
A soldier with the 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, fights against enemy soldiers during a WWII reenactment at the Texas Military Forces Open House and Air Show at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, April 18, 2015. Events like these help to form a better relationship and understanding, of the Texas Guard mission, between Texas Military Forces and the community.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Highlighting more than three decades of local, state and federal partnership, the Texas Military Forces and first responders demonstrate teamwork during the Texas Military Forces Open House and Air Show at Camp Mabry in Austin, April 18, 2015. The free two-day event welcomed the local community to view this partnership.

“We host this event to thank our friends and neighbors,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas.

Because of operational tempo and mission requirements, it’s not usually possible for visitors to interact with the service members and first responders. 

“We’re always in such a hurry,” said Patrick Phillips, flight paramedic with the Travis County Start Flight. “When we’re operational there’s not an opportunity to visit.”

The open house lets agencies slow down to demonstrate their capabilities. 

“People can see what we do in a friendly environment,” said Phillips. “It’s an opportunity for us to display our equipment.”

Displays included helicopters, trucks and boats used during combat and emergency operations. Some visitors touched and even operated some of the equipment.

“My kids can connect the things they see in the movies with reality,” said Jessie Metcalf, a community member that lives in the surrounding neighborhood.

Agencies clarified many myths and misconceptions visitors had in regards to their capabilities. 

“This is a great insight to different emergency services, and not just fire,” said Lt. Jarrett Jobes, member of the Austin Fire Department Special Operations rescue team. “The unit responds to hazardous material, cave rescues and water rescues.”

The event endorsed the “Partnerships That Matter” theme, and informed the community of the teamwork performed between agencies.

“We learned about the camaraderie and connections between the volunteers,” said Metcalf. 

Throughout the year, Texas Military Forces and first responders work together to strengthen their partnerships.

“We work pretty close with the Texas Military Forces and the police,” said Phillips. 


Modern equipment and weapons were the spotlight this weekend, but the show wasn’t complete without reminders of the past.

“To me it is very important because we’re also remembering those who came before us,” said Nichols.

Visitors traveled through time with activities like the WWII reenactment and multiple vintage weapons demonstrations.

“We learned how they shoot the big guns,” said Miguel Ornelas, Palm Elementary School student.

While some displays advertised history other events were dedicated to the future. A naturalization ceremony allowed veterans to receive their American citizenship.

“There are some that are Americans by birth, [these veterans] are Americans by choice,” said Mayor of Austin Steve Adler.

This opportunity allows new citizens other options and benefits.

“This was possible because I enlisted,” said Pvt. Carlos Hernandez Del Bosque, Texas Army National Guard. “Now I’m a U.S. citizen. Now I can finish school.”

The spirit of the event flows from veterans, to newly naturalized citizens, to children that want to share their experience with others.

“Try to come next year because it’s a lot of fun,” said Phillips.