Texas Guardsmen cultivate multinational partnerships through competition

BASTROP, TX, UNITED STATES

03.03.2018

Story by Spc. Gerardo Escobar

100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

BASTROP, Texas — Texas Guardsmen and service members from the Chilean and Czech armed forces battled to earn the title of the 2018 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Feb. 28 - March 3, 2018 at Camp Swift near Bastrop. 

The joint competition provided an opportunity for cultural exchange as well as enhanced military capabilities in a friendly but competitive environment. 

"With our state partnerships, the Czech Republic and Chile, we trade technical expertise, leadership and values on how they may operate and how we may operate with tactics and techniques," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kristopher Dyer, Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Texas Army National Guard.

This year’s best warrior competition brought together 28 candidates who competed in nine rated events that closely imitated real-life and combat situations. 

"Everything within the competition is scenario based to where they would be able to participate in a combat environment or a real-world exercise," Dyer said. "We put them in mental and physical fully blown tests to see how they react under pressure and stress.”

The importance of the relationship between the Texas National Guard, the Czech and Chilean armed forces is being able to predict the thoughts and processes of a partner nation, allowing them to work in unison, Dyer said. 

The inclusion of foreign forces is part of the TMD State Partnership Program, which is partnered with the Czech Republic and Chile. The program facilitates cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level.

For Staff Sgt. Juan Domingo Silva, a Marine with the Chilean Navy, this was his first time participating in a multinational event. 

“The physical aspect has been challenging but we’ve trained for similar events in Chile,” said Silva. 

The competition meant much more than just winning, it meant representing his country and learning to adapt to a different environment and culture, Silva said.

The program provided Chilean service members with a bilingual sponsor to help with the language barrier during the competition. 

“The culture exchange experience has been valuable,” said Texas Army National Guard Spc. Manuel Najera, Alpha Company, 536th Brigade Support Battalion. Najera served as Silva’s sponsor.

“The most challenging part has been adapting to the Chilean-Spanish dialect,” Najera said. 

Sgt. Jan Hronek, a Czech Republic service member also said interacting with other multinational service members increased his cultural awareness.

“This competition has shown me the similarities between forces and how they operate,” said Hronek. “I feel proud to serve and represent my country abroad.”

The competition enabled competitors to refine their skills and learn from their counterparts.

“At the end of the day this is an event that brings Texas together with two separate countries that we are partnered with,” Dyer said. “Together they learn from each other and benefit from training and different techniques and ways that we can lead our Soldiers and operate in the environments that we are in.”

The winner of the competition will be announced at a banquet in April. Competitors from both Chile and the Czech Republic will be invited back for the ceremony.

Sole female competitor battles for "best warrior"

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Photo By Staff Sgt. Agustin Salazar | Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Brown, 273rd Cyber Operations Squadron education and training specialist, Texas Air National Guard, completes the running portion of a physical training test at the 2018 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift March 1, 2018, near Bastrop, Texas. Of the 28 participants who competed from the Texas Army and Air National guards, Brown was the only female competitor. (Texas Air National Guard photo/Staff Sgt. Agustin Salazar)

BASTROP, TX, UNITED STATES

03.02.2018

Story by Staff Sgt. Kristina Overton

136th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs (Texas Air National Guard)

 

Of the more than 3,200 Airmen currently serving in the Texas Air National Guard, only eight were selected to compete at Camp Swift as part of the 2018 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition. Among the selectees, Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Brown, 273rd Cyber Operations Squadron education and training specialist, Texas Air National Guard, stood out from her peers chosen to participate. Not just for her skill and abilities in qualifying to represent her unit, but also as the only female competitor overall.

“Competing seemed like a great opportunity,” said Brown. “For me, it wasn’t an imitation factor. I used to be a Marine and I remember every year my commander would send out an invite for individuals interested in the competition. When I saw the email for this year and saw the list of different knowledge responsibilities I went ahead and tried out.”

The Best Warrior Competition consists of several challenges over a period of four days. Competitors are expected to display proficiency in marksmanship, physical and written tests, land navigation, self-aid buddy care and combat-communications. Though not a part of her day-to-day operations, Brown trained for months prior to familiarize herself with competition requirements.

“The ruck has been the most challenging thus far,” Brown said. “I don't think I was as prepared for the last four miles of fatigue, but it’s something you have to learn and power through on your own. The obstacle course was the most fun. It was hard at points, but the competition is about challenging yourself. Getting over the fear factor.”

Brown has more than fifteen years of combined service between the Marines and Texas Air National Guard. Even with deployments to Iraq under her belt, she still lacked all of the experience needed to be successful to compete. After qualifying at the base-level, her unit was instrumental in making sure that she would be a strong contender.

“It [training] exposed me to a different environment in the Guard,” Brown recalled. “To train, we ran tactical air control party obstacle courses, had weapons knowledge training and did 45-pound ruck marches, which was good because I got exposure. Then they had land navigation at the schoolhouse at Camp Bullis.”

The competition is meant to be grueling, with extreme stress and long testing hours. The simulations reflect real-world combat situations and test the tactical and technical skills of the members being evaluated. 

Competing alongside fellow Airmen, Soldiers and state partners provides a unique opportunity to experience completely different ways of accomplishing the mission, Brown said.

“We all serve.” Brown said. “It’s a humbling experience, and being here I hope is an example that will encourage others to participate. I don't back down from a challenge and I’m proud to have been a part of this event.”

Texas ANG member, Rockport police officer looks back on lessons learned from Harvey

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Photo By Tech. Sgt. Mindy Bloem | Staff Sgt. Nathan Ward (far right) poses for a group photo with his fellow 149th Fighter Wing members during a regularly scheduled drill weekend at his shop, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. when Ward is not working as a Guardsman during his drill weekends, he serves full time as police officer in Rockport, Texas. (courtesy photo)

San Antonio, TX, United States

02.08.2018

Story by Tech. Sgt. Mindy Bloem

149th Fighter Wing (Texas Air National Guard)

It’s been several months since Hurricane Harvey devastated Texans residing in the Rockport region. A local police officer there, Nathan Ward, is now reflecting on the days leading up to the hurricane and how his training in the National Guard made a noticeable impact on his first responder duties. 

“My wife will tell you I always stock up on food and water and am ready to go,” said Ward. That’s just the military part of me, I guess.”

Ward, now a staff sergeant assigned to the Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing, located in San Antonio, said that mentality traces back to his 2003 enlistment in the Army National Guard.

“I had gone into the hurricane initially with the mindset of ‘hey, as long as we come out of this, we’ll be alright,’” Ward said. “I’d gone on hurricane missions with the Army Guard several years ago so I knew what this was going to look like.”

Ward tried to pass the benefits of those experiences to his co-workers.

“I said, ‘hey, heads up, just in case this happens, this is what you need to be prepared for,’ and everyone is just brushing me off,” he said. “A lot of them were making fun of me as I was bringing in food and water into the police station before it hit. They were like, ‘you’re taking this way too seriously and you’re packing too much.’ I was like ‘OK, whatever, at least I’ll be prepared.’”

When Ward thinks back on it now, he can’t help feeling vindicated.

“That first night about midnight – a lot of them realized they were hungry and wanted to eat, but no one had brought food and there was very little water,” he said with a laugh and with the benefit of hind sight. “They started realizing pretty quickly that my theory wasn’t so far-fetched. I mean relief came in – water came about a day and a half later, so they were OK.”

After the storm first struck and the eye was passing over their building, Ward and his fellow officers stepped out in pitch blackness in groups of four within a two-block radius to assess the damage. He described familiar smells he compared from deployments he’d rather forget and mist and smoke-filled air akin to what happens after a building is demolished.

“There is this junk that’s in the air – this dust and smoke and all kinds of stuff like that,” Ward said. “Stuff you don’t want to breathe. The air was filled with that. It was like it was hovering. It wasn’t even blowing around. It was just there.”

As the eye wall passed over them and the hurricane resumed, Ward and his team retreated back inside to ride out the second half. All through the night, calls poured into the station of people who had misjudged the situation, tried to leave in their vehicles and had gotten stuck.

“That’s why we tell people take the evacuation seriously,” Ward said. “You never know how bad it’s going to be.”

The next morning and many weeks thereafter, Ward worked extended and exhausting shifts responding to calls and assisting in the long game that is hurricane recovery.

It was during these numerous calls for help that Ward realized just how important all his core military training was in helping him respond to various situations.

“Something that’s echoed here for me is how all the military training has paid off, specifically with Air Force – the core training that’s due annually, like SABC [self-aid buddy care], CPR, PT [physical training], family care plan – everything has played into our situation here,” he said.

Ward elaborated on how physical conditioning especially helped him during intense shifts.

“Just the resiliency, staying in shape – it’s a big deal,” he said. “I can tell you when you’re doing 12 on and 12 off, and especially when you’re doing 14-hour shifts or during initial recovery efforts where we had no days off for several weeks, and all the other stresses that are involved – PT is a big deal.

Ward also praised SABC and CPR training as being “hugely helpful” during the response, and was even pleasantly surprised to see his flightline driver’s training play a part.

“We have an airport here, and there’s no airport police, so the city police actually have to cover the airport,” Ward said. “Other officers can be afraid to drive out on the airfield because they don’t know what they’re doing, so having flightline driver’s training has actually paid off in my job here. I can use that and help the airport respond in whatever they need out here including – and I hope it doesn’t happen – aircraft accidents or hazardous spills.

While some in the Air Force may dislike the idea of computer-based training, Ward’s most recent experience with Harvey has given him fresh insight on the matter.

“Anything that you can think of that we view as CBTs for the Air Force has paid off in this job, including cyber awareness because we all have computers, and we have to deal with everyone’s personal information,” he said. “The state of Texas is pushing a lot of that down now for law enforcement but the Air Force in a lot of ways is ahead of the power curve on that.”

Besides all his military core training, Ward said knowing his Guard family not only had his back but was looking out for his family members made a lasting impression on him.

“Family readiness was a huge deal getting my wife out here and getting her help,” he said. “The Guard has absolutely helped us and stepped in to help her.”

Ms. Shanita Lanier, the 149th Airman and Family Readiness Center coordinator, explained how getting her members the family support is a team effort.

“The key element that is helpful for us is having our key volunteers appointed that the commanders trust to pass on information to and working with the first sergeants – that’s how information comes back to us so we know how to further support and meet the intent of the program for our families,” she said.

Lanier, along with Master Sgt. Eryn Ulmer, Ward’s first sergeant, collected donations from local area stores and other good Samaritans so they could replace items from Ward’s house that were ruined during the storm.

“Each family is important,” Lanier said. “Even if we don’t have a face or a name, if they are connected to you, we can navigate and see what’s out there to get them what they need.”

Ward took comfort in the concern he received from his fellow Gunfighters – a nickname for 149th FW members.

“On the basic level, I appreciate that accountability because it’s an extra set of eyes looking out for you, asking, hey, are you ok? And if you don’t respond, they’re willing to send someone to go look for you,” he said. “That’s really awesome – that they’re willing to fill the gap that much. It’s extra support you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

Following his experience in Rockport, Ward has developed a newfound respect for the mission.

“At the drop of a hat you might have a natural disaster and have to leave the shop,” he said. “We might have to go help people, so it’s very important to keep up with your deadlines and timelines and mission mandates so we can be ready to go.”

For Ward, his military training complemented his responsibilities not only to his local community but also to the state. These days, he is quick to remind people of this point during his weekends on duty here at the wing.

“What I’ve been telling people is you don’t understand how much everything you do played into what happened here as far as relief - the Houston mission, this mission, all over Texas – you know it’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling to see all that training and all that work paying off.”

Texas National Guard Soldiers earn Expert Infantryman Badge

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Photo By Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore | A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa receives his Expert Infantryman Badge during the badge ceremony at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Feb. 2, 2018. After two weeks of training and five days of testing, 50 Soldiers completed the process to earn the coveted special skills badge that requires Soldiers to perform an Army Physical Fitness Test, day and night land navigation, a 12-mile forced march, and 30 individual tasks covering weapons, medical, and security patrol skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore)

CAMP LEMONNIER, DJIBOUTI
02.06.2018
Story by Staff Sgt. Timothy Moore 
Combined Joint Task
Force - Horn of Africa

After five days of testing, 50 U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) completed the process to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Feb. 2, 2018.

Established in 1944, the EIB is an award designed to build and maintain esprit de corps within U.S. infantry units as well as recognize infantrymen and Special Forces Soldiers who have demonstrated the discipline and mastery of skills critical to being an infantry Soldier.

Beginning with 184 candidates, the 50 successful EIB earners made this iteration’s pass rate roughly two percent better than the Army’s overall 2017 EIB pass rate of 25 percent as reported on the website of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCOE) in Fort Benning, Georgia. 

“It’s the badge that shows you are an expert in your field,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Petty, Task Force Bayonet senior enlisted leader and EIB board president. “That means a lot for us in the infantry because that’s where you start – with the individual task … to build those teams, squads, and platoons.”

The badge can be awarded to Soldiers who hold an infantry or a Special Forces military occupational specialty (MOS), with the exception of Special Forces medical sergeant, and who meet all the physical and administrative requirements and can complete the qualification process.

However for these Soldiers, obtaining the EIB had a few more obstacles that needed to be navigated even before the process began.

“Being forward deployed, there are a lot of challenges that we face, most notably a supply shortage,” said U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Jonathan Hendrix, 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment assigned to Task Force Bayonet, CJTF-HOA and EIB noncommissioned officer in charge of lanes. “We were able to work with a lot of different partner units.” 

Hendrix worked with the Expeditionary Military Facility to get supplies needed to train and conduct the EIB process. He also worked with the leaders of Battle Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division to see how many EIB holders they had assigned to CJTF-HOA to act as cadre during the process. According to Hendrix, the most notable partnership he had was working with U.S. Navy Seabees to build the training grounds used to hold the majority of the EIB process.

“There were several different Seabee units we worked with directly to help us with a lot of the infrastructure - the tables, the platforms, camouflage nets, moving containers around,” Hendrix said. “Without them, we really couldn’t have pulled this thing off. It was absolutely incredible how willing they were each and every time we asked for more. They were always on top of it, ready to help us out at any opportunity.”

Once the training area was completed, a team from the MCOE - who the Battle Company leaders had been in contact with even before Task Force Bayonet arrived at Camp Lemonnier - came out to validate the EIB course and cadres to not only ensure the integrity of the badge is upheld but also grant the Soldiers opportunity to pursue it in a deployed location.

“It was important for us to do that here,” Petty said. “As Guardsmen, we don’t get that opportunity very often at home, so getting the opportunity to do it here was very important to our Soldiers and the force itself, because it makes an infantryman better.”

To earn the EIB, eligible Soldiers must complete four phases. The first phase requires EIB candidates to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test with a score of 80 percent in each event. Candidates are not allowed to retest this portion.

The second phase consists of land navigation exercises, in which candidates must locate three out of four points in both day and night scenarios. If candidates receive a “GO” for this phase, they are allowed to move onto phase three.

The third phase consists of individual testing stations. It requires candidates to pass 30 weapons, medical, and patrol tasks to specific standards. The tasks are chosen from a possible 45 tasks, with several tasks being required to be included in each EIB qualification. Candidates who receive more than two “NO-GOs,” or a double NO-GO on the same station, during this phase are eliminated from the EIB process.

Finally, the fourth phase requires candidates to complete a 12-mile forced march. Candidates must complete the march while carrying 35 pounds in three hours or less, and then immediately complete the tasks associated with “Objective Bull” in 20 minutes or less. For Objective Bull, candidates must evaluate a casualty; apply a tourniquet to control bleeding, and transport the casualty. If a candidate fails to meet the time requirements or perform the procedures in the proper sequence, they are not allowed to retest and are eliminated from the EIB process.

Out of the 50 recipients of the EIB, four members were “true blue.” This distinction means they passed the entire process without having to retest on any part.

“Pinning the badges on these Soldiers is one of the best times of my career, and I’ve been in a long time,” Petty said. “Getting to see those young privates, specialists, and even the sergeants who have been working so hard to get here - this is some of them second or third time trying to get their EIB - that made me feel especially proud for them.”

 

Texas State Guard Engineers Lead the Way

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Texas State Guard Engineer Group conducts an inspection of the Texas National Guard Armory in La Porte, Texas, June 7, 2013.  The Engineer Group was tasked by the Texas Military Department to conduct installation status reports of 36 armories.  (Texas State Guard photo by Sfc. Malcolm Cowdin)

Story by: Chief Warrant Officer Three Janet Schmelzer

Texas State Guard Public Affairs

 

AUSTIN, Texas –The Texas State Guard Engineer Group is a little-known asset utilized by the Texas Military Department and municipalities throughout the state. Over the past five years, these 44 members have built a reputation as the “go-to” resource when engineering and technical service support are needed to assess infrastructure and critical facilities, including military installations, water plants, wastewater treatment, power plants and environmental impact.

The engineers in this unit are highly qualified professionals who hold professional licenses in architecture, civil, mechanical, electrical and environmental engineering and are project and construction management experts in their civilian careers.  Many are members of the Society of Military Engineers and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers, and hold state licenses or certifications in water and wastewater treatment.

“The members of this Engineering Group, like all members of the Texas State Guard, are volunteers who give back to their communities and to the state through their service in the Guard,” said Col. Patrick Fink, commander of the Engineering Group, Texas State Guard. “The engineers and technical support members are bringing their civilian skills, knowledge and expertise to their tasks and missions. Many of our members have previously served in state and federal military forces as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.”

These engineers and technical support personnel therefore became a perfect choice to assist the Construction and Facilities Management Office of the Texas Military Department with annual installation status assessments. In the past five years, Texas State Guard engineering teams have conducted installation status reports at 36Texas Army and Air National armories and facilities in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

These reports included specific and detailed information on the conditions of facilities which the Texas Military Department utilizes to prioritize funding for future construction and renovation projects. Additionally, this group helps the military department annually to receive tens of millions of additional dollars to renovate facilities from state and federal agencies.

“During their service, our unit members have contributed thousands of hours of professional skills and labor to the Texas State Guard and the Texas Military Department,” said Col. Robert Hudnall, Executive Officer, Engineer Group. “They have saved the state almost $700,000 in consulting and labor costs.”

While providing support to other Texas Army National Guard Engineering units when this unit was also tasked to perform special demolition projects at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, these guardsmen led the demolition of Building 32, the Texas State Guard Headquarters. As well as the preservation of the building’s historic architectural support and roof beams during the renovation phase, they also conducted the exterior demolition, remediation, compaction and backfill of the 15-foot sign in front of Building 34 and are assisting with the layout and construction of a new Camp Mabry soccer field.

For the Engineer Group, mission readiness during a disaster, such as flooding, hurricanes, and tornadoes, is to provide augmentation, in a surge capacity, for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  Last year, Hurricane Harvey demonstrated just how critical the engineer group was to disaster response. With flooding and high winds damaging hundreds of water and sewage systems, forcing residents to boil drinking water and swamping sewer systems, the primary tasks for the unit were to assess water and wastewater facilities to determine what should be done to get services back online and helping residents to begin to recover from the disaster. As a supporting agency, the Texas State Guard engineers worked in coordination with the commission and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, traveling to the devastated areas to conduct visual assessments of water and wastewater facilities.

The guardsmen also provided professional advice on the restoration of water and waste water systems to municipalities and Councils of Government. In this way, local governments could begin planning timelines for the restoration of drinking water to residents. These assessments would also assist Texas in securing emergency assistance to recover the damaged or inoperable systems.

In Rockport, Texas, the engineers assessed the condition of a water tower that had sustained a broken a cross support arm from high winds during the hurricane. Without the cross support, the tower would, at some point, begin to spin and collapse. The engineers concluded that the condition of the tower was a serious risk to residents and the local municipality took the tower out of service.

“We want to be there when Texans need our engineering expertise following a disaster,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Loftis, Operations Officer, Engineer Group, Texas State Guard. “We can help them and their communities to regain some normalcy with essential water and wastewater service. We want to make sure that each resident can turn on a faucet at home and drink a glass of good, clean water. That is why we serve in the Engineer Group of the Texas State Guard.”

Texas State Guard Fights Rabies One Packet at a Time

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Sgt. Stephen Schaus, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, Texas State Guard, reviews the daily flight plan and the amount of bait to be dropped with Staff Sgt. Joel Hernandez, 3rd Battalion, during the aerial rabies vaccine bait distribution over the Zapata-based Border Maintenance Zone during the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program, sponsored by the Texas Department of State Health Services Zoonosis Control Branch, January 10, 2018.    (Texas State Guard photo by Capt. Stephen Walker)

Story by: Chief Warrant Officer Three Janet Schmelzer

Texas State Guard Public Affairs

 

ALPINE, Texas – Six members from the 1st Regiment, Texas State Guard, climbed into the cockpits and rear cabins of Beechcraft aircraft January 10-20, 2018 to support a vital public health and environmental program along the Rio Grande Valley.

Now in its 24th year, the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program is sponsored and run by the Texas Department of State Health Services, Zoonosis Control Branch. In their 15th year assisting with the aerial distribution of the rabies vaccine bait packets, citizen-Guardsmen continue to give back to the Texas communities.

The ORVP is a joint operation of state and federal agencies along with businesses, to control and eradicate the spread of rabies among grey foxes and coyotes with the goal of helping to eliminate the threat of rabies from spreading to humans and domesticated animals. The operation covered 16,400 square miles in three border maintenance zones--Zapata, Del Rio and Alpine. 

This year Guardsmen assisted in distributing more than one million vaccine/baits across a zone covering 19 Texas counties.

“The Texas State Guard, as a force multiplier, was ready to support this vital operation in any way that we could,” said Texas State Guard ORVP mission officer in charge, Capt. Stephen Walker, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment.  “During this mission we provided manpower as navigators in the cockpit and operated the bait drop distributor in the back of the plane. On the ground we unloaded and loaded bait from delivery trucks onto aircraft and cleaned hangers and debris from the flight line.”

The navigators, who serve as the “eyes in the sky,” monitor the GPS system for correct flight alignment as well as control and monitor the amount of bait distributed. Additionally, they are responsible for warning the pilot of radio towers, birds and other aircraft, and maintaining a comprehensive flight log.

The bait distributors funnel bait into the bait counters and the aerial distributors, while also helping to load and unload plastic bags of bait, clean hangers, keep the area clear of debris, assist ground crews and maintain a safety zone around aircraft.

“We do any task from throwing out trash, cleaning toilets, moving equipment, policing runways and preparing baits for loading,” said Staff Sgt. Joel Hernandez, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, who operated a bait distribution equipment in drop zones.

According to statistics from the Department of State Health Services, the program has been successful in controlling the spread of rabies since its inception in 1995. Not a single case of domestic dog/coyote variant rabies in South Texas has been recorded since 2005 or of the Texas Fox variant rabies in West-Central Texas since 2014. No human cases of the coyote and gray fox rabies virus have been reported since the program began.

“We are proud to be part of a program that helps to prevent the spread of rabies and as a result contributes to savings in health care costs as fewer humans are exposed to rabies,” said Walker. “This impacts the environment and the economy in a positive way and reduces the exposure of livestock and wildlife to rabid animals.”

Guardsmen joined forces with partnering agencies to undergo the necessary training for a successful mission. Dr. Ronald Tyler, DSHS Public Health Region 11 Zoonosis Control Branch veterinarian and Angel Guevara, Public Health Specialist conducted training on the safe handling of the rabies vaccine/bait packets.

“It is very important for us to understand the proper way to handle baits.  We wear gloves and tight-fitting clothing so that our skin is not exposed to the vaccine.  We stay hydrated while flying, just as we would do if we were on a mission on the ground.  Drinking water also helps us to avoid air sickness from the very smelly fish meal that covers the packets,” said Hernandez.

For Pfc. Kevin Stepherson, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, the importance of ORVP and stopping the spread of rabies is clear.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this program saves people’s lives.  That is why I am here and why I am proud member of the Texas State Guard,” he said.

The Texas Oral Rabies Vaccination Program utilizes the services of such local, state and federal agencies and businesses such as the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Cooperative Extension Wildlife Services, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Texas Military Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dynamic Aviation Group, Inc. and the U.S. Army Veterinary Laboratory in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio.

Soldiers from Task Force Bayonet prepare for the Expert Infantryman Badge

DJIBOUTI

01.26.2018

Courtesy of Tech. Sgt. Michael McGhee

Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa

 

Task Force Bayonet has nearly 200 U.S. Army​ Soldiers from 3rd Battalion 144th Infantry Regiment "Fourth Texas" and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division onboard Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti​, Africa, are going through a rigorous training course to obtain the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB). The EIB is a coveted special skills badge that requires infantry Soldiers to pass a five-day evaluation that consists of an Army Physical Fitness Test, day and night land navigation, a 12-mile forced march, and 30 individual tasks covering weapons, medical, and security patrol skills.

(Video Imagery provided by U.S. Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Michael McGhee)

Organizational Diversity

TagTalks

Team three speaks about the organizational diversity of the Texas Military Department and their solutions.

Texas ChalleNGe Academy takes care of soldiers on the road to Hurricane Harvey

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Members of the 1st Armored Division’s 127th Aviation Support Battalion en route to Joint Base San Antonio stand together at the Texas ChalleNGe Academy, where they were provided with food and lodging when last minute challenges required them to find a place to stay in West Texas, Aug. 30, 2017. The task force, heading to San Antonio to refuel aircraft engaged in hurricane rescue efforts, intended to make the trip in one day, but unexpected challenges lengthened the journey and led them to the ChalleNGe Academy, which was able to put them up for the night. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Aaron Oliver, 176 Engineer Brigade)

Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, Texas Military Department

AUSTIN, Texas – Eleven military vehicles, including 5,000-gallon fuel tankers and trailers carrying 2,500-gallon tankers, merged onto I-10 for the 550-mile trek to Joint Base San Antonio, where they would refuel aircraft dedicated to rescuing Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Enthusiasm was not at an all-time high as these 29 active-duty soldiers from the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade took to the roads the morning of Aug. 30, 2017.

“Morale was mixed when leaving on the convoy from Fort Bliss,” said Sgt. Michael McGrady, a squad leader with the Combat Aviation Brigade's 127th Aviation Support Battalion. “Obviously there was the unknown of where we were going to stay, and we didn’t know where we were going. But we are soldiers and keep ourselves resilient to accomplish the mission.”

The hope was to complete the trip in one day, but this proved unfeasible. Had they been able to maintain their maximum speed of 45 mph, they would have arrived in San Antonio that evening. Instead, as the sun started to descend, they found themselves still pushing through the high plains of West Texas.

Choices for how and where to spend the night were limited, and the urgency with which they departed on this mission prevented them from thoroughly planning for such a contingency, explained Capt. Jess Baca, with the 127th’s support operations section.

“Letting them drive through the night to San Antonio was not an option,” Baca said. “It would take far too long in tactical vehicles. We can’t do that to our soldiers.”

Hotels weren’t an option either, Baca explained. There weren’t many around. So she began researching nearby churches and schools for a sheltered floor where the team could sleep in their cots and eat their preserved field rations.

Fortunately, her search led her to the Texas ChalleNGe Academy, a National Guard-run educational facility able to provide beds, showers, hot food, and space to park the 11 wheeled behemoths.

Any other week, the Texas ChalleNGe Academy would have been full of teenagers working to develop into strong adults. With program oversight provided by the Texas Military Department’s Joint Counterdrug Task Force, the ChalleNGe Academy houses, trains and mentors students for 5 1/2-month cycles. Fortunately for soldiers en route to San Antonio, the Academy’s west campus in Sheffield was on a cycle break, leaving the beds, showers and dining facility available for unexpected guests.

Aaron Oliver, program director for the west campus, said that when he received Baca’s call, he didn’t hesitate to accommodate her soldiers.

“We made that happen,” said Oliver, who is also a captain in the Army National Guard’s 176th Engineer Brigade. “In a span of just a few hours, my staff made sure that the bays were clean, the DFAC manager was able to verify that we had enough chow for this company-sized element, and we got it done.”

Most of the soldiers arrived after 9 p.m. and then local community members surprised them with a generous gift. 

“Somebody in the community got wind of it somehow and a couple community members showed up with 30 pizzas and several platters of cookies,” Oliver said. 

Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Resmondo, the 127th’s support operations section sergeant major, said thanks to the hospitality they received, the soldiers were safer, more rested, and more ready to perform their functions in the hurricane relief efforts. 

“It beats going on a 24-hour mission to try to get down to San Antonio, eating MREs and getting rest on the side of the road,” Resmondo said. “It really helped. It probably made things a lot more safe than trying to push through.”

McGrady said the hospitality they received was the answer to the stymied morale.

“Having some hot food along with baked goods, and cold water after a long drive was a great relief and helped everyone relax.”

The warmth and professionalism the ChalleNGe Academy staff showed the members of the 127th reflected the high quality of service they provide to their students, explained William Pettit, a retired Air Force colonel and the TCA state youth programs director.

“It does not surprise me that TCA employees extended hospitality to these active duty soldiers in the same way that they routinely take care of and develop their cadets,” Pettit said. 

Pettit also asserted that the interest in supporting fellow military personnel reflected the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration that the Texas Military Department promotes in its programs.

“As a Department of Defense-funded program, we were pleased to have the opportunity to support these soldiers who were deploying to help Texans deal with and recovery from Hurricane Harvey.”

Joint, Total-Force Team Soars to New Heights

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Photo By Senior Airman Stormy Archer | Airmen from the 26th Aerial Port Squadron attach an A-22 cargo bag with 2,000 pounds of “relief supplies” to the cargo hook of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flown by Soldiers from Texas Army National Guard Company C, 2-149 Aviation during Operation Alamo Evacuation Nov. 18, 2017, at Martindale Army Airfield, Texas. 36,000 pounds of cargo and 27 passengers were transported as part of the sling load and medical evacuation exercise.

Story by: Col. Kjäll Gopaul,

Deputy Director, Air Force Personnel Operations Activity

 

The deceptively cool morning skies over Martindale Army Airfield had started their climb to 90 degrees Fahrenheit as a joint, Total Force team of Texas Army National Guard Soldiers, Air Force Reserve Airmen, and an Active Duty pathfinder team prepared for their own climb into the heavens on wings of titanium.

Their mission, dubbed OPERATION ALAMO EVACUATION, was simple in its definition, but far-reaching in its demonstration for how components of the armed services can flawlessly converge on an objective and excel in its execution.

The exercise scenario took place November 18 at Martindale Army Airfield and simulated Airmen from the 26th Aerial Port Squadron receiving airdropped relief supplies from the 136th Airlift Wing in a remote part of Southwest Asia.  The Airmen then re-rigged the loads for sling load evacuation and pinpoint delivery by the Soldiers of Company C, 2-149 Aviation, to the relief supply recipients in the impassable mountains overlooking the drop zone.  The Soldiers subsequently conducted no-notice “alert” 9-line medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) responses in support of the scenario’s follow-on operations that afternoon, and flew the Airmen as MEDEVAC actors from Martindale Army Airfield to Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis and back.

 “We started the morning with an aircraft safety brief and rehearsals for our hookups,” Senior Airman Justin King, 26th APS ramp operator, said as he described the morning’s activities. “Once things got going, the UH-60 Black Hawks came in two at-a-time, picking up the sling loads for a simulated relief supply drop-off.  It was exciting to do something that is part of the aerial porter job, yet not part of our everyday norm. This was a great experience! Now we’ve all conducted live sling loads, and understand how they can benefit our future operations wherever we go.”

During the exercise each two-person hook-up team on the ground stood beneath a helicopter while it hovered overhead, then attached the load to the aircraft’s cargo hook.

“It was neat watching the Soldiers bring their aircraft in over us,” Air Force Second Lieutenant Matthew Gonzales, 26th APS officer in charge of the passenger terminal, added. “It’s also intimidating as a huge helicopter approaches the load with the blades spinning, the rotor wash was incredible.  I didn’t think that it would be that powerful, or that someone would really be needed to stand behind and brace the hook-up person, but I’m glad they were there.  This was an awesome opportunity. I just received my commission last week, and I haven’t done anything like this in my 10 years in the Air Force.  This is my first drill weekend at the 26 Aerial Port Squadron, and this type of training instills military pride, develops a joint mindset by working with other services, and aligns with the chief of staff of the Air Force’s vision on joint operations.”

Chief Master Sergeant Joe Gonzalez, 26th APS operations superintendent, served as the pick-up zone NCO in charge (PZ NCOIC) and remarked on the opportunity this mission afforded his Airmen. 

“As the PZ NCOIC, I participated in the mission planning and supervised the safe execution of hook-ups at the touchdown points,” he said. “It was great see our Traditional Reservists get outside the normal garrison training environment and onto a flight line with the Army National Guard Soldiers. As aerial porters, we deploy downrange, and don’t always know what we’ll be asked to do; so we have to work with what’s there.  Likewise, this mission gave us valuable experience with less familiar tasks. We rigged A-22 cargo bags and conducted sling load training with live helicopters, something that that most aerial porters rarely do before deploying.  This was especially valuable as our unit approaches its deployment window.”

Offering an aviator’s perspective of the sling load hook-ups, Army First Lieutenant Christian Lubbe, Texas ARNG Company C, 2-149 Aviation, aeromedical evacuation officer and platoon leader for the Sustainment Platoon, commented, “The ground crews were very proficient and clearly had been trained to be familiar with the task at hand. I was impressed at the rate which we were accomplishing the iterations.  The aircraft would leave and the ground teams were ready to hook the next load.”

He particularly noted the joint benefit, “From an inter-service standpoint, it’s amazing to have a team of Airmen here with us. This is my first type of training like this, and I hope to do more in the future.”

Army Sergeant Tiffani Smith, Texas ARNG Company C, 2-149 Aviation, flight medic, echoed that the morning sling loads were well coordinated from beginning to end.

“It was well-thought out process, executed well, and served as a good refresher for me,” she said. “I thought that the visual cues with the ground marking panels and hook-up teams’ colored safety vests were helpful.  It allowed me to see when the hook-up team was ready, and where to aim the aircraft as we approached the load.” 

She noted the inter-service camaraderie demonstrated during her safety brief to the Airmen that morning carried over to their MEDEVAC flights as passengers that afternoon.

“They were all eager and professional,” she said. “During the safety brief, they were focused and paid attention.  I think it’s because we’re all familiar with American military operations.  We just came back from Kosovo, and working with other nations presents different challenges.  Today’s team was calm, cool, and collected.  They were prepared, and followed directions very well so we could focus on the mission.”

In keeping with its exercise name, OPERATION ALAMO EVACUATION witnessed the sling load evacuation of more than 36,000 pounds of cargo and the medical evacuation of 27 MEDEVAC actors.  Both of the leaders of the participating Texas Army National Guard and Air Force Reserve units emphasized that the day’s mission had value far beyond these tactical measures of accomplishment.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Moore, 26th APS commander, underscored that the mission of the exercise aligned with his unit’s warfighting mission.

“Our primary mission at the 26th APS is to train and provide combat ready aerial porters,” he said. “This joint opportunity let us exercise some of our more unique support requirements that we normally wouldn't see outside of a deployed location.   More importantly, it provided our younger Airmen the opportunity to build and understand inter-service relationships with a key mission partner, the Army. It was exciting to see this come together, and to reinforce our ability to provide Rapid Global Mobility.”

Offering his key leader perspective, Lieutenant Colonel José Reyes, Texas ARNG Company C, 2-149 Aviation commander, remarked how beneficial the training was for both developing technical proficiency and inter-service relationships. 

“This was a tremendous opportunity for our units to work together,” he said. “I challenged my staff to plan the most efficient training with aircrew and aircraft sequencing.  Integrating the Air Force hook-up teams and pre-rigged loads improved the process, allowing faster iterations.  We trained 12 pilots, six crew chiefs, and four medics. To put that many crews through training with only two aircraft in such a short amount of time speaks volumes for the value of inter-service cooperation.”

Reyes remarked that the success of the day’s exercise shows a promising future for joint operations.

“We’re building a relationship,” he said. “We’ve established an association, successfully executed this mission, and now we can plan on future opportunities to reinforce our Joint, Total-Force partnership.”