Texas National Guard Soldier gives back to her community

Story by Staff Sgt. De'jon Williams, Texas Air National Guard

WESLACO, Texas – The National Guard is a volunteer force of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen who give their one weekend a month and two weeks a year to service.

One Texas National Guard Soldier serving with Operation Guardian Support (OGS) along the south Texas border, gives back to her community as a Citizen-Soldier and volunteer.

Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla, a combat medic specialist (68W), continues to give back to her local community with her volunteer efforts.

"I feel like I'm capable of helping others," said Quintanilla. "Why not? I have all my limbs; I have everything; some people need a little more help than others."

U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla hands markers to a student at Pharr-San Juan- Alamo Early College High School in San Juan, Texas Jan. 31, 2020.
U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla hands markers to a student at Pharr-San Juan- Alamo Early College High School in San Juan, Texas Jan. 31, 2020.

Wanting to give back and helping others started after hearing some shocking information from her younger sister, who was being bullied. She felt the need to speak up and do her part to help her sister and other young people.

She volunteered with local schools through the Helping Everyone Achieve Respect (H.E.A.R.) program speaking with local high schools about bullying.

She said it started with her sister telling her that she was getting bullied; this was information she did not like hearing. She went on to say that she went out to local high schools, conducted surveys and PowerPoints as to why it is not OK to bully.

Quintanilla went on to say that after putting in that effort, her sister felt a lot better. She did it for her and was she proud it made a change.

Her call to action did not stop there; she also volunteered with the Pharr Fire Department.

"I felt like I had too much downtime," Quintanilla said. "I was like, 'OK, I can do something.' I've always liked to be busy. I'm on the go and always have something to do. For example, firefighting was a great way to keep my fitness up and help people out in a way and have connections. It was just fun overall and it made me feel good."

Quintanilla has completed more than 150 hours with the fire department, 130 hours with H.E.A.R. She was able to earn her Certified Nurse Aide License after volunteering 40 hours at a local nursing home. Quintanilla has also volunteered her time with the U.S. Border Patrol at a community service event at the local Boys and Girls Club, helping get school supplies to less fortunate children. Overall, she has accumulated more than 500 hours of volunteer time in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla (left), a combat medic specialist poses for a photo with fellow volunteers.
U.S. Army Spc. Maritssa Quintanilla (left), a combat medic specialist poses for a photo with fellow volunteers.

"She's a great Soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class Gary Murrell, "She has a great work ethic, always striving to make herself better. She's one of the few that I've always seen constantly giving up her time to make herself and everyone else better."

Murrell, who is Quintanilla's platoon sergeant, went on to describe her volunteer efforts as constant. Saying she has come to him multiple times about what she can do to make her community better and what she can do to make herself better.

Moving forward, Quintanilla plans to go back to school to finish her bachelor's degree and join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

"I decided to go to school, do ROTC and become an officer," said Quintanilla. "I'm going into the ROTC program and sign my contract this August after I get off mission. I'm looking at it as a good way to become a lieutenant and motivate my troops to become volunteers."

Many OGS Soldiers along the south Texas border have gone above and beyond answering the call to service to continue to volunteer and give back to their communities, Quintanilla is no exception.

"I thank God every day for giving me another chance to be here," She said. "There is a quote 'you make a living by what you get, and you make a life by what you give,' I live by this every day volunteering as a way to give my gratitude for having a chance to be here."

Texas Guard launches innovation unit

Story by Robert Seyller, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

After over a year of preparation, the Texas Guard is officially launching the Texas Military Department Joint Innovation Unit: TMDx.

Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, along with Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas, visit Texas National Guard service members serving at the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas, April 29, 2020.

The original plan called for a live event at the Capital Factory in Austin, home to the TMDx flagship innovation hub. However, recent concerns over COVID-19 forced the program to do exactly what it was designed for – partner, innovate and come up with a solution. That partnership came in the form of a livestreamed event, hosted by Capital Factory and simulcast across multiple social media platforms, July 15.

The launch, hosted by Sean Duffy, VP of partnerships at Capital Factory, featured appearances by Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of Texas; and Maj. Alex Goldberg, TMDx managing director.

TMDx will utilize the Texas Guard’s position as the largest state military force in the country to leverage partnerships in industry and academia throughout the Texas innovation corridor to develop a new framework for military problem-solving.

Pilot Training Next, a technology-focused pilot preparation course founded in Austin, along with partnerships in construction, software programs and 3D printing technology, was just one of the TMDx noted successes highlighted during the event.

Lengyel focused on the 3D printing program during his remarks as he noted that Texas had won the National Guard Bureau’s national innovation competition. The program will allow F-16 maintainers to print replacement parts for the F-16 fighter aircraft, shortening logistical delays for parts and reducing costs.

“No one innovates like the National Guard and especially not like Texans,” said Lengyel. “This same technology was also able to print personal protective equipment and ventilator parts that we can use during our COVID-19 response.”

Speed and the ability to respond quickly to growing threats is imperative.

“It all comes down to needing to move faster,” said Goldberg. “Our adversaries are moving faster – faster in space, faster in hypersonic and faster in fielding commercial technology.”

The growing presence of near-peer threats are considered to be outpacing the U.S. in innovation.

“The status quo is comfortable, but what works today to ensure our national security will not be good enough for the challenges on the horizon,” said Norris. “The military moves slower than we would like and are moving away from a ‘no because’ mindset to a mindset of, ‘How do we get to yes?’”

The program’s launch in Austin will be a first step, according to Goldberg, who shared plans for expansion to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth and El Paso.

A Crockett Signs Up to Serve Texas… Again.

Story by SSG Eric Walden, Texas State Guard

Every now and then when you meet someone, their name rings a bell, and before you know it you are asking “Oh are you related to….?” If you were to ask such a question of one of the newest recruits in the Texas State Guard (TXSG), a Private named Stephen Crockett, you'd be right in your hunch. Not long after Crockett was sworn into the 2nd Battalion, 6th Brigade of the TXSG at Camp Mabry in May, he was asked - and he confirmed - that he comes from a long line of Texas Crocketts, including a certain famous distant cousin who gave his all at The Alamo. 

Stephen descends from another "David" Crockett, too: "Davy's" grandfather, David, was massacred along with his wife in an attack by the Chickamauga Cherokee in 1777 at their cabin by near Crockett Creek in what is now called Rogersville, TN. The Cherokee also kidnapped a deaf and mute son named James and shot another son Joseph in the arm during the attack. The elder David Crockett was also the father of John Crockett: the father of the hero of the Alamo, and William Crockett from whom Stephen descends. 

The two brothers William and John ended up marrying sisters with the maiden name Hawkins (making Stephen a double cousin to Davy) who also happened to be cousins to Brigadier General John Sevier’s wife making them related by marriage to Sevier. The then-Col. John Sevier, who later became the first governor of Tennessee, fought with William and John Crockett as part of the “Overmountain men” at the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780, winning a major victory of the American Revolutionary war against British loyalists. It is also worth noting that William and John Crockett never forgot their kidnapped brother and found him 17 years later and bought him back from some Cherokee traders. Patriotism and loyalty seem to run deep in the DNA of the Crockett family, a trait that will serve Stephen well in the TXSG.

Being a distant relative of the Alamo hero was a point of teasing for a young Stephen Crockett growing up, listening to the ballad of Davy Crockett sung by his peers far too often (even though he had never seen the TV show). However, that relationship to Davy and its significance never really took hold in Stephen’s mind until he was much older. It was when he moved to Austin and visited the Capitol and saw the ‘Heroes of the Alamo’ monument featuring Davy Crockett on the Capitol grounds that he said it became a bit surreal. "I still have trouble sometimes wrapping my head around the level of importance or significance that is attributed to him, and realizing that it’s based on that statue in a lot of ways, positioning him as THE hero of the Texas Revolution,” Stephen Crockett says. "Even now, it’s humbling to think about that."

Stephen was born and raised in Texas and attended college at USC in Los Angeles where he earned his degree in civil engineering. Eventually making his way to Austin, Stephen began volunteering once a week as a driver for the “Meals on Wheels” program there. Stephen also had a strong interest in SCUBA diving and attained his Rescue Divers’ certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). He discovered the TXSG through a co-worker who was a guard member, who told him about the TXSG and its dive teams.

“I enjoy giving back, and I also love adventure and pushing my limits, and diving with the TXSG seems to fit right in with both of those things,” Crockett says. At 33 years of age, Stephen is not yet married so he has quite a bit of free time on his hands and wanted to find “interesting and fulfilling ways to spend the time that isn't wasteful.” Stephen also serves as a volunteer teaching English for the Refugee Services of Texas.

Stephen is not the only Crockett to continue the tradition of military service to his state and country. Stephen’s grandfather, Charles Richard Crockett (or Richard Charles as the family called him) joined the United States Air Force after graduating from the University of Arkansas, serving as a JAG Officer. He went on to practice law for over 50 years. Stephen also has two uncles who served in the armed services. James Crockett served in the United States Army and his brother Robert served in the United States Marine Corps. His 3rd great-grandfather, William Sevier Crockett, was a Private in Co. A, 5th Regiment, East Tennessee Infantry of the Union Army in the Civil War. His 6th great-grandfather, William Crockett, was an Ensign in the American Revolutionary War. Answering the call to duty appears to be a family tradition.

David “Davy” Crockett was a pioneer in the early days of our union. He joined the Tennessee militia and was active in fighting in the Creek War, but also showed his leadership by providing for the soldiers, and by hunting wild game for them to eat. He progressed into public service by becoming a commissioner in Lawrence Co., Tennessee, and was soon appointed Justice of the Peace by the state legislature in 1817. In March of 1818 he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 57th Regiment of the Tennessee Militia and in 1821 ran and won a seat in the Tennessee General Assembly. After an unsuccessful run for the United States House of Representatives, Crockett won the seat in 1826 and was re-elected in 1828. In 1830 he was the only member of the Tennessee delegation to oppose Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act, which cost him the next election. However, he ran again and served in Congress until 1835. 

On November 1st, 1835, Davy and three other men left for Texas to explore and find a homestead. On the day he left, witnesses remember him wearing his hunting suit and the famed coonskin cap. Crockett arrived in Texas in January of 1836 and swore his oath as a volunteer to Texas on January 14. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8th and by the 25th of February he had already entered the armed conflict with General Santa Anna’s Army. Bolstered by an early 90-minute victory against the Mexican Army, Crockett was sent by Lt. Colonel William Travis, along with two others, to find Fannin’s Texian reinforcements and led them back through Mexican lines to the Alamo on March 4th. On March 6th, just before dawn, the Battle of the Alamo began and within 90 minutes it was over; and all the defenders were dead. 

In the years since, Davy Crockett has become a larger than life figure, his name known around the world. His legacy has become part of Texas and American folklore. The name Crockett invokes the spirit of the citizen-soldier - a spirit that is alive today in the TXSG, a branch of the Texas Military Department with its roots stretching all the way back to Stephen Austin's first call-to-arms to defend Texas.  184 years later, the TXSG welcomes another Crockett, ready to serve Texas and his fellow Texans. 

A Fight on the Home Front: The TXSG Joins the COVID-19 Battle

By WO1 David Brown, Texas State Guard

History will record that in the spring of 2020, a silent, invisible killer attacked on the home front.  

Even before the Governor officially activated Texas Military forces on March 17, members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) were taking steps to get ready for what most could see coming: a statewide deployment to help combat COVID-19.   

Conceived as a state defense force, one could say the TXSG was built for a battle like this.  But not even veterans of past disasters could expect what fighting the coronavirus would entail.  

“Unpredictability and dealing with the unknowns - that’s the biggest thing,” CPT Cyla Barron explained. Barron has served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the National Guard, and in several different posts in the TXSG, including Battle Captain in the TXSG Emergency Operations Center (TEOC), during Hurricane Harvey.  Now Barron is back in the TEOC, the operational hub for the State Guard, monitoring oversized screens with the latest numbers of coronavirus cases, tracking potential hot-spots  and helping to coordinate the deployment of TXSG troops with liaison officers from the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and Texas Department of Emergency Management. 

“Harvey was fairly predictable.  We could see it coming and stay one step ahead.  Now (with COVID-19) we have to monitor and respond to a constantly changing deadly threat and at the same time protect ourselves from getting ill.” 

On another screen in the TEOC, Barron, Asst. Battle Captain WO1 Jon Gimble and Battle NCO SGT Travis Ross tracked the progress of a team of TXSG engineers, evaluating potential medical overflow facilities in northeast Texas.  The TXSG team was part of a Joint Engineer Task Force which included specialists from the National Guard and the State Construction Management and Facilities office.

“The TXSG brings added value in a situation like this,” said LTC Cecil Bell, the recently appointed Chief of Engineers for the TXSG.  In addition to serving in the TXSG, Bell is a Texas State Representative, and a licensed expert in water infrastructure construction. “If you’re an engineer in the State Guard, you have an advanced degree, you’re a working professional, you have licensed state certification; what we drill on is what we do in our day jobs.”   

As a practical demonstration of that added value, potential medical overflow facilities were evaluated using a checklist designed by a TXSG engineer, Bell said. “That’s part of the uniqueness of our role in this fight against COVID-19: we have a skill set that includes many years of real-world facility operations and maintenance know-how.”  His observation echoes the ideal of the highly trained citizen-solider at the core of the TXSG.  

Though proficient in and tested on FEMA best practices, PFC Patrick Mejia, a Guardsman based in San Antonio, could hardly have anticipated what the fight against COVID-19 would throw at him: a constant parade of oversized 18-wheelers bringing in and hauling out personal protection equipment (PPE) to the Texas Department of Emergency Management warehouse in the ‘Alamo City’.  

By day, Mejia works as a recruiter for the Texas ChalleNGe Academy, a tuition-free education program for teens disengaged with traditional school, sponsored by the National Guard. Since his deployment on April 3rd, Mejia has put his work and home life on hold to serve his fellow Texans in 7-day-a-week shifts, from 0400 to 1600.  His job involves warehouse logistics for items such as face masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, blankets, and other critical goods in short supply statewide.  

As soon as Mejia could get a new load of pallets numbered and labelled, notice would come in from the State Operations Center (SOC) in Austin to prepare for a pick-up.  Working alongside members of the Army National Guard and the Texas A&M Forest Service, Mejia and fellow Guardsman PVT Ricardo Espinoza would help load up shipments for delivery to hospitals, armories and local institutions in Lubbock, Dallas, El Paso, and all points in between.  

“Working in the warehouse, sometimes you feel like you’re in a bubble. It hurts because you know there are people who need this equipment, these are your neighbors and the numbers are growing,” Mejia said.  “And there’s the fatigue, the lack of sleep...then you see on the (TV) news a delivery being made to a hospital...and it’s like “hey! That’s my writing on the side of that pallet!”  

Farther east down I-10, SGT Eseil Hernandez and PFC Johnathan Williams of the TXSG 2nd Brigade were working in warehouse support operations alongside colleagues in the 1st Squadron, 112th Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard providing assistance to the greater Houston area. Facing time pressures to get critical medical supplies into the distribution chain, Guardsmen employed technology originally designed for shelter and evacuation missions. “I use the same equipment I trained with to scan people and their belongings (during evacuations) to keep track of essential medical supplies that can be quickly dispatched from our distribution point as needed,” Hernandez explained. 

“I don’t mind stepping away from my job to be of service to the community,” Williams added.  “It is about the oath I took when I enlisted.”

It’s about Texans helping Texans.  It’s about making a difference.

“At a time of unprecedented uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I could not be more proud of the men and women of the Texas State Guard,” said Robert J. Bodisch, Sr, Commanding General, TXSG.  “This is not a normal mission, but these are not normal times.  From our medical professionals, engineer teams, logistics and staging, operations and administrative personnel, and many others, the TXSG has proven once again we are always ready and able to answer the call to serve our fellow Texans.  We are also recruiting new members and those who need a purpose and a chance to belong to something greater than themselves.”

“It is exhausting, the long hours,” TEOC Battle Captain Barron concedes, “but it makes me so proud to be here, working alongside people who come from all walks of private life bringing their experiences to the table to help their Texas neighbors...there’s a true sense of camaraderie.” 

And one might add, even in these trying times, a sense of something more.  A sense of: Duty. Honor. Texas.

Soldiers of the Texas State Guard 2nd Brigade help the Chaplain in a time of need

Story by Chaplain Richard Brunk, 2nd Brigade, Texas State Guard

Soldiers of TXSG 2BDE help Chaplain
Soldiers of the Texas State Guard 2nd Brigade really stepped up for Chaplain Brunk.

In April I wrote: “Most everything about COVID-19 is awful. How can we have high morale during such a unique, ongoing and devastating crisis?”
Well, the following is a story about some of our 2BDE Soldiers lifting my family’s morale!

It started with a casual comment. I was speaking with Staff Sgt. Gregory Illich about ways to match up Soldiers with skills with Soldiers and their Families with needs. One Soldier said he could tutor Chemistry and Math for kids having to homeschool due to COVID-19. Another Soldier offered to help a Soldier with some damage at their home.

So, what was the casual comment? I mentioned that my wife and I had been busy picking up debris from a storm that ran through our community. While many of our neighbors lost 50- and 60-foot oak trees, we got away pretty easy. Our portable greenhouse had been flipped over and destroyed, so we had a lot of repotting to do, fortunately we saved most of the plants. We still had a big pile of branches as well as some tree limbs that needed pruned, along with some other cleanup work.

Illich said that he would come up Saturday morning to help and that he would bring his chainsaw. Saturday morning, he knocked on my door and told me that there might be a few more Soldiers coming to help. A few turned into ten, with chainsaws and loads of tools. Everyone was masked, gloved and following COVID-19 guidelines and safety rules.

In a few hours, I had a stack of firewood, dead and damaged trees and limbs cut away, and after a lot of hard work, a clear path to my fence for the first time since I moved in five years ago. Dangerous debris is now safely disposed of. We had no injuries, lots of hard work, great training on equipment and problem solving as entangled old fencing and posts were making the whole thing challenging.

My wife, Kathy and I are very thankful for the Soldiers of Second Brigade who volunteered their time: Pvt. Steven Kahla, Pvt. Tyler Frankum, Cpl. Michael Prior, Sgt. Danel Emert, Pvt. Sean Mai, Pvt. Eric Hoffman, 1st Lt. Matthew Bramanti, and Col. Edwin Grantham. Thanks also to Sgt. 1st Class Gordon, and Staff Sgt. Alberto Dominguez for their help in organizing volunteers.

We are blessed to have troops of all ranks, including Commanders and leaders, from the company level right up to the State, that care about each Soldier. You and your family are indeed the lifeblood of the TXSG and a huge resource for the State of Texas. Thank you!

Texas National Guard Airman on COVID-19 mission pursues her lifelong goals



Story by Tech. Sgt. Lynn M. Means 

A patient waits with bated breath. Her time has come – the test has started. She tilts her head back and braces herself, eyes closed as the medic slides a nose swab to the back of the nasal cavity. It keeps going in – relentlessly farther – seemingly all the way to the brain. Why does it need to go so far?! She tries hard not to reel back.

“People sneeze on us – sometimes they grab our hands, which is pretty fair, I guess.”

With piercing eyes and a kind voice, Airman 1st Class Jyoti KC helps her patients through this uncomfortable procedure. Each day on average, she tests more than 80 patients for the COVID-19 virus.

KC, a 136th Airlift Wing medic, says she is proud to be a part of the COVID response, taking care of other Texans.

“I love to help people,” said KC. “They appreciate us being outside here, and they can see how dedicated we are for them. You know, for Texas.”
KC’s compassion and drive to serve others has shown as a beacon to others on her team.

“Airman KC is one of our medics here at Charlie-2 down in El Paso,” said Lt. Col. Theresa Chrystal, the medical testing team C-2 officer in charge. “I’ve been working with her for about the past month, and she is just a bright, shining light! You see that she’s professional, and she’s one of those people you feel an immediate connection to and enjoy being around.”

KC’s mix of kindness and absolute professionalism was shocking to Chrystal, as this young Airman has only been in the Air Force a very short time. In fact, KC joined the COVID response effort only months after completing technical training.

“She comes to us as a professional and wants to be part of the mission,” said Chrystal. “She’s driven, she’s passionate, and she really cares about everything and everyone.”

Chrystal said KC has the best technique with her patients.

“Everyone is very blessed when they get Airman KC to swab them,” said Chrystal. “She is quick, and she’s got a great personality and makes them feel at ease. I’m very proud of her character and the fact that she’s doing a very good job, even as such a young Airman.”

Chrystal is excited for the career KC has ahead of her, saying she hopes to inspire KC to keep motivating that passion - the fire inside her.

“She wants to be an aerospace engineer,” said Chrystal. “And she’s going to be a rocket scientist one day! And I know she’ll make huge strides in the Air National Guard, and I’m very proud to work with her and know her.”

Originally from Nepal, KC moved to the United States in 2017, setting her eyes on new goals and a new career direction.

“Back in Nepal, I was doing architectual engineering,” KC said. “Then I moved here, and I had always wanted to do aerospace engineering.

As she described her passions, KC began to smile and her eyes focused off into space. She said the fascination started at a young age.

“When I was ten, I had a neighbor who was a pilot,” KC said. “I think that was the first click that, ‘I want to fly.’ Now I think about aircraft, being an astronaut, going into space and exploring space. It’s kind of fascinating.”

KC said she allowed that fascination to fan into a passion. And the more she learned about aircraft, she slowly developed an even stronger interest in spacecraft.

“I began reading,” said KC. “Learning about the backgrounds of different astronauts and how they started their journey to become an astronaut. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know about it. It’s not just a hobby – it’s more of a passion.”

KC said each night while she serves on the COVID response mission, she also takes evening classes online, with plans to enroll into a university after the pandemic. Her goal is to major in aerospace engineering and minor in mechanical engineering.

Meanwhile, she continues to serve in the Texas Air National Guard, enjoying the camaraderie and learning from everyone she encounters.

“The Air Force is a diversified organization,” KC said. “I have a different culture, my background is different, and I’m working with people who are from different backgrounds.

“And I like them! I like the way they think – they are pretty unique. Their perspectives are different, so you always learn from them. It always inspires me.”

The Stern Reality Check: How the legacy of a fallen Soldier reminds us to do our best

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs

CAMP MABRY, Texas⁠—Wade Slack was once a kid who loved hunting and video games. He was devoted to his family. And, he dreamed of becoming a Soldier.

As he approached adulthood, he quickly realized his dream, enlisting in the Army months prior to his graduation from high school. Wade died shortly after his 21st birthday, in the line of duty on May 6, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit.

His younger brother, Andrew Slack, recalled how the news of his death put an end to his own childhood, forcing him to face adult realities.

“I had been up to no good, doing my own thing,” he said. “I didn’t really think anything of the military. It didn’t really occur to me that people die overseas every day.”

“It was a stern reality check when we had those government employees show up at my mom’s house,” Andrew said.

Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176—Col. Robert Crockem, commander; Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations offier; Capt. Brett Anderson, chaplain; and 1st Lt. Andrew Slack, liaison officer—honor Slack's brother, Spc. Wade Slack, on the tenth anniversary of his death at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, May 6, 2020. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Things didn’t get easier for Andrew or his family through the years that followed. His father, a Veterinarian much beloved by the local community in Waterville, Maine, died of a heart attack a year and a half later. Before another two years had passed, one of his sisters, who was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, took her own life.

“Today is a culmination of what the circumstances of my young adult life produced,” Andrew said on May 6, 2020, the 10th anniversary of his brother’s death.

Now a first lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard, a platoon leader in the 111th Engineer Battalion, and a liaison officer for Joint Task Force 176’s COVID-19 response mission, Andrew reflects on how these tragic events shaped his values and beliefs about Soldiering and leadership.

“As terrible as that was to accept in the beginning, as well as the deaths that followed within my family within the next four years, it puts things into the perspective of not taking things for granted, and not wasting time,” said Andrew, who applied this lesson to his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he was preparing to take on the role, he heard through the grapevine that liaison officers tend to feel useless, only answering phones day in and day out.

Regardless of whether that may have been true for anyone who had held a similar position in the past, Andrew seized the opportunity to develop himself and contribute significantly to the mission.

“I looked around at the collective knowledge in the room, realizing how much I didn’t know, and realized that you’re only useless if you don’t take advantage of a situation,” said Andrew, explaining that his eagerness to learn led to increased opportunity and responsibility. “I quickly went from dialing in phones, to successfully emulating the battle captain position, to being assigned in mission analysis of 176th Task Force construction objectives.”

Andrew’s insistence in seizing all the opportunities in his role aligns with the philosophy his brother demonstrated with his actions, to “Love what you do, and do it to its fullest.”

His brother had enlisted in the Army with the goal of disposing of explosives intended to kill service members or local civilians. Despite the obvious dangers involved in this profession, Wade had his heart set, and after basic training, he completed the 37-week explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) training that is challenging enough to wash out 75 percent of the class.

“He knew what he wanted to do,” Andrew said. “He executed just that to EOD standard.”

On the tenth anniversary of his death Joint Task Force 176 finished the daily brief with silence and reverent words about Spc. Wade Slack. Col. Robert Crockem, the task force’s commander, said remembering fallen Soldiers can help us stay careful and not become complacent.

“We have to be aware of what we’re doing at all times, and not take for granted that things are always going to work out,” Crockem said. “It brings a sobering reality to the fact that we’re in the military, and the military can be a dangerous business.”

Texas National Guardsmen prepare to sanitize nursing homes

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. D. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard

CAMP MABRY, Texas—Texas Military Department service members prepared to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in long-term care facility COVID-19 disinfection operations on May 8- 9, 2020, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)
Members of the Texas Military Department's Joint Task Force 176—Texas State Guard Pfc. Jason Hunter, Texas National Guard Capt. Stephanie Enloe, the task force's medical operations officer, and Sgt. 1st Class Rajendran Kumaraswamy, the task force's medical noncommissioned officer—unload disinfecting kits for Soldiers preparing to support long-term care facility disinfection operations at Camp Mabry, in Austin, Texas, May 7, 2020. Joint Task Force 176, a unit of Texas Military Department personnel who have been distributing food and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, are now preparing to support the Texas Division of Emergency Management in disinfecting long-term care facilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles, 36th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

Army National Guard Soldiers with Joint Task Force 176 convened at the task force’s headquarters to receive personal protective equipment and sanitizing kits on May 8, 2020. The following day, they received training from the National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team on how to safely don and doff protective gear, as well as how to administer the disinfectants.

“This mission is important to protect our most vulnerable population,” said 1st Lt. Joseph Warth, battle captain with the Texas Military Department’s Joint Task Force 176, who explained that National Guard disinfection teams will work in support of Texas Division of Emergency Management efforts to sanitize facilities where occupants have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We will go in and ensure that residents are protected,” Warth said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Spc. Precious Watkins, a Texas Army National Guard culinary specialist assigned to Joint Task Force 176, said this mission hits close to home for her as an individual with elder relatives who have endured various significant health issues.

“In the class today we talked about how people who have had strokes or heart attacks are more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Watkins said. “That’s a little scary for me.”

As part of their preparation, the Soldiers received a day of training from the Texas National Guard’s 6th Civil Support Team.

Maj. Peter Ammerman, operations officer with Joint Task Force 176, said National Guardsmen are capable of quickly learning and executing such tasks because their dual-footing in the military and civilian life makes them well-rounded and adaptive.

“Not only are they Army Soldiers and Air Force Airmen, but they’re also civilians who do a lot of different things,” Ammerman said. “They’re able to get out there and truly do whatever the State of Texas asks them to do.”

Mobile Testing Command Center coordinates mobile COVID-19 testing in Texas

Story by Second Lieutenant Daniel Martinez, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard

ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas -- Members of the Texas Military Department and other civilian agencies continue coordinating mobile COVID-19 testing throughout Texas from the Mobile Testing Command Center May 3, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

The MTCC is responsible for mobilizing missions to remote areas of Texas for COVID-19 testing by coordinating the logistics of each mobile testing team, while also ensuring all military members remain safe throughout the operation.

The MTCC was initiated on April 18, 2020, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott’s goal to develop a plan for reopening the state. The TMD is collaborating with multiple civilian agencies to bring that mission to fruition.

Each mobile testing site tests between 40-200 individuals daily. There are currently 50 mobile testing site teams. Each team consists of 5 medics, 17 support members, as well as support from community leaders, such as EMS workers and government officials.

The TMD has conducted over 12,000 tests from every corner of the state.

“The data coming out has demonstrated that our medics are following proper testing protocols. Considering the nature of a field-testing site in Texas, weather conditions and the challenges of a mobile mission, this is a huge win for our teams and for our state,” said Maj. Tanya Island, the Mobile Testing Command Center Surgeon, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard.

“We have been able to increase the volume of samples in a short amount of time while having the operational flexibility of being mobile. This directly supports the Governor’s efforts to plan for the future of our great state. ”

Mobile testing teams start and end their day at different locations throughout the state. They rely on guidance from the MTCC on where to go for testing each day.

“Traveling to each community has been a positive experience. The civilians we test, mayors and other public officials all greet us with kindness and thank us for serving,” said Senior Airman Tennelle Anderson, a 147th Medical Group Aerospace Medical Technician. “It is evident that we are impacting the great state of Texas as we have received the highest turnout numbers from our testing. It has encouraged me and strengthened my faith seeing our nation come together to help each other during this challenging time. I'm proud to be a part of history and will continue to do everything I can until we have defeated the invisible enemy.”

Inter-agency collaboration has been essential to completing the mission because there is currently a shortage of medical supplies. Mobile testing teams will arrive to a specific location and meet civilian agencies who coordinate with regional partners to meet any equipment shortfalls to ensure all Texans get the testing they need.

The components of the COVID-19 testing kit must be kept refrigerated. The inter-agency team has developed a distribution system that combines civilian and military personnel. It is one of the critical elements of the mission.

The agencies involved with the MTCC are the Texas Military Department, Department of State Health Services, Agrilife Extension Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife division, Department of Public Safety, Texas Engineering Extension Service, Texas Department of Emergency Management, and Federal Emergency Management Agency.


Members of the 147th Attack Wing provide assistance to the Montgomery County Food Bank

Story by Second Lieutenant Daniel Martinez, 147th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard

ELLINGTON FIELD JOINT RESERVE BASE, Texas -- Members of the 147th Attack Wing and Texas Army National Guard continue to assist the Montgomery County Food Bank May 3, 2020, in Montgomery, Texas.

The Montgomery County Food Bank provides food to the local community, but have been unable to do so due to their lack of volunteers since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Military Department has provided assistance to the Montgomery County Food Bank. TMD members have worked side by side with food bank employees to serve those in need.

“We’ve gotten along really well,” said Lt Col Mark Tacquard, the officer in charge. “We’ve been able to offer a lot of our abilities to help solve hurdles. We have 8 people from our 147th Logistic Readiness Squadron that have helped contribute their skills to overcome these hurdles.”

The TMD force consists of 34 Texas Air National Guard members from the 147th Attack Wing, and 10 Texas Army National Guard. Their daily duty is to break down pallets of food into smaller packages for the high demand from the local community that the food bank receives.

With the TMD’s assistance, the food bank has been able to keep up with the high demand from the local community. No family has been turned away to receive food.

“It’s very rewarding to fulfill the increased demands at the Montgomery County Food Bank,” said Technical Sgt. Matthew Baker, 111th Attack Squadron.

“They were previously not able to meet the demands, but now that the Texas Air National Guard and Army National Guard are here, we are able to do so.”

The TMD members arrived on April 23rd and will continue to serve the Montgomery County Food Bank as long as there is a need. Precautions are taken at the start of each work day by implementing health screens at the door by an on-site medic.