American Idol Finalist With Texas State Guard Ties in the National Spotlight

By Phoebe Sisk, Cpt., 1st Brigade, Texas State Guard 

If you ask Fritz Hager III what landed him on the 20th season of American Idol, which premiered this past February, he will tell you that yes, it was talent and yes, it was hard work- but even more so it was having to prove, as one of six siblings competing for shared resources, that his commitment to his music was to be taken seriously. 

And as the second son born into a military family and namesake to his West Point graduate father, Hager possessed the pluck and determination, early on, to do just that. 

Having been brought up in the church and exposed to live bands ever since toddlerhood, Hager knew his musical interests at a young age. He was relentless in convincing his parents, Texas State Guard 1st Brigade Lead Chaplain Fritz Hager and wife Sarina, that his fascination was more than a passing fancy. “It took me two years, but I finally persuaded them to get me a guitar in sixth grade. I’ll never forget coming home after only one lesson- I learned four chords- and writing my first song. It was not very good...” 

Clearly, Hager has mastered the learning curve since then, earning comments from viewers that he is “the total package- a true artist.” Not only can he sing, he writes stunningly beautiful original songs, such as “All My Friends” which aired as a rehearsal tape, due to the fact that Hager had contracted covid in May and was unable to perform the round live. Fans were blown away, and even American Idol producers posted on Twitter, “Maybe the best original song on Idol...ever!?” 

Hager believes that his heartfelt approach to his craft has been a niche advantage with fans. 

“Talent can only get you so far, so in addition to working hard, I set about to be as authentic as possible, knowing that American Idol is a reality TV show. I’m not a powerhouse singer, I am a songwriter and storyteller and I tried to pour my heart out at every performance,” said Hager. 

For Hager, reaching the audience in the way that he desired meant really risking and putting himself out there. 

“I think that my superpower is my ability to help others feel deeply. I have always been a feeler, which hurt me in high school- it’s hard to be vulnerable and to have to bottle stuff up. Being a man and being vulnerable is not easy in our culture, especially in my case coming from a military family in the South. It’s easy to shut that part of yourself off,” he said. 

But instead of hiding this aspect of himself from fans, Hager made a courageous and intentional choice to be transparent with his audiences. “Music is a creative outlet to vent our thoughts and feelings- it is something that can be a great tool as it heals all of us,” he said. 

Clearly, viewers feel the catharsis of his songs, voting Hager as one of the top 5 contestants for this season of American Idol, which began casting calls in August of 2021. 

As one of approximately 100,000 contestants to audition virtually during COVID, Hager felt that his initial entrée via Zoom, versus performing in a stadium in front of a live audience, was an advantage in that it made participation easy and accessible. “It’s one of the reasons I decided to try out,” he said. 

But before Hager got comfortable with the large crowds, he first had to brave perhaps the toughest audience of all - his family. 

“It’s hard to logically justify as a music career is so risky,” said Hager. “But my parents and I have learned to bridge that gap and now the conversation is how can we optimize this situation, how can we make this payout for the long run?” 

Hager clearly appreciates the loyalty and strength gleaned from the military roots of his family. “I come from a very supportive family- and they ensured my success in staying balanced as they were truly my only inner circle throughout...” he said. 

According to Hager, his father’s left-brain leaning logic helped him to appreciate the benefit of planning for his right-brain creative career. Additionally, it helped to discuss with him the intensity, stress, and downright trauma of seeing friends cut during Hollywood Week. “He understood that what I experienced was not unlike the military in that few others will ever be able to relate to such a singular and extreme encounter,” said Hager. 

“What Fritz III went through was much like going off to basic training, or even combat, where he was enduring an emotional, transformative experience, with the added pressure-cooker of 5 million people watching,” said the performer’s father, Chaplain Fritz Hager. “(Fritz III) handled it with grit and an incredible focus on the next thing. I was just as proud of how he approached the challenge as what he accomplished!” 

The future looks bright for the younger Hager- and will hopefully include both playing shows and recording, and possibly reuniting with American Idol fellow contestant and friend Leah. Meanwhile, he continues to savor the richness of the memories. “I am filled with joy and fully realize that every minute was a gift from the audience to me,” he said. 

Hager says, above all, he has learned the importance of being a decent person- of being professional, kind, and easy to work with- and hopes to be an example to his younger siblings Henry, Joe, Lucy, and Sam. “My oldest brother Jack is at West Point and has shown us the value of his work ethic. I hope to be a different kind of example of following your passion,” he said. 

Whether Hager (the performer) will join Hagar (his father, the Chaplain) in military service to his home state remains an open question.  If so, he certainly wouldn’t be alone in serving alongside a parent.  While many veterans of federal forces are members of the Texas State Guard, prior service is not required – only a heart of selfless service. Currently, there are opportunities for Texans with a wide range of experiences to serve, from chaplains, lawyers, and law enforcement professionals to engineers, construction workers, health care workers, teachers - and people with exceptional creative talents and skills.   

The Texas State Guard is one of three branches of the Texas Military Department, which also includes the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard.  The Governor is the Commander-in-Chief.  More information about the State Guard and recruitment contacts can be found online at in the State Guard tab.  

The Longest Mission: The Texas State Guard on the Front Lines Against a Deadly Adversary

By David Brown, 1st Lt., Texas State Guard 

It is the longest mission deployment in the 80-plus-year history of the Texas State Guard. And despite its critical, life-saving role, it may be one of the least well-known or understood.   

Margaret Vaughan of Bronson, Texas, a Lt. Col. in the Texas State Guard, remembers the moment it started. It was March 17th, 2020. Covid-19 cases across the US had jumped past the 4,000 mark.  Vaughan, a cattle rancher by trade, had been preparing for this moment for years: a long-duration deployment of Texas State Guard Forces not quite like any other before.  On that day, the request came in for Vaughan to prepare for the coordination of statewide military assets in the fight against Covid-19.  This would be a multi-front battle against a deadly and largely unknown viral adversary.  

“We had to determine the base of operation, the mode of operation, what our tactics would be…,” Vaughan says.  As Texas State Guard Engineer Units deployed to sites across the state to evaluate possible hospital overflow locations to treat the sick, Vaughan went into action coordinating with the Texas Department of Emergency Management, the Department of State Health Services, Texas Task Force One, specialists within the Texas Military Department (which includes the Texas State Guard, the Texas Army National Guard, and the Texas Air National Guard) and other state agencies to structure a central hub: a pandemic-focused State Operations Center (SOC). 

Over the years, the Texas State Guard has been involved in hundreds of deployments of highly-trained mission-ready military forces in support of civil authorities during weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes, conducting search and rescue missions on land and water, setting up shelters, medical triage units, and more.  But “this would be a novel mission for the Texas Military Department,” Vaughan says.  

Novel, certainly. But a mission the Texas State Guard was prepared for.  

Years earlier, Vaughan and her team conducted an incident exercise for a hypothetical statewide emergency, operating from a ballroom in a downtown Austin hotel.  Now that the statewide emergency was real, Vaughan set up shop in the same ballroom, managing a remote SOC for Covid response.  Up went tables and large screen monitors to track the spread of Covid and manage incoming requests for assistance statewide.  Specialists in logistics took up positions, dispatching resources like PPE (personal protective equipment) to needed hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities. Troops and assets were tracked and deployed from the military desk in the SOC by highly-trained Texas State Guard specialists including Cpl. Christie Cole from Houston.   

Cole has been serving five-days-on/two-days-off in the SOC for 14 months in a variety of positions.  The SOC is her sixth deployment since joining the Texas State Guard in 2019. 

“The SOC has been my home away from home,” Cole says. An office assistant in Tomball and a part-time college student, Cole says the experience working in the SOC has been deeply rewarding on many levels.  

“I come from a military family.  I grew up seeing people in uniform, and I’ve always had the mind that you serve others before yourself,” Cole says.  But Cole isn’t unmindful of the benefits that come with her service: her training in the Texas State Guard is being applied as college credit as she works toward her AAS degree at Kilgore College.  

“You can benefit from serving your state and serving others,” Cole adds. “I don’t think enough people in Texas know about the benefits of being a member of the Texas State Guard.” 

Benefits of Guard membership include college credit, tuition assistance, a daily stipend when called to State Active Duty, job protections when called to duty, a free ‘Super Combo’ hunting and fishing license, and, perhaps more importantly, the pride and satisfaction that comes from serving fellow Texans while wearing the uniform of the most highly regarded State Guard force in the United States.  

During a recent visit to the SOC by the Acting Commanding General of the Texas State Guard, Brig. Gen. Anthony Woods presented Cole with the Commanding General’s Individual Award in commendation for her service.   

Also receiving the award during Woods’ visit was 1st Brigade Staff Sgt. Kevin Dos Santos of Forney, who has been serving in the SOC for more than 2 and a half years. During that time, Dos Santos has served in almost every role in the SOC, from taking in STAR requests (requests for assistance from state and local officials), to logistics, security, tracking assets, providing status updates from health care workers, and much more.  

“During the first year of Covid, I was responsible for working with hospitals across the state–finding out how many patients they had, what supplies and equipment were needed…” Dos Santos says. “Early on, the hospitals couldn’t have extra, but they had so many patients, I knew that if we couldn’t get the supplies to them, people might die.  The urgency of people waiting on that equipment was hugely challenging.” 

Receiving the Commanding General’s Individual Award took Dos Santos by surprise. “I was just doing my job, I didn’t expect anything that special. For someone like General Woods to show that he appreciates my work–it just meant the world to me.” 

Like many who serve in the Texas State Guard, Dos Santos is quick to credit his spouse, Edna, for supporting his service to Texas (“she gives me the freedom to serve and says ‘keep going’!”), and just as quick to acknowledge his colleagues.  “The greatest thing is the leadership here—the best of the best. We work a lot of long hours, and it’s ‘team always, mission first’. That’s one of the most precious lessons I’ve learned here: you’ve gotta take care of your team.”   

Dos Santos says he expects to stay on at SOC until the work is done. And now, with new Covid variants surfacing and surging, what was already the Texas State Guard’s longest mission on record is getting even longer.  Current orders in the SOC have been extended through August: two months past the planned mission end date.  The mission could be extended further. 

“I’ll be here ‘til the end,” Dos Santos says, a smile in his voice. 

The SOC’s range of operations underscores the ongoing need for service members with experience in law enforcement, logistics, health sciences, information technologies, and more.  Prior military service is not a requirement for membership in the Texas State Guard, but continuing training, compliance with military standards, and a spirit of public service are essential.   

More information about the Texas State Guard, including opportunities and recruitment contacts, can be found online at 

The Search for Excellence: Texas State Guard Soldiers Train for Highly Specialized Search and Rescue Missions

By Jeremy Stark, Pfc., 1st Brigade, Texas State Guard 

STEPHENVILLE, Texas – Over the past five months, 34 service members of the Texas State Guard have been participating in Search and Rescue (SAR) training to become the newest additions to the SAR mission-ready roster. During the May 2022 training weekend, candidates of the 22-01 SAR and Del Rio classes participated in Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training as a final hurdle before becoming SARTECH II certified by the highly respected National Association for Search and Rescue. 

Going through the SAR training program is no simple task, and the final Texas State Guard WFA training weekend was no exception. To ensure candidates are well-rounded and well-equipped to handle some of the most challenging medical conditions service members come across, instructors Capt. Richard Bruner and Sgt. Jennifer Lee of Dallas, both members of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade of the Texas State Guard, demonstrated the improvised use of first aid equipment, instructed soldiers in wildlife identification (snakes, spiders, etc.), and led courses on how to deal with potential allergies and anaphylaxis (shock) in the field, in addition to standard first aid topics. The training was mentally and physically demanding. 

Candidates were evaluated on their knowledge of first aid skills which are used in caring for an ill or injured person in a remote environment where care by a physician in a controlled setting or transportation is not readily available (being an hour or more away from advanced care is a common real-world scenario for many SAR missions). Soldiers also had to demonstrate proficiency in various other topics including scene safety, proper use of personal protective equipment, triage/patient assessment, and prioritizing treatment as well as team dynamics. 

“It is extremely important for team leaders to be able to guide their team members in specific jobs to best provide care for, triage and package, then potentially transport individuals who are lost and found in a wilderness setting,” said 1st Brigade Staff Sgt. Christopher Parrish, of McKinney, one of the SAR instructors. “All these things must happen simultaneously, fluidly, and efficiently to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone involved and conclude a successful mission.” 

During WFA training, soldiers gained knowledge and skills necessary to provide first aid and medical care in an austere environment where they may not have access to the same resources often taken for granted in an urban environment.  

Although troops have completed the SAR course and are now set to become SARTECH II certified, soldiers know this is just a ‘next step’; since mission readiness is a watchword in the Texas State Guard, training is an ongoing process for every Guard member. Just as their instructors become experts in the field by participating in SAR missions over many years and in many different environments and situations, the new skills these candidates have learned will serve as a platform on which to build as they continue their journey as citizen-soldiers, fellow Texans serving Texas. 

Intensive and professional emergency training is a primary aspect of the commitment the men and women of the Texas State Guard sign up for when they swear in, no matter what area or mission they may be assigned to. For more than 80 years, soldiers wearing the uniform of the Texas State Guard have responded to weather disasters including tornadoes and hurricanes, civil disturbances, and Search and Rescue operations (including the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster), and much more. 

“My goal in the State Guard is to be the best version of me that I can be by pushing myself in areas that not only would make me stand out but would provide me with the tools necessary to be most effective,” said Pfc. Chad Scott of the 6th Brigade, one of the SAR graduates. “One way to achieve that is by training in the specialized areas that will maximize my potential, such as SAR.” Many service members find training opportunities such as the SAR course to be a uniquely rewarding part of their service in the Guard, being also applicable to personal and professional life as they prepare to answer the call to support civil authorities during emergencies statewide. 

The Texas State Guard is one of three branches of the Texas Military Department, which also includes the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard. While many persons with previous federal military service are members of the Texas State Guard, prior military experience is not required. However, a willingness to serve others, to continually train and meet the high standards of the Texas State Guard is essential. A full range of benefits, opportunities, and recruitment contacts can be found online at under the “State Guard” tab. 


Texas State Guard Troops get a lesson in Teaching

By David D. Brown, 1LT, Texas State Guard

AUSTIN, Texas - For service members in the Texas State Guard, an eagerness to serve fellow Texans during times of emergency is a prerequisite. Yet that alone does not make a professional force. To be “Equal to the Task”, as its motto says, members of the Texas State Guard are constantly engaged in professional military education.  

But who trains the trainers?  

That’s the job of BIC: the Texas State Guard’s Basic Instructors Course.  The course is an intense and demanding five days of learning how to effectively teach fellow soldiers.  The objective of the program is to make sure instructors in the Texas State Guard are helping maintain a high state of mission readiness.  It is one of many specialized professional education programs provided to soldiers in the nation’s premier state guard force.  

“I’ve attended several training events before and this was the most stressed I’ve ever been, but the course was so rewarding,” said Sgt. Jason Zachman of Lubbock, a student in the March 2022 BIC class at Camp Mabry in Austin.  Zachman, a volunteer firefighter in the business of building and selling fire trucks and ambulances, is a Texas Emergency Tracking Network (TETN) instructor in the Texas State Guard’s 1st Brigade (North Texas).  

Zachman was one of six graduates of the March class. Others included Lt. Col. Mark Carey of Georgetown, Cpl. George Dollaway of Round Rock, Sgt. First Class Jared Dugger of Austin, Staff Sgt. Roy Patterson, of Lubbock, and Staff Sgt. Shawn Villareal of San Antonio.  

“The Basic Instructor Course standardizes all lesson plans to create consistency across the Texas State Guard training courses and programs,” says Chief Warrant Officer John Harrison Watts, the Officer-in-Charge of BIC training. “If a student were to sign up for this course outside of the Texas State Guard, it would cost upwards of $500 to take it.” 

 According to Watts, selected Texas State Guard classes taught by BIC-certified instructors can be used as advanced standing credits at Texas institutions of higher education, including Kilgore College and Tarleton State University.  College credit and tuition assistance are among the many important benefits of Guard membership.  Such benefits speak to the value the Texas State Guard places in ongoing education.  

“We’d be in the classroom learning instructional methods all day, get back to our hotel at 10:30 at night, then spend four or more hours doing our homework and preparing a 30-minute lecture with PowerPoints for presentations the next day. We might get 45 minutes of sleep…” Zachman said.  

Student presentations were critiqued and graded by instructors and fellow students, followed by more classes aimed at fine-tuning teaching skills - and then the cycle of lesson planning and presentations would start all over again. Each student completes four presentations, culminating in a 30-minute presentation on a relevant Texas State Guard topic, such as “Recruitment for Non-Recruiters” or “Proper Uniform Protocol”. Students prepare prototype lesson plans from scratch, which are a graded part of course completion requirements. 

Training is a centerpiece of the Texas State Guard, whose members have responded to hurricanes, floods, search and rescue operations, a pandemic, and countless other emergencies statewide for more than 80 years.  As one of three branches of the Texas Military Department (along with the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard), state-of-the-art training is imperative so that troops can answer the call to serve civilian officials during emergencies, often at short notice.  

“Out here in west Texas, you might have to drive several hours to Dallas or Austin to get the training you need,” and BIC certification makes it possible for more coursework to be offered locally, Zachman said.  “As a student, I’ve always just been handed a syllabus. BIC gives you a new appreciation for the demands of lesson planning and the art of teaching. It was a challenge to get out of my comfort zone.” 

The Texas State Guard BIC program is similar to teacher training offered by Texas law enforcement and emergency management agencies.  It is a complement to a battery of coursework from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other specialized training required of Texas State Guard instructors.    

Many soldiers in the Texas State Guard consider professional training opportunities one of the important benefits of service.  A full description of the benefits of Texas State Guard membership, as well as contacts for recruitment, can be found online at 


Like Father, Like Son: Texas State Guardsman Rises through the Ranks to Become Top Enlisted Leader

By David Brown, 1st Lieutenant,  Texas State Guard

DALLAS - As a child, Harlan Thompson watched his father win respect and recognition wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army, and he vowed to follow in his footsteps.  He told himself someday he would reach the rank of his distinguished dad.  But after surgery left him unable to follow his dream and enlist in federal service, Thompson refused to give up. 

“I just wanted to get as far as my dad did,” Thompson said. Now, Thompson, a native of Oklahoma City and a resident of Dallas, is set to become the highest-ranking enlisted soldier in the Texas State Guard.  

As a young teen, Thompson first donned a military uniform as a member of the Civil Air Patrol.  In high school, he joined the JROTC (the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) and followed up with membership in the ROTC while in college.  But a teenage medical condition prevented him from making a commitment to federal service. That would not be the end of Thompson’s effort to follow in the footsteps of his father.  

Almost 20 years ago, while teaching in Dallas, a colleague encouraged him to learn more about opportunities in the Texas State Guard, which was then rapidly professionalizing into what is now considered to be the premier state guard force in the country.  Although many Texas State Guard soldiers have previous experience in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard, prior federal service is not a requirement to join.  A prospective Texas State Guard soldier must, however, make a similar commitment to service, constantly training to extremely high military standards and prepared to be deployed statewide to help civil officials deal with emergencies.   

During storms, periods of civil unrest, in search and rescue operations and border security missions, many have seen Texas State Guard soldiers helping to save lives and preserve property wearing familiar military camouflage–largely indistinguishable from that federal forces, save for the Texas flag patch on the right shoulder, a shield “T” patch on the left, and the words “Texas State Guard” on the chest, opposite their name tape.  

“Like most people that join the State Guard, I joined to give back to the State of Texas.  I love this state and I want to do what I can to help out.  And the camaraderie...with all the federal veterans that I get to hang out with, it’s great.  It gives me something that I felt I missed.” 

It also gave Thompson the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream.   

Thompson signed up as a private (E-1, in military parlance). In his 19 years in the Guard, Thompson has been deployed across the state in a variety of capacities, serving his fellow Texans during major storms including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Alex and Dolly.  Proving himself in the field and through his commitment to leadership and continued military education, Thompson has risen through the ranks to Command Sergeant Major (E-9).   

Two grades higher than that of his dad at retirement.   

On June 25th, Thompson will be promoted to Command Senior Enlisted Advisor, the most senior enlisted soldier in the State Guard, taking a key role on the decision-making team led by Brigadier General Anthony Woods, Commanding General of the Texas State Guard.  It is believed Thompson will then become the first enlisted soldier without prior federal service to rise to this most senior level in the history of the Texas State Guard. Though the event will happen almost a week after the rest of us celebrate Fathers’ Day, it will nonetheless hold special significance for Thompson, and his enduring bond with his dad.   

Thompson’s father passed away in 2002.  

“My dad was not exactly the most emotional person, but I think he would have said, ‘I’m proud of you’. Those four little words were the most important words to me,” Thompson said.  Though Thompson’s dad retired as an E-7 (Sgt. 1st Class), the family posthumously discovered papers indicating others thought Thompson’s father to be “Sergeant-Major-of-the-Army material”.   

“I feel I’m getting to do something (my father) wasn’t able to do in retirement…”  

“Now my mom…she was the emotional one,” Thompson adds. His mother passed away in 2017.  “She would have been excited. I know what she would have said: ‘that’s my baby right there!’” 

Command Sgt. Maj. Thompson has most recently served as a drill instructor and senior enlisted official in the Direct Commission Officer Orientation Course, responsible for training incoming Texas State Guard officers. “At this level, now,” Thompson says, “it’s really all about doing what I can to give back to the State Guard by training my replacements…” 

Not that he has any plans to ‘be replaced’ anytime soon.  In addition to his service in the State Guard, Thompson is a Patrol Sgt. with the Collin College Police Department. Thompson says he considers spotting, training, and mentoring talent as an imperative for anyone in a leadership role.   

The Texas State Guard is looking for others with a passion for leadership, learning, and public service. The Texas State Guard is one of three branches of the Texas Military Department, including the Texas National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard. More information about recruitment, benefits, and opportunities to serve can be found online at   

Families serving together to help Texas

Story by Master Sgt. John Gately, Texas State Guard

Warrant Officer Hopper and his sons
Left: Pvt. Samuel Hopper, Center: Warrant Officer Hopper, Right: Cpl. Grant Hopper 

The military is no stranger to having many generations of family members serving, from great-grandparents to current service members.  The Texas State Guard is also part of this time-honored tradition.  However, due to the nature of the State Guard, it is more common to see families serving together at the same time than with other military organizations.

Although family members serving together is happening across the State Guard, today’s focus is the T6-Shop. Currently, the T6-shop has four families serving together to support a common goal for the Guard and for the State of Texas.

The Hopper family has three members currently serving in different roles within T6.  Warrant Officer Andy Hopper joined the State Guard on Oct 25, 2014, and is the father of two current troops, Cpl. Grant Hopper who serves on the Radio Operations, and Pvt. Samuel Hopper serves on the Software Testing team for the Readiness Management System (RMS).

When asked what it means to him to serve alongside his two sons, Warrant Officer Hopper stated, “Having the opportunity to serve with my boys in the greatest and most robust state military force in the country is a unique privilege and a pleasure. Throughout Texas history, the backbone of our state military has been families standing together for their rights and their homes. I am so proud to say that the Hoppers stand to serve Texas.”

Always looking for new members to serve in our ranks, one of our newest has hit the ground running with recruitment. Cpl. Tatiana Spence joined the State Guard a little over a month ago, and she has talked her brother, Orrin Spence, into joining the T6 shop as well.  Orrin just left the Texas Army National Guard as a Staff Sergeant after serving 12 years and is one of the Texas Military Department’s webmasters. He will be swearing-in next month. Once Orrin swears in, he will be joining Programming Operations alongside his sister.  She’s not stopping there; Cpl. Spence is now setting her focus on getting her husband to join our ranks.

Did you know that you could join the Texas State Guard at the age of 17? Warrant Officer John Turner did and is swearing in his son on his 17th

Warrant Officer Turner and his son
Left: Warrant Officer John Turner, Right: Luke Turner

birthday. This is not the only child that Warrant Officer Turner has serving in uniform. His second-oldest son was planning to join the State Guard until the United State Army made a better offer. When asked what it is like serving with his son, he replied, “It’s an honor to serve my state and help people when needs arise. It makes you feel good about what you do. As a father it makes me shine with gratitude that my children have that same desire to help others. I’m proud of my young men. It is even more special when we get to serve and build this legacy together.” Warrant Officer John Turner serves in Programming Operations.

Another example from the T6-Shop is Master Sgt. John Gately, who joined the State Guard on July 1, 2010. His son Warrant Officer Jacob Gately followed in his footsteps just a few years later, joining on January 26, 2013. Warrant Officer Gately currently serves in Programming Operations and Master Sgt. Gately is the NCOIC for T6 and the Product Manager of RMS.  
These four families have a combined service of well over 50 years in uniform. 

A Sense of History, a Passion for People: Anthony Woods Takes Charge of the Texas State Guard

By David Brown, 1LT, Texas State Guard

As a youth, Anthony Woods wanted to become a policeman.  After retiring from a distinguished career in law enforcement (for the Dallas Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration), Woods might have thought his life in public service was over. Not even close. Today, Brig. Gen. Woods is Acting Commanding General of the Texas State Guard, leader of the premier state guard force in the nation.  

“I never would have imagined it,” said Woods, whose first mentor in the military was a Major who was head of his high school Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.  “I thought if I could make Major like him, that would be a big accomplishment.  All my (advancements) have been a surprise to me.  My promotions are the byproduct of my passion for the people.” 

Indeed, Woods’ reputation as a leader with a commitment to the welfare of soldiers precedes him. “He is passionate about caring for the people of the Texas State Guard,” says Sgt. Maj. John Jacobs.  “I was in a meeting with him today and Gen. Woods said that ‘we do not make the difference; we are the difference’; I had to write that one down. That says a lot about how he sees our soldiers.”  

Sgt. 1st Class Jeanette Jimmerson heartily agrees.  “I can honestly say he sees the value of every soldier. He wants to know what matters to you - it matters to him. He wants to know soldiers by their first names, he wants to know what they care about.”

A graduate of TCU with a Masters’ degree from the United States Army War College, Woods’ military career began in the early ’80s serving in the Texas Army National Guard, receiving a 2nd Lt. commission from the University of Texas at Arlington ROTC program.  He would be responsible for training thousands of troops in border operations at the U.S.-Mexico border.  Woods would go on to be deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom serving tours of duty in Afghanistan and other points abroad leading military intelligence operations. In 2005, Woods became the first African American Commander of the 1st Battalion, 112 Armor, leading his unit in the first American training exercise in the country of Romania after the fall of the Soviet Union.  

There is a picture on the wall of his office at Camp Mabry that says a great deal about the person he is.  It is a portrait of one of the legendary Buffalo Soldiers–the Black troops known for their ferocity and skills as warriors who helped shape the West and much of American history.  

It was during his time serving at the US border that he first encountered the story of the Buffalo Soldiers.  “I’m a Black man, grew up in good government housing…”, Woods says, but he’d never heard of the Buffalo Soldiers before. 

“I was embarrassed. I got a lesson in Black history. I promised myself I would learn more.”  

The Buffalo Soldiers (how they got their name is a point of dispute among historians) were Black soldiers from a variety of Army units including the 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry, and 25th Infantry based in a variety of locations.  Fort Huachuca in Arizona claims to be the “home” of the Buffalo Soldiers because it is the only base to have hosted all members of the group.  

“I visited the Fort Huachuca Museum.  I got into it,” Woods says with some degree of understatement.  These days, he owns a replica vintage Union uniform which he uses in his travels to different schools and speaking engagements, sharing the stories of the Buffalo Soldiers, who fought with valor during the Spanish-American War, in the Philippines, and in both World Wars before being absorbed by other Army units after World War II.  When not fighting wars, the Buffalo Soldiers defended westward travelers and settlers and helped shape the contours of what the US would become.  

“It means a lot to me. It is my heritage. The Negro soldier, the Buffalo Soldier, the Black soldier: they have all had a huge impact on our country’s history, from the period of westward expansion all the way up to World War II and beyond.  If you think about it, in all the major conflicts, our position didn’t change until the military included the Black soldiers.” 

Today, it is clear Woods is focused on positive change for the State Guard, building off the accomplishments of his predecessor as Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Robert Bodisch, who retired on October 31, 2021. 

“Being a force multiplier for Texas and the Texas Military Department is a huge responsibility.  We don’t have the numbers (of personnel) but we have people with heart. And we’re not just equal to the task, we exceed it. The level of professionalism in the Texas State Guard is huge.”

Woods has a three-phase plan in mind for the Texas State Guard.  Phase 1, he says, will focus on retention.  “There are three reasons I believe people join the Texas State Guard: to serve, to grow, and for recognition–the promotions and awards,” Woods says.  To that end, Woods plans to double down on valuable training opportunities and make sure that awards and promotions are prompt, timely, and prolific.  

Phase 2, Woods says, is promotion.  While the Texas State Guard has been called ‘Texas’ best-kept secret’, Woods wants to raise the profile of the State Guard so that more potential recruits know about the opportunities to serve their fellow Texans. “We’re not going to be shy about banners,” Woods adds, saying that we can expect to see more Texas State Guard signage at Camp Mabry and beyond.  

Phase 3?  “Get ‘em in here!”, Woods says with a laugh. But he’s quite serious; recruitment is a key goal.  “Our recruiters are doing a great job,” Woods adds. “We need to make joining the Texas State Guard as easy as it can possibly be, promising exciting training opportunities and creating a sense of belonging and inclusion. As we go forward, we need to see more women in leadership positions.  We want the ranks of the Texas State Guard to look like the communities we serve.  I don’t want to exclude anybody.”  

Woods’ objectives reflect his own experience in discovering the Texas State Guard.  As a member of the Texas Army National Guard, Woods says initially, he knew little about the structure of the Texas State Guard but witnessed firsthand the professionalism of its soldiers.  

“I saw the commitment made by Texas State Guard servicemembers and I was impressed by their sacrifices. These were people who had nothing to gain from being in the State Guard.”  Noting the selflessness of the troops, Woods says he expects Texas State Guard leaders to care deeply about soldiers and their families.   

And, Woods notes, as the Texas State Guard takes active roles in Operation Lone Star and other missions, the reputation of the entire corps grows as well.  “Respect for the Texas State Guard has risen tenfold.  Our soldiers are showcasing the professionalism of the Guard and all the mission-ready packages.”  The Texas State Guard provides mission-ready forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies, conducts homeland security and community service activities, and augments the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as required.  The Texas State Guard, Texas Army National Guard, and Texas Air National Guard are all part of the Texas Military Department led by the Texas Adjutant General, the state’s senior military official appointed by the governor.

Woods, who lives in Dallas with his wife, has raised seven children and runs the private investigation service Checkmate Surveillance, LLC. It appears clear his love of family, deep appreciation of history, business acumen, and real-world military experience will serve him–and the people of Texas - extraordinarily well as he takes the reins of Acting Commanding General, Texas State Guard.  

The Texas State Guard is looking for professionals from a variety of fields to serve their fellow Texans. Prior military service is not required, but a commitment to public service and a willingness to meet the high standards of the Texas State Guard is essential.  You can learn more about the opportunities to serve in the Texas State Guard online at 

Cannot stop the fight: Texas Counterdrug helps take down drug networks in 2021

Story by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

Photo by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie | Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force support Red Ribbon Week flying to schools across Texas to help spread the word about the dangers of drug use. 

AUSTIN, Texas – During the past two years, life as we had grown accustomed to has drastically changed. From a global pandemic to several calls for National Guard support, the members of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force have adjusted and thrived.

When the COVID-19 virus shut the country down, law enforcement agencies had to come up with new ways to detect, interdict and disrupt drug trafficking in the state without operations slowing down.

“One of the first things I did was reach out to our law enforcement partners stating that we would continue to be by their side and assist,” said Lt. Col. Erika Besser, the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Coordinator. “Continuity of our support is critical. If they are out there, we are out there.

“Sometimes that meant thinking of new and different ways to maintain our support, like working remotely. My preference will always be working side by side because collaboration and interaction are pivotal to successful partnerships, but we had to balance that with safety concerns.”

Members of the Texas Counterdrug Task Force have come up with new ways to stay relevant and fight the threat as they have for more than 30 years.

During 2021, although there were different challenges, service members still supported law enforcement in seizing more than $350 million in drugs, bulk cash, vehicles and property, as well as nearly 4,200 weapons. The increase from 2020 numbers of $290 million and 3,100 weapons, shows that as the environment adapts, so do the techniques of catching the bad guys.

“The last few years have challenged our normal collaboration process to support law enforcement agencies,” said Maj. Robert Anspaugh, Executive Officer for Texas Counterdrug. “But we are used to working across the entire state and found ways to stay engaged, utilizing new tools and skills harnessed by serving in the military, to continue providing excellent support to our partners.”

Another way of increasing the illicit revenue denial was to bring back a capability that had been used in other ways. The Air National Guard RC-26 fixed-wing aircraft had been supporting other missions in Texas and abroad, but in 2021, RC-26 came back home to Counterdrug.

The RC-26 program, along with the Counterdrug Aviation Element of LUH-72 Lakota helicopters, increased support from 570 flight hours in 2020 to 1,130 flight hours which directly supported law enforcement agencies.

“Having the RC-26 program back on Counterdrug orders has allowed us another aerial platform with similar capabilities but can be used in conjunction with each other or separately,” said Besser. “We have been able to expand our support all over the state, in multiple locations at once.”

The adjustments in tactics and capabilities have led to seizures that significantly impacted drug-trafficking organizations in Texas and Mexico.

In north Texas, Counterdrug analysts supported the Drug Enforcement Administration in taking down a methamphetamine ring helping seize nearly 1,600 pounds at a value of more than $16 million and arresting 13 drug-trafficking organization members. Another case resulted in seizing 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine and another seven arrests.

In west Texas, Counterdrug task force members assisted in a $5 million liquid methamphetamine seizure that linked suspects to a previous seizure in Oklahoma. Link chart analysis in a different case resulted in finding nearly 500 pounds of marijuana and 160 pounds of methamphetamine.

In east Texas, the Texas Counterdrug Ground Reconnaissance Detachment supported DEA for weeks as they conducted area observation to gather critical vehicle confirmations, patterns of life and helped identify suspected narcotics supplier locations resulting in the seizure of cocaine, cannabis, bulk cash and weapons.

“Changes in the operational environment affect how drug-trafficking organizations do business,” said Anspaugh. “Working with our law enforcement partners, we must anticipate these changes to stay a step ahead and continue disrupting the flow of drugs into our state and nation.”

Along with analysis, Texas Counterdrug increased their Drug Demand Reduction Outreach program placing personnel in each of the four High-intensity Drug Trafficking Area prevention initiatives leading to an increase of 40% in events. DDRO handed out 300,000 Red Ribbon bracelets in support of the DEA’s Red Ribbon Week honoring fallen agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena and spoke to 9,000 students across the state.

An enduring mission for the Texas Counterdrug Task Force is supporting two Texas ChalleNGe Academy classes each year. During the acclimation phase, service members mentor at-risk youth to get back on the right track.

Texas Counterdrug has a long history of helping law enforcement fight drug trafficking, manufacturing and distribution, and 2021 wasn’t any different. Now that 2022 is here, the program will continue to endure, coming up with innovative ways to face new challenges.

“We will continue to put effort into influencing at the national level, and into growing and evolving in order to have the most effective impact possible,” said Besser. “We have several initiatives in the works, which will benefit not only Counterdrug programs nationally, but also our law enforcement partners across Texas and other states, namely those facing specific challenges associated with the southern border.”

Texas State Guardsmen promote happiness, healing for holidays

By Warrant Officer David Brown, Texas State Guard

Texas State Guard service members all across the state of Texas collected toys to bring joy to children in need. 

AUSTIN, Texas – A doll. An electronic keyboard. A monster truck. A surprise under the tree. 

It would appear Santa’s helpers are at it again. Rumor has it some of those helpers have been spotted wearing camouflage with Texas flags on their right shoulders.  

But it’s no rumor.

For the past 12 years, members of the Texas State Guard have taken to collecting toys to support children during the holidays. The annual “Young Heroes of the Guard” Toy Drive started as an initiative of the 1st Brigade Chaplain Corps but has grown to be a force-wide community service event.

For the past several years, the drive has been coordinated by Master Sgt. John Gately of Round Rock. He has enhanced partnerships with businesses across the state, growing annual donations from about 6,000 toys to more than 100,000.

“I got lassoed in by a sneaky chaplain,” Gately said with a laugh. “He patted me on my right knee – I’ll never forget it – and said, ‘I want you to run the toy drive. If you don’t do it, no one else will. Think of the children.’”  

There was no pressure, of course. But Gately quickly took up the challenge. He has kept the effort focused on young Texans in hospitals and from families facing financial challenges, which has been at the heart of the campaign from the outset.

Among other things, Gately manages lists and organizes drop-offs of donated toys to medical facilities, Title I elementary schools, churches, orphanages, and other locations across the state focused on child advocacy.

But he’s not alone in the effort.

“Our mission is to make sure no child goes without a toy, whether it’s a natural disaster or during the holiday season,” said Capt. Sean Payton, a Texas State Guard chaplain who helped coordinate a delivery event in Copperas Cove, in central Texas.

“This is perfect, it gives back to the children, and teaches the children to give to other children in need.”

The two have set their sights high for next year’s drive and set an ambitious goal of distributing 200,000 items. There is growing interest from businesses statewide with a renewed effort to involve Texas-based sponsors.

The toy drive is truly a volunteer effort and is affiliated with the State Guard Association of Texas, a non-profit organization that supports the toy drive and other Texas State Guard initiatives. Those interested in getting involved can visit the toy drive’s website at:

“We collect toys throughout the year,” Payton said. “It’s a great opportunity for other businesses, doctor’s offices, other schools, and other entities to get involved.”

This year’s sponsors included: Five Below; i7 Media; 1000 Bulbs; The Laird Team real estate; Supplemental Warehouse; Texoma Strength (sports gym); Melly Vent’z (photography); and the Iron Saber Motorcycle Club.

Gately also credits the program’s success to the dedication and commitment of State Guard personnel who volunteer their off-duty time and talents to support Texas children.

They pointed out the efforts of Sgt. First Class James (Damon) Williams of Buda and Warrant Officer 1 Gregory Illich of Houston, members of the 6th and 2nd brigades, respectively.

While everyone involved with the toy drive talks about the immense joy of seeing the smiles on the faces of young Texans, the drive has a special significance for Illich. When he was six years old, Hurricane Camille destroyed his family’s home in Mississippi.

“We lost everything; no clothes, nothing (remained),” Illich said. “My toys were everything for me, they were gone.”

But through the devastation, there was a spark of inspiration.

“The Mississippi State Guard was staffing the shelter,” Illich said. “Before then, I’d only seen soldiers on TV in news reports from Vietnam. When those people in uniforms at the shelter gave toys to me and my brothers and sister…well, it meant more than I can possibly say.”

Years later, as an adult attending a “Wings Over Houston” event, Illich saw Guardsmen on duty wearing the Texas flag patch and said the memories came rushing back.

“That’s when I knew. I knew I could be ‘that Guardsman,’” Illich said, “and be there for those kids. Because I am that kid.”

But for Illich, like all who work with the “Young Heroes of the Guard” Toy Drive, at the end of the day, this is a mission of healing and hope.

“I wish others could have my experience seeing those children,” Illich said. “The folks at Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital (in Houston) told us when we visit and bring toys, it visibly improves a kid's health. They do better and heal faster. The kids who know we’re coming – that’s all they talk about for weeks!”

But the impact may last a lifetime.

“Who knows?” Illich said. “One of those kids getting a toy may remember that uniform and become a future member of the Texas State Guard!”

The mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies; to conduct homeland security and community service activities under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities, and to augment the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as required.

The Texas Military Department is commanded by the Adjutant General of Texas, the state's senior military official appointed by the governor, and is comprised of the Office of State Administration (formerly the Office of the Executive Director), the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), the Texas Air National Guard (TXANG) and the Texas State Guard (TXSG).




Ho, Ho, Hope: Texas State Guardsman trades camo for Santa suit

By Capt. Phoebe Sisk, Texas State Guard

DALLAS (Dec. 21, 2021) – ‘Tis the season for spreading holiday hope and joy. Each year, members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) find ways to go above and beyond the call of duty.

One such Guardsman is Cpl. Derek Martinez of Mesquite, near Dallas.

In addition to serving as the main coordinator in the 1st Brigade, 3rd Battalion for the annual TXSG Toy Drive, Martinez spends personal time supporting youth in need of extra cheer in his annual role as Santa. Specifically, he hosts visits with children undergoing difficult life circumstances, many who are so young and innocent - they delight in the magic of Old St. Nick.

"The greatest gift I am spreading is forgetfulness," Martinez said. "I know it seems odd, but for the 20 minutes these children are visiting with Santa, they are forgetting that mom is mobilized to the border, or that dad is working graves (night shifts) as a police officer. They forget that there is a Child Protective Services court hearing coming up or they forget that dad is working in healthcare on the COVID front lines.”

Since 2020, Martinez has brought additional comfort and joy to the hearts of young Texans in need, including children in foster care or adoption proceedings, and active military, law enforcement, and fire/EMT families.

The act of giving is almost second nature to Martinez, a three-year veteran of the TXSG. In addition to his military duties, Martinez works as a regional manager for Imaging IoT and security at Konica Minolta Business Solutions in north Texas. These positions have given him a greater understanding of working with people as individuals.

Local foster agencies have coordinated visits directly with “Santa” Martinez. 

"Who knew that Santa knows exactly how to interact with children in foster situations and has such a jolly sense of humor for all ages," said Jade McCoy Alsina of Dallas Foster Closet. "Everyone loved him and we are already looking forward to next year!"

Martinez’s gift for having sensitive interactions with foster children may well come from being a foster parent himself. 

“Santa came by our home and surprised our children with a visit. I have to admit, I cried,” said parent Lindsay Harrell after a recent visit by the ‘Jolly Old Man’. “Santa came in with his big jolly smile, naughty and nice book (my kiddos were on the nice list!), sang, read a book, and talked to each child one on one. It was wonderful to see their faces glow with surprise and joyful hearts. I hope to make it a yearly tradition as it was definitely an unforgettable moment that my family and I will cherish.”

Due to the realities of the current pandemic, Martinez has found innovative ways to connect with young Texans. He’s has taken to social media, where parents and guardians can set up virtual visits with Santa.

“Children are dealing with a lot but for 20 minutes they get to sing, they get to smile, and they get to laugh so hard their ribs hurt; that's the joy I'm trying to spread," said Martinez.
Martinez’s selflessness and generosity of spirit exemplify the best traditions of the Texas State Guard, whose motto is “Texans Serving Texas.”

The mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies; to conduct homeland security and community service activities under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities, and to augment the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as required.

The Texas Military Department is commanded by the Adjutant General of Texas, the state's senior military official appointed by the governor, and is comprised of the Office of State Administration (formerly the Office of the Executive Director), the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), the Texas Air National Guard (TXANG) and the Texas State Guard (TXSG).