Texas Counterdrug Task Force cracks down on local drug haven

Tech Sgt. Carl White Jr., 147th Civil Engineers, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, uses the heavy 45,000 pound Komarsu excavator to crunch rubble from a destroyed house into smaller pieces ready to be transported to a local landfill, Harlingen, Texas, Dec. 16, 2013.
Tech Sgt. Carl White Jr., 147th Civil Engineers, 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, uses the heavy 45,000 pound Komarsu excavator to crunch rubble from a destroyed house into smaller pieces ready to be transported to a local landfill, Harlingen, Texas, Dec. 16, 2013. The house, identified by local law enforcement as being used for illicit drug activity contained gang graffiti painted on many walls. Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown destroys drug havens in partnership with city officials and law enforcement agencies. (Army National Guard photo by Ken Walker, Texas Joint Counter Drug Task Force Public Affairs Office).

 Courtesy story

 
 HARLINGEN, Texas – Chants of "Knock it Down, Knock it Down!" reverberated through a small Harlingen neighborhood in  mid-December as the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force's Operation Crackdown demolished another abandoned and  unsafe structure. The house was known as a drug haven to the local Harlingen Police Department. The structure was  less than half a mile from the Sam Houston Elementary School.

 Operation Crackdown is a program in which Texas Military Forces (TXMF) soldiers and airmen demolish structures  associated with the drug trade. To date, the program has demolished close to 1,350 structures, varying from frame  houses, to an abandoned warehouse, to a 40,000 sq./ft. former nursing home. 

 The task force is responsible for the coordination and organization of all Crackdown missions; they partner with cities  across the state to help reduce drug use and other illegal activities.

 Thirty-five fifth-grade students, from Sam Houston Elementary School gave a clear and unmistakable, "knock it down"  command, ordering Texas Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Carl White Jr. to destroy the building.

 Without hesitation, White smiled and gave a nod to the students as he slowly raised the boom and positioned the bucket  over the roof of the small wood structure that just five years earlier had been called home to an elderly man. 

 The massive 45,000-pound excavator roared as its bucket cut through the wooden structure as easily as a hot knife  through butter. First the roof collapsed then White folded the walls onto the structure as if he was giving an advanced  origami demonstration. The structure collapsed into a pile of rubble and dust in under five minutes.

 As dust rose up and debris settled to the ground, the children raised the hands and yelled with excitement, "cool," "this  rocks" and "Wow, did you see that?”

 Sam Houston Elementary School assistant principal Faustino Villanueva said the children's participation throughout the day  helps them understand their involvement in the community. 

 "It's good because the children look up to the National Guard and service members in the armed forces,” Villanueva said.  “They see [the service members] and feel proud, confident and secure.”

 Fifth grade teacher, Odilia Moreno, said some structures close to the elementary school were unsafe and she worried  her school children would one day be injured if they were to explore the abandoned and dilapidated structures.

 Members of the Operation Crackdown team are personally selected for their heavy equipment operator skills, knowledge  and experience. SGT Chris Mejia, 342nd Engineering Company, has assisted with Operation Crack for several years as a  heavy equipment transport driver.

"This is our third mission in Harlingen. We love coming to Harlingen because the city has done all of the necessary preparation and welcomes us. During our missions in 2011 and 2012, we [tore down] 55 Harlingen structures. We plan on demolishing around 30 structures at 15 locations this trip," Mejia said.

Each mission requires up to a year to plan, coordinate and receive clearances for all the legal requirements to be completed. Each structure is required to undergo several safety and hazardous materials inspections and then receive written permission from the owners prior to demolition.

City Code Enforcement Manager Elida Mendoza said one of the time consuming parts is tracking down the legal owner and receiving their written permission. Many of the houses have not been lived in for several years, family members move away and the properties became abandoned.

Once abandoned, the former homes can quickly become a place where drug users, drug dealers and gang members use them as a place to get high, execute drug transactions and participate in other illegal activities.

Mayor Chris Boswell also expressed support for Operation Crackdown.

"The partnership with the Texas National Guard has proven to be a successful tool in beautifying our community and fighting crime," the mayor said. "This partnership, along with the excellent job of our police department, has been a key factor in the significant reduction in crime we have experienced during the past two years."

Harlingen Police Department Commander Miryam Anderson explained the police often deal with repeat calls for service to structures which are used for drug activity and criminal mischief.

"This resource [Operation Crackdown] helps police in reducing crime. This is a win, win situation for all. Our neighbors have been telling us how pleased they are with what the Texas Military Forces, the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force and Operation Crackdown are doing," Anderson said.

Col. Suzanne Adkinson, commander of the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force, said the program is beneficial to local communities, as well as to service members. 

"Operation Crackdown enhances military readiness by allowing Air and Army National Guardsmen members to utilize their equipment in a 'real world' mission. This improves readiness for Texas Military Forces soldiers and airmen, while enhancing the public safety of citizens and their children by supporting communities in the demolition of structures used by the drug trade," Adkinson said. 

Texas State Guard held a change of command and retirement

Story by: LTC Cendy Antley

LUBBOCK, Texas - On December 14, 2013, the 2nd Battalion, 39th Regiment, Texas State Guard held a change of command and retirement. LTC Jeremy Franklin left command after three years to assume the Executive Officer position for the regiment. CPT Philip Mammen assumed command of the 2nd Battalion after holding the Personnel and Administration Officer slot for the past 6 years. SGM Michael Parton was also retired during the ceremony. He was laterally promoted to Command Sergeant Major and well as received the Texas Superior Service Medal for his 48 combined years of service to our state and country.

Change of Command
Change of Command
CSM Parton
CSM Parton

 

4th Regiment holds Young Heroes of the Guard Toy Drive

Story by: CW2 Janet Schmelzer, PAO, 4th Regiment
 
Posted: 10-DEC-13

Toy Drive PosterFORT WORTH, TX--The 4th Regiment is holding its fifth Young Heroes of the Texas State Guard Toy Drive on December 14 to patients at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.
 
The Texas State Guard is honored to provide community service support for this toy drive.  This event is another way to give back to the community and live up to our motto "Texans Serving Texans."  This is one of the most rewarding community service events for the TXSG because we are helping children and  parents at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth to have a brighter and happier holiday season.
 
Collection boxes have been placed around the DFW metroplex and the good people of DFW have donated the toys. 

Texas Military Forces respond to winter storm

Soldiers from the 236th Engineer Company, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, head out to help fellow Texans during Winter Storm Cleon on Dec. 6, 2013.
Soldiers from the 236th Engineer Company, 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, head out to help fellow Texans during Winter Storm Cleon on Dec. 6, 2013. More than 50 Texas National Guard soldiers were mobilized to assist with search and rescue operations and aid stranded motorists. The soldiers helped local, state, and federal agencies clear more than 100 stuck semi-trucks and helped thousands more Texans get moving. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)

Story by: Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

 

 DENISON, Texas – Citizen-soldiers with the 176th Engineer Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, provided support to  state and local officials during Winter Storm Cleon, as named by the National Weather Service, in north Texas, Dec. 5-9,  2013.

 At the request of Gov. Rick Perry, about 50 members of the Grand Prairie-based brigade suited up in cold-weather gear  and headed out in Humvees and Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTVs) to help preposition state assets as the storm  approached. Soldiers were stationed along the major highways here, as well as in Wichita Falls.

 In fact, preliminary reports from the Texas Military Forces Joint Operations Center indicate the deployed soldiers aided  more than 120 stranded vehicles, conducted more than 225 welfare checks and assisted with the setup of a Red Cross  Shelter in Valley View, near Wichita Falls.

 “We had a great response when the call went out,” said 2nd Lt. Clayton Harrison, an engineer with the brigade’s  Lewisville-based 236th Engineering Company. “We were ready to move out less than 12 hours after we got notified that  we'd be responding to this storm.”

 Although no one was quite certain what the storm would bring, Harrison said he and his soldiers were in contact with the  Texas Department of Public Safety.

 “According to DPS, we'll assist in vehicle recovery, especially if they end up shutting down the highway,” he said.

 On Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, when the storm had come and gone, the real scope of the job ahead was revealed to Harrison  and his Soldiers. Although the storm had not dropped much snow on the area, it was the ice underneath that proved to be  the biggest challenge for those on the highways.

 “We're from Boise, and thought this would be no big deal,” said Jonathan Bilger, a pulled over motorist who was passing  through to visit family. “We get the snow all the time, but the ice, that's harder to deal with. We're just sliding around like a  hockey puck.”

 With traffic flow a top priority, members of the Texas Military Forces conducted 24 hour a day operations monitoring and  assisting citizens along Highways 75, 82, 380 and Interstate 35 near Denison. Simultaneously, personnel from the 840th  Engineer Company monitored flow on the icy and slushy roadways of Highways 281, 181, Interstate 35 East and West,  and I-20, near Weatherford and Denton. 

“Those guys are great,” Bilger said, as he gestured toward several of the soldiers hooking up chains to tow a stranded 18-wheeler. “They're out here, helping out, when most of us are just trying to figure out how to get home fastest.”

This view was also shared by the soldiers’ leadership as well.

“These men and women are the epitome of what the Texas Military Forces stands for,” said Col. Patrick Hamilton, commander of domestic operations for the Texas Military Forces. “These Citizen-soldiers volunteered their time, at a moment's notice, to serve their fellow citizens during a time of need.”

“It's situations like this that show the caliber of our service members and their ‘Always Ready, Always There’ mentality,” Hamilton said.

Special Operations Detachment - Africa crosses one-year milestone

Story by: Sgt. Josiah Pugh

Posted: December 8, 2013

Courtesy Photo Soldiers from Special Operations Detachment - Africa (SOD-A), Texas Army National Guard, conduct reflexive fire training with the M4 carbine at Camp Bullis, Texas, June 2013. This training exercise helps maintain individual force protection readiness for the unit's future deployments to Africa in support of Special Operations Command-Africa, whose goal is to promote regional stability in that region. (Photo by Maj. Duncan Smith, SOD-A).
Courtesy Photo
Soldiers from Special Operations Detachment - Africa (SOD-A), Texas Army National Guard, conduct reflexive fire training with the M4 carbine at Camp Bullis, Texas, June 2013. This training exercise helps maintain individual force protection readiness for the unit's future deployments to Africa in support of Special Operations Command-Africa, whose goal is to promote regional stability in that region. (Photo by Maj. Duncan Smith, SOD-A).

AUSTIN, Texas - For the first time in the Texas Army National Guard’s history it has a joint special operation’s detachment. The Special Operations Detachment – Africa (Airborne) (SOD-A) is one of eight such units belonging to the National Guard nationwide and was stood up in October of 2012 at Bee Caves Armory in Austin, Texas.

Their mission, to deploy overseas, lead and train both joint and combined special operations forces in support of theater campaign plans. 

In the last year, SOD-A has recruited soldiers that will allow them to support their higher headquarters Special Operations Command-Africa whose goal is to promote regional stability in Africa and combat terrorism. About half of the soldiers in SOD-A are from a special forces background while the remaining members come from special operations forces, human resources, intelligence, logistics and signal backgrounds. soldiers in this unit travel from as far as California and Washington, D.C., just to attend their monthly drill. 

Maj. Nathan Rettig, SOD-A Future Operations officer, said about the unit, “Getting a chance to support special operations in Africa was a long time goal, as I firmly believe special operations forces is an exponential force multiplier on the continent. Just as importantly, I knew and served with the high caliber individuals in this unit since we started the Texas Army National Guard Special Forces family in 2007.” Rettig added, “I know they are some of the most capable, experienced, and committed teams in the special operations forces community and I'm humbled and honored to serve with them."

In May, SOD-A participated in Epic Guardian, a joint staff-coordinated exercise focused on crisis action planning, deployment of forces and field operations. Aside from developing a partnership with Malawi, Djibouti and Seychelles, Maj. Duncan Smith, another SOD-A future operations officer, said the exercise provided much more to those countries’ militaries and militias. “We’re there to partner with the governments or militaries and offer an increased capability to provide a secure and stable region,” said Smith. 

SOD-A provides a place for special forces or special operations soldiers in the National Guard where they can grow and advance their careers. Lt. Col. Douglas O'Connell, SOD-A commander, said, “The soldiers who have joined SOD-A are looking for a chance to conduct real world operations in challenging and extreme environments.”

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Carter, training noncommissioned officer, has been with SOD-A since April of this year. “I can’t think of a better place for me and my future goals to be or a better environment where the mentorship is from the top down,” he said.

In late June, SOD-A conducted Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk airborne operation training and a reflexive fire with M4 carbine rifles and M9 pistols alongside Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group. In August, the unit conducted its first joint training partnership with the U.S. Navy Reserve SEAL Detachment 208, in a joint military decision making course in order to prepare for future deployments.

Spc. Vanessa Freitag, a personnel administrator, has been with SOD-A since March and found her comrades have been more than happy to include her in all their training.

“I love it,” said Freitag. “I think this has challenged me. I’ve grown with them. It’s such an invigorating experience being a part of this group because initially it was very intimidating. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or what they expected of me and everything’s formed together, especially for a new unit. A lot of the guys are special forces and they’re not quite used to a staff unit, but we’ve meshed so well together. They’ve made me feel very welcome from the beginning.” 

Lt. Col. Theo Unbehagen, Operations Officer, has been with SOD-A since October of last year and is excited to deploy to Africa. “It’s going to be a great experience I think, because we’re going to be in a different area,” said Unbehagen. “We’re going to be working with the partner nations, working, training with, learning from them and teaching them. It’s really rewarding.

Strangers come together to give homeless Army veteran a proud send-off

Posted By: 7-DEC-13

DALLAS, Texas - Don Hart was a homeless man who lost his way in the world, but was finally found.

He now rests among the neat rows of markers at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. He received a military funeral Thursday afternoon, with gratitude from soldiers and veterans who never knew him thanks to LTC-Chaplain Billy Corn and others who have made it their mission to take care of these heroes. LTC Corn has for years quietly and without fanfare made it a priority in his life to ensure these homeless veteran were not alone when laid to rest.

More than two dozen Patriot Guard Riders paid respects. An honor guard folded the flag. "Nobody knows this man here. Not one of us,” said Patriot Guard Ride Captain Rick Crabb. “But he's home with heroes now." The honors were earned a lifetime ago in Vietnam -- that much we know. "We know he's an Army vet. We know he served honorably from '71 to '73,"

And they were mourners, though strangers. “I’m just so sad this man had no family to be found. We’re his family,” Linda Tinnerman said. Tears dripped from beneath her sunglasses. She received the folded flag, just as she received her husband’s flag nearly nine years ago. We've learned that Don Hart was well known as “JD” on the streets and in the shelters in Fort Worth and Dallas. And that a formerly-homeless friend took him in just hours before Hart died. "He was looking pretty sick," Chester Williams told us. "He was a friend of mine. A real good friend of mine.”

Williams said he found Don Hart sitting outside the VA hospital one day in late September. "So I told him, 'JD, why don't you come to the house and clean yourself up?' He said, 'OK,'" Williams said.
Williams said his friend “liked a ruckus,” but was kind. That he took to sleeping outside because he didn’t like shelter rules. Caseworkers who tried to get “JD” off the streets preferred to call him private. They liked him. Williams said he cooked Hart dinner the night he died.

“I was reading my Bible,” Williams said, “and he said, 'Why don’t you just read it out loud?'” He said Hart fell asleep on the sofa. Sometime in the night, he passed away. The cause of death was heart disease. No next of kin were found. "He died at peace,” Chester Williams said. “You could tell, he died at peace." Williams is glad his friend got a dignified burial. “It’s a very peaceful place,” he said. “Very honorable place. I’m glad he’s finally home.” Don Hart was 62. He is no longer homeless thanks for LTC Corn and others who will always remember.

Gifts for the Troops

Posted: 30 Nov 13

Military troops overseas are going to receive some very special Christmas gifts thanks to service groups from Grapevine.

This is the 4th annual care package drive and it was created by specialist Colin O'Brien from the Texas state guard. The group had 1 box the first year, 74 last year and this year it's more than doubled to 188 packages full of snacks, chocolates, pencils, Christmas cards, hygiene products and much more.

"We're not forgetting about the troops overseas sacrificing what they're doing for us so this is our little way of giving them a little piece of home saying you're not forgotten and Merry Christmas," said Spc O'Brien

This year the Grapevine Elks, The Senior Citizens Center, The Odd Fellows and the Masonic Lodge all donated items and money to cover shipping costs.