TMD Veterans Highlight - Maj.Gen. (Ret.) Kenneth Wisian

Maj.Gen. (Ret.) Kenneth WisianVeterans Day is November 11, however, we are honoring veterans all month long here at the Texas Military Department.

Every week in November, we will feature a local veteran who proudly served in the Texas Army, Air, or State Guard to thank them for being Texans serving Texas. This week, we are excited to honor Texas Air National Guard retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wisian in our TMD Veteran Spotlight.

Maj.Gen. (Ret.) Kenneth Wisian

  • Highest Rank: Major General (O-8)
  • Branch: Texas Air National Guard
  • Years of Service: 33 years
  • Awards/Combat Medals: Bronze Star, Air Medal, Aerial Achievement Medal

Maj.Gen.Wisian’s life in words

Maj. Gen. Wisian has deep roots in Austin. A graduate of Austin High School and the University of Texas at Austin, Gen. Wisian’s military career has taken him places he’ll remember for a lifetime. Wisian joined the Air Force in 1982, and his training began at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California. Gen. Wisian trained on B-52 bombers while learning the importance of Air Command Missions. In 1989 Gen. Wisian was selected to attend Test Pilot School. USAF TPS is one of the toughest, most elite schools in the Air Force.

Wisian says when you’re in the school or have the graduate patch, you are authorized to fly any aircraft in the military you can get your hands on. A self-proclaimed “Uniformed nerd,” he left active duty in 1993 to pursue his Doctorate degree in Geophysics from Southern Methodist University and has published dozens of research in geophysics, space exploration and military/ international affairs.

One year later, Dr. Wisian transferred to the Texas Air National Guard. Wisian began flying C-130 s with the Texas Air National Guard. During this time he flew operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq and Kosovo. He was also deployed to Afghanistan twice. Wisian says after retirement he was able to focus full-time on his role as a Research Scientist.

He is currently the Executive Director of the Disaster Research Program Center for Space Research at UT Austin. The Air Force core values of Integrity First, Service before Self and Excellence in all We Do will always be a part of his life.

 

 

 

Supporting Guardsmen and Families from Deployment to Retirement

Story by Andrew R. Smith, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

Soldiers and Airmen attached to guard and reserve elements constantly have to balance military service, a fulltime job, education and family life.  At times this combination of tasks may seem overwhelming.  Fortunately, services exist to assist these hard working service members and their families.  While most of these people know about benefits such as tax free shopping at the Post Exchange and the education benefits of the GI Bill, there exists an entire support system that offers services far beyond those.Citizen soldier for life logo.

The Family Support Services center offers everything from entertainment functions to education classes and benefits workshops so families will be well versed in what benefits they have and how to best use them. 

“Family Support Services offers cradle to grave assistance for guardsmen and civilian employees,” said Shandra Sponsler, Deputy Branch Manager of Family Support Servicer on Camp Mabry. “We offer pretty much everything but pay and MOS training for Soldiers. Even as Soldiers reach retirement age we have programs like resume writing and interviewing classes and the ‘Citizen-Soldier for Life’ program to guide them as they move past the military.”

Citizen-Soldier for Life is an Army National Guard program that offer career readiness support and financial training to National Guard members, their families, veterans and retirees.  They offer events to help those veterans find jobs in the civilian work force as well as professional networking.

The Soldier Support Service Center, located at Camp Mabry, in Austin, also offers services for retired persons, such as issuing new I.D. cards and copies of military records for retirees and dependents. 

Family Support Services also works with many local partners like Hero’s Night Out, Combat Combined Arms, Operation Homefront USA and the YMCA to put on local events to educate service members and families and provide services. Many of these events are aimed at entertaining and providing a sense of community for the children of deployed service members.

“Some of our most useful and most popular services are Tricare healthcare for service members and families, behavioral health counselors and assistance with Veterans Administration benefits,” said Staff Sgt. Jean-Pierre Sanders, noncommissioned officer in charge of Yellow Ribbon programs at the Family Support Services Center.

The Yellow Ribbon program is another major benefit available to veterans that assists with the cost of education at select universities and trade schools.

“One service I would suggest people take advantage of is our Yellow Ribbon events.  At these events we have information about all of our available resources.  Beyond the obvious ones, there some unseen benefits,” said Sanders. “I often see family members of deployed service members meet with other families, share stories and advice and network with one another.  The support they offer each other us something unique and valuable.”

Even organizations like the Army Air Force Exchange (AAFES) who run the Post Exchange (PX) is opened to all active and retired service members as well as 100 percent disabled veterans and families of all eligible groups. PX restraints are open to all. A portion of all AAFES profits go back to troops through donations to Morale and Welfare Recreation Programs.

Many of the support services such as the counseling are available over the phone 24-hours a day year round. Offices are located all over Texas in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Weslaco, Tyler and El Paso.

More information about these services can be found at https://tmd.texas.gov/tmd-family-support-services

New Year, New Goals: Total Force Wellness

Story by Charles E. Spirtos, Texas Military Department Public Affairs

Members of the Senior Enlisted Leader Conference learn new events to be included in the Army Combat Fitness Test during a training exercise held at Camp Mabry, Texas on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Members of the Senior Enlisted Leader Conference learn new events to be included in the Army Combat Fitness Test during a training exercise held at Camp Mabry, Texas on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

With the start of the new fiscal year, agencies government-wide are re-evaluating goals and priorities in order to best answer the call of their missions. The Texas Military Department is no different, and moving into fiscal year 2020, TMD Senior Enlisted Leader Chief Master Sgt. Michael E. Cornitius has outlined his vision to improve total force wellness to increase resiliency for every Soldier, Airman and State Guardsman within the Texas Military Forces.

“Being healthy” isn’t just about eating right and getting exercise. Cornitius wants to ensure that the force is healthy mentally, spiritually and physically. All three of these building blocks are critical to maintaining a force that is lethal, resilient and ready to answer the call at any time. Maintaining this standard of total fitness is not an individual endeavor. Every Texas Guardsman is in the fight together as one force. 

“The Texas Guard operates like a family, and just as members of a family encourage each other to be the best version of themselves, each member needs to hold one another accountable,” said Cornitius.

Members of the Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference participate in a joint Army, Air Force, and State Guard physical training at Camp Mabry, TX on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Members of the Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference participate in a joint Army, Air Force, and State Guard physical training at Camp Mabry, TX on October 25, 2019. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

As a military organization, TMD rightfully places a great deal of energy and effort in maintaining superior physical fitness. However, the importance of mental and emotional well-being is often overlooked. Emotional health is key to maintaining a resilient and lethal force, and ignoring this component of total force wellness can be just as detrimental as skipping PT. 

Balancing life as a citizen-Soldier within the Guard is not an easy task. Between family commitments, military requirements and the challenges of civilian employment, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. Cornitius believes that tackling the cause of these emotions can allow for increased wellness in the force by going back to the root and really helping people understand that they have a purpose, whether it’s in the military, in society, in their family or wherever else. Cornitius adds that it is his mission to be the support network for those people who have expressed a desire to improve their emotional health. 

In tandem with emotional health, Cornitius wants to enter the new fiscal year with an increased understanding of spiritual health and the resources available to the men and women of the Texas Military Department. All components of TMD have chaplains on staff who are equipped to talk through any spiritual challenges one might face. While speaking to a chaplain might appear to be intimidating at first, Cornitius reminds Guardsmen that chaplains are just normal people.

Physical wellbeing has been and always will be a critical component of total force wellness. Across the Department of Defense, all branches of service are looking towards the future and developing innovative methods to keep the force agile, healthy and lethal. These changes are very palpable within the Army given the transition to the Army Combat Fitness Test. However, all branches are undergoing a renewed interest in physical health. The ACFT will be a superior metric to determine a Soldier’s comprehensive physical fitness by evaluating complex actions that have direct parallels to skills required to succeed in the force. Cornitius understands that while at first the ACFT may seem daunting, the test will actually provide benefits beyond athleticsm by increasing camaraderie within the force. 

A U.S. Air Force chaplain's cover rests on a table as a service member discusses faith-related concerns during a religious service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman)
A U.S. Air Force chaplain's cover rests on a table as a service member discusses faith-related concerns during a religious service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob B. Wrightsman) 

“You can encourage each other, whether it be on the deadlift, whether it be on the leg tuck, no matter what it is,” said Cornitius. “You're going to have at least four people there that can help each other, so that's what I like about it.”

TMD is determined to provide the resources to ensure all of its members excel physically. Part of this initiative is introducing the Volt App, which utilizes artificial intelligence to customize workout routines to the needs of each individual. This app will allow troops to not only meet, but also to exceed fitness goals. TMD is also constructing a consolidated gym at Camp Mabry to allow for improved physical training. Finally, TMD is ensuring that units across the state of Texas have access to equipment that will prepare them for both fitness tests and the battlefield.

Life as a citizen-Solider within the Texas Military Department can be challenging. TMD is the premier military force in the country, and the demands of military service can push individuals to the limits of their physical and emotional abilities. However, with this great challenge comes a great reward in better preparing TMD members to be equal to the task, whether at home during a natural disaster or on the battlefield. Cornitius is certain that a refreshed interest in total force wellness will improve mental, spiritual and physical health, which will in turn allow TMD to be the most agile and resilient force of its kind. The most important point to remember, according to Cornitius, is that no one is in the fight alone. 

“TMD is dedicated to being built around taking care of our people,” said Cornitius. “You are heard, and we are there.”

 

Self Management

By: BG Chaney, Deputy Adjutant General - Army

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus states that “we are responsible for some things, while there are others for which we cannot be held responsible.” This is to say that if you can find a way to differentiate between what is and what is not under your control, and then to act accordingly, you will be resilient to the psychological stress that can so often roadblock us on our path to achieving our goals. 

As a strategic leader, I frequently draw on this concept for strength and guidance when I begin to feel overwhelmed, or as though things are spinning too quickly out of my control.  Every day I work on improving my ability to differentiate between what is and what is not in my power to control. There are numerous external forces outside of our control, and so we must remember to hold onto our power of how we interact and react to them. Even if we cannot control something, we can choose what level of importance it can have to our lives. We always have the ability to stack and prioritize things by level of perceived significance. As leaders and individuals, we must constantly take stock of what is going on around us, create a hierarchy of priorities, and then take control of events as appropriate.  By learning to manage what you can, you will be more resilient to riding the wave of things that are out of your control. 
 

 

Failure is Not in my Mindset

Story and Photos by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura, Joint Counter Drug Taskforce/ 100th MPAD

AUSTIN, Texas— Frozen in what one can only describe as a nightmare, Staff Sgt. Kimberly Gaona clenched Kiyana, her 13 year-old daughter’s hand in a hospital room and held back tears as she faced the harrowing reality that no parent wishes to face.  

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Gaona, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Ground Reconnaisance Detachment operator and a medic with the 149th Medical Group, 6th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, 149th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard stands in front of an Air Guard aircraft at Camp Mabry, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Gaona, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Ground Reconnaisance Detachment operator and a medic with the 149th Medical Group, 6th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, 149th Attack Wing, Texas Air National Guard stands in front of an Air Guard aircraft at Camp Mabry, Texas. 

The doctor and a nurse entered the room and delivered the news. “She has cancer.”

“It was like a freight train,” said Gaona. “It will just stop you in your tracks when you hear those words about your kid.”

Sitting behind her daughter, Gaona, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Ground Reconnaissance Detachment operator and a medic with the 149th Medical Group, 6th Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, 149th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard, wouldn’t let her daughter see the emotion in her face. 

Instead, she collected herself, stepped out of the hospital room and notified her friend and mentor in the Counterdrug program of the news. 

Gaona, 43, a divorced and single mother of four, also notified Kiyana’s father of the news. 

“Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a cancer of the blood, is produced in the bone, which is everywhere in the body,” said Gaona. “So that was scary to hear about how to treat it if it is everywhere. 

“We were fortunate, only 20 percent of her body was consumed by cancer. She did great the first three months--the last chemo-therapy treatment was brutal.”

Kiyana, who turned 14 while being treated for AML in the hospital, fought for her life as she underwent several allergic reactions, fevers and pneumonia from the transfusions. 

“She didn’t see me cry and I did not let her,” said Gaona. “She wanted to understand, so from a medical standpoint I helped her understand what was happening and it helped her.”

Gaona used her medical training from the Airforce to decipher information about her daughter’s cancer and follow along with the charts.

“It was definitely a different world in oncology, I could hear the treatment plan and the x-rays every day,” said Gaona. “When it wasn’t good, I wouldn’t tell her, but it was peace of mind from my medical training to know what was going on.”

As Kiyana entered remission, Gaona reflected on her ability to remain resilient throughout such a distressful experience.

“I don’t know that I have had to use that level of fortitude before--someone had to do it,” said Gaona. “If you are strong for people who are not, it gives them hope and mentally I don’t think she ever thought about not fighting even though there were days where she just felt horrible.”

Kiyana, who trained and ruck marched with her mother just days before her cancer diagnosis, drew on her mother’s grit to overcome her circumstances as she battled the treatment. Even at her lowest moments, on an incubator, she refused to be sedated throughout the process. 

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana smiles next to her daughter, Kiyana. Gaona used her life experiences and military training to remain resilient during her daughter's fight against cancer. Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force members came together to gift Kiyana with a prayer blanket made by a local church group, the Piece Makers.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana smiles next to her daughter, Kiyana. Gaona used her life experiences and military training to remain resilient during her daughter's fight against cancer. Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force members came together to gift Kiyana with a prayer blanket made by a local church group, the Piece Makers.  


“We don’t know when to stop,” said Gaona. “If you know how to stop or even think it, then you will. But if that’s not something in your mindset, then you won’t stop, you’ll just keep going. 

“She is strong and driven. She is amazing, brilliant and beautiful.”

Although she said that nothing could have prepared her for this experience, this was not the first time in Gaona’s life that she persevered in the face of adversity. 

Gaona, an adoptee, forged a path of defying the odds when she enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard at the cut off age of 39.

Shortly after completing her initial trainings, she became the first female to complete the Texas National Guard Counterdrug Ground Reconnaissance Operators Training Course and work as an operator on a team.

The course is a test of physical and mental exertion, with 4 a.m. wake-ups and grueling workouts. All operators must pass the Army Physical Fitness Test adhering to the male age 17-21 bracket maximum scores, complete a 12-mile ruck march and run five miles in 40 minutes. 

“She is an operator and is exactly what I would expect of my team,” said Maj. Robert Cowart, Texas National Guard Ground Reconnaissance officer-in-charge. “We have high standards. Everybody’s character is good, and goes above and beyond. If they don’t, they can’t stay here---Gaona keeps up there with the team.”


Ground Reconnaissance operators are trained to work in stressful and highly sensitive environments employing bucket truck operations, tower climbing, and photography and radio skills to support law enforcement agents on highly sensitive missions. 

“We conduct the Operator Training Course because we are looking for resilient professional Soldiers and Airmen who can be trusted in autonomous situations and have the conditioning and trust to make necessary decisions,” said Cowart. 

The culminating exercise is a three day land navigation course across several thousand acres, carrying a rucksack with some food, water and a compass.

“I had to do a 72 hour course and find some points in 72 hours and we weren’t allowed to sleep,” said Gaona. “That alone, I think it was a big part of me being able to handle what happened afterwards. I had been doing my job as an operator for six months when Kiyana was diagnosed with cancer.”

Gaona said that the trust and relationships that she built while working on the Counterdrug program were coupled with invaluable support throughout Kiyana’s treatment.

“Change is always happening and those same people who were my support in the Counterdrug program, all of them, were huge supporters and showed up at the hospital within days,” said Gaona. 

Gaona continued to work between hospital visits and go into work early in the morning to complete necessary tasks and check up on her Counterdrug teammates.

“She is an endearing person,” said. Master Sgt. Ruben Hernandez, her Counterdrug and Air National Guard mentor. “Every time I was visiting her we would focus on Kiyana, then she would immediately ask how the team was. For me, that is a testament to her character--- she is adamant about helping others.”

Hernandez, who also assisted in recruiting Gaona into the Texas Air National Guard, reflected on Gaona as an asset to the Counterdrug team.

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana's training for a national body building competition includes two hours of cardio per day, one hour of weight lifting per day, and six to seven meals to build muscle.
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana's training for a national body building competition includes two hours of cardio per day, one hour of weight lifting per day, and six to seven meals to build muscle. 


“All of her charm that comes with her attributes, her knowledge of environmental considerations,” said Hernandez. “She offers a unique dichotomy to the team. As far as acclimation to the team, she has done well, she is a 40 plus-year-old mom of four. There is not a whole lot she has been through that she can’t offer or share light on.”

While her daughter’s cancer was the pinnacle of Gaona’s life challenges, there were many others.

“She has had some pretty significant life challenges,” said Hernandez. “She experienced death in the family pretty young, marriage, kids, owning a business and probably more life experiences than any adult woman that I have met in my life.”

Regardless of the hurdles she faced prior to joining the military, Gaona doesn’t back down and never stops giving. 

“She didn’t expect any exemptions, she showed and gave it all she got,” said Hernandez. “The biggest impact has been her being an outlier to the small community here--green berets and ranger guys--and proving herself as a female, as a Soldier and a person as a whole.

“She has had a huge impact and changed the dynamics in our community, and just a different respect for how we carry ourselves. It’s a great sense of pride that not only do we have a female working with us but she fell in with the team.”

Despite the hardships that Gaona faced during her lifetime, and more recently, Gaona continues to inspire her family, her military community and now the bodybuilding community.

With her daughter’s improving health, Gaona, true to her creed, will not stop pushing herself to be the best she can be.

For the past eight months, working around appointments, work commitments, and her motherly duties, Gaona has been preparing to compete in a national bodybuilding competition in October. 

“She is tough as nails, that’s the best way to describe her,” said Ivan Meraz, Founder of Team Hard Bodies Austin and Gaona’s competition coach. “She is mentally strong. That’s what body building is all about”.

Gaona’s current regime includes two hours of cardio a day, one hour of weights a day, and six to seven meals a day while juggling her personal and professional life.

“The lady shows up, man,” said Meraz, a coach and competitor who has worked in the bodybuilding industry for more than 20 years. “She is a great person, she is very caregiving. She is always asking me how I am doing when she is the one going through the hard time. 

“What I love the most about her is that she shows up and she is tough as nails and I have basically done everything I have to build her and she has answered to that. No complaints, no whining, no questions.”
Staff Sgt. Kimberly Goana's training for a national body building competition includes two hours of cardio per day, one hour of weight lifting per day, and six to seven meals to build muscle.
If Gaona wins the first round of the competition she will go on to compete at the national professional level. 

“I wanted a challenge after I got through the Ground Reconnaissance Operators Training Course,” said Gaona. “I have to push for something better. Life has taught me that. I don’t want my kids to think mediocre is OK. If you have more to give, give it.”

While pushing through the final week of her preparation for the competition, Gaona’s energy levels plunge as her diet becomes more restrictive and now, she looks to her daughter and her kids for inspiration. 

“Look at Kiyana she has no idea what she accomplished last year,” said Gaona. “That kid fought for her life. She has no idea how strong she is. I hope that I was part of what pushed her through.”

All of her children are following after her example. Gaona’s oldest son enlisted in the Army. Her second oldest is at medical school in Ohio and the youngest two are still in high school. 

“I tell my kids ‘don’t be a victim. Don’t be a follower. Make your path’,” said Gaona. “Do what you want don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it unless you have tried.”

As for Gaona’s future, in typical Gaona fashion, there is no end in sight. 


Along with re-enlisting for another six years, she has enrolled in school to finish her Associate of Science in Nursing and plans to apply for the Interservice Physician Assistant Program at Fort Sam Houston to become a physician assistant.

“Always stay humble, because the world will make you humble,” said Gaona. “Never forget your dreams. You always have to have goals. There is always more.”

From the Top November 2019

Today's Failure is a Lesson in Tomorrow's Success

LTC Benjie Bender, Texas Military Department Chaplain

LTC Benjie Bender serves as the Chaplain for the Texas Military Department
LTC Benjie Bender serves as the Chaplain for the Texas Military Department

Failure does not shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you. Sir Edmund Hillary made several unsuccessful attempts at scaling Mount Everest before he finally succeeded. After one attempt he stood at the base of the giant mountain and shook his fist at it. “I’ll defeat you yet,” he said in defiance. “Because you're as big as you're going to get, but I'm still growing.”

Every time Hillary climbed, he failed. And every time he failed, he learned. And every time he learned, he grew and tried again. And one day he didn't fail. 

What mountain are you looking up at today? What seemingly insurmountable obstacle are you facing? How motivated are you to overcome it? 

When people lose motivation to accomplish a goal or grow in a certain area of life or launch out into their dreams, it’s usually due to one of two reasons. It’s either not that important to them or it’s important to them, they just don’t believe it is possible. They believe it is a mountain too high to climb. 

I really can’t speak to the first reason, but let me give you a strategy for the second: take it one step at a time.

Growing up, I always thought it would be fun and adventurous to ride my bike across the country.  While I never rode from “sea to shining sea,” the summer of my junior year in college I did ride 1,100 miles south from Indiana to Florida and then turned right and headed west to Louisiana.  Up until that fateful first day of the journey, I had never ridden more than 27 miles at one time. Our first campsite was over 60 miles from our starting point.  At mile 40, I was done! Exhausted. It was a little over halfway through our first day, and I was already wanting to quit.  I remember thinking, “Gee, only 1,060 more miles to go! I’m never gonna make it.” That is when a new strategy struck me. Rather than giving in to defeat, I began instead to think, “I may not be able to make it all 1,060 miles, but I can make it to the top of that hill!” And when I would make it to the top of the hill I would say, “Alright, that’s what I’m talking about! Now I’m gonna shoot for the stop sign, and then the gas station, and then around the curve.” Until finally four weeks later, I saw the river…the Mississippi river. And one last time I said, “By God’s grace, I can make it to the river.” And there, on the banks of the Mississippi in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I took my last stroke of the pedal. Goal achieved. Objective accomplished. Mountain defeated.

When confronted with your mountain, focus not on what you can’t do but on what you can do.  Eat that elephant one bite at a time. And if in your efforts you fail at one point, all is not lost. Rather, you just gave yourself an opportunity, like Sir Edmund Hillary, to learn and grow. Remember, FAIL is simply your First Attempt In Learning. So learn up instead of giving up. Remember what the Apostle Paul taught the Galatians, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” So in the spirit of Sir Edmund Hillary, “Climb on!”

Airman weathers storm with resiliency

Story by SSgt Briana Larson and TSgt Lynn M. Means, 136th Airlift Wing, TXANG

Staff Sgt. Williams poses for a photo. (US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Staff Sgt. Williams poses for a photo. (US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH, Texas -- “Say something.”

“I don’t know what made me make that call,” said Staff Sgt. De’Jon P. Williams, a 136th Airlift Wing photojournalist. “At that moment I told myself to say something. And I did, and I started to get help.”

Williams’ story shows the hope each of us can hold on to when we hit rock bottom, as he has come a long way from that day as a Senior Airman.

“Things had started to crumble,” said Williams. “My car got repossessed, I had just started my first day of school when everyone was called to support the Hurricane Harvey response, and it was then I learned some information in my personal life that tore me apart.”

It wasn’t right away that it all connected, said Williams. He had a mission to do and tried to stay focused. But when it finally hit him, it hit hard.

“It bothered me at the time, but the puzzle pieces hadn’t come together in my head just yet,” said Williams. “I went to cover a medical group that came to help us out in Houston. I don’t know what happened, but my mind just snapped. I lost it – I didn’t know what was going on.”

Williams immediately recognized something was not right, and he needed help.

“I remember flying with the medical group wondering what was going on with myself,” said Williams. “I was in autopilot the whole time, just trying to do my job taking photos. I wasn’t there in the moment – just doing my job with no context in my mind.”

As soon as he returned, he asked his supervisor for help.

“I reached out to Sgt. Overton, and told her I wasn’t doing so well,” said Williams. “I asked to talk to the First Sgt., who then reached out to Ms. Lynn, who was really helpful.”

Kathryn Lynn, the 136th Airlift Wing director of psychological health, was able to connect Williams with the first step in his road to recovery.

“The good thing was that I was proactive when I noticed something wasn’t right with me,” said Williams. “I spent that evening in the hospital. Sgt. Singletary drove me there himself. I knew I wasn’t going to hurt myself, but I couldn’t define this feeling – there were no words for it.”

It was after his initial breaking point when he began to notice small things would trigger him, said Williams. The tiniest things became the biggest stressors because of where he was mentally, as though every other day there was something to mess with him.

“For a couple of months, I only had my motorcycle,” said Williams. “When I was on my bike and it just started raining, those were some of my lowest times. I had to ride through torrential downpours just to get home, hiding under the overpass and waiting for the rain to stop. Sometimes I would sit there and think, ‘Well, if you think you can’t get no lower.’ That bike and I have literally been to hell and back together.”

Then another major event brought his world crashing down.

Staff Sgt. Williams poses for a photo. (US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)
Staff Sgt. Williams poses for a photo. (US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Otte)

“My grandmother had two strokes, and without thinking it through, I tried to get as close to home as I can be, which was Phoenix,” said Williams. “But I still had a lease in Texas and had to pay for that lease. I worked and slept at the Phoenix airport and got support from the United Services Organization there. Then I’d make my cot in the corner of the airport and sleep until my shift started the next morning and fly back to Fort Worth for drill. I lived that way for maybe two months.”

But Williams’ support had not ended with that first hospital visit. His mentors include Maj. Theresa Chrystal, the 136th Airlift Wing executive officer, Tech. Sgt. Lynn Means, the non-commissioned officer in charge of Public Affairs, and Tech. Sgt. Kristina Overton, his supervisor.

Williams said a lot of people were aware of his situation and reached out a lot to help him. Because of this, he was able to get counseling sessions every week and had help getting a car. And Maj. Chrystal was there every step of the way with phone calls and text messages.

“Really everyone at some point played a role,” said Williams. “Maj. Chrystal, Sgt. Means, Sgt. Overton – sending encouraging texts and calling, pulling me to the side to see how I’m doing and how they can help. Sometimes I felt singled out, but looking back on it I feel thankful. It was the small things, just knowing that somebody cares.”

The Wingmen who stepped in to help Williams can look back on those days and see how far he has come, attesting to the value of reaching out for help.

“Sgt. Williams is a real-world example of how stepping in and taking care of an Airman can truly change their life,” said Chrystal. “I can’t even explain the joy in my heart when I see the difference in this young man. It’s evident in everything about him that by investing in him and ensuring he had the resources he needed, his life was turned around for the better. It’s what makes me proud to be a leader – to be there to help Airmen make it through those times.”

The struggle doesn’t always end, but Williams found ways to cope, and is once again thriving in his role with the Texas Air National Guard.

“I have my moments even today,” said Williams. “There are still things that I deal with, but I allow myself space to deal with it, and wake up tomorrow with a fresh start. I work out a lot more, I set rules for myself, and I try not to carry burdens and issues.”

Williams has since excelled in a deployed mission, trained the deployed Public Affairs team, and even earned a promotion into the Non-Commissioned Officer corps.

“I am so proud to see how strong and resilient he is,” said Chrystal. “I cannot wait to watch both his life and career as he continues to soar. He is definitely a rescue story in the making!”

Williams looks back at his journey with confidence, thankful for the ones who stepped up, and hoping his story will encourage others to reach out.

“I want other Airmen to know it’s worth it - say something,” said Williams. “Bottling it in isn’t going to do anything but make it worse and you don’t want to find yourself in a position where you feel like you can’t make it out. Just sit with someone, talk to them and let it out for 5 or 10 minutes. It will help. Just say something.”

Texas National Guard veterans inducted into Hall of Honor

Story and Photos by Spc. Miguel Ruiz, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, TXARNG

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Military Department inducted three retired veterans into the Hall of Honor, Oct. 27, 2019 at Camp Mabry.

Retired Maj. Gen. Joyce Stevens, retired Col. Timmy Hines and retired Chief Master Sgt. Kevin O’Gorman were recognized for their outstanding and exemplary service to the Texas Military Department during a formal ceremony. 

Mrs. Timmy L. Hines receives an award from Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris on behalf of retired Col. Timmy L. Hines at the Texas Military Department's Hall of Honor induction ceremony at Camp Mabry October 27, 2019. Hines, a Vietnam War veteran, served more than 33 years in the military. Hines also championed equality throughout his career, recruiting the Texas National Guard’s first female aviator and promoted the growth of female aviators at the 149th Aviation Brigade’s flight school. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Miguel Ruiz)
Mrs. Timmy L. Hines receives an award from Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris on behalf of retired Col. Timmy L. Hines at the Texas Military Department's Hall of Honor induction ceremony at Camp Mabry October 27, 2019. Hines, a Vietnam War veteran, served more than 33 years in the military. Hines also championed equality throughout his career, recruiting the Texas National Guard’s first female aviator and promoted the growth of female aviators at the 149th Aviation Brigade’s flight school. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Miguel Ruiz)

Several senior members of the Texas Military Department, including Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas, were in attendance.

“These individuals have records that are lengthy and remarkable,” said Norris during the ceremony. “They have spent their careers supporting their fellow service members and pushing the Texas Military Department forward into the future.”

Framed plaques, displaying a photo of each inductee along with a summary of his or her contributions to the Texas Military Department, were unveiled during the ceremony.

“I remember looking at the photos of the Hall of Honor inductees as a junior officer and, though I did not know them, I was inspired by the written accomplishments under each person’s photo,” said Stevens, former Texas Military Department assistant adjutant general. “I like to think that someday a junior leader will see my photo and be inspired to serve and lead our Soldiers well and faithfully.”

Stevens, who was the first female to reach the rank of brigadier general in the Texas Army National Guard in 2006, said that she recognized a responsibility for setting a competent and capable example of leadership to her Soldiers.

“With that promotion, came a knowledge that female Soldiers were looking up to me for inspiration,” said Stevens. “I would advise both female and male Soldiers who aspire to become senior leaders to learn the job you are in as well as the next job. Volunteer for hard work and boldly volunteer for leadership positions.”

The inductees' framed plaques and biographies are set to be permanently enshrined at the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry for future generations to admire.

Three National Guard veterans are presented awards during a Texas Military Department Hall of Honor induction ceremony at Camp Mabry October 27, 2019. The TMD's Hall of Honor is an exclusive membership made up of former Texas military service members who positively influenced and brought great credit upon TMD during their tenure of service. Since the HOH was established in 1980, over 100 former service members have had their stories and contributions to TMD displayed permanently in the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Miguel Ruiz)
Three National Guard veterans are presented awards during a Texas Military Department Hall of Honor induction ceremony at Camp Mabry October 27, 2019. The TMD's Hall of Honor is an exclusive membership made up of former Texas military service members who positively influenced and brought great credit upon TMD during their tenure of service. Since the HOH was established in 1980, over 100 former service members have had their stories and contributions to TMD displayed permanently in the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Miguel Ruiz)


“To be remembered and recognized by leadership and my peers as someone that they feel made an impact in our force is a great honor,” said O’Gorman, the former state command chief master sergeant of the Texas Military Department.

The inductees will join over 100 Soldiers and Airmen who have been inducted into the Hall of Honor in the last 38 years.

“Each of these individuals has left a lasting impact on the Texas Military Department. Thank you for the job well done,” said Norris. “We all look forward to their continued service as a motivation for us to strive to be the best we can be, not only for ourselves, but for those that are following in our footsteps.”

Texas Guard Special Forces Soldiers awarded Medals by the Czech Republic

Story and Photos by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena, Texas Military Department

A Czech Republic soldier prepares to present awards during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, marking a successful six-month tour to Western Afghanistan. During the ceremony, Special Forces Soldiers from the Czech Republic and Texas Army National Guard received awards, distinctions and badges of honor as an appreciation for their successful service abroad and excellent representation of their homeland. The Texas Military Department and the Czech Republic have participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Partnership Program cooperation since 1993 with the Nebraska National Guard, in support of the U.S. European Command Theater Security Cooperation Strategy. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
A Czech Republic soldier prepares to present awards during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, marking a successful six-month tour to Western Afghanistan. During the ceremony, Special Forces Soldiers from the Czech Republic and Texas Army National Guard received awards, distinctions and badges of honor as an appreciation for their successful service abroad and excellent representation of their homeland. The Texas Military Department and the Czech Republic have participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Partnership Program cooperation since 1993 with the Nebraska National Guard, in support of the U.S. European Command Theater Security Cooperation Strategy. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)

Prostejov, Czech Republic -- Special Forces Soldiers assigned to the Texas Army National Guard were awarded the Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic, at a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, for their efforts supporting their Czech Allies during a recent combat deployment to Afghanistan as part of Operation Resolute Support.

Resolute Support is a NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. The Resolute Support mission is currently comprised of 17,000 personnel from 39 NATO Allies and partners.

"The ceremony was a dedication to the end of a successful mission that was conducted in Afghanistan,” said the deputy commander of the Czech Republic’s Special Operations Forces. “It is important for everyone to understand how special it is for us to have our U.S. brothers here with us. My Czech operators that served side-by-side with the [Texas] operators felt the cooperation was extraordinary and wanted to express gratitude."

During their deployment, the Texas Guardsmen, assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), partnered directly with Czech SOF for six months in Afghanistan’s Western region where they worked hand-in-hand for one shared goal - protecting their homelands.

A Texas Guardsman assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), presents a U.S. Army Combat Infantryman Badge to a Czech Republic Special Forces soldier during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019.
A Texas Guardsman assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), presents a U.S. Army Combat Infantryman Badge to a Czech Republic Special Forces soldier during a during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019.  Army photo by SSG Elizabeth Pena.

"It is not common for Czech to give foreign service members this [Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic] decoration," said the Czech deputy commander. "They are here not because of me, or my boss, or my boss' boss. They are here because of the brotherhood that was born in the battlefield of Afghanistan. It is because of operators here in this unit that were deployed, had someone next to them from the United States that they could rely on."

This combined effort stems from a 24-year relationship between the Texas Military Department, Nebraska National Guard and the Czech Republic as part of the U.S. State Department’s State Partnership Program, based on military-to-military engagements with all components from the Czech Republic and Texas.

"It was great for us to take that partnership that had been developed over the years and put it together in a mutual deployment," said the detachment commander of the Texas-based 19th SFG (A) Special Forces team. "The Czechs went on approximately 30 missions with us, so that is a lot of time spent on a daily-basis planning, rehearsing and executing and it just validated that our special operations brotherhood is more than just our regiment, it expands across our NATO partners."

Those who have participated in the State Partnership Program have seen the direct correlation between investing in the relationship with their Czech counterparts during peacetime and the effectiveness created between NATO Allies in combat.

"There's a plaque I have with pictures of the teams working together across all of those missions," said the American detachment commander. "This directly demonstrates the strength of the state partnership from each program, even in places as distant as Afghanistan, the U.S. Army, the Texas Army National Guard and the Czech Republic can work hand in hand for mutual goals and benefits."

Czech Republic Air Force Maj. Gen. Jiri Verner, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of Czech Armed Forces Command, presents the Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic to Texas Guardsmen assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, hosted by their State Partner, Czech Republic. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
Czech Republic Air Force Maj. Gen. Jiri Verner, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of Czech Armed Forces Command, presents the Medal of the Minister of Defense of Czech Republic to Texas Guardsmen assigned to the Army's 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), during a ceremony in Prostejov, Oct. 25, 2019, hosted by their State Partner, Czech Republic. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)

This deployment was just one of many examples of how the Texas and Czech Republic’s partner-unit preparation, through U.S. support and engagement, is a strengthened capability and improves interoperability every day, whether it is training at home station or combat missions abroad.

"I am so proud of these Texas Guardsmen," said Texas Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the Adjutant General of Texas. "Their efforts to work in close collaboration with our Czech partners and go the extra mile exemplify the type of Soldier we all strive to be. Our long campaign in Afghanistan has required our troops to be highly adaptable professionals at all times. The 19th SFG (A) continues to stay true to our mission and values in this war fight, bringing honor to themselves and those of us back home."

 

This article was initially posted to DVIDS on October 28, 2019.