Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


I don't make a lot of phone calls back home. This is mostly because I don't really like talking on the phone. My roommates spend most of their downtime Skyping with their families. I feel like if I tried to do that, I would spend all my time glued to my computer and not living in the moment. But every now and then, I'll call my family.

The worst thing besides just getting someone's voicemail is for them to tell you that they are too busy to talk right now. Seriously? I'm in Afghanistan and I only call every few weeks! Part of that is my choice, but it's also circumstantial. A lot of times, the phone lines are down due to the loss or injury of a troop, or maintenance. 

So I was very sad last night when I couldn't get through to my mom and my sister had other things going on. It makes me feel more disconnected from my family and even happier that I don't have a boyfriend or husband back home. I know of some girls who have been blown off by their significant others and it must feel devastating. 

It also brings back memories of my own marriage. I remember how, years ago, when my late husband would try to call me while he was deployed. If I missed a phone call, he would inevitably leave me a nasty and hurtful voicemail. I'm not excusing his mean behavior, but it does give me insight on how he must have felt at the time. Sometimes I wish he was still alive so we could talk about these things.

Yet in my sadness I managed to go online and buy a fabulous pair of Cole Haan boots. There's no reason why I can't build up my fall wardrobe while I'm out here, plus I'm a strong believer in retail therapy ☺

Part 9 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Texas Air Guard represents US in Chile's Salitre exercise

Onlookers from various agencies and branches of the Chilean government, along with their families, visit with Airmen from the Texas Air National Guard.
Onlookers from various agencies and branches of the Chilean government, along with their families, visit with Airmen from the Texas Air National Guard's 149th Fighter Wing during an Open Day at Exercise Salitre 2014 at Cerro Moreno Air Base, Chile. The exercise also includes the air forces of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and focuses on strengthening partnerships and interoperability in a coalition format. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bryan Bouchard/Released)


 Story by Capt. Bryan Bouchard

 ANTOFAGASTA, Chile - Chilean president Michelle Bachelet was on-hand today to officially kick off Exercise Salitre  2014 at Cerro Moreno Air Base on the northern coast of Chile.

 The exercise includes air forces from Chile, the U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and centers around enhancing  multilateral interoperability between nations.

 "The primary aim of this exercise is to prepare our Air Forces to work together in the future," said Lt. Col. Raul Rosario,  deployed detachment commander from the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard. "Whether this eventuality is  during a natural disaster or something else we need to practice together so we can work well together when needed."

 More than 80 Airmen, along with six F-16 Fighting Falcons from Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and a KC-135  Stratotanker from Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Ohio, represent the U.S. contingent.

 "This exercise provides an opportunity to strengthen our military-to-military relationships with regional partners," said  Col. Mike Torrealday, Reserve Advisor to the 12th Air Force Commander at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The  colonel also acted as exercise co-director along with representatives from the other nations.

 "Participating in events such as Salitre helps strengthen our relationships and increase operational capabilities within the Western hemisphere," he said.

The Airmen and F-16s from the 149th FW were selected as participants in this engagement because of Texas's link to Chile through the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program. SPP matches a National Guard state with a partner country to exchange military skills and experience, share defense knowledge, and enhance partnership capacity and further mutual security cooperation.

Earlier this year, Texas Air National Guard Airmen traveled to Santiago to take part in FIDAE, Chile's premier airshow and aviation expo. They also held exchanges between various specialties, further strengthening relationships between the two nations.

"We had a great encounter with the Chilean air force at FIDAE," said Master Sgt. Kyle Kuhlman, a crew chief with the 149th FW. "If we needed something, they were able to provide it to us and if they needed something, we were able to help them."

Continued interactions between the countries build upon each other to establish understanding and good relationships. At Salitre, Kuhlman represented the U.S. in ensuring proactive preparations were made in case of aircraft accidents or incidents.

"Each country had a representative for crash recovery, so I had to work with the Chilean airmen to find out what capabilities they had and work through what we'd need should something happen," he said.

Ultimately, it's the human interaction that makes exercises like Salitre worthwhile.

"The cultural exchange in the best part," Kuhlman added. "We're able to see how similar and how different we all operate, and make the mission work."

Maj. Gen. Gerald "Jake" Betty Assumed Command of Texas State Guard

On Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, Brig. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty took command of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) from Maj. Gen. Manuel “Tony” Rodriguez  at a change of command ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

CAMP MABRY, Texas (Oct. 10, 2014) – On Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, Brig. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty took command of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) from Maj. Gen. Manuel “Tony” Rodriguez  at a change of command ceremony at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

Governor Rick Perry announced last month that Betty would assume command upon the retirement of Rodriguez, who has commanded the TXSG since August 2012. 

“Over the last two years, Gen. Rodriguez, has continued to demonstrate the integral role of the Texas State Guard to the Texas Military Forces and the people of the Lone Star State,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, Texas Adjutant General. “Rodriguez has demonstrated his leadership skills and distinguished himself in mission execution during his time in command.”

Betty joined the TXSG in January 2006, after a distinguished career in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve. Betty received his Bachelors degree from Texas A&M University and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry in 1973. Upon entering active duty he was assigned to the 1st 501st Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, KY. Upon leaving active duty in 1977, he was assigned as Company Commander C-Company, 1st 143 Infantry, 36th Airborne Brigade, Texas National Guard. Additionally, in 1979 Betty transferred to the U.S. Army Reserves and held various leadership positions. In February 2003, he was mobilized to the Defense Intelligence Agency as Chief, Iraq Survey Group, Fusion Center - CONUS, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He retired from the U.S. Army Reserve in 2003 after serving a total of 30 years.

During his time in the TXSG, Betty has held a number of leadership positions to include serving as the Director of Personnel and Administration for the organization headquarters. While commander of the 8th Regiment, Betty served on several State Active Duty missions for Hurricanes Dean, Gustav, Dolly, Edouard, and Ike. In March of 2013, Betty was selected to serve as Commanding General of the Army Component Command.

As commander, Betty will be responsible for the organization, training and administration of the Texas State Guard, reporting directly to the Texas Adjutant General. Currently, more than 2,200 men and women actively service in the TXSG, divided into four operational components: Army, Air, Maritime and Medical. The mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready military 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 and Air National Guard as required.

Betty and wife, Juli, have been married for 40 years and have two children, Josh and Alison. Their son and son-in-law proudly serve in the U.S. Army as a Major and Sgt. 1st Class. 

Betty was honored to take command from Rodriguez and is ready for the next chapter of his military career.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected for this role by our commander in chief,” said Betty. “I look forward to serving our citizens of Texas.”

Prior to the change of command ceremony, Betty was promoted to Major General.

Memoirs from a Deployment


There are some things about home that I am really starting to miss.

The first one is not having to put clothes on and walk half a mile to go to the bathroom, especially when you have to go in the middle of a deep sleep, which, if you're hydrating properly, is often. That's pretty annoying. Oh well, at least we have toilets that flush.

I also miss not being able to have meals readily available either. I may not stock my fridge very well all the time back home, but I have the sushi restaurant that delivers on speed dial. Here, the chow hall is a good half mile walk away, which is no joke when it’s a hundred and ten degrees. The food is pretty decent, however.

And I miss being able to dress up and do typical girly stuff. I miss dresses and sandals and earrings. So I've devised different looks for work. When I work days, I wear tinted lip gloss and I pin my bangs back. When I'm on nights, I wear my liquid eyeliner and my bangs down and swept to the side. I also bought this super cool leather holster for my 9mm pistol. It's the Michael Kors bag of holsters, and accentuates my figure nicely.

But most of all, I miss being on some sort of schedule. Nursing is already notorious for not having regular hours. That's okay. Put me on days or nights and keep it that way for a while and I'll be fine. But here we work one twelve hour day shift, the next day we work a twelve hour night shift, one day to recover, and repeat. Our bodies never get a chance to fully adjust as we are either sleeping too much or not at all. Add that to the other inconveniences and it makes for some grumpy troops. We are beginning to snap at each other a bit, but we all acknowledge that it is just because we are tired.

However, I am getting into amazing shape. I hit the gym when I’m not working. The gym is usually packed, mostly with Marines. At first, we could barely get sets in as each machine and bench was crowded with three or four dudes. They might ogle us, but they weren't moving over and making room for us. Now that we have been here for a while and it's clear that we are actually there to work out, guys move out of the way for us. Working out, combined with having to walk on gravel almost everywhere we go, has worked wonders on my glutes!

Part 8 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


It’s scary how our intensive care unit can go from nearly empty to a full house in a matter of a couple of hours. And how we can have patients who were in the same firefight, just on opposing sides, in hospital beds just a few feet away from each other.

Yesterday we received one U.S. Marine involved in a roadside bombing, as well as two Afghan detainees. They were all in the operating room at the same time, and they all three got admitted to the ICU together. 

The Marine was a 21- year-old sniper, who even while intubated and sedated, wanted to know exactly what happened to him, and also what happened to the Taliban fighters he was engaging. His older brother, also a Marine, happened to be deployed as well. He let his little brother know that the two Taliban members were dead.

The older brother would not leave his younger brother's bedside all night, even politely refusing when we offered him one of our empty beds to sleep in. I'll never forget the way his eyes watered when I first led him to his brother's bed after diligently waiting outside during the surgeries. And I'll never forget how a mere couple of hours later they were bantering back and forth. The patient, being intubated and unable to speak, had to rely on pen, paper and hand gestures such as flipping the bird to communicate. The next morning, while helping hang some blood, I made the brother a cup of coffee. Often, nursing isn't just about the patient but taking care of the loved ones as well.

The Marine's commander came in for an update, and then asked about the other two patients that came in with the Marine. I assumed he meant other US Marines, so I told him they had probably gone to the ward. I didn't realize he meant the two detainees that we had. It's probably better that I let him believe that. 

We've had detainee patients before, but never at the same time as American or British patients. While we are sworn to give everyone care no matter the circumstance, it was really hard last night. In the end, all of the patients received their medications, baths and were appropriately sedated for comfort. We have to remind ourselves that this is what separates us from them. This is what makes us better.

Although I don't wish any harm on anyone, it felt great to take care of one of our own last night.

Part 7 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier

Texas RTI Trains New Cavalry Scouts on the Bradley

Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard's Regional Training Institute (RTI) fire a 25mm round from a Bradly fighting vehicle at Fort Hood, Texas.
Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s Regional Training Institute (RTI) fire a 25mm round from a Bradley fighting vehicle at Fort Hood, Texas, Sept. 25, 2014. Six soldiers completed the range for the final event of their transition to 19D cavalry scout military occupation specialty (MOS), one of several MOS certifying schools Texas’ RTI runs. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle/ Released)


 Story and photo by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle

 Fort Hood, Texas (Oct 1, 2014) - Many soldiers say going to the range is fun and a good chance to refine marksmanship  skills. For soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s Regional Training Institute, the Bradley live-fire range was also  an opportunity to shoot a 25mm chain gun from the Bradley, a lightly armored, tracked military vehicle and was the final  event standing between them and a new military occupational specialty. 

 Six soldiers, five from Texas and one from the Illinois Army National Guard, spent three weeks training with the Texas  RTI, and just two days after completing the Bradley live-fire range, earned the title of 19D or cavalry scout in a graduation  ceremony held at Camp Mabry, in Austin on Sept. 28, 2014. 

 During the Bradley range iteration, several Texas Military Forces’ leaders came out to visit the soldiers and observe the  training.

 There are approximately 1,000 cavalry scouts in the Texas Army National Guard, said Maj. Gen. William Smith, Deputy  Adjutant General – Army and Commander of the Texas Army National Guard. Training soldiers for this job in Texas is  financially beneficial.

 “It’s a huge advantage,” said Smith. “If we bring them to Camp Mabry or Camp Swift, we have quarters and rations and  it’s much cheaper. The other advantage is we don’t waste a lot of time sending them somewhere else.”

 Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wisian, Deputy Adjutant General – Air and Commander of the Texas Air National Guard, also visited soldiers on the range.  Wisian talked about the importance of understanding the capabilities of other components, outside the Air Force when working in a joint environment. For him, the visit wasn’t just an opportunity to see the troops, but also a chance to conduct joint training, by observing one of the Army’s capabilities up close. 

“This is the basic level joint training that they always try to teach you in school,” said Wisian. “There is nothing better than hands on training with the other components.”

The Texas RTI is a U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command certified school and is open to any member of the active, National Guard or reserve element of the U.S. Army. RTI can train and certify soldiers in infantry, cavalry, field artillery, combat medic and a few signal specialties. Instructors are all members of the Texas Army National Guard and spend approximately three to five years training soldiers that come to RTI said Staff Sgt. Michael Dixon, an RTI instructor.

“The instruction is even better because it is more one-on-one,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon, RTI Command Sergeant Major, Texas Army National Guard. “We have really worked hard to get our instructors trained for these courses as opposed to bringing people in on a temporary basis.”

The Texas RTI primarily trains transition and noncommissioned officer professional development courses for each level of NCO. 

“I just love doing this,” said Dixon. “Training soldiers and making our force better for tomorrow.” 


Texas State Guard Saves Lives During Search for Human Remains

September 26, 2014


AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – A special state search team, trained in rescue and recovery operations and ordered by Gov. Rick Perry to assist Brooks County with locating human remains of suspected illegal immigrants, is also saving lives during its mission.

According to the Texas State Guard, during their first search mission of private ranch land on September 19, they found two people showing signs of heat distress and dehydration. They told team members about a woman who was on the property; reportedly near death. The Texas State Guard members immediately began a secondary search for the woman. Once located, the woman, identified later as a Honduran national, was administered lifesaving aid and evacuated by a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter for further care. All three, as well as two additional people located in the immediate area, were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“This state-led effort is aimed at addressing yet another consequence of a border left unsecure by the federal government –fortunately this time it did not end in the loss of life,” Gov. Perry said. “But as long as the federal government refuses to secure our border and end policies that encourage people to risk their lives in an attempt to enter our country illegally, we will continue to see the death toll rise in places like Brooks County.”

Since 2011, at least 332 sets of human remains were recovered in Brooks County alone. While this effort is not part of Operation Strong Safety, the majority of the remains  recovered are suspected to be those of illegal immigrants who died attempting to avoid detection while entering the U.S., or are suspected victims of human smuggling or trafficking by Mexican cartels or their operatives.

“Whether these people are found alive or dead, this is a human tragedy Brooks County has no choice but to address,” Brooks County Sheriff Rey Rodriguez said. “In its very first mission, this state search team has already shown its value in helping our county deal with the issue, and I expect they will discover many more victims during subsequent searches, either deceased or clinging to life.”

“Our priority is meeting our mission, and that is finding victims who did not survive their trek through this hazardous landscape,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, Commander-Domestic Operations Task Force, Texas Military Forces. “But any time our service members can use their training to save a life – that is a rewarding outcome.”

“Mexican cartels and transnational gangs continue to exploit private property for drug and human smuggling, and too often, victims are left dead or dying in the elements with little to no hope of survival,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “While DPS continues working to secure the border and combat criminal activity, we will also continue to support Brooks County and our state and federal partners on the border.”

When requested by the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office, these specially-trained teams of approximately 20 to 25 personnel will search for human remains in the area. The Texas State Guardsmen conducting the searches are trained in search and rescue/recovery operations, and will utilize a variety of resources, including all-terrain vehicles, cadaver dogs, grid searches and medical support personnel. Security support during these searches will be provided by DPS Troopers or U.S. Border Patrol agents, who will also provide specialized resources for these recovery missions. The Texas Rangers may also provide investigative support for these cases when requested.

During these missions, if the search teams encounter criminal actors or individuals who are suspected to be or admittedly in the country illegally, those individuals will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement officials.

The Governor’s Division of Criminal Justice has previously awarded Brooks County $151,150 in state grant funds to assist with the costs of autopsies and transporting remains to the medical examiner in Laredo. Grant funds have also helped purchase a four-wheel drive SUV for use in accessing remote areas where remains are located, in-car video cameras and computers. Brooks County is in the process of applying for a second grant to help with ongoing costs for remains recovery and autopsies.

High marks for CST

Sgt. 1st Class Kerry Goering slits Sgt. Jared Brook's hazmat suit open so he can exit at the technical decontamination station during an evaluation by Army North while Steve Wisiniwski watches.
Sgt. 1st Class Kerry Goering slits Sgt. Jared Brooks' hazmat suit open so he can exit at the technical decontamination station during an evaluation by Army North while Steve Wisniewski watches. The evaluation certifies the 6th CST with both the National Guard Bureau and the state of Texas as proficient in incident response procedures and protocols. (Photograph by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team)


Story by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Atkinson

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Sept. 25, 2014) - With long shadows cast across the blank theater screen and orange plastic hazmat suits glowing in the glare of portable halogen lights, two Soldiers from the 6th Civil Support Team, Texas Army National Guard, moved slowly through the dark building, searching for the device prompting this “incident response.”

Circling an out-of-place orange safety cone, Sgt. Jared Brooks radioed details back to the command post, confirming the target, while Staff Sgt. Jorge Hernandez stood at a safe distance. Both steadily ignored the shrill beeping of monitors nearby to concentrate on the cone.

Turning the cone over, Brooks uncovered a nest of wires, batteries and containers, taped together in a dangerous tangle - the source of the toxins causing alarm.

Nearby, evaluators from Army North watched every move, from the approach of the building, to the use of various monitoring devices, to the search to the contact with the command post. At each step, Brooks or Hernandez answered questions about proper procedures, such as marking the door to indicate the team had moved through it, or how to notate each cleared area.

For Brooks and Hernandez, this was more than training, this was an evaluation of all the hard work and training in the past year- not just theirs individually, but the Austin-based CST as a whole.

“Right now, we're watching to make sure they're doing it right,” said Anthony Elmore, an ARNORTH evaluator. With tightly-controlled doses of reactive chemicals to set off the detection equipment, the realism is increased, he said. The evaluation is to certify to the National Guard Bureau that the CST is proficient in standardized incident response procedures.

“The gases make it harder, gives them a time-constraint. These guys have to make real-time decisions, just like they would in real life. There's not a lot of time to sit and think about it” he said, as his fellow evaluator hooked up a detector to a clear bag containing reactive gas. “It's not going to hurt anyone, but it makes it a lot more real.”

Neutralizing the threat might seem like the biggest hurdle to clearing a site, but for Brooks, just finding the object can be daunting.  

“It's not always easy to find,” said Brooks. “There's a lot of room out there to hide in,” he said, gesturing to the theater and surroundings.

After finding and clearing the hazard, Brooks and Hernandez head outside to the technical decontamination area, manned by Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Goering, another CST member suited up in a tan plastic suit, a bright blue oxygen tank on her back. The technical decontamination area is for the responders, said Goering, rather than larger numbers who might have been affected.  

“We're trying to get the Soldiers out of the affected suits without contaminating them, or spreading any more contamination, as we do it,” she said.

In the entrance to the decontamination tent, Hernandez slipped his boots off, scrubbing down with water while standing in a large rubber catch basin. Coming out of the tent, Goering swabbed his suit, testing it for remaining residue. The suit was slit open and folded down on itself open so Hernandez could exit without contamination from the outside of the suit.  

Still wearing an oxygen tank and face mask, his clothing soaked with sweat from the heat inside his suit, Hernandez waited to one side while Brooks followed the same procedure, then both headed off to the medics to get a post mission checkup. Evaluators nearby watched each step closely, making sure Goering cleared each Soldier to proceed to the next step.

Since the bright orange suits are “level A” suits, rated for vapors, Goering's suit was a “level B” suit, rated for splashing hazards.  

“Ideally, the vapor would have dissipated between the buildings and here, so that's not really a threat to me,” she said. “But if it hasn't and it gets in the water, the level B suit protects me.”  

The CST isn't just about detecting threats, said Col. Lee D Schnell, commander of the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. 

“Their capabilities are as sophisticated as any out there, especially the mobile lab. It's as good as anything you'll find at a university or college.”

Although there were no civilian partner agencies on site for the evaluation,  the CST is closely integrated with the first responder community. 

“This team gives smaller communities a resource they might not have access to normally,” said Schnell.  “Larger cities have fire departments with the equipment, but little towns don't, so we can help them if they need it.”

The year-round training shows in the high level of skill throughout the CST, said Schnell.  

“If I had one thing to tell someone about the CST,” he said. “It's that they're professionals. Just absolute professionals.”

Memoirs from a Deployment

Memoirs from a Deployment


Infidelity is starting to be an issue back home in the States. Unfortunately, some of our friends are beginning to question their loved ones as phone calls and emails go unanswered.

A lot of our friends are experiencing heartache- from the medic who's on his first tour and already having trouble dealing with trauma and death, to a UK nurse who has only seen her new husband a handful of times since their wedding last summer. 

In a world where we can be so connected despite being worlds apart, I feel like social media actually makes things harder. When someone doesn't respond to a message right away, we wonder what they are really up to. When we see pictures posted on Facebook, we obsess about what that picture means. Who is that other person and what are they doing together? It doesn't matter how innocent the situation may be. When you have nothing but time to ponder these things, you can overcome your mind with all sorts of unpleasantries and destructive fantasies.

It's important to take care of each other here. Essentially, we are family, even if we don't always like each other, even if we would not have acknowledged each other back in our home units. 

My friend from home has appointed herself as the "unit's hugger" and hugs everyone who comes by. I'm not quite as affectionate, but I do like to make cards for people. Just give me a blank piece of paper and a Sharpie and I can make anyone's day better!

Part 6 of a 13 part miniseries following the personal memoirs of a deployed soldier