Texas Support the Valley with Humanitarian Mission

Texans Support the Valley With Humanitarian Mission
Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
2010/07/29
Photo of Operation Lone Star in action"Operation Lone Star is a humanitarian effort here in the valley," said State Guard Lt. Col. Jann Melton-Kissel, a registered nurse with the Texas State Guard's Medical Brigade. "It's a partnership between the Department of State Health Services, the Texas Military Forces and the community to provide needed health services."

These services, which include immunizations, physicals, diabetes screenings and check-ups, come to Texas' Rio Grande Valley residents each year courtesy of the collaborative efforts of state civil and military assets. Together, these disparate agencies provide low-income families with necessary and sometimes life-saving medical care through the annual Operation Lone Star (OLS).

"It's been a real privilege to work with our colleagues in the Texas Military Forces," said Dr. Brian R. Smith, lead for the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and regional medical director for Health Service Region 11.

Smith began OLS in 1999 as a joint venture expanding on his efforts with free clinics in the valley.

"I started off in South Texas doing free clinics," he said, "and this is a larger scale extension of what I started off doing about 20 years ago, which was providing free medical care in the [valley]. So the first places we started [OLS] were the same places that we were doing our the free clinics."

To augment the medical specialties of the DSHS, several other civilian agencies also contributed personnel, including the Texas Medical Assistance Team (TexMAT-1), the Department of Family Protective Services, the Human Health Services Committee and even local nursing students from Valley Grande Community College.

"It's a great opportunity to get people of all different types of disciplines in the medical field to get together and work," said Charles Neely, an EMT paramedic with TexMAT-1.

The military side of OLS, the Texas Military Forces, includes the Texas State Guard, Army National Guard, and Air Guard. These uniformed personnel function as both duty and medical support, performing roles ranging from security and administration to nurses and doctors. In recent years, the State Guard has taken the lead in executing OLS, providing the greatest number of personnel and assuming command responsibilities of the operation.

"We're working together as a team," said State Guard 1st Lt. Steven Trevino, a registered nurse with the Texas Medical Brigade. "We're just Texans helping Texans."

As a regularly scheduled exercise, OLS finds many of the same residents returning time and again for annual shots and physicals for school sports.

"I would just like to thank the Lone Star for coming in and doing the medical check-up for free," said Brenda Garcia, a Palmview resident and mother of a 2-year-old.

"This'll be my seventh year here," said Melton-Kissel. "I've seen the same people come back year after year."

OLS provides a unique opportunity for local residents to see their community support agencies face to face and meet the people behind the uniforms.

"I feel like I'm actually making a difference," said Trevino.

Texas State Guard Capt. James R. Owens, a registered nurse with the DFW Medical Group, says that the most rewarding aspect of working in OLS is "being able to serve the valley and the people of the valley, and also help our state out."

"We've got compassionate doctors who do a really good job with the health care," said Smith. "Then we're able to expand it with the pharmacy, the immunizations and provide a range of services."

To combat the occasional language barrier found in southern towns, OLS staffs each location with sufficient bi-lingual personnel to ensure the most accurate and complete medical coverage.

"As translators, we make sure we get the right words [patients] are looking for," said State Guard Sgt. Erasmo Chapa, translator and security service member for the Palmview High School location. "This is my first year and I'm glad to help out my community."

From the inter-agency cooperation to building strong bonds in the community, OLS stands apart as a joint mission that excels at bringing people together.

"It has been a real blessing," said Smith, "to be able to work with communities this closely."

Texas Train for Disaster with Humanitarian Mission

Texans Train for Disaster With Humanitarian Mission
Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
2010/07/28
Photo of people around a desk during trainingWESLACO, Texas - "What we do and what we're training for is a mass casualty," said Texas State Guard Capt. James R. Owens, a registered nurse with the DFW Medical Group. "It's about taking care of the population."

For the joint members of the Texas Military Forces, the Department of State Health Services and local civil agencies, preparedness means more than a ready standing force. With the persistent threat of hurricanes, flooding and seasonal pandemics, preparedness requires a fully trained, joint force capable of engaging a large-scale incident anywhere in the state.

This year, these state assets used the annual humanitarian event Operation Lone Star to conduct a complete exercise simulating a mass casualty incident. Providing the Rio Grande Valley with immunizations, physicals and various other medical services, the mission sought to stress and challenge the capabilities of state military and civilian departments, as well as reinforce their cooperation and inter-agency communication.

"At one level, we provide free care," said Dr. Brian R. Smith, lead for the public health agency sponsoring OLS and the regional medical director for Health Service Region 11. "At the same time, it provides a preparedness exercise for those of us in public health and the Texas Military forces to work together and to practice together in a major event."

Among the state agencies supporting the operation is the Texas Medical Assistance Team (TexMAT-1), populated by paramedics and medical practitioners from through the state.

"It's an opportunity under a training scenario to see a lot of people at one time," said Charles A. Neely, an EMT paramedic with TexMAT-1. "It just improves our capabilities in the long run."

The two-week operation, running from July 26 through August 6, featured sites in Brownsville, Palmview, Raymondville and San Juan during the first week and will include Laredo, Rio Grande City and Zapata during the second week. Many OLS locations rotate from year to year, but tend to stay centralized in local high schools or elementary schools.

Further bridging the spirit of cooperation, even service members from the Czech Republic and Chilean armies supported OLS this year.

"We need to practice for any kind of mass casualty occasion, too," said Capt. Petra Matulkova, an epidemiologist with the Czech Army. "We need to know these things, being military doctors."

With so many organizations working together, key leaders placed a premium on clear and effective communication throughout the operation.

"A lot of the training that we're doing is being able to communicate," said Owens. "At any level, at any issue, we will have to be able to communicate."

This finely tuned coordination allowed OLS to process 12,645 area residents in 2009, a number that event organizers expect will only grow in 2010 and future years.

Spanning six counties in Texas, Operation Lone Star functions as an ideal execution of a real-time public health crisis, uniting disparate agencies for a common and worthy goal.

"We set it up just as if we may have a thousand people or one person that needs the services," said Owens. "It may be small at one area or larger at another, but in the grand scheme of things, it provides a very good and very applicable training exercise for our units."

Texas State Guard - Texans helping Texans

Texas State Guard – Texans helping Texans
1LT Joy Schoffler, HQ, TXSG
2010/07/07
Lower Rio Grande Valley (1 July 2010) - With the skills they learned during annual training still fresh in their minds, an estimated 755 Soldiers of the Texas State Guard mobilized from all areas of the state Monday to prepare for hurricane Alex duty.

The mission started Monday morning and for many of these Soldiers that meant driving as far as 12 hours to open shelters and assist the Red Cross. Excited and ready to begin their mission. The 3rd Battalion, 4th Regiment even conducted shelter drills while waiting in the assembly area.

“It has been a wonderful experience working with the Texas State Guard. They were ready to meet the needs of evacuees, offer comfort, ease fears and present a source of information for those in need,” said Director of the Red Cross TX, Charles Blake Jr.

Once the 17 shelters were opened and the estimated 850 evacuated guests began arriving, Soldiers set out performing their missions of in-processing, serving meals and providing care for their guests. In addition to completing their assigned 13-14 hour shifts many Soldiers went above and beyond.

Pvt. Coffee became a sports director setting up games and a play area for children so parents could have a much needed moment of quite time while they knew that their children were safe and secure. As one of only two spanish speakers, Pfc. Arrieta became the on-site translator serving double duty checking in evacuees and making sure communication needs of evacuees were meet.

“The soldiers really care. I didn’t have to ask a soldier to do anything. If they saw a guest in need they went out of their way to ensure their needs were met,” said Lt. Col. Peters, Shelter Manager in Alton and added: “These soldiers really went above and beyond.

While there have been countless stories of personal sacrifice and self-less service, the one that stands out is that the Texas State Guard was ready when they were called.

“The soldiers in the Texas State Guard acted in a professional military manner during hurricane Alex. Members of the community and their commanders are very proud of them,” said Incident Commander Brigadier General Ortiz.

The Texas State Guard’s mission is to provide mission-ready Soldiers and Airmen to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies; homeland security and community service organized under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities.

Authorities brace for threat of renewed flooding as Hurricane Alex moves inland, Texas State Guard wraps up hurricane shelter duties

Authorities brace for threat of renewed flooding as Hurricane Alex moves inland, Texas State Guard wraps up hurricane shelter duties
CPT Morgan Montalvo, HQ, TXSG
2010/07/01
Map showing possible flood locationsLOWER RIO GRAND VALLEY - As floodwaters receded and power was restored, a small number of South Texas residents displaced by Hurricane Alex left the safety of shelters to find their homes damaged by rain, wind and debris. Of an estimated 850 evacuees who sought refuge inland, those unfortunate few resigned themselves to another night as guests of emergency management and social service agencies.

The prospect of residual rainfall from a weakening now-Tropical Storm Alex, or the possible release of water from Mexican reservoirs, had authorities bracing for other evacuees to return.

“Right now it’s a handful, but it’s hard to track,” said Jim Todd, an American Red Cross disaster supervisor.

Meanwhile,” Mr. Todd says, “the Red Cross is taking over responsibility for shelters from the Texas State Guard, which was mobilized earlier this week to assist with hurricane response.”

State Guard and Red Cross personnel were working to consolidate shelters and evacuees while preparing for more, should weekend rainfall again leave parts of South Texas underwater.

Emergency service agencies had one eye on the skies and the other on the release gates of several Mexican border reservoirs that retain water for agricultural use.

The National Hurricane Center said an additional six inches of rain could fall on the South Texas-Northeast Mexico region through the weekend, prompting flash-flooding; other meteorological models place the heaviest post-Alex rainfall between Houston and Corpus Christi.

More than 750 members of the Texas State Guard were called to duty beginning June 28 to staff shelters in support of state and local authorities as a strengthening Tropical Storm Alex meandered toward South Texas and northeast Mexico.

Alex was upgraded to hurricane status Wednesday.

State Guard personnel remain on duty at most of the 17 shelters ordered to open by state and local governments between Raymondville and Brownsville 2 July.

Many evacuees traveled nearly 100 miles to seek safety, while others “came from blocks away,” said COL Ray Peters, commander of the Denton-based 3rd Bn, 4th Regt. COL Peters’ unit staffed a shelter in Alton, about 80 miles from the coast.

“They came from an economically depressed neighborhood,” Peters said of the 104 people who fled to his shelter at Alton Memorial Middle School. Unlike their neighbors to the southeast, “They weren’t worried about the hurricane; they were worried about the rain.”

COL Peters said that an estimated 6-8 inches of rain fell on the Alton area beginning Wednesday. His unit spent Friday preparing their shelter for handoff to the Red Cross. Alton Memorial Middle School was the northeastern-most facility managed by the State Guard.

Most State Guard units were expected to be released from shelter duty before week’s end, unless renewed flooding leads to their extended deployment.

Hurricane Alex made landfall Wednesday along a lightly populated portion of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, about 110 miles south of Brownsville. The Category 2 storm generated peak winds of 110 mph and spawned at least two tornadoes but, apart from dumping from 6-12 inches of rain over parts of South Texas, spared the U.S. side of the border from serious damage.

TXSG Sergeant plays an important role in assisting the FAA & NTSB

TXSG Sergeant plays an important role in assisting the FAA & NTSB
MAJ Michael Spraggins, TXSG
2010/06/10

SGT Timothy Pruitt, a photojournalist, assisted the FAA & NTSB with the investigation of a Careflight helicopter crash.
SGT Timothy Pruitt, a photojournalist, assisted the FAA & NTSB with the investigation of a Careflight helicopter crash.

GRAND PRAIRIE, TEXAS

SGT Timothy Pruitt, a photojournalist, assisted the FAA & NTSB with the investigation of a Careflight helicopter crash. SGT Pruitt a professional photographer specializing in helicopter imaging, provided photos of the doomed aircraft, which were made 11 minutes before the fatal crash.

SGT Pruitt is a recognized expert in vertical lift photography, who has been widely published worldwide. Pruitt is assigned to J6 HQ TXSG TXMF as a photojournalist at Camp Mabry and is currently on SAD, supporting the Communications Coordination Group, and imbedded with Rapid Reaction Task Force Dallas in Beaumont for Exercise “HURRICANE SPIKE”

'Texans Observe Memorial Day with March For Fallen Heroes'

Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.
Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 AUSTIN, Texas -- While much of the country observed Memorial Day weekend with barbeques, sports and gatherings,  a small band of patriots came together on a hot Texas afternoon and marched almost seven miles in honor of their  fallen comrades.

 The fourth annual Texas March for Fallen Heroes, held Saturday, May 29, brought together families, servicemembers  and veterans for a four-hour event to remember and recognize the ultimate sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the  global war on terror. 

 "Today I'm here because it's a great event and we want to honor some of the Soldiers that we've lost over time," said  Army Master Sgt. Laurie B. Armstrong of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. 

 The event's architect, Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola, drew his inspiration after reading an article in the Guard  Experience Magazine. 

"It was about a Tennessee Guardsmen walking nine miles in honor of the Soldiers who passed away in his unit in Iraq," Mendiola said. "I saw a picture of [him] walking around with a rucksack with a flag behind it and that immediately caught my attention."

For the fourth time now, Mendiola has brought together patriots of all backgrounds to honor and celebrate their revered heroes. Up from three dozen last year, this year's march grew to 45 servicemembers, veterans and family members.

"I'm here to honor my nephew," said Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jose Calderon. "He died in '04; he was in the Marine Corps."

Calderon, who served in the Texas Army National Guard until 2001, had another reason for marching alongside bearers of the T-patch, the emblem of 36th Infantry Division. 

"I used to be part of the brigade," he said, "but back then it was 49th Armor."

Master Sgt. Armstrong wore her own significant patch for the occasion.

"The Red River 44 Patch. We were moving from Kuwait to Iraq and one of our Chinooks went down. We lost seven Soldiers that day; one of them was a really good friend of ours, CW2 Corey Edwards. We had [the patches] made while we were overseas and it just kinda spread around and everyone started wearing them. A little something to honor them."

Joined by her husband, warrant officer David S. Putman, she marched the full route for her fallen comrades in reverent esteem for their service and sacrifice. 

For this year's event, Mendiola reflected on how important something as simple as marching can be and how far-reaching its presence can be felt.

"We can actually make an impact on the community," he said. "It's open to all branches, all walks of life. I can only expect this thing to grow each and every year."

Texas State Guard prayer breakfast

Texas State Guard Prayer Breakfast
MAJ Michael Spraggins, TXSG
2010/05/15
Photo of sign that says "Welcome Texas Military Prayer Breakfast"DALLAS BAPTIST UNIVERSITY, DFW

The soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines of the Texas State Guard (TXSG), along with family and friends met on the beautiful campus of the Dallas Baptist University today for a Military Prayer Breakfast.

The soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines of the Texas State Guard (TXSG), along with family and friends met on the beautiful campus of the Dallas Baptist University today for a Military Prayer Breakfast.
The soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines of the Texas State Guard (TXSG), along with family and friends met on the beautiful campus of the Dallas Baptist University today for a Military Prayer Breakfast.

The 4th and 19th Civil Affairs Regiments, 4th Air Wing and 3rd Battalion, Maritime Regiment Chaplains hosted the event.

Keynote speaker was Chaplin (Brigadier General) James Spivey U.S. Army ((retired), other honored guests were Major General Raymond C. Peters Commanding TXSG, Brigadier General Charles A. Miller Chief of Staff and Colonel Walter C. Prentice Judge Advocate from Headquarters, Camp Mabry.

Patriots Swear in as US Citizens at American Heroes Celebration

Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Service members from four branches and seven states swear-in as citizens at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 "Patriotism is voluntary," said former Seaman and politician Jesse Ventura. "It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that  is the result of knowledge and belief."

 One could not find greater patriotism than from the servicemembers who valiantly serve a country of which they are not  citizens. For 15 such veterans, that changed on Saturday, April 17 when the Honorable Lee Yeakel opened a special  session of the US District Court to swear in these incomparable volunteers as US citizens. 

 The ceremony, held during Camp Mabry's 4th annual American Heroes Celebration, took place in front of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Traveling Wall. The wall, which is a precise replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington,  D.C., offered a somber and reverent setting for this significant occasion. 

 "I can think of no more appropriate place for this," said Retired Lt. Col. Donald R. Allen, CEO of the AVTT, who also  served as the distinguished guest speaker for the event. "Our history has taught us that we were founded on the  principle of freedom at any cost."

 The newly immunized citizens came from 13 different countries, including Kenya, Mexico, Russia and Kazakhstan.  Their services included the US Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. The troops, ranging in ages from 19 to 39,  included four combat veterans and eight Texas residents.

 Army Spc. Victor A. Becerra, who was born in Mexico and raised in California, deployed to Iraq twice before even  becoming a citizen. A member of the 36th Infantry Division, he spent his second deployment to Iraq training their police force.

 "What we were doing was overseeing the training of 6th Iraqi division," he said, "to make sure that their forces were  properly trained so they could stand to protect the region that they were in charge of."

 Becerra always felt close to the nation for which he's served for years.

 "I've been an American since I first put on this uniform, ever since I started speaking the language," he said. "I feel just as proud to be a part of this country."

Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga, commander of the Texas Military Forces, presented each new citizen with his coin and congratulated them on their achievement.

"It took maybe six to eight months," said Becerra. "That included the studying for the exam for the interview. It's good to know how this country has developed when it was founded back in the 18th century."

"They were defending and protecting and fighting for a country that they weren't even a citizen of," said Allen. "That, my friend, is a true measure of patriotism, these are great patriots. We should be very proud that as a country, there are people that are willing to fight for us to become one of us."

Without a doubt, these brave service members have worked and devoted themselves to the fulfillment of a life of service.

"I've always been an American at heart," said Becerra. "But I could say that today, it's official; I am an American."

American Heroes Re-Enactment Brings History to Life

Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration
Period actors reenact a World War II battle at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego 

 The Muster Day reenactment brings to life a time in America's history when the nation was a member of the Allied forces  fighting against Germany in World War II. The annual event, put on by the Brig. Gen. John C. L. Scribner Texas Military  Forces Museum, took place at Camp Mabry in Austin during The 2010 American Heroes Celebration, held April 17 and 18.

 Throughout the two-day reenactment, the period actors camped out in the field in authentic tents.

 "I have been inspired by WWII history since I was a child and my father, who is a WWII veteran," said Matt Rayson,  portraying a field medic in the 36th Infantry Division. 

 G Company, 36th Infantry Division, the main body of the reenactment, along with other living history groups and military  vehicle collectors, built the battlefield and campgrounds of the American Division and their German counterparts. The battlefield was filled with simulated dragons' teeth, barbed wired, bombed out buildings and military pyrotechnics. 

The goal was to remind people of what life was like for Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division in World War II, honor all veterans. The public was also educated on Texas military history with vehicles such as a Sherman Tank, M3 Halftrack, jeeps, German Hetzer, and Kubelwagens. The re-enactors also had authentic uniforms and weapons.

"Veterans appreciate [the re-enactors] being out there, veterans from the 36th have come by time to time," said John Reed, a 36th ID re-enactor. 

The event recreated the attack on the Siegfried Line in March 1945, which was the last line of defense the Germans had before the US entered Germany. 

With the Allied troops in the east tree line and Axis troops coming in by convoy, their encounter began the engagement. With shots fired from rifles and machine guns on both sides, the 36th ID slowly moved forward on the German bunkers and buildings. When the 36th's Sherman tank rolled onto the battlefield, the Germans quickly started using mortars and their own armored vehicles against the US troops. After the 40-minute battle, the 36th ID ended the skirmish by destroying the German headquarters. After the re-enactors performed a quick clean up of the battlefield, the spectators joined them on the field to collect and keep parts of the engagement as souvenirs. 

"If anything's my favorite, it's the old World War II tanks," said Daryl Reif, a spectator of the event. "I would love to see a tiger tank, but those are very hard to come by." 

Daryl, who has attended the event for four years straight, enjoys bringing his six-year-old son each time. "It keeps getting better every year."