Story by: Specialist Stefan Wray, 2nd Regiment PAO
Posted: March 30, 2016
AUSTIN, Texas – It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for flying kites, as thousands gathered in Austin’s Zilker Park on Sunday, March 6, for the 88th Zilker Kite Festival.
For the 9th year, 28 guardsmen from the Texas State Guard's 2nd Regiment spent the day helping to reunite children and parents who had become separated in the crowd and providing logistical support to event organizers.
Weather conditions were optimal and the wind was constant throughout the day enabling hundreds of kites of all designs, colors, shapes and sizes were continuously in flight from mid morning to late afternoon.
Partnered with the Austin Park Rangers, guardsmen worked to reunite lost children with their parents.
“We had a lot of good people out in the field that knew what they were doing,” said Austin Park Ranger Brian Leuzinger. “I think we just had a really great command team that were sharing information, making sure that everyone knew who and what we were looking for.”
Working alongside park rangers, guardsmen were able to exercise their ground search and rescue skills, one the regiment’s primary missions.
“The Kite Festival is really amazing. You get to see all the teamwork,” said Private 1st Class Francis Ortiz, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Regiment. “All the training I had paid off to do search and rescue, locating any missing children or missing parents.”
Some guardsmen even worked as linguists.
“Private 1st Class Dianna Salinas did an excellent job today. In one situation, an unaccompanied child was brought back to our TOC. While she was here PFC Salinas sat down on the ground with the child. The child spoke only Spanish,” said Texas State Guards Staff Sgt Curtiz Rust. “Salinas was able to translate and get us the information we needed to reach out and locate the parents.”
The Exchange Club of Austin originally founded the kite festival in 1929. It moved to Zilker Park in 1936 when the park opened and has been there ever since.
“We so appreciate y’all and we so need y’all to be here. It means so much to us,” said Dorothy Twidwell, a member of the Exchange Club and the key festival organizer, referring to the 2nd Regiment’s role in assisting with the festival. “The crowd has grown so large that what we need from the State Guard is management of the crowd, help getting people on and off the buses, and help us patrolling the field.”
Approximately 25,000 festival goers attended the free event this year, said Les Stobart, ABC Home and Commercial Services’ Marketing Director. The festival is actively being transferred from the Exchange Club to ABC.
“One of the first questions that we ask every year is ‘Is the Guard going to be back? Can we count on the Guard again?’’ said Sobard. “We couldn’t do it without y’all, so we deeply appreciate the role that the Guard plays in everything.”
The 2nd Regiment began preparations in advance of the actual festival. A logistical team was at Zilker Park the day before to make preparations. The 2nd Regiment converged at 0500 on the morning of the festival near Zilker Park. Once on site, the Tactical Operations Center was set up adjacent to the command centers for Emergency Services and the Park Rangers.
Radios and GPS tracking devices were distributed to teams who were dispatched to positions throughout the park as well as other points in Austin where festival attendees would leave their cars and board buses to get to the park.
“It definitely exceeded my expectations,” said Texas State Guard Private 1st Class Miranda Leal.. “I didn’t think it was going to be this involved and with this many people. It’s really fun. I would do it again next year.”
The regiment helped reunite 11 lost children with parents or guardians during the event.