Story by: Sgt. Suzanna Carter
Posted: September 21, 2014
BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Texas Military Forces, in partnership with state and local authorities, gained valuable training experience from the 16th iteration of Operation Lone Star in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, Texas, Aug. 4-8, 2014.
Texas State Guard, a component of the Texas Military Forces, in particular, put into practice the second step of its shelter, recover and return emergency response plan during this annual, medical and emergency preparedness exercise that covered five sites throughout South Texas.
"[Civil authorities] would have us come in, work with them, and we would run the operation of the shelter, managing the clients within it, meeting their needs, keeping them safe in a disaster situation," said Capt. Vicky Nunn, 39th Composite Regiment, 1st Battalion, Texas State Guard. "[Meeting client needs] is what you'll see here. It's recovery training."
The interagency collaboration necessary to activate Operation Lone Star, one of the largest medical and emergency preparedness missions in the country, benefits from the inherent value in utilizing the Texas Military Forces to serve the citizens of Texas.
"It's a good value for the State of Texas because as Citizen Soldiers, we're able to be activated, come down, provide the care, and then go back to our civilian jobs after that," said Army Capt. Adam Wood, a field surgeon with Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard. "So the amount of resources and time and money it takes to use us in that tactical situation is significantly less than it would be to use the active duty side in that same tactical setup."
Brig. Gen. Sean A. Ryan, commander of the 71st Troop Command, Texas Army National Guard, also emphasized the role of the Texas State Guard in the planning and implementation of this collaborative training exercise.
"We have more relied on our Texas State Guard to the point where we're pretty much ready to turn it over to [them] to do all the planning, the preparation, the training" for Operation Lone Star, Ryan said. "I think it has really helped us to exercise … the Texas State Guard to really do their mission. They are a huge part of what we do during a natural disaster."
Texas Army, Air and State Guard involvement in Operation Lone Star also fosters vital relationships with state and local agencies that they would work with in an emergency situation.
"This is just another incident in a different county with different relationships with other authorities," Nunn said. "Because we may be deployed here at some point if they need us, I think it is very important to build those contacts."
Service members often form relationships with patients who return to Operation Lone Star every year for the critical health services that are provided.
"Some of our Soldiers look forward to coming back here year after year to see individuals who might be returning and to see the updates in those families and how their children have grown and how their lives have changed," said Army Maj. Jerri Gates, senior behavior health officer with Texas Medical Command, Texas Army National Guard.
Spc. Marcus Fernandez, 39th Composite Regiment, 1st Battalion, Texas State Guard, said that interacting with patients was all part of the training experience that prepares him and other service members for future emergency response situations.
"We see, throughout the week, so many different things that if we have to open a shelter, anybody that comes to the door, we should be able to handle it because we have this experience," he said.
Area residents who visited Operation Lone Star expressed appreciation for the services that were available through the collaborative training exercise.
"Seeing the men and women in uniform is an awesome blessing, because everyone is walking around with a smile, very happy," said Zulema Silva, a Brownsville resident. "It's just a happy feeling to see y'all here, helping us and providing us with services that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Again I appreciate everything that you all do for us in the community."