Operation Crackdown gives Texas neighborhoods hope for a better tomorrow

Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles 
Texas Military Department

Courtesy Photo | Army National Guard Maj. Travis Urbanek, officer in charge of Operation Crackdown, coordinates the demolition of and abandoned home in Robstown, Texas, Aug. 11, 2017. Operation Crackdown, a component of the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force, supports local governments in removing dilapidated structures that are known to shelter the sale and use of illegal drugs. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Yuliana Patterson)
Courtesy Photo | Army National Guard Maj. Travis Urbanek, officer in charge of Operation Crackdown, coordinates the demolition of and abandoned home in Robstown, Texas, Aug. 11, 2017. Operation Crackdown, a component of the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force, supports local governments in removing dilapidated structures that are known to shelter the sale and use of illegal drugs. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Yuliana Patterson)

CAMP MABRY, Texas—The paint fades and peels. Shattered glass collects on windowsills. Gigantic holes rot through doors and shingled rooftops. These were homes once—symbols of safety, pride and togetherness. Now they have become portraits of neglect.

When these neglected homes are known to shelter illegal drug activities, Operation Crackdown, a component of the Texas National Guard’s Joint Counterdrug Task Force, helps cities remove them. Demolition of dilapidated structures is one of the unique military capabilities Texas Counterdrug leverages to support law enforcement agencies and local communities in the detection, interdiction, and disruption of drug trafficking.

Abandoned homes threaten the peace of mind of community members, such as Robstown, Texas, residents Mandy Carrion and Romelia Yanez, who recognize the risks they engender for children, for the homeless and for pets.

“Kids, homeless and drug addicts all hang out in there,” Carrion said. “Kids go in there, and the buildings could collapse.”

"A lot of people stay sometimes weeks, months,” Yanez told television station KRIS in August. “And so many homeless in there. And sometimes they die."

Operation Crackdown tore down 32 abandoned structures in Robstown between Aug. 8 and Aug. 17 this year, using funds seized from drug manufacturing or distribution operations.

It removed a hundred such structures from neighborhoods in Robstown, Harlingen and Laredo in 2017, said Maj. Travis Urbanek, the officer in charge. More than 1,500 abandoned structures have been removed over the years.

Community members are pleased to see the structures removed because they create problems that require attention from various local agencies, Urbanek said.

“In addition to the obvious drug problem, removing these structures reduces the burden on public safety, whether it’s the police department, fire department, EMS or animal control,” he said.

Operation Crackdown personnel and city officials work together to line up the demolitions; then, Texas National Guardsmen knock them down.

Spc. Jeremiah M. Thompson, a heavy equipment operator with the 822nd Horizontal Engineering Unit out of Brownwood, said it is gratifying to see that community members appreciate the efforts that guard members put in to minimize illegal activity such as drug use and prostitution.

“You can see the civilians’ faces full of excitement about waking up to a better tomorrow in their neighborhoods,” he said.

Thompson also enjoys showing Texans how the Texas National Guard serves communities.

“Here’s Texas stepping in helping Texans, not just leaving the drug problem in the federal government’s hands,” Thompson said.

Guard units are scheduled to return to Robstown in early 2018 to demolish 30 more buildings, said Urbanek, who projects that Operation Crackdown will eventually remove all 160 structures the city has identified.

“It’s something that we’re going to continue to do because it makes an immediate and visible impact in those communities,” he said.

Texas State Guard Serves Fellow Texans Following Hurricane Harvey

Texas State Guard member entertains the kids at an evacuee shelter in San Antonio
Texas State Guard member entertains the kids at an evacuee shelter in San Antonio

Story by: Chief Warrant Officer 3 Schmelzer
Texas State Guard Public Affairs    

Hurricane Harvey was a mammoth Category 4 hurricane and the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2005. When it hit the Texas Gulf Coast, August 25, 2017, wind speeds reached 130 mph.  

Harvey spawned historic levels of rainfall, with some areas of Texas receiving as much as 50-60 inches. Winds and flooding devastated entire neighborhoods, leaving thousands of Texans homeless and causing once-in-a-generation levels of destruction.  The situation was dire and required a significant emergency response.

More than 1,000 Texas State Guardsmen from the Army, Air, Medical and Maritime components, as well as chaplains, judge advocates and engineers, responded quickly to assist storm victims.

State Guardsmen receive extensive training in emergency and natural disaster response and brought this training to bear during Hurricane Harvey response efforts, by conducting search and rescue missions, coordinating shelter operations and delivering critical supplies to impacted residents.

“Helping fellow Texans at shelters means thousands of displaced families and individuals will find some comfort in the aftermath of this traumatic event.  I am humbled by their resiliency and courage,” said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Adamowicz, 4th Regiment, Texas State Guard.

Emergency evacuation teams deployed to assist with the statewide Emergency Tracking Network, a process which helps to maintain accountability of evacuees who travel to shelters in designated mass transit vehicles.  Using the ETN system, State Guardsmen processed thousands of evacuees, allowing families to travel together to the same shelters, locate relatives and eventually return to their city or town on busses.  State Guardsmen also registered family pets, giving many pet owners the peace of mind they would not have to leave their pets behind.  

Texas State Guard search and rescue teams, working jointly with local emergency management officials, the Texas National Guard and local fire, rescue and law enforcement agencies, went into flooded neighborhoods to evacuate residents trapped by rising water.  Using rescue boats, or in many cases just wading through the floodwaters, State Guardsmen rescued more than 1,300 stranded people and pets, saving countless lives.

As thousands of evacuees went to American Red Cross designated shelters, Texas State Guard members were there to help evacuees find comfort and keep their families together.  Guardsmen set up shelters with cots and blankets, dining areas, medical rooms play areas for children and pet kennels. 

The Texas State Guard “made me feel relieved about being here amongst the other 3,000 people in this convention center],” wrote an evacuee.  “Just because of the Soldiers’ presence, we could sleep and eat so well.”

With the loss of power and water systems, many Texas residents in the hurricane strike zone also needed basic essentials.  

The Texas State Guard Engineer Direct Report Unit received a list of water and sewer systems that required daily inspections to determine the quality of the water and the operational status of the sewers.  

“The need for clean water in flooded areas, such as Houston, was a dire emergency,” said Capt. Ian Taylor, Engineer Direct Report Unit, Texas State Guard.  “

To ease the plight of residents caused by these conditions, State Guardsmen moved pallets of water and packed cleaning kits in American Red Cross warehouses.  Manning multiple points of distribution, they handed out food, cases of clean drinking water and bags of ice to hundreds of local residents.

“The Texas State Guard trains extensively for these types of emergencies, which often require a wide array of services, said Capt. Esperanza Meza, 19th Regiment, Texas State Guard. “From search and rescue, to helping our fellow Texans rebuild their lives, the services we provided during Hurricane Harvey meant the communities impacted by this disaster could count on us to be there when they needed us the most.” 

Maintenance Soldiers keep the Hurricane Harvey rescue and recovery effort moving forward

Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | Sgt. Jennifer Bruner from Claremore, Okla. and Pfc. Thunder Sharp from Perkins, Okla., both with the 700th Brigade Support Battalion, Oklahoma National Guard, check for a short in the wiring of a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle at the Beaumont Regional Staging Area in Jefferson County, Texas, Sept. 9, 2017. The 700th BSB is coming in to relieve the Combined Maintenance crew.
Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | Sgt. Jennifer Bruner from Claremore, Okla. and Pfc. Thunder Sharp from Perkins, Okla., both with the 700th Brigade Support Battalion, Oklahoma National Guard, check for a short in the wiring of a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle at the Beaumont Regional Staging Area in Jefferson County, Texas, Sept. 9, 2017. The 700th BSB is coming in to relieve the Combined Maintenance crew.

BEAUMONT, TX, UNITED STATES

09.10.2017

Story by Sgt. Ariel Solomon

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

In disaster response operations, Soldiers depend on their vehicles to rescue stranded people and bring supplies to those in need. Flooding along the Gulf Coast of Texas following Hurricane Harvey placed significant strain on even the hardiest of military vehicles. 

During these operations, Army mechanics and vehicle maintainers work around the clock to do their part to keep the rescue and recovery effort moving.

“You can tell some of these guys have been living in their trucks for three or four days,” said Sgt. Michael Shupak of the 736th Component Repair Company, Texas National Guard. “We put them in cots, give them drinks, food from the dining facility, whatever they need to be comfortable while we work on their trucks. When we’re done, they’re on the road again.”

The most common issue causing trucks to break down is water diluting the various oils used to lubricate moving parts within the vehicles, which makes parts break, bearings seize or engines overheat. When this happens, the vehicle is “deadlined” and unable to be sent back out on missions.

“The Soldiers are going above and beyond the capabilities of the vehicles when fording water,” said Sgt. Feraz Hosein with the 736th CRC, a native of Saginaw, Texas. “To rescue people, they have to do what they have to do.”

The Soldier’s Creed states that “I will always place the mission first,” and it doesn’t matter if their mission is rescuing civilians at the risk of damaging trucks or repairing those vehicles before preparing their own sleeping area.

“There wasn’t anything set up for us when we arrived and there were six vehicles that needed repairs,” said Sgt. Derwood Smelley with the 112th Quartermasters, Texas National Guard, a native of Hallsville. “We got to work before we got our own tent setup. We were up until 2 a.m. getting those trucks working.”

These Soldiers, from several different units, received the call and in a few days they came together as a team to accomplish their task. In total, the combined maintenance crew has repaired more than 40 vehicles, some of which are being sent immediately to Florida to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. 

“Overall, it was a really good mission and we accomplished a lot,” said Hosein. “We pushed to the limit, working 24 hours a day, late at night and everyone did awesome.”

Ragin' Cajuns feed First Responders

Photo By Sgt. Matthew Wright | Staff from the Cajun' Caterers who's main purpose is to feed first responders, set up at the Ford Center in Beaumont to feed the thousands of Guards members from Texas and other states as well as first responders and government relief workers.
Photo By Sgt. Matthew Wright | Staff from the Cajun' Caterers who's main purpose is to feed first responders, set up at the Ford Center in Beaumont to feed the thousands of Guards members from Texas and other states as well as first responders and government relief workers.

BEAUMONT, TX, UNITED STATES

09.09.2017

Story by Sgt. Matthew Wright

56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (36th ID, TXARNG)

 

Beaumont, TEXAS -- There is a saying during the Napoleonic period, an Army marches on its stomach. Centuries later, that saying still holds to be true. Though the Texas National Guard’s objective is not war related, the supplies most needed to run this hurricane relief mission still stands, being fed.

This is where Heads and Tails, a part of Cajun Caterers company comes in. The Thibodaux, LA based company works from disaster to disaster providing three meals a day and refreshments to the military and first responders. The company is a subsidiary of Disaster Resource Group based out of Baton Rouge, LA and their food is measured by size and style to accommodate those they serve.

Co-Owner and supervisor, Ronnie A. Eschete explains, “My purpose is people are fed with a protein, a vegetable and we make sure they’re hydrated with all types of beverages.”

They support all different types of disasters, which includes fires, earthquakes and tornadoes among others. The company is setup to cater to a large group to endure for a long time period. 

“We have fed from 1500 people to 2400 plus, here.” Eschete said.

Though the people they feed are large in numbers, the staff comprises of only 17 people. They play different roles, cooking, setting up the serving areas and loading and unloading the food.

Cajun Caterers receives its supplies from both Beaumont and Louisiana. Since East Texas was hit by Hurricane Harvey, they have reached out to other distributors from other cities and states. 


The company prides itself on the quality of food even with the quantities they have to serve. Their chefs have cooked from all over the world, like Paris, and some of the finer restaurants in the United States he said.

There is a lot that goes into making meals for a large group. They have to follow a specific menu that would be able to accommodate the majority of the people. Yet the cooks still try to infuse some of their hometown flavors.

“A lot of people are not used to Louisiana style cooking, a lot of people get construed with seasonings.” Eschete explained, “People think seasoning is Cayenne pepper. Seasonings are shallots, bell peppers, onions and garlic, that is the Cajun way.”

Through it all, Cajun Caterers have one mission, to support those involved with disaster relief and help out the best way they can. Feeding the first responders is their way of doing that.

“Naturally these guys support the Military and we also support law enforcement and naturally we will do whatever it takes to support our neighboring states.”

Texas guard “Spice Girls” rescue more than 300 Harvey flood victims

 

LUMBERTON, TX, UNITED STATES

09.08.2017

Story by Capt. Maria Mengrone

176th Engineer Brigade (TXARNG)

 

LUMBERTON, Texas – A group of female Texas guardsmen dubbed themselves the “Spice Girls” after helping rescue more than 300 flood victims in Lumberton, Texas. The soldiers are mobilized on state active duty orders in support of ongoing Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. 

“At first the nickname was a running joke because we were five females running around the town of Lumberton helping people,” said 1st Lt. Mikayla Schulte, environmental science/engineering officer, 136th Military Police Battalion native of Fort Worth. “After we took a picture copying the group we decided it really was a perfect description.”

The five soldiers took a photo replicating an iconic image of the famous ‘90s pop group, the Spice Girls, that helped seal their newly adopted moniker. 

The soldiers felt that the pop group closely represented and captured the strength of their all-female team.

“We were messing around trying to come up with names and that’s what stuck; that’s what many of us grew up listening to,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Riley, wheeled vehicle mechanic, 136th Military Police Battalion and native of Berryville. 

The group of female Soldiers came together after its convoy was split from their main element due to the rapidly rising flood waters. 

Although in the same battalion, prior to Harvey, the five female Soldiers had not worked so closely together. The events that unfolded on August 29, 2017 brought the group closer together.

Initially part of a group of 16 vehicles and 52 soldiers, Schulte’s group was temporarily separated due to mission requirements, with the intent of regrouping by the end of the day. 

The entire group had been ordered to move to another city where they would receive a new mission that day.

The flood waters in Lumberton rose two-feet in less than one hour, making a portion of interstate 96 impassable for even the two high-profile military vehicles Schulte commanded. 

The flood waters posed a major threat to the convoy and Schulte made the decision to turn around, which prevented her from being able to link back up with the original team.

“By the time our two trucks tried to cross, the water was too high and moving too fast. I ordered the team to back out of the water; it was one of those decisions that I may not have had a chance to take back if I didn’t trust my lead vehicle driver,” said Schulte.

The team of Soldiers, with its two high-profile vehicles, headed back to the Lumberton Fire Department, looking to see if they could help. 

Later, the soldiers learned that all roads leading into the city of Lumberton had flooded leaving them separated from the rest of their team, no longer in Lumberton, but making their mission that much more critical.

“We reported to the incident commander and we immediately started to help get as many of the evacuees to dry land,” said Riley.

The group of five soldiers worked tirelessly and assisted in relocating evacuees in a flooded-out shelter to a secondary location with the use of its dump truck and high-water vehicle.

“We loaded families, children, elderly, dogs, cats, birds and everything in between. If we could get it into a dump truck we loaded it,” said Schulte.

The surrounding communities also responded to help the city of Lumberton.

“Boats from all over had converged here to help evacuate people from the flooded neighborhood,” said Schulte.

In total, the five soldiers helped rescue more than 300 flood victims in the span of four days from Aug. 29 to Sep. 1, 2017. 

“We are humbled and I want to thank the Lumberton Fire Department. They took care of us for four days. These first responders lost their homes, cars and everything in between but they still were out there saving people,” said Schulte. 

The soldiers are assigned to Joint Task Force 136 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade based in Round Rock. 

“Once we realized we couldn’t get out, the Lumberton Fire Department went out and got us sleeping bags and pillows,” said Riley. “It was just heartwarming how they welcomed us.”

“It’s amazing how we have come together as a team,” said Schulte. “This experience brought a group of female soldiers together and calling ourselves the ‘Spice Girls’ is our way of remembering our unity and strength in our group, but more importantly it remained us of the human spirit and how even in a time of crisis people are willing to help one another.” 

At the request of the Governor, the Texas Guard mobilized more than 12,000 military men and women from the Texas Army and Air National Guards, Texas State Guard to support Hurricane response operations following Hurricane Harvey.

Chaplains Provide Relief to Hurricane Harvey’s Victims

 

Photo By Sgt. Matthew Wright | Soldiers from 36 ID help Chaplain Brian K. Hudson offload supplies to First Church of Orange, Texas on Thursday Sep. 7, 2017 as a coordinated effort to get much needed provisions to the local communities.
Photo By Sgt. Matthew Wright | Soldiers from 36 ID help Chaplain Brian K. Hudson offload supplies to First Church of Orange, Texas on Thursday Sep. 7, 2017 as a coordinated effort to get much needed provisions to the local communities. 

ORANGE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.08.2017

Story by Sgt. Matthew Wright>

56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (36th ID, TXARNG)

 

Beaumont, TEXAS -- Hurricane Harvey may be long gone, but it’s path of destruction is still felt throughout the coastline of Texas and Louisiana. As the flooding continued throughout Houston and east to the state border, thousands of Army and Air National Guard troops made their way into the area with the purpose of rescuing residents trapped by the rising waters. 

The Chaplain Corps of the Texas National Guard went were out into the water with the rest of the Soldiers and Airmen rescuing people out of their homes as the waters started rising at a rapid rate. 

Chaplain (1st. Lt.) Angel D. Newhart from the 71st Theater Information Operations Group (TIOG), along with her chaplain assistant, Spc. Alexandria N Velasquez were part of a unit out in Katy, Texas aiding the rescues. Newhart recalled several stories of camaraderie with the Soldiers and the compassion the citizens had for their rescuers, especially with those who weren’t able to save themselves.

She recalled, one event when a man suffering from Cerebral Palsy was unable to leave his home. He was helped into his wheelchair and aided into the truck by the Soldiers. The medic came and immediately washed the blood off, cleaned and wrapped his feet from him water exposure.

“It was just, you know, one of those things you see and it touches your heart ” Newhart said. “It was a sweet that’s why we are here moment.”

As the waters receded along most of the coast, the 56th Task Force shifted gears from rescue to recovery, the Chaplain Corps’ work only doubled with the effort to bring much needed supplies to communities.

Another Chaplain, Cpt. Brian K. Hudson from the 36th Infantry Division, has been working with the churches in the Beaumont and Orange townships. Using a warehouse holding supplies, Hudson transported items such as water, food, baby and hygiene products to the churches to distribute.

“I meet with the local church and we drop off the stuff over to them and they take it from there and distribute out to the communities” Hudson stated. “I liasson and I am supplying so they can take care of their communities.”

The churches, once supplied, would be distribution centers in their communities for people hit by the floods, as well as personally sending those items to the those people who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave their homes due to transportation issues, especially in the lower income areas.

At one of their distribution points, First Church of Orange, Texas, Soldiers apologized for only able to bring eight pallets of supplies. Despite that they still felt a sense of pride and selflessness for helping the communities that so desperately need them.

Spc. Adam B. Miller, a Soldier dropping off the supplies said he felt the gratitude from local communities when the unit gives out supplies to the lower income communities and that is a great feeling.

Volunteers wash more than 100 loads of laundry for troops assisting in Harvey relief efforts

Photo By Capt. Aaron Moshier | Fatima Maniar’s son Gabriel and Nichole Bode’s daughter Gabbie, volunteers from the St. Thomas More Catholic Church and School, pose for a photo with handmade thank you notes for soldiers serving out of the Rosenberg National Guard Armory. Volunteers washed more than 100 loads of laundry as a show of support and appreciation for mobilized Soldiers assisting in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, Rosenberg, Texas, September 2, 2017.
Photo By Capt. Aaron Moshier | Fatima Maniar’s son Gabriel and Nichole Bode’s daughter Gabbie, volunteers from the St. Thomas More Catholic Church and School, pose for a photo with handmade thank you notes for soldiers serving out of the Rosenberg National Guard Armory. Volunteers washed more than 100 loads of laundry as a show of support and appreciation for mobilized Soldiers assisting in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, Rosenberg, Texas, September 2, 2017.

ROSENBERG, TX, UNITED STATES

09.08.2017

Story by Capt. Maria Mengrone

176th Engineer Brigade (TXARNG)

 

ROSENBERG, Texas – A group of volunteers from Meyerland, a neighborhood in Houston, washed more than 100 loads of laundry as a show of support and appreciation for mobilized Soldiers assisting in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Rosenberg, Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2017.

“We don’t have a means to wash our uniforms so this kind gesture allows us to remain focused on the mission,” said Texas Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class James Thomas, technical engineer, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade and native of Leonard. “Our soldiers are operating in almost five feet of water, they’re soaked and this is helping our morale.” 

Fatima Maniar, a veteran and avid church volunteer, came up with the idea after brainstorming with friends on how she could best help the soldiers serving in surrounding communities. 

“I started thinking of ways I could help and I asked my friend if she would help,” said Maniar. 

Maniar enlisted the help of her friend Nichole Bode, and together the duo began offering free laundry service to service members working out of the Rosenberg National Guard Armory. 

“We began alternating trips because the need for laundry was great,” said Bode.

The idea quickly became popular among soldiers and soon Maniar and Bode recruited more volunteers to help.

“We had friends that just offered to help for nothing in return. I’d say we had about eight people helping with the laundry,” said Maniar. 

The volunteers show up to the armory every day and pick up between six to 15 loads of laundry. 

“The soldiers never told us when to get it back to them but we knew that we had to get their laundry back to them as fast as possible,” said Bode. 

Since the beginning of the operation Maniar and Bode have declined to accept any form of compensation for their volunteer work.

“We've offered them detergent that we brought with us but they wouldn’t take it. They've been here every single day, day after day. That's time, money, and resources that they have given to support us,” said Chaplain Candidate (2nd Lt.) Ismael Berlanga, unit ministry team, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade and native of San Saba. 

“I know, at first, it was difficult for soldiers to give a stranger their dirty clothes but they warmed up and now it has definitely improved the morale of our soldiers.”

The laundry operation has become a family affair with the inclusion of Maniar’s son Gabriel and Bode’s daughter Gabbie.

“We were blessed that our homes were not affected by the floods and I hope the kids see that helping ours neighbors is a good thing and especially our military,” said Bode. “Gabriel’s dad is in the military and his mom Fatima is a veteran, my dad also served. Our kids are growing up with a respect for the military and it warms my heart to see that.”

Soldiers working out of the Rosenberg armory understand the impact of donning a clean uniform when working in wet conditions. 
It has really made a difference to our soldiers,” said Berlanga. “Just having clean clothes and clean socks really has helped the soldiers stay focused on the mission.

“The outreach in this community is just awesome,” said Thomas. “They are going out of their way to do our laundry and make sure we have clean clothes is just awesome. Thank you.”

The soldiers wish to thank an additional group of volunteers: Kim Lesniewicz, Vanessa LaWare, Irma Perez, Christina Sumerall, Heather Gallagher and Paige Wermuth.

At the request of the Governor, the Texas Guard mobilized more than 12,000 military men and women from the Texas Army and Air National Guards, Texas State Guard to support Hurricane response operations following Hurricane Harvey.

Texas Guard aviator guides helicopter deliveries of hay to stranded cattle in Texas

Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | BEAUMONT, Texas -- National Guard members from multiple states help provide feed to livestock trapped by floodwater in Jefferson county, Texas, September 7, 2017. Thousands of cattle were left stranded and without access to food in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and civilians and Soldiers worked together to come up with means of getting food to as many of those cattle as possible (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ariel J. Solomon).
Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | BEAUMONT, Texas -- National Guard members from multiple states help provide feed to livestock trapped by floodwater in Jefferson county, Texas, September 7, 2017. Thousands of cattle were left stranded and without access to food in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and civilians and Soldiers worked together to come up with means of getting food to as many of those cattle as possible (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ariel J. Solomon).

HAMSHIRE, TX, UNITED STATES

09.07.2017

Story by Sgt. Ariel Solomon

128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

 

Sand, grit and hay billowed into the faces of roughly two dozen Texas and Utah National Guard Soldiers as two Ohio National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters touched down in the parking lot of Hamshire-Fannett High School in Jefferson County, Texas, Sept. 7. 

As the dust settled, trucks with trailers full of hay moved forward and within moments a flurry of work moved bale after bale of hay into the cargo hold of the transport helicopters. Directing it all, from the middle of the bucket line of haystackers, was Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zach Koehn from the 149th Aviation Regiment Texas National Guard .

After Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast of Texas, thousands of acres of ranchland was submerged below several feet of water, stranding thousands of cattle on islands of higher ground. Within days of the disaster, the local sheriff's office began using their Huey helicopter to respond to calls from ranchers who were unable to reach their livestock.

“We found a tremendous number of cattle stranded in areas that were inaccessible and wouldn’t be accessible for quite some time in Jefferson and nearby counties,” said Lt. Tony Viator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. “We began dropping hay, but we quickly realized we wouldn’t be able to support that mission over such a broad region. So we contacted the Guard and they sent Zach. We couldn’t have done this without his help.”

At the highschool, the helicopters lifted off to take their cargo of 130 hay bales each to cattle throughout the region. The helicopters followed a grid pattern developed by Koehn, which sped up the delivery of feed.

“I first got here, the civilians were finding all the locations for the cattle, but there were 80 grid coordinates and I didn’t know if it was several bunches of cows or individual cows,” said Koehn. “I didn’t want my pilots to enter in all these numbers into their systems and take up so much time, so I simplified it. We split up the counties into a search grid the military and civilian pilots could use to spot cattle, and feed each sector systematically.”

While throwing hay onto a trailer in preparation for another iteration of helicopter-hay-delivery, Koehn explained that the operation was a governor-mandated effort to restore a $25,000,000 rancher industry investment and protect Texan livelihood.

“It’s not just the ranchers, it’s the truckers that carry the cattle and feed, its the veterinarians that take care of the cattle’s medical needs. Nationally this is where a lot of meat comes from and it has the potential to raise the price of beef nationwide,” Koehn said.

Many local ranchers came to pitch in moving bales of hay onto the trailers and into the helicopters.

“These guys aren’t getting paid to be here,” said Koehn. “They’re here because they know it needs doing for their community and we’re thankful for all of their help.”

Above the flooded pastures, the Chinooks hovered just feet above the ground. The crew rationed out enough feed for each group of cattle to last for a few days until the water recedes and ranchers can reach their livestock. 

By the end of the 4-day mission, crews flew more than 20 flights, providing food for more than 10,000 cows.