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Texas National Guard Expands Operations to West Texas

The Texas National Guard expanded Operation Lone Star to the far western city of El Paso. The movement of personnel, equipment and capabilities was in response to the unprecedented number of illegal border crossings in the area.

“I am so impressed with the OLS staff as well as the Soldiers from Task Force West,” said Maj. Gen. Ronald “Win” Burkett, Operation Lone Star Commanding Officer. “Over 400 personnel and 40 vehicles were repositioned in El Paso within a 72-hour time frame.”  

The Guard can flex capabilities, equipment, and personnel anywhere along the border within a 72-hour window. The Texas Air National Guard provided four C-130J Hercules aircraft to expedite travel of personnel and vehicles to the far western region, and tactical troop movements took place all over Texas. 

Proof of the Guard’s effectiveness against the numbers of illegal crossings is becoming more and more obvious with each passing day.

 Day 1: Military vehicles, Soldiers, and concertina wire rolled onto the Rio Grande River’s edge. Only a few onlookers stood on the other side watching the activity. It was early in the morning and bitter cold. Within four-hours the number of onlookers increased, but no one challenged the swift work of Soldiers uncoiling the concertina wire.

Near nightfall, almost 500 immigrants stood at the wire asking the seven armed Soldiers to let them in. The crowd was made up of immigrants from Argentina, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, Russia, and Venezuela; men and women, both alone and with children, tried pleading, chanting, and singing. Law enforcement partners also explained the process for entering the United States legally and still the crowd stayed. 

Day 2: The immigrants dissipated, leaving in the direction of the next legal crossing area.  Soldiers stood behind the concertina wire with only occasional conversation across the river answering immigrants’ questions of where they go now. 

The Triple strand concertina wire, with armed personnel and military vehicles, and fast fencing has turned the once illegal fast-path into a ghost town. 

The Texas Department of Emergency Management also installed shipping containers to help deter illegal crossings. The Texas Department of Public Safety emplaced vehicle and officers, also working the line with the Soldiers. 

The National Guard’s El Paso operation is now an enduring mission, as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s efforts to secure Texas’ southern border. The region will have over 600 troops and 100 military vehicles to support our law enforcement partners in this mission. 

The mission remains for the Guardsmen to assist law enforcement partners to block and repel illegal crossings, as well as to interdict trans-national criminal activity from spilling across the border.
 

Texas National Guard adds 45 drone pilots to OLS

When 1st Lt. Austin Laughlin started on Operation Lone Star, the mission was daunting. He and his company were responsible for preventing illegal border crossings in a 25-miles stretch along the Rio Grande River in Zapata County.  While the county wasn’t known for particularly high traffic, it was known for being undermanned in its vast expanses of thick over growth that provide a perfect route for those travelers who want to remain undetected.

One tactic for finding the clandestine migrants, developed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, was the use of drones in conjunction with groups of elite soldiers from the Texas National Guard, called “brush teams.” The brush teams would use the information provided from the DPS unmanned aircraft equipped with night vision and thermal cameras to locate and arrest trespassing migrants in the unforgiving terrain.

Seeing the success of the joint brush team operations, Laughlin knew more drones would mean more illegal migrants would be unable to enter Texas undetected.

Laughlin quickly developed a plan that would have Texas Guardsmen flying drones as part of Operation Lone Star.  He pitched the idea to the commanders on the ground, who immediately saw the value in adding additional brush teams resourced with drones and championed the young lieutenant’s idea to the highest echelons of the agency.   

With that the Texas Military Department’s Small Unmanned Aircraft System Program was born.  In his new position as the program’s training director, Laughlin said the first class of TMD pilots are set to start training to fly.  After completing the FAA’s part 107 training and additional practical training with both TMD and DPS personnel, those Soldiers and Airmen will be able to fly with the agency and as commercial drone pilots in their civilian lives. The new remote aviators will be chosen from within the Texas National Guard’s ranks.

“We are looking for people that are on a State Active Duty mission currently, or want to be,” said Laughlin. “We want people who want to make a difference.”

In response to the increase in illegal border traffic, TMD is preparing to train 45 new drone pilots.  While those pilots will initially work directly with DPS, Laughlin said that eventually the drones will be spread out, working independently to expand the number of brush teams across the border.

“It’s important that we are successful on Operation Lone Star,” Laughlin said. “With this program we can better stop the people with nefarious intent from crossing illegally into Texas”

NGB leadership visits Texas National Guard troops on the border

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena 
Texas Military Department

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena
Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena

HARLINGEN, Texas -- Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony L. Whitehead, the senior enlisted advisor for the Chief, National Guard Bureau, visits Texas Guardsmen, November 22-24, 2022, in Harlingen, Texas, to check the pulse of the soldiers and airmen during the Thanksgiving holiday.

SEA Whitehead serves as the Chief's principal military advisor on all enlisted matters affecting training, utilization, the health of the force, and enlisted professional development. As the highest enlisted level of National Guard leadership, he provides direction for the enlisted force and represents their interests.

"The purpose of the visit was to check on our soldiers and airmen working on Operation Lone Star," said SEA Whitehead. "They're Guardsmen, and I wanted to make sure that we had an opportunity to speak to them about their thoughts and ideas about the mission, how they were doing, how they felt about how the mission was going and any ideas that I needed to take back to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau."

Operation Lone Star is a state-led mission to respond to increased illegal immigration on the Texas-Mexico border. In May of 2021, Texas issued a disaster declaration covering 48 counties, primarily counties along or near the Texas – Mexico border. Currently, approximately 6,000 service members are deployed in support of Operation Lone Star.

During the visit, SEA Whitehead met with different units and components to get a full picture of the various mission sets of the state active-duty members, which included getting to ride on a Texas State Guard Center Console boat, used by Task Force East, known as the 'river unit' for the border mission. This unit uses TXSG flat-bottomed and center console boats in support of the border mission.

"Task Force East is responsible for four zones in the McAllen sector of the border. Our unit is specifically responsible for the river," said Texas Army National Guard Capt. Mike Jones, commander of the TF East team. "Today, we were showcasing some of the highlights of both the Mexico and U.S. side such as landmarks, key areas the Cartel uses and Border Patrol use, you know, in the whole cat and mouse game of border security."

Soldiers assigned to the river unit received recognition coins from SEA Whitehead for their outstanding work on the border. They had the opportunity to talk about their experiences on the mission with the highest enlisted leader in the National Guard.

"The Southwest Border Mission is a unique mission to the United States," said SEA Whitehead. "For our soldiers and airmen doing the mission, this has been talked about a lot, and I think sometimes we forget that we've got people down there 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

As part of SEA Whitehead's priority to seek opportunities for innovation and advancement within the ranks, SEA Whitehead asked service members to provide feedback to take back to the top [Pentagon].

"The visit was so great for my soldiers," said Capt. Jones. "These guys [and gals] are all highly motivated, to begin with, but having leadership from NGB come down and see what they do on a day-to-day basis is a big deal."

Some of the unit-level leadership also briefed SEA Whitehead on the morale of the Texas Guardsmen, stating there was an 86 percent volunteer rate for troops wishing to stay on the mission. These extension requests, leaders said, can be attributed to the pay incentives, time off to spend with family and the unique mission set the border mission provides. Through OLS, Texas Guardsmen can work in different units and alongside state partners like the Border Patrol Department of Public Safety, as well as the impact the mission has on the communities.

Reflecting on his visit, SEA Whitehead was incredibly impressed with the service members' work and their commitment to serving the greater good.

"One of the best things I liked about what I heard was that they have been here long enough to see the difference they have made in what they've been doing. So, despite some of the things they've heard regarding the negative social media or negative press, they know that there's been a positive difference in what they have been doing since they've been here."

When asked why he chose to come during a Thanksgiving holiday, SEA Whitehead said he wanted to ensure our soldiers and airmen know military leaders in Washington, D.C., are mindful of their 24/7 commitment.

"When the holidays come around, I don't know if people have the impression that things are halted because of it or that they are just comforted that we have military members down there on the Texas-Mexico border. Some of our Guardsmen have families that they're separated from, that's not just those deployed overseas but those deployed right here in the U.S.," said SEA Whitehead. "So, it's important for the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, myself, and the rest of the leadership team to go down and tell them ‘Thank you’ for what they're doing. We appreciate what they're doing, and we must let them know they're standing in a gap that's extremely important to our nation's security."

Six Sigma Training and More: a Valuable New Benefit for Texas State Guard Soldiers

By David Brown, 1LT, Texas State Guard 

AUSTIN (Camp Mabry), Texas – Although many soldiers in the Texas State Guard will tell you that serving their fellow Texans is a reward unto itself, a new program offered to all service members underscores the range of benefits available to those who wear the uniform.  Starting this year, members of the Texas State Guard are eligible for free professional development and training from one of the top companies in online education.  

This summer, every member of the Texas State Guard received (via email) a log-in and password to take advantage of the SkillSets Online Training Center, which allows participants to earn a certification in new skills (or a refresher on existing skills).  Some 7,000 courses and real-world simulations are now available to service members without charge, including Six Sigma Yellow, Green, and Black Belt certification, lessons in project development and organization, team leadership, managing budgets, predictive modeling, communicating with stakeholders, and much more. Many of the offerings are centered on computer technology, ranging from user-focused training all the way up to advanced programming, network security, and the management of highly specialized systems. 

"The certification and training opportunities available to members of the State Guard through SkillSets Online are a significant benefit,” says Col. Darren Fitz Gerald, Chief of Staff for the Texas State Guard.  “At no cost to the individual servicemember, they can pursue self-paced professional development and, in some cases, training and coursework for nationally recognized certifications.  Regardless of whether their time spent with SkillSets Online is aimed toward advancement in their civilian career or strengthening specific skills and abilities needed in the Guard, the end result is a capable and confident servicemember ready and able to serve their fellow Texan." 

Pvt. Luke Turner of Flower Mound, a recent recruit, wasted no time taking advantage of the new benefit.  

“I saw that my Master Sgt. had 18 classes, so I just wanted to one-up him,” Turner says.  

Turner’s ambition was inspiring. In his T6 (signals) section at Texas State Guard Headquarters, a “challenge” issued by the Officer-in-Charge resulted in Turner chalking up some 96 certifications by the October drill.  

You can guess who won the challenge. 

“At first I started working on classes involving employee-employer relations, how to manage large groups, how to manage a conference, that sort of thing,” Turner says. “I focused on those classes because when I was younger, I volunteered at a church camp, and I’d be responsible for 12 kids–and had to learn how to handle disputes between the campers.”  As Turner’s course completions mounted, he shifted his educational focus to IT (Information Technology) studies, helping him get more acquainted with some of the high-tech systems used in the T6.   

Experts say online development courses provide a more flexible, convenient, and efficient way to grow and strengthen professional skills compared to in-person and other more traditional coursework options.  That is an important advantage for Texas State Guard members, many of whom have busy jobs in the civilian world, to say nothing of family and community commitments. One key advantage to the SkillSets approach is that most subjects include a ‘pre-test’ option, enabling students who pass to receive credit and certification without having to sit through an entire course session (most of which are 1-2 hours long).  

“I reviewed the SkillSets certifications available and did an analysis of what this would cost service members if they were to try to obtain this training in the private sector, and found we were saving soldiers tens of thousands of dollars,” says Master Sgt. James “Damon” Williams, who serves in the T6 section of Headquarters Company. “We thought not only would SkillSets be a major bonus for those already serving, but it’s also a great tool for recruitment as an extremely valuable new benefit of membership in the Texas State Guard.” 

“The training is great for anyone with a job in the civilian world, someone possibly looking for a new job, or boosting your resume with credentials,” Turner says, adding, “I think you’d really be missing out if you didn’t take the opportunity to get those certifications–it’s truly a wonderful thing.” 

But the Texas State Guard – and the people it serves – gain from this new benefit as well. 

To be “Equal to the Task” (per the motto of the Texas State Guard) and mission-ready when asked to assist during emergencies statewide, continual training and learning are a must.  On top of professional and personal development, Texas State Guard service members are constantly engaged in military training and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) studies.   

The Texas State Guard is one of three branches of the Texas Military Department, along with the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard. Other benefits of service in the Texas State Guard include state tuition assistance, a daily stipend for state active duty, and much more.  A full list of benefits can be found online at tmd.texas.gov under the State Guard tab.   

Operation Vapor Trails

The Texas Air National Guard participated in Operation Vapor Trails, a joint mass-casualty exercise  where mock-patients received advanced medical care while being evacuated by air, Oct. 19, 2022 at Kelly Airfield.

Operation Vapor Trails is an annual exercise that presents Airmen with real-life scenarios designed to train and educate personnel who use the Texas Air National Guard’s newest addition, the C-130J Super Hercules, to transport patients and medical personnel.

The Texas Air National Guard’s 136th Airlift partnered with the U.S. Air Force’s 59th Medical Wing for the exercise. Capt. Brian Mulkey from the 136th Airlift Wing and a C130 J Super Hercules pilot said that as a pilot, their mission is making sure that the plane is ready and able to fly equipment and medical staff in the event of a mass casualty.

“We are a team with multi-capable airmen, our pilots, loadmasters and crew chief together,” Mulkey said.  “We are doing what is required to do the mission. We work as a team, and a scenario like this lets us train with each other, and that helps us learn and work together.”

For this joint mass-casualty exercise, the flight crew and medical staff were briefed minutes prior to boarding the aircraft. The teams had to prepare for all necessary medical emergency requirements with limited time. Role players acting as patients were transported onto the aircraft while medical teams worked through multiple scenarios during the one-hour flight.

 “As Guard Members, we stand ready for emergencies like hurricanes and borders issues. As Texans and Airmen, we step up when needed. It is very fulfilling to be a Guard member to be called from our civilian jobs and come help out where needed,” Cpt. Mulkey said.

Operation Vapor Trails is designed to strengthen emergency response capabilities by training for an emergency with operations in multiple locations.

Mulkey said, “Even though this is just a simulation, as Texans, it is very fulfilling to be a Guard member  called from our civilian jobs and come help out where needed.”

Camp Mabry Education Fair

November 15th from 10:00AM- 2:30PM

The Texas Army National Guard Benefits and Incentives Office is hosting the Camp Mabry Education Fair November 15th from 10:00AM- 2:30PM. The fair will include universities and government organizations that will provide information about benefits and incentives programs, and will discuss entitlements afforded to the Soldiers and Airmen of the Texas National Guard.

Because benefits and incentives programs are often confusing, the Texas Military Department provides resources to help Soldiers and Airmen navigate these programs.

Mary Vrbanac, education services specialist for the Texas Army National Guard, said that out of the 54 states and territories, Texas provides the best benefits to their National Guard members.

 “The Texas National Guard Soldiers and Airmen receive federal tuition assistance; every Guardsman is entitled to Chapter 1606 as well as chapter 30, 33, and many others depending on their status, we want to make the most of their benefits and what is afforded to them.”

 What does that all mean?

 “Our mission is for the Texas Army National Guard Education and Incentives Office to maximize utilization of education benefits and incentives for those who have dedicated themselves to the service of our country and of the state of Texas,” said Mary Vrbanac.  

 “We want our Soldiers and Airmen to utilize these benefits and with the many different options, we explain the difference between each one and when and how they are to be used,” she said. “We sit down with them and try to understand what they want in their future and then we provide the resources to start them on the process.”

The goal for the Texas Army National Guard Education and Incentive Office is to answer questions from Soldiers and Airmen. The counselors also advise and educate unit commanders to prepare Soldiers and Airmen to go through the approval process, often a process that can be lengthy and confusing.  

“The Texas Army National Guard Education and Incentive Office is primarily the auditing agency when the unit commanders or leadership send those up for approval, to ultimately get their Soldiers and Airmen paid,” said Andrew Lehman, Texas Army National Guard State Incentive Branch Manager.

When discussing options and constraints, the counselors understand that it is paramount for any Soldier or Airmen to understand what they can and cannot do while under contract. They also stress that though they may have many options, time is also a factor for any service member’s contract and necessary actions are needed to retain and maintain their benefits and incentives during time in service.

Whether in the process of signing up for the different types of incentives or education benefits, or are already utilizing them, ultimately it is up to the Soldier to understand what they are entitled to and when an how to apply.

“Our mission is when [the Soldier] leaves, they were provided with the resources and information about different programs to effectively utilize the benefits they deserved when they signed up for the Texas Army National Guard,” said Cpt. Samantha Fernando, education counselor and GI Bill manager at Camp Mabry, “We want what is best for our Soldiers.”

The Camp Mabry Education Fair on Nov. 15, 10:00-2:30 PM, located at 2200 West 35th St. Austin, TX 78703 at Camp Mabry, Building 15. Colleges and many government organizations will be available to answer questions. To contact an education or incentives counselor you may call (512) 782-5505 or stop by the office. You can also email them directly at ng.tx.txarng.mbx.education@army.mil.

ANG Texans Welcome New Commander

The 136th Airlift Wing celebrated two wing leaders during a combined change of command and retirement ceremony here Sunday.

Texas Air National Guard Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Matthew Barker officiated the ceremony in which Col. Matthew Groves assumed command from Col. David Compton, and Compton retired after 32 years of service.

“The 136th has been on a winning streak lately, there’s no doubt about it,” Barker said. “That’s because of the men and women in formation here, and also because of the exceptional leadership of Col. David Compton.”

Barker recapped highlights of the 136th AW’s history, noting the wing was the first Air National Guard unit to enter combat. He also applauded the wing for its most recent accomplishments, including the unit being selected as home of a new aeromedical evacuation mission, completing 90 percent of the conversion from C-130H to J models, and exceeding 200,000 safe flying hours, all while providing continued support to the Texas border mission, Operation Lone Star.

Barker spoke of Groves’ diverse background, commenting that Groves is equally comfortable leading the combat mission in the desert or walking the halls of power in the Pentagon.

“All of his diverse background is going to serve the 136th AW very well,” Barker said. “I’ve seen his passion for the mission and the Airmen.
“I challenge you to uphold this wing’s great legacy and unleash the power of these great Texas Airmen,” he added.

After he assumed command, Groves thanked the members of the 136th, fellow wing leaders, and his family.

“I am truly grateful to stand with you who have raised your right hand and sworn to defend the constitution of the United States of America,” he said. “I am grateful for your time that you do not have to give. I am grateful for your sacrifices and those of your loved ones. I am grateful for your sense of service.”
Groves spoke on complex, dynamic challenges, both globally and locally, for which the Texans may be called upon.

“You know all of this and yet you step forward and you continue to serve with passion and professionalism,” he said. “I say to every member of this wing, ‘Thank you, be ready, we’re going to need you.’”

In his new role, Groves will command a wing of more than 1,000 Citizen Airmen.

He previously served as the 136th AW vice wing commander. Prior to joining the TXANG, he served as the deputy director of plans and programs at the National Guard Bureau, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

The 136th AW is one of three flying units in the Texas Air National Guard, with a mission to provide highly trained, equipped, and motivated military forces for worldwide combat and peacetime tasking while flying and maintaining eight C-130J aircraft.

Task Force Mustang increases equal opportunity leadership overseas

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – The 36th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), currently deployed as “Task Force Mustang,” appreciated and recognized 16 of its Soldiers for completing the Equal Opportunity Leaders Course (EOLC) on Oct. 14.

The Soldiers were appointed to serve as Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs) within their first month in theater as part of Task Force Mustang’s mission to provide full-spectrum Army aviation operations for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) in the Middle East.

The Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) Program commonly defines a comprehensive effort to maximize human potential and fair treatment for all Soldiers, family members, and DA civilians without regard to race, color, sex (to include gender identity), religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. Task Force Mustang’s EOLs are taking on the additional duty to promote safe and inclusive work environments, and help resolve informal complaints regarding any perceived unlawful discrimination and offensive behaviors in its ranks.

U.S. Army Col. Scott P. Nicholas, commander of Task Force Mustang, expressed his appreciation for the EOLs and how they will support daily operations.

“Regardless of location, number of locations, or type of duty orders our Soldiers receive, every Army aviation unit makes promoting the Army Values a top priority in every workplace, and it starts with training,” said Nicholas. “Task Force Mustang now has an EO program that will deliver that training and amplify awareness, so that our teams remain mission-focused on supporting our partnered forces in the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

Leading the 16 EOLs for Task Force Mustang is U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mildred A. Restrepo, retention NCO and EO leader for the aviation brigade’s command team. She hosted the EOLC and assisted MEO advisors with certifying the Soldiers’ additional duty.

“It’s great to serve as the EOL for Task Force Mustang,” said Restrepo. “It is a privilege to get to serve as the eyes and ears for the brigade commander, and it is most rewarding when our Soldiers and leaders can resolve potential EO complaints at the lowest level.”

Restrepo is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, previously serving as the S-1 non-commissioned officer in-charge for the 11th CAB “Task Force Eagle” before the 36th CAB took over their mission last summer. In her civilian career back home, she serves as a police officer for the NYPD.

“I knew I was going to stay for a second tour overseas, but I knew I was not going to be able to keep my same duty in human resources,” she said. “Task Force Mustang saw a benefit to having me serve in their EO office at the time, so it worked out where I could stay and help strengthen the brigade’s EO network.”

Restrepo noted that her EOL training allows her to provide input to the commander with regards to informal complaints.

“Our EOLs are here to serve as resources to all Soldiers, and are ready to take anonymous or informal complaints, while certified MEO Advisors can directly facilitate formal complaints,” she added. “All Soldiers have the right to choose their type of complaint reports, and our EOLs are always there to educate them about their options, as well as support workplace condition checks for their respective unit leaders.”

Numbers in EO complaints easily vary based on mission and deployment durations.

“The highest number of informal complaints we’ve received has been four within a given week, and there have been a couple weeks where we’ve received no complaints at all, which is great,” Restrepo shared. “There have also been instances where a Soldier’s complaint was potentially turning into a formal one, but the Soldier was able to get it resolved with their immediate supervisor, thanks to the unit leader’s attention and the EOL involved.”

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Acie Matthews, operations NCO and MEO Advisor for CJTF-OIR, serves as the coordinator of all EO programs assigned across OIR’s Combined/Joint Operations Area (CJOA).

“EOLs are selected and trusted by their commanders to keep a pulse on the climate and culture of their units,” Matthews stated. “Our goal for EOLs is to have them be an extension of their commander’s ear to the unit and be a voice of the unit to the commander and other leaders. When not dealing with informal complaints, EOLs are tagged with executing their primary military duties, and that varies greatly across the team.”

Matthews brings to CJTF-OIR several years of EO experience, both stateside and overseas.

“Being an MEO Advisor is a very rewarding and humbling position. People are our most valuable resource, so providing support for their rights to be treated with dignity and respect is an absolute honor,” said Matthews. “Prior to this deployment, I served as the Minnesota National Guard State MEO Advisor, and I enjoyed supporting the Soldiers and Airmen during that time.”

He remarked how well Task Force Mustang was heading in the right direction for their EO program.

“Task Force Mustang is unique in that its responsibilities spread across multiple locations, in multiple countries, across the CJOA. Maintaining consistent messaging across such a vast area is challenging,” he added. “However, EOLs across Task Force Mustang are fired up and excited about the opportunity to support their respective commanders’ missions. While deployed, Soldiers are subject to U.S. Army regulations and reporting procedures, which differ slightly from National Guard Bureau’s processes. However, with dignity and respect being the drumbeat, these EOLs are seamlessly integrating the Title 10 rules into their battle rhythms.”

Restrepo couldn’t agree more with Matthews over the importance of their EO teams serving as a support channel to Soldiers.

“Towards the end of a deployment, it’s very common to see an increase in concerns and complaints,” Restrepo shared. “Everything is a fresh start at the beginning of a year-long mission. But, when daily routines change or several things do not go as planned throughout the mission—quality of life changes, resource reductions, Soldiers not talking to other Soldiers, leadership engagements perceived as less common, or Soldiers not letting go over their cultural differences or holding onto their complaints for months—all these things can affect discipline and unit morale. So, our EOLs will prove vital to safeguarding the professionalism and respect between Soldiers and their chain of command.”

To achieve MEO requirements, Restrepo says EO awareness classes will be completed by all Task Force Mustang Soldiers within the next month, and that 15 more Soldiers will complete the EOLC before the start of the new year. Task Force Mustang will have had every company level to brigade level leadership fully supported by EOLs for the rest of its deployment.

“And that’s what we want,” Restrepo concluded. “We want all unit leaders to be able to communicate with their Soldiers about any inequality concerns and have them resolve potential issues at the lowest level possible. EO complaints can happen anytime, but our EOLs will always be there to assist in maintaining a safe and welcoming work environment for everyone until mission complete.”

Always Ready, Always There and Always Forward

The Transatlantic Expeditionary District, headquartered at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, is the only district in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is expeditionary and forward deployed.

As a contingency district, it relies heavily on military and civilian volunteers to fill the critical roles and responsibilities necessary to take on the complex engineering and construction environment that is the Middle East.

The Expeditionary District, which falls under the management of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Transatlantic Division, was formed in May 2021 from the merger of two battle-tested districts, the Transatlantic Afghanistan District and Task Force Essayons, which focused on construction projects in Iraq.

But the Expeditionary District’s legacy in the Middle East goes back decades to the Trans-East District in the 1960s. The current district has morphed continuously in size and mission scope over the past 60 years, down a windy road paved with temporary districts known by their alphabet soup acronyms of AAO, TAS, AED, TAA, TAC, TAS, TAN, TAM, GRN, GRC, GRS, GRD, TFE and a few more.

Today, roughly 85% of the roles and positions in the Expeditionary District are filled by current Army Corps of Engineers civilian employees from stateside districts. Many have supported contingency operations and natural disaster support in other regions including the U.S., and most have had multiple deployments.

The civilians deployed with the Expeditionary District are often here to accept a promotion opportunity, or to supercharge their experiences and skillsets, which they take back to their home districts and engineering units.

On the military side, one state’s Army National Guard - Texas - stands out for years of unwavering support to the military engineering mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sam Houston, the first president of Texas, as well as an American general, lawyer and politician once said, “A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.”

That philosophy holds strong and true in the many engineers the Texas Military Department has deployed over the years to support the Army Corps of Engineers mission across the Middle East and the U.S. Central Command’s combatant commanders.

True to the National Guard’s motto “Always Ready, Always There,” over the years Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG) engineers have stepped up to support Army Corps of Engineers deployed positions, following the lead of Col. Zebadiah Miller, a TXARNG construction and facilities management officer.

“These tours serve two valuable purposes: they fulfill a Corps of Engineers manpower requirement, and the officers gain valuable experience in a world-class organization,” Miller said. “It’s even better when it’s with the Transatlantic Division in such a complex environment.”

Miller was the first of many TXARNG engineers that deployed to support the Transatlantic Division, having sought out his deployment after looking for career-broadening opportunities overseas.

He mentioned that fact to then U.S. Army Col. Mark Quander, at that time the commander of the Transatlantic Division, who was responsible for managing all the Army Corps of Engineers offices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The next day I got a call from Human Resources, and I left soon afterwards,” Miller said.

Between 2019 and 2020, Miller deployed with the Afghanistan District, where he was the Kabul Area officer-in-charge. Later, he moved to Bagram to serve as their district operations officer.

After his deployment, he went back to Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, and told other engineer officers about the growth and career development opportunities with the Transatlantic Division in the deserts of the Middle East.

Following in Miller’s footsteps was Capt. Angel Nunez, who deployed and supported Corps of Engineers under the Army’s Worldwide Individual Augmentation System, then Maj. Ed Zook from 2020 - 2021, Burhan Girgin, a TXARNG civilian from 2020-2022, Capt. Kevin Volz from 2021 – 2022, and the current crop of deployed TXARNG engineer officers, Lt. Col. Peter Ammerman and Capt. Bradly Williams.

Girgin, a Turkish native who immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-90s, spent 23 years in the Texas Military Department in various positions related to geospatial and IT.

When Miller asked him if he could find a geospatial specialist within TXARNG to support the Army Corps of Engineers mission in Afghanistan, he knew he wanted to be that person.

“I always envied our soldiers and airmen going to deployments,” Girgin said. “Of course, that wasn’t an option for a state employee like me at the time. Thankfully though, when I was contacted by Col. Miller in the summer of 2019, I was qualified to retire from my job. I applied for the direct hire position with Army Corps of Engineers and was accepted.”

Girgin knew that after saying goodbye to so many of his fellow Texas Army National Guard soldiers that have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, that he also wanted to support his adopted country, the United States, and use his language and cultural skills to make a difference.

After Miller welcomed him during a cold January night in Afghanistan, Girgin would end up working in Afghanistan, redeploy to the U.S. during Covid, then deploy to Kuwait where he supported the Kuwait, Syria and Iraq missions, spending almost two solid years deployed.

“I consider myself very fortunate to join them in the Middle East and contribute to the Army Corps of Engineers mission as a former Texas state civilian employee,” Girgin stated.

For Volz, a military Sapper or combat engineer, with 10 years of military service, deploying to support the Army Corps of Engineers’ mission was one of timing and a bit of influencing by Miller, and mentoring by Zook.

“I had been in contact with the previous two commands of Task Force Essayons holding out for the right time in my career to deploy and timing for this opportunity lined up perfect with the end of my company command,” Volz said.

Volz had grown up wanting to join the military for as long as he could remember and when he was in college decided to change his contract from active duty to National Guard.

“My stepfather became my recruiter and guided me into the Texas Army National Guard,” Volz said.

Volz, who has since redeployed to his stateside duties, was the former Al Asad Air Base’s Corps of Engineers officer-in-charge and Iraq Project Manager. While deployed, he managed both personnel and several complex Special Operations Joint Task Force - Levant construction projects, as well as managed construction efforts on the air base.

Volz used his engineering experience to help shape the current and future footprint of the base.

In his civilian world, Volz is a reliability engineer for a Houston-based energy technology company that has been extremely supportive of his deployments.

“I’d encourage anyone reading this from the TXARNG, or any other engineering unit, to take this opportunity; it’ll be one of the greatest learning experiences in their career,” Volz stated.

Ammerman, another Miller-influenced recruit, is a military engineer and the current deputy commander for TAE. He has been with the Texas Army National Guard for eight years, having transferred from the Hawaii Army National Guard.

He joined the Expeditionary District in November of 2021 and oversees the staff functions along with all personnel actions in the district. Ammerman was also assigned as the interim commander from April through July 2022, following the short-notice promotion and reassignment of the previous TAE commander.

In Ammerman’s 19-year career, this is his fifth deployment to the Middle East, and the first with the Corps of Engineers.

“Col. Miller really sold me on the deputy position when he explained the benefits and experiences I would gain learning about the Corps of Engineer’s processes in a Combatant Command’s area of operations,” Ammerman said. “While being in this billet, I’ve noted numerous positive leadership attributes that I’ll benefit from in the future. Working with this organization has opened my eyes to a multitude of engineering processes.”

Ammerman went on to say that the Texas Army National Guard produced highly qualified engineer officers looking to expand their horizons and the Army Corps of Engineers had the capability and capacity to assist those engineers with fulfilling that quest.

When asked about the impact and influence the TXARNG has had on the Army Corps of Engineers mission in the Middle East, Miller saw it as the start of a legacy, one that he helped shape and mold.

“I’ve been very involved in TXARNG talent management since I was a young major; I’ve had the privilege to see some of these officers like Nunez, Volz and Williams grow from platoon leaders and embrace this broadening opportunity with the Corps,” Miller said. “I’m proud knowing I have officers like Ammerman, Volz and Williams coming up behind me, representing the TXARNG.”

Two additional TXARNG engineers, Lt. Col. Adam Brock and Master Sgt. Brian Randolph, are slated to join the TAE team in fall of 2022, to continue TXARNG’s legacy of service to the Corps of Engineers mission in the Middle East. Brock will relieve Ammerman as the deputy commander, and Randolph will be the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Corps’ office supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

As the sun sets in Texas, another day starts in Kuwait and Iraq, where the motto for the Transatlantic Expeditionary District is “Always Forward.”

It is only fitting that when these mottos are combined, the men and women of the Texas Army National Guard stand tall alongside the Transatlantic Division’s Expeditionary District, and together are “Always Ready, Always There” and “Always Forward.”

“Being an engineer in the TXARNG is a family of its own,” Volz said. “But being a part of a unit with those individuals with such diverse experience and getting to work with the Corps of Engineers in a contingency environment, well that is something really special.”

The 54th SFAB: the National Guard’s security force advisors

National Guard Bureau--Courtesy Story
Capt. Madison Bips, a member of the Georgia National Guard's 1st Battalion of the 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade, returns a salute from a member of the Honduran Armed Forces, Sept. 8, near Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Bips was deployed to Honduras as part of the 54th SFAB's 6-month deployment to Honduras providing security force assistance, which was the first National Guard deployment of its kind. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes)

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras – The 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade recently made history as the first National Guard unit of its kind to activate and deploy in support of combatant command missions.

Activated in March of 2020, the 54th SFAB is headquartered in Indiana and has six battalions in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas. While the five active component SFABs are directly aligned under combatant commands, such as United States Southern Command or United States European Command, the Army Guard SFAB is globally focused and capable of deploying Soldiers to support missions anywhere in the world.

Recently, members of the Georgia National Guard 1st Battalion, 54th SFAB, completed a deployment to Honduras, making them the first National Guard members to deploy as an SFAB.

“The whole intent of having a security force assistance brigade is to assist our partner nations and foreign security forces,” said Col. Jeff Hackett, who commanded the 54th SFAB from its activation until last year.

SFAB Personnel

In addition to the unique nature of the SFAB mission, its manning is also one of its defining characteristics. SFAB Soldiers are all volunteers, hand-selected from other units across all 54 states, territories, and the District of Columbia.

“The way the SFAB is set up is to try to get more mature individuals that already have their key leader development time,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dean DeAngelo, the senior battalion logistics noncommissioned officer, Georgia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 54th SFAB. “The whole idea behind it is to be able to advise your partner forces two levels up from your current position.”

The brigade also differs from the traditional Army force structure in accomplishing its advising mission. The advisor teams are typically comprised of between four and 12 Soldiers and operate much more autonomously than conventional forces, based on their partner force needs.

These teams are broken down into:

● Maneuver advising Teams
● Field artillery advising team
● Engineer advising teams
● Logistics advising teams






The Selection Process

There are two ways soldiers can join an SFAB.

For immediate eligibility, Soldiers must be the rank of sergeant first class or above and have completed key and developmental positions, such as platoon sergeant for an infantryman. Upon completion of requirements, Soldiers are eligible to be selected through an interview with SFAB leadership.

Soldiers that do not meet these criteria must pass a rigorous five-day assessment and selection. The selection entails an Army Combat Fitness Test, a leader reaction course, team events, a warrior skills test, military occupational skill proficiency and ethical dilemma tests, a subject matter expert interview, and culminates with a ruck march.

“We are getting Soldiers that are senior leaders already, but not everybody is cut out for the SFAB,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Makaryk, commander of the 1-54th SFAB, adding that the success rate of the selection process is not high.

In Makaryk’s Battalion, the average enlisted advisor is 31 years old with 10 years of service and an associate degree. The average officer advisor is 36, with 13 years of service and a master’s degree. Most also have two to three years of deployment experience as well, said Capt. Madison Bips, the unit’s operations officer.

Specialized Training

The SFAB training cycle also differs from Army Guard’s traditional training schedule. Rather than attending training for the traditional one weekend a month and an annual training event, they train one week a fiscal quarter and attend an annual training event.

In addition to the yearly training, SFAB Soldiers are given specialized training opportunities. Soldiers assigned to advisor positions complete the 54-day Combat Advisor Training course at the Military Advisor Training Academy at Fort Benning, Georgia. On top of that, many SFAB members receive cultural and language familiarity training and training on foreign weapons, advanced medical training, driver training, and survival, evasion, resistance, and escape techniques.

In addition to their domestic training, SFAB Soldiers also participate in numerous foreign training exercises.


“What drew me to the SFAB was the opportunity to stand up a unit from the ground up in the Guard and being able to go on overseas training,” said DeAngelo. During his four years with the SFAB, he trained in Brazil as part of Exercise Southern Vanguard in 2021 and deployed to Honduras with the SFAB in 2022.

Now that he has surpassed the three-year mark as an SFAB member, he has reached the end of his time with the unit. But this is by design —the SFAB is structured to return its advisors to the force as more seasoned professionals.

“It’s time for me to move on and take my experience from the SFAB and take it back to the conventional force,” he said.