Story by: Master Sgt. Daniel Griego
Post: October 14, 2015
Members of the Texas Military Forces' rescue air crews and Texas Task Force 1 received the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference in South Bend, Indiana, Oct. 2, 2015. The award, presented collectively to the two rescue teams and their leadership, recognized their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.
The Texas National Guard is no stranger to emergency response and community support. From hurricane relief to wildfires, citizen Soldiers have stepped up and served in times of need. Recently, those efforts received special recognition when the 16 crew members of the Texas Guard’s four rescue air crews were honored with the prestigious Higgins & Langley Memorial Award in Swiftwater Rescue for their service during the May 2015 floods in central Texas.
The award, presented during the 2015 Surface Water Rescue Conference, hosted by the International Association of Water Rescue Professionals, recognizes the tireless efforts of the 16 crew members and their interagency cooperation with fellow recipients from Texas Task Force 1.
“This is not an individual award,” said CW5 Matthew B Reynolds, the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade’s Command Chief Warrant Officer. “This is a situation where quality training involving many people and many hours allows the mission to go smoothly. Through coordination, the Texas Military Forces and Texas Task Force 1 are provided funding, time and equipment to become a coordinated "Mission" aircrew.”
The award recognizes excellence in the field of flood and swiftwater rescue and is presented for several categories, including outstanding achievement, program development, special commendation, swiftwater rescue incident, and lifetime achievement. The Guardsmen were honored with the rescue incident award for their late spring helicopter operations.
“Together with Texas Task Force 1 and its rescue swimmers, we train as a crew monthly in preparation for events like the one for which we received the award,” said CW4 John Silva, call sign Alamo 07 and the pilot in command. “Through training and hard work we work as a team responding to incidents that need our services and successfully and safely conduct our operations.”
Although the two units have been involved in independent rescue missions in the past, this was the first real-world demonstration of their coordinated, interagency effort. The results of this partnership were beyond expectations. Together, the teams performed 132 rescues during the flooding period in May.
“In the 90s and 2000s, the National Guard did not work with Task Force 1,” said Reynolds. “We just placed a rescue net beside the stranded personnel and hoped they could get in. Since then, we have come a long way with the integration between our two agencies. We provide professional, quick reaction aircrews throughout Texas, consisting of highly trained aircrews and rescue swimmers.”
The teams both bring to the table years of experience and expertise that were instrumental in the successes of May’s flood rescues.
“It is important to note that aircrews from Texas Military Forces have been performing these operations in response to natural disasters for many years,” said Silva, “and that countless lives have been saved by professional crews and people both in the air and on the ground. I see this award as recognition for all of the people involved and the decision to put the teams together. I'm honored to be a part of that team.”
The awards presentation was just one event in the four-day conference, held Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at the Century Center in South Bend, Indiana. The annual gathering brings together members from all disciples of the water rescue community to promote safety, training best practices, and risk management.
Also present during the ceremony was Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, the commander of the Texas Military Forces’ Domestic Operations Task Force and senior military officer in charge of the rescue efforts.
"It's a great honor to be recognized by an international organization that looks at swift water rescue efforts around the world,” said Hamilton. "To be that extensively recognized is humbling and shows that Texas is doing all the right things in preparation for future swift water rescue events."
What struck the Texas Guardsmen most was the international attention garnered by their actions and the acknowledgement of just how immense the rescue community is.
“Because this is a civilian award, it has special meaning to the Military crewmembers,” said Reynolds. “It is job recognition from an entity that is outside our normal channels. Being recognized by the Civilian Swiftwater Rescue community is a memorable event for all of us.”
For the award recipients, who included pilots, crewmembers, and divers, the May floods were simply one aspect of a big picture of what it means to be a citizen Soldier.
“Within 24 hours I had flown an airplane for the National Guard as my duty on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I was flying a UH60 Black Hawk on state active duty for the rescue of an elderly man who would otherwise have died in San Marcos,” said Silva. “Along with Alamo 11, we evacuated more than 20 floodwater victims in Wimberley who were surrounded by water. When I got home to the ranch that night after a long day, I found a cow with a breached calf in a pasture who needed assistance delivering.”