Soldiers read about new troop transport vehicles
Soldiers read about new troop transport vehicles

 

 Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter

 "Someone asks me, 'How did you get here?' I try to be nice and say, 'I took a plane,'" said senior enlisted advisor for the  Texas Military Forces Command Sgt. Maj. Juan G. Morales.

 After the laughter died down, Morales continued to say that no obstacle kept him from achieving his goals. 

 "I was born in Puerto Rico, but raised in America," he said. "I speak 'Spanglish,' ... that never stopped me."

 A small group of junior enlisted Soldiers and Airmen listened intently as Morales detailed the keys to a successful  military career.

 "Be the person who always has a question," he said. "Be a leader, be the one in front and do research."

The Junior Enlisted Forum, lead by Morales, was part of the 4th Annual Joint Texas Military Affairs Conference held at the Austin Convention Center, March 26-28. The forum allowed Soldiers and Airmen to ask senior NCOs questions about career development.

The conference was a joint venture, combining three different, events: the Joint Commanders Conference, the Family Readiness Conference, and the 51st Annual Conference of the National Guard Association of Texas.

From breakfast to lunch and on through dinner Friday and Saturday, service members of the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air Guard and Texas State Guard ran into old friends and made new ones. Families of servicemembers connected faces with names.

"It's a good place to see people you haven't seen for awhile," said Marline Schloari, a conference volunteer from Grand Prairie, Texas. "I've met a lot of Soldiers and officers when we've had those [family readiness] trainings. They know you've done that training, but they don't know who you belong to. When they see you here with your spouse ... it clicks."

The conference boasted a fun run and relay races for service members' families on Friday, as well as a golf tournament at Star Ranch, a Texas Hold'em Poker tournament, wine tastings, karaoke, and dancing.

Kids participated in the Family Readiness Group's Youth Symposium, where they played games, listened to live music and learned what to do when their parents deploy.

Soldiers, Airmen and Guardsmen, along with their families, strolled through aisles of vendor booths that filled the convention center's exhibit hall. Others bid on baskets filled with treats at the silent auction, proceeds to benefit NGAT.

The booths offered services, products and information for Texas Military Forces service members and their families. One booth displayed new tactical gear.

"We have a lot more visible stuff to actually go touch and see what our husbands may or may not get to use," said Schloari. "The latest equipment is out there. Or if it's not, they can say, 'Hey, we need that. Can you get us that?'"

Schloari enjoyed browsing the line of body protection and armored vehicles.

"They've come out with some really good stuff," she said. "I'm really excited about the protection factor that they've got."

Other booths offered families information about support opportunities during deployments.

"Now that I'm seeing all the information we're giving to family members, there's just so much," said Elizabeth Vega, secretary for the Family Readiness Group. 

She said that during her husband's first deployment, Vega did not know about the support available to her and her two children. The array of information available at the conference confirmed that no Soldier stands alone and neither do their families.

"All you have to do is just walk in the door and ask one person," Vega said. "If that person doesn't know, they can tell you where to find the answer, ... there is no stupid question." 

Texas Military Forces leaders gathered Saturday afternoon to conduct business as part of the Joint Commanders Conference.

During FRG's family programs, leaders deployed with the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team joined the forum via teleconference to answer family members' questions about their troops in Iraq. The FRG also hosted a variety of question and answer panels through their Family Readiness Program Conference.

Texas State Guard members broke away from the crowd on Saturday to discuss duty and share camaraderie as citizen soldiers.

"Service," exclaimed Col. Dennis O'Driscol, 8th Regt. commander, when asked what motivates these Citizen Soldiers. "Before I joined, I just thought that surely there was something I can do to help. We are here as support to civilian and military authorities."

Texas Military Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jose S. Mayorga marveled at the Guardsmen who sat before him.

"Do you want this job," he asked. "If you join us, you get to pay for your own uniforms, boots, travel and lodging. You only get paid $121 a day when the governor activates us. And here you all are. You can't buy that kind of dedication."

With 1,700 members, said Mayorga, the Texas State Guard responds to natural disasters like hurricanes, provides border patrol support, and controls new communication technology for Texas Military Forces, without the possibility of deployment.

"It's Texans serving Texas," O'Driscol said. "And it doesn't take long to know we're making a difference."

While the conference teemed with useful information, service members and their families took much more than that home. Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy L. Broyles, Sgt Maj. of the Texas Army National Guard, offered encouraging words to service members as they pursue their goals.

"Work hard," he said. "Do what you're supposed to do, and you'll get anywhere you want to go."