Texas Guardsmen stay mission ready to help fellow citizens
Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Pena
Posted: June 4, 2016
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The results and lingering effects of El Nino continue to wreck havoc on the state of Texas, as severe flooding across the state is forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. From May 29, 2016 through June 4, 2016, more than 250 members of the Texas Military Department mobilized to support its local and state partners with emergency operations.
Disaster situations like these are exactly what part-time guardsmen like Sgt. Joseph A. Puente, crew chief for the Charlie Company, 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard, are trained to be ready for.
“They call us M-day guys, meaning that we have a civilian job by day and we do this on the weekends,” said Puente. “But we always know that state active duty missions could come up, so if we are watching a big rain event, we know the possibility is there.”
When not in uniform, Puente works as a field operations technician at one of the nations leading Telecommunications Company in San Antonio, Texas.
On May 30, 2016, the State Operations Center requested more resources. Guardsmen from the 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, to include Puente, and Texas Task Force 1 Search and Rescue Team, were activated and mobilized to the San Antonio Army Aviation Support Facility in San Antonio, Texas.
“I looked at my schedule and said – if the state needs me, if the guard needs me, if the unit, and if I can be an asset to the public, please give me a call,” said Puente. “The call was sent out on Saturday on Memorial weekend and we reported in Tuesday morning at 7 am.”
The 2-149th is equipped with medevac capabilities such as aircraft, to transport people and ambulatory patients to safety or a higher level of care.
When paired with Texas Task Force 1, the unit is able to rescue citizens from life-threatening situations like trees, flooded creeks, or vehicles that have been swept away from high-rise water.
Guardsmen like Puente know that being mission ready is essential to saving lives.
“I’ve always heard the medevac world runs real fast,” said Puente. “I was prior infantry so I had all my stuff laid just right. Everything moved really fast but it was kind of like a controlled chaos. That aircraft was up and running in the least amount of time to get to that victim.”
Crew chiefs must go through about 25-50 hours of monitored training as a crew member and pass basic tasks as well as perform mission tasks which consist of tactical flying, fire fighting, hoist operations, night missions using night vision goggles.
This was Puente’s’ first real-world disaster response mission as a crew chief, and having that practice gave him confidence in his abilities to perform when Texas made the call for help.
“You’re with them all the time, you train with them, you’re doing high strenuous tasks and so you push through it together and when the aircraft lands at the end of the day you feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Texas Guardsmen conducted more than 135 missions, rescuing more than 900 people and 310 pets following severe flooding across the state, May 29-June 12, 2016.