Story by: Chief Warrant Officer Three Janet Schmelzer
Texas State Guard Public Affairs
AUSTIN, Texas –The Texas State Guard Engineer Group is a little-known asset utilized by the Texas Military Department and municipalities throughout the state. Over the past five years, these 44 members have built a reputation as the “go-to” resource when engineering and technical service support are needed to assess infrastructure and critical facilities, including military installations, water plants, wastewater treatment, power plants and environmental impact.
The engineers in this unit are highly qualified professionals who hold professional licenses in architecture, civil, mechanical, electrical and environmental engineering and are project and construction management experts in their civilian careers. Many are members of the Society of Military Engineers and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers, and hold state licenses or certifications in water and wastewater treatment.
“The members of this Engineering Group, like all members of the Texas State Guard, are volunteers who give back to their communities and to the state through their service in the Guard,” said Col. Patrick Fink, commander of the Engineering Group, Texas State Guard. “The engineers and technical support members are bringing their civilian skills, knowledge and expertise to their tasks and missions. Many of our members have previously served in state and federal military forces as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.”
These engineers and technical support personnel therefore became a perfect choice to assist the Construction and Facilities Management Office of the Texas Military Department with annual installation status assessments. In the past five years, Texas State Guard engineering teams have conducted installation status reports at 36Texas Army and Air National armories and facilities in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
These reports included specific and detailed information on the conditions of facilities which the Texas Military Department utilizes to prioritize funding for future construction and renovation projects. Additionally, this group helps the military department annually to receive tens of millions of additional dollars to renovate facilities from state and federal agencies.
“During their service, our unit members have contributed thousands of hours of professional skills and labor to the Texas State Guard and the Texas Military Department,” said Col. Robert Hudnall, Executive Officer, Engineer Group. “They have saved the state almost $700,000 in consulting and labor costs.”
While providing support to other Texas Army National Guard Engineering units when this unit was also tasked to perform special demolition projects at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, these guardsmen led the demolition of Building 32, the Texas State Guard Headquarters. As well as the preservation of the building’s historic architectural support and roof beams during the renovation phase, they also conducted the exterior demolition, remediation, compaction and backfill of the 15-foot sign in front of Building 34 and are assisting with the layout and construction of a new Camp Mabry soccer field.
For the Engineer Group, mission readiness during a disaster, such as flooding, hurricanes, and tornadoes, is to provide augmentation, in a surge capacity, for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Last year, Hurricane Harvey demonstrated just how critical the engineer group was to disaster response. With flooding and high winds damaging hundreds of water and sewage systems, forcing residents to boil drinking water and swamping sewer systems, the primary tasks for the unit were to assess water and wastewater facilities to determine what should be done to get services back online and helping residents to begin to recover from the disaster. As a supporting agency, the Texas State Guard engineers worked in coordination with the commission and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, traveling to the devastated areas to conduct visual assessments of water and wastewater facilities.
The guardsmen also provided professional advice on the restoration of water and waste water systems to municipalities and Councils of Government. In this way, local governments could begin planning timelines for the restoration of drinking water to residents. These assessments would also assist Texas in securing emergency assistance to recover the damaged or inoperable systems.
In Rockport, Texas, the engineers assessed the condition of a water tower that had sustained a broken a cross support arm from high winds during the hurricane. Without the cross support, the tower would, at some point, begin to spin and collapse. The engineers concluded that the condition of the tower was a serious risk to residents and the local municipality took the tower out of service.
“We want to be there when Texans need our engineering expertise following a disaster,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Loftis, Operations Officer, Engineer Group, Texas State Guard. “We can help them and their communities to regain some normalcy with essential water and wastewater service. We want to make sure that each resident can turn on a faucet at home and drink a glass of good, clean water. That is why we serve in the Engineer Group of the Texas State Guard.”