Story and photos by Spc. Jason Archer, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
AUSTIN, Texas – In 1636, the first members of the original thirteen colonies’ military gathered on an empty field and improvised new methods to conduct training crucial to their defense. In the more than 276 years since that first muster there have been many homes to National Guard units. Some met in empty schools, on private lands and in the late 1800’s more frequently in armories spread throughout communities.
One thing has not changed over all of this time—the need for Guardsmen to train for national defense. The COVID-19 pandemic has again changed the way citizen-Soldiers assemble, as this month units across Texas experienced their first digital muster.
As the pandemic continues across Texas Soldiers will be relying on the use of telework and virtual training to allow both full-time and traditional Texas Guardsmen to stay at home and maintain their health but not lose access to vital information.
Lt. Col. Rita Holton, 36th Special Troops Battalion Commander, said the Texas Military Department is continuing business as usual.
“The current health crisis has not changed the mission, just the focus,” Holton said. “The National Guard as a whole, is a trained, ready force and prepared for all types of contingencies, however difficult.”
The Texas Army National Guard has more than 23,000 members who have been standing by waiting to serve the state. These service members are ready to faithfully carry out the mission to serve Texans in their time of need.
Army 1st Sgt. Crystal Barton, with the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 71st Troop Command, said there were adjustments to the way work was being done, but the same objectives were being met.
“The MPAD did some classes and formations online over Zoom,” Barton said. “I’ve heard of other units using WhatsApp, not to send sensitive information, but to keep everyone abreast of any safety concerns.”
Everyone was ready to get on calls and complete online administrative tasks,” Barton added. “Even our commanders that work one weekend a month are used to having meetings online.”
Holton also said the service had systems in place for operational security whenever conducting telework.
“Telework is authorized for non-essential Soldiers, Airmen and civilian employees during the current crisis,” said Holton. “Having telework policies in place is an important element which preserves steady state operations, while taking care of our service members. This keeps them healthy by supporting their families’ needs.”
Texas Army National Guard leaders and Soldiers continue to meet routinely through virtual means in order to remain a relevant fighting force, ready to take-on COVID-19 and any other mission wherever else they are needed.
“COVID-19 has impacted how we are conducting our steady state operations,” Holton said. “However, the number one concern is to keep our Soldiers, Airmen and employees safe and healthy. We have several action plans in place to ensure that daily operations are not interrupted while simultaneously supporting the response effort.”
The effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has been witnessed at all levels of the Texas Military Department, in the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air Guard, and at all levels of command.
“This response is a true team effort,” said Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, The Adjutant General of Texas. “Community by community, state by state, our nation is coming together, showing tenacity and grit of the human spirit as we work together to beat back COVID-19.”