Fort Sam's Texas State Guard Provides Disaster Relief
August 22, 2008
By Jeff Crawley
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- When Maj. Skip Pope donned his Army Combat Uniform for his Saturday morning drill he knew he neither would get paid for his work nor would he accrue points toward a retirement pension. When he bought lunch that afternoon it was an out-of-pocket expense. If he did volunteer to go on deployment, he'd have to get there by patent leather express or by driving his car.
Pope is one of a number of Fort Sam Houston employees who volunteer as Soldiers in the Texas State Guard. Its headquarters, 1st Civil Affairs Regiment, is on Fort Sam Houston and its 1st Battalion, 1st CA Reg., is at Camp Bullis.
"One of the Army leadership principals is selfless service and that's what we're really all about," said Pope, who works as a counselor at the Army Education Center. "We're serving people in times of disaster."
The TXSG is one of the three branches of the Texas Military Forces, which are under the command of the governor. The other branches are the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard. The HQ, 1st CA Reg. drills at the Texas National Guard Armory on IH-35 near Brooke Army Medical Center.
The TXSG was created in the 1880s making it older than the National Guard, said Pope, who retired as an Army captain in 1995. Texas is one of about 20 states that have a state guard, which operates humanitarian and disaster-relief missions.
In July, TXSG members deployed to the Rio GrandAfA Valley in preparation for Hurricane Dolly. Over nine days, about 200 TXSG personnel rotated in and ran seven shelters for people who had evacuated their homes before Dolly struck. After the storm destroyed community infrastructures, they ran points of distribution, or PODS, with the American Red Cross and other agencies, to distribute water, food, ice, blankets and other items, Pope said.
"You see the massive devastation and the suffering of the people ... this is where someone has to come forward," Pope said.
Fifty-nine members of HQ, 1st CA Reg. deployed for the hurricane relief operations, were paid $121 per day and reimbursed for mileage at the state rate, Pope said. Because the mission took place in its area of responsibility, HQ, 1st CA Reg. was made the command and control group for the state guard's hurricane operations.
Except for weapons training, the TXSG is pretty much like the Army with grooming standards, military protocol, and drill and ceremonies, Pope said.
The only weapons-carrying members in the regiment are the 25 Soldiers on the Quick Reaction Team at Camp Bullis, said Maj. Mitchell Kelley.
Unlike traditional National Guard Soldiers, TXSG members only drill one Saturday a month and annual summer training is performed over a weekend at various locations in Texas, Pope said. This year for HQ, 1st CA Reg. its Soldiers went to Camp Bowie, in Brownwood.
The TXSG drills and deployments are considered military duty by law. Deployments are on a voluntary basis and the Soldiers of the TXSG can often deploy quicker than the National Guard, he said.
"We're traveling by POV (privately owned vehicle); we don't have to meet at the armory, we don't have to form up, we don't have to load up convoys," Pope said. "We just throw our stuff in our cars and head out."
Many of HQ, 1st CA Regiment's 165 members are veterans or military retirees, though military service is not a prerequisite to join, Pope said. Because of the TXSG mission, its Soldiers are trained to become military emergency management specialists.
New members without any prior military training go to a three-week basic training course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The training covers basic military indoctrination as well as TXSG history and missions.
The regiment's executive officer, Lt. Col. Ray Provencio, said that many of the unit's younger members join the TXSG as a stepping stone to see if the active-duty military is for them.
Provencio, a retired Army master sergeant, encourages anyone who wants to do volunteer work to consider the Texas State Guard.
"Give us the opportunity to show you what we're about for at least a year, if you don't like it you're welcome to step out," he said.
For more information about joining the Texas State Guard, visit www.gotxsg.com.