LAREDO, Texas - Training is an essential part of the Department of Defense's mission, especially when the mission builds long-lasting community relationships and helps the American populace. And, that's exactly what the Texas A&M Colonias Joint Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission is geared toward - building a better America through partnership.

Several military and Texas A&M officials gathered at the De La Garza Building here June 27 to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for the IRT mission. The memorandum is an agreement between U.S. Army North (Fifth Army), Texas A&M and the U.S. Army Reserve Command as a collaborative partnership using existing resources to provide mutually beneficial opportunities for the Army, Texas A&M and local communities and for future opportunities.

"The signing of this memorandum represents my commitment to the IRT mission and the people of this community," said Brig. Gen. John Hashem, deputy commanding general - support and director of U.S. Army North's Army Reserve Engagement Cell (AREC), who was one of three leaders to sign the memorandum. "I'm proud to be a part of this mission. The citizens in the colonias are receiving the care and support they need."

According to the Texas Secretary of State's website, the colonias in the U.S. are several semi-rural communities that lack basic necessities such as drinkable water, sewage systems, electricity and paved roads. Although colonias can be found in four other Mexican-border states, Texas has the largest number of colonia population.

The IRT provides vital training for Department of Defense's active, guard and reserve service members in a joint environment, and addresses the public and civil society needs through engineering and construction, general medical, dental and optometry services and veterinary services to name a few. However, this specific IRT program focused on rebuilding infrastructure and general healthcare in Webb County.

"The program itself is a funded program to help underserved, economically-challenged communities that may be lacking in some infrastructure and medical attention. This program allows our military units to create readiness through training," said Hashem. "We are able to come to areas all across the United States to provide these services whether it's medical, dental, veterinarian, or engineering and survey what the community actually needs."

As a part of the ARNORTH's mission to form a stronger partnership with Mexico, the IRT mission allows several communities near the United States-Mexico border to have a positive presence in enhancing underserved communities in Webb County and working alongside Texas A&M explained Hashem.

After signing the memorandum, the officials visited two medical sites and an engineering site to observe the impact the IRT mission had on the colonias. One of the medical sites visited was the Larga Vista Community Center.
Maj. Edward King, medical site officer-in-charge for Larga Vista Community Center and an Army Reserve Soldier, said the purpose of the mission at his facility was to provide training opportunities while helping the people of the surrounding areas.

"Partnering with local officials and leaders in the community has helped make this mission an absolute success," said King. "Not only do military personnel receive training, but we get the opportunity to make a real difference in the community. And, that helps us feel connected to the community and the mission."

And, although there are several IRT missions, the mission at the colonias in Webb County provided positive experiences for service members involved.
"I've learned that team work and dedication will always help the mission be a success," King said.

Even the Texas A&M's Colonias Program Director, Oscar Munoz, shared his positive observation of the program.

"I knew right away that this program was going to make a positive impact on the community, and we are honored to have a role in this mission that impacts so many people's lives for the better," said Munoz.

Munoz recounted a story that stressed the impact of this program within the community.

"The Soldiers have been well-received by the entire community. Even my mother wanted to know how she could help and decided to make homemade food for [the Soldiers]. So, they wouldn't have to eat the food out of the bags," said Munoz, as he laughed referring to the Meals Ready to Eat, otherwise known as MREs. "Not just my mother decided to cook for the Soldiers, but I witnessed other families doing the same to show their support and gratitude."

As for future IRT missions, Hashem said, "In our process of becoming ready, we are able to serve our own communities in our own backyard. Our plan with Texas A&M is to conduct more of these [IRTs] in the future because it's especially beneficial training for our medical service members. We had very, very positive feedback from the community" These missions become very personal [for our service members], and they really care about the community and doing the right thing for our own citizens."