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Easing into retirement isn’t easy for some TDCJ workers

Texas State Guard gives employees second chance to serve

Hilltop warden, employees work to restore facility’s former glory

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Texas State Guard gives employees second chance to serve

Hal Baldwin and John Monteson always wanted to serve their state and country as soldiers. But after dedicating more than 20 years to their TDCJ careers, the two, now in their 40s, figured they were no longer young enough to serve in uniform. But then one day last year, Baldwin was browsing the TDCJ home page when he clicked on the Texas Homeland Security icon. That linked him to information about the Texas State Guard (TXSG), an inconspicuous military outfit he had never heard of but one that enlisted volunteers between the ages of 17 and 60. Suddenly, there on the computer screen, was a second chance to serve.

Baldwin and Monteson standing in front of the Texas National Guard office in their camouflage fatigues.
TDCJ employees Hal Baldwin, left, and John Monteson joined the Texas State Guard last year in the interest of serving their state and country.
Photo by David Nunnelee
“I thought my time had passed, that I was too old,” said Baldwin, a 26-year veteran of TDCJ who manages auditors and trainers for the agency’s Laundry and Food Service department. “But I got a second chance and I jumped on it.”

Baldwin immediately asked Monteson, a 20-year agency employee who works for Baldwin as an auditor and trainer, if he’d be interested in joining the State Guard with him on the buddy system.

“I think we talked about it for about five minutes before we said let’s do it,” Monteson said.

Following two strenuous weeks of boot camp, the two were sworn in as members of Bravo Company, 8th Brigade, on September 11, 2004, the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America. They are assigned to the National Guard armory in Brenham.

Approximately 3,800 men and women are members of the TXSG, the second branch of the state’s military forces that works alongside the Texas National Guard and traces its roots back to the forces that fought for the state’s independence from Mexico.

“The Texas Guard was actually founded in 1835,” Baldwin said. “This is the original Texas army commanded by General Sam Houston.”

Structured the same as the regular Army, today’s TXSG is commanded by the Adjutant General of Texas and activated by the governor to provide state and local authorities with mission-ready military forces in matters of homeland security and community service. It consists of six military police brigades, an air support wing, a medical reserve unit and a headquarters group stationed at Camp Mabry in Austin. Unlike their National Guard counterparts, State Guard soldiers are not under the command of the White House and are not normally subject to being federalized in war time. But when National Guard units are deployed as they have been in recent months, State Guard soldiers can be called up to fill gaps left by their departure.

“We support the mission and the role of the National Guard and we fill in when they can’t,” Monteson said. “Like right now, most of the National Guard units are deployed overseas because of the war in Iraq, so we fill the gap here at home.”

State Guard soldiers serve a minimum of one weekend each month and Bravo Company recently used the firing range at the Ellis Unit near Huntsville for a training exercise. Only when activated by the governor are they paid for their service. And since what would become the modern-day TXSG was founded in 1941, its soldiers have responded to such disasters as the Texas City explosions in 1947, numerous floods, tornadoes and hurricanes over the years, and the space shuttle debris recovery effort of 2003 in northeast Texas.

Baldwin and Monteson have each been certified in wilderness search and rescue training and are participating in the State Guard’s urban warfare counter-terrorism training program. In late August, the two were deployed to Orange to provide security at a shelter set up for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Both say another memorable mission during their first year of service was standing guard over the traveling Vietnam Wall Memorial exhibit that stopped in Huntsville for a time last November.

“That was a great honor for both John and I,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin, 45, plans to stay in the State Guard until he’s 50, while Monteson, 43, plans to soldier indefinitely. Both say their military service has vastly improved their physical fitness.

“When I went through basic training it was tough,” Baldwin said. “My biggest activity had been mowing the yard and there were times that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it or not. But it was one of the proudest days of my life when John and I got our basic training ribbons pinned on us by our family members. That was quite an honor.”

“I’ll stay in until I can’t run the mile and do the push-ups I have to do,” Monteson said. “I think when I started I could probably do ten push-ups. Now I do close to one hundred a day.”

Several other states have State Guard units, including New York where it’s soldiers were deployed in the wake of 911. The two TDCJ employees say serving in the TXSG not only gave them a second chance to serve as soldiers but also the honor of protecting the homeland against such acts of terrorism.

“There’s a lot of pride in wearing that uniform,” Monteson said. “When you put it on you carry yourself a little taller and straighter. Hopefully we’re never activated for a reason like 911. Hopefully that will never happen in the state of Texas. But the possibilities are always there and somebody needs to protect us here at home while our people are overseas.”

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