Thank you, GEN Mayorga, and thank you all for having me here today. It's a real privilege to be here with the citizen soldiers and airmen who serve our state and nation with such distinction.
It's hard to really sum up all that our Guard forces do for Texas, because you simply do so much. It makes me think of that old Beatles song, "Here, There and Everywhere" because that's where our Guard soldiers and airmen can be found.
On any given day, you might be filling sandbags on the Texas coast in advance of a raging hurricane, mounting patrols in a combat zone overseas, or doing the countless drills and exercises that are required to maintain readiness.
Of course, I wish there were also 1,000 Texas Guardsmen helping us out with security along the Texas-Mexico border, but the Washington has yet to respond to my request.
With such violence so close to Texas, I will keep asking, until we're allowed to deploy such a powerful resource, as the drug wars continue to claim lives on the Mexican side of the border.
The State Department is apparently aware of the danger, since they are advising travelers to avoid Mexican border cities, like Ciudad Juarez, which is more dangerous than Iraq, with more than 4,700 murders since January 2008.
However, the rest of the federal government has fallen well short of its obligation to secure the international border. Since the savage killings of three people connected to the U.S. consulate in Mexico, Administration officials have sent stronger signals, but taken little meaningful action.
America needs swift action and sufficient resources to protect our border communities and the families who call them home. We need action and resources to protect the legal commerce and travel that have connected Texas and Mexico throughout history.
That's why I have repeatedly asked for federal personnel, unmanned surveillance aircraft and a new fusion center for the region. That's why Texas leaders and taxpayers have stopped waiting, and repeatedly stepped into the gap left by Washington.
In recent years, the State of Texas has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for enhanced border security, putting boots on the ground, and equipping our law enforcement personnel to succeed.
Last week, as the violence continued to escalate in Mexico, I took it up a notch by activating the first phases of our state's Spillover Violence Contingency plan, which includes a number of Guard helicopters.
Keeping Texans safe is nothing new to y'all, but we sure appreciate your involvement in that essential area.
You know, there was a time when active duty military folks might have used the term "weekend warrior", to describe their counterparts in the Guard, but we all know it's pretty much a full-time gig. Military service isn't just a switch that you can turn on and off.
There is something that motivates our fighting men and women, a devotion to a higher calling, and a willingness to put the needs of others ahead of their own. That selflessness is embodied here today in four very special guests.
Just five months ago, a fellow Aggie, Major John Ploch ["Ploe"], and Sergeant Todd Plybon [Plye-bon] were in Afghanistan with the 143rd Infantry Detachment, as part of an agribusiness development team helping Afghan farmers.
As they transited a roadway in the Wardak Province, a roadside bomb destroyed their Humvee, injuring them badly, and taking the lives of two fellow Guardsmen. Joining Major Ploch and Sergeant Plybon here today are their wives, and the wives of their two fallen comrades, Lindsay Green, the wife of Sergeant Gabe Green, and Monteigne Staats, wife of Staff Sergeant Chris Staats. Please join me in thanking these folks for their service.
I want you all to know that the people of Texas are genuinely grateful for the sacrifices you made on that fateful day in October 2009, and that we remain committed to supporting you, and your extended military family.
Chris and Gabe gave their lives in the process of freeing a people from the bonds of tyranny and genuinely improving their lives. They represent the best of our state and the tradition of selfless service for which the Texas Nation Guard is known.
Their comrades from the Agribusiness Development Team are still in Afghanistan shaken by this loss, but still focused on the mission.
We should also remember the folks serving in the 136th Military Police headquarters who are also in Afghanistan, and the 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and the 36th Sustainment Brigade serving in Iraq.
As a former Air Force pilot myself, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the brave men and women of our Air National Guard, like those in the 149th Fighter Wing, that continue to train the best and brightest for deployment. Don't forget the folks flying the not-so-friendly skies over Afghanistan with the 147th Reconnaissance Wing and the 136th Air Wing.
All of these folks have left behind their families, their friends, and their day jobs to carry the fight for freedom, in those places where freedom is not an everyday experience. They do it for one simple reason because their country called.
That is what the folks in the Guard do: they answer the call with unparalleled professionalism, enthusiasm, and aggressiveness.
It's been an honor to see so many of our Guard troops overseas during my trips to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years. It does a Texan's heart good to see our state's distinctive flag flying over a sun-baked encampment in the desert.
Our troops' pride in Texas is matched by our pride in them. We can never truly repay the sacrifice our service members make, but we are fiercely committed to honoring and supporting you and your families, and sustaining the special relationship that has long existed between Texas and the military.
Many Texans like you know firsthand the rigors of military service, from those first frenetic days of boot camp, to the chaos of the battlefield, to the challenges of re-entering civilian life.
Whether a returning veteran carries a visible wound, or one that lies a little deeper they deserve our support. As benefactors of their sacrifice, we all have a role to play in ensuring our veterans move smoothly from the field of battle to a life of dignity.
During the last legislative session, we authorized measures to help returning veterans deal with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. I also signed a bill that created mental health programs for veterans, including those in which veterans help each other, through veteran-to-veteran, or vet-to-vet, groups.
I also worked with the Legislature and our health agencies to secure an additional $5 million, to supplement the $1.2 million from the state budget, to expand mental health treatment and support programs for veterans and their families.
Just yesterday, I announced that $1.75 million of those funds are being awarded to programs across the state that support veterans, including expanded trauma therapy, and peer-to-peer support groups throughout the state.
This follows on the heels of more than $2.6 million in non-competitive grants that the Department of State Health Services, already awarded to the state's 38 local mental health authorities, to expand and improve the care we offer our veterans.
Experts and veterans alike prefer the vet-to-vet approach, as it helps overcome that warrior's aversion to seeking help, and helps build peer relationships that speed healing.
We have also looked out for our veterans by creating a VA claims processing team, that is helping clear the backlog of claims submitted by Texas veterans.
Here in Texas, we are not only obligated to support our veterans and their families, we are honored to do so. In the months to come, I don't expect the pace of operations to slow down much as Afghanistan continues to boil, and storm season slowly unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico.
These challenges deserve the best of our Guard, but they have the benefit of principled leaders like Major General Mayorga, Brigadier General Stevens and Brigadier General Nichols, and the support of organizations like the National Guard Association of Texas, and the National Guard Association of the United States.
We're honored to have Major General (Retired) Gus Hargett here with us. Thank you for your leadership of the National Association.
As I look out across this room full of people who put actions to their values, I want you to know how much I appreciate you. Whether you are currently serving, or did your part twenty years ago, you have my undying respect. Maybe you have a family member who wears the uniform, and you make sacrifices every day that your neighbors will never know about.
No matter what your connection to the Guard, the fact remains that you are making a difference. You play a role in making our state safer, projecting power around the globe, and defending the freedom that is a part of our nation's DNA.
If the Guard can be sure of one thing, it's that the phone will ring, and that your state and nation will continue to rely on you. As governor, I never hesitate to make that call, because you're always responsive, always ready, and always rarin' to go.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas.