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Former West and MCC pitcher Bailey Horn was unfazed by a rain delay last week, as he delivered six shutout innings for Auburn against Georgia Tech.

editor's pick
L3 wins $500 million Air Force contract to upgrade C-130H aircraft
 Mike Copeland  / 

The L3 Technologies plant in Waco, stung by layoffs and called out by the company’s chief executive in recent years, will take the lead on a new $499 million contract the Department of Defense awarded to upgrade nearly 180 National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130H aircraft, the Pentagon announced this week.

The contract will generate jobs at the L3 Technologies complex at Texas State Technical College airport, but exact numbers have not been determined, L3’s local spokesman, Lance Martin, said in an email response to questions.

“Employment numbers at Waco have been increasing this year, and with recent new hires, our current full-time staffing is in excess of 760 personnel and growing,” he later said in a statement. “We are currently employing approximately 100 contractors to address some surge requirements and will continue to add full and part-time personnel as the demand increases with our focus on winning new business.”

Those 100 contractors are in addition to the 760 full-timers, Martin said.

The new development is quite a departure from recent trends at L3 in Waco, where layoffs had become commonplace. More than 60 positions were cut late last year as work orders dried up and rumors about the site’s fate began to circulate. Then-new President, CEO and Chairman Chris Kubasik declared during a conference call in January last year that the company needed to land more contracts for Waco.

L3 occupies a sprawling complex of hangars, work areas and administrative offices adjacent to TSTC. An 8,600-foot-long runway there is a remnant of James Connally Air Force Base and can accommodate any aircraft. A series of aviation-and-aerospace-related users have operated there, with employment once hovering at about 2,000, including private contractors.

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, whose congressional district includes Waco, said by phone his office lobbied for L3 in its pursuit of the contract, “through letters and meetings with our fellow representatives.” He said L3 “brought us in early in the process, and we did for them what we try to do for others.”

“I think this will take away the uncertainty this plant has gone through,” Flores said. “It is a bell cow contract that will help the Waco facility maintain stable employment. It’s a piece of good news, the first in a while, and is positive for both L3 and the community. That employment level, 760, will start growing as the planes start coming in from the Air Force. I understand that will take place on an accelerated basis. You will be seeing more planes quickly.”

Flores said L3’s involvement in this project for the Air Force should provide cachet that other branches will note and respect.

The lawmaker referenced the pending merger between L3 Technologies and Florida-based Harris Corp., a deal that would create one of the largest defense contracting entities in the United States, with a projected revenue of $16 billion annually. Stockholders for each company have signed off on the merger, which now awaits regulatory approval. Flores said he believes both entities consider Waco operations indispensable going forward.

“There was never a lot of danger it would close down, though it did encounter a hard time maintaining a sustainable work flow,” Flores said. “This contract will, as I said, provide a stabilizing influence. There is an entire generation of 130 aircraft that needs to be updated and refurbished. There is a lot of work to do for the next several years. I just wish we could have announced this earlier. I knew about this on March 29, hinted about it to community leaders, but another company involved in the bidding reportedly had issues and protested the awarding of a contract. That protest has now been resolved. It was never a serious threat. The other contractor could have provided one small component. There is no way it could have become the prime contractor.”

He said he did not recall the name of the protesting competitor.

The Air Force received six bids, according to a Department of Defense contract notice. The Air Force initially will provide $37.4 million from its research, development, test and evaluation funds, and work on the almost $500 million contract is scheduled to last through September 2029, according to the notice.

The contract calls for L3 to “design, produce and certify a state-of-the-art modernization solution for a fleet of 176 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130H aircraft.” Variations of the C-130 aircraft have been around since the 1950s and the Korean War, and the plane has been heavily used by the U.S. military to haul troops and supplies to remote battle sites and disaster areas around the world.

An article Popular Mechanics magazine published in April 2017 describes the C-130 as a “badass” plane that can go anywhere and do anything.

The magazine said the C-130 has “a squat stance, bulbous nose, four big turboprop engines and massive fuselage … but what it lacks in sleekness it more than makes up for in heart.”

In Waco, crews will install a commercial “off-the-shelf” suite of avionics, or electronic, upgrades on C-130H variants, including the C-130-H1, C-130H2, C-130H2.5, C-130H3 and LC-130H, according to an L3 press release.

“L3’s aircraft modernization and modification capabilities are world-class,” Jeff Miller, L3’s president of the systems segment that includes Waco, wrote in the press release. “Our skilled workforce and our unique 1.25-million-square-foot facility in Waco will provide differentiated capabilities for C-130H fleet longevity.”

editor's pick
Veterans One Stop gets new programs director
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

Bobbi Stewart, an Iowa farm girl, former Army medical lab technician and prison supervisor, is passionate about helping others, especially her fellow veterans.

That is why officials at the Veterans One Stop in Waco chose her to become the center’s fifth programs director in its seven years of operation.

Stewart, 38, has been on the job a couple of weeks and already is devising ways to increase the One Stop’s 100-member corps of volunteers and to extend its reach into the veterans community and beyond.

While the Veterans One Stop has served veterans since 2012, Stewart and her supervisor, Dana LaFayette, said they frequently are surprised, and disappointed, when they hear veterans and others say they are not familiar with the operation. It moved to its current location, a building owned by the Heart of Texas Region MHMR at 2010 La Salle Ave., in 2016.

The One Stop Center is aptly named, providing mental health services, case managers, employment counseling, a food pantry, a clothes closet to dress veterans up for job interviews, a laundry, showers, breakfast and lunch on Wednesdays, a gym and media and computer rooms.

It also recently started a community garden behind the building, which will provide food and a therapeutic setting for veterans who like to get their hands dirty.

LaFayette, director of Veterans Behavioral Justice and Addiction Services for the Heart of Texas MHMR, and Steve Hernandez, McLennan County veterans service officer, interviewed a number of candidates for the position before choosing Stewart.

“What set her apart was her passion, her enthusiasm, and really being a veteran who has walked their pathway and had their experiences,” LaFayette said. “It was also her desire to turn around and help the veteran community. That is what set her apart from other candidates we talked to.”

Hernandez said it was especially important to him to hire a veteran for the job. Stewart’s predecessor, DeLisa Russell, was not a veteran.

“The previous four directors have come with their own strengths and attributes,” Hernandez said. “This time around, we are really glad that we have been able to get a veteran who seems genuinely concerned for the veterans community. Not that the others weren’t, but we want to evolve in a new direction.”

Stewart grew up on a farm in southern Iowa, an only child who helped her father work 500 acres of hay and 100 head of cattle. Her father, a Vietnam veteran, named her after his cousin, a World War II veteran.

“I was supposed to be a boy and I was worked as a boy, hence the name Bobbi,” Stewart said with a grin.

Two days after she graduated from high school, Stewart was at Army boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After boot camp, she trained as a combat medic and a medical lab technician at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. In 2000, she worked as a hospital lab technician at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Stewart left active duty, went into the National Guard and got a job in a hospital lab in Rolla, Missouri. She married in 2005 and came with her husband, whom she met in the Army, to Fort Hood. They divorced in 2009, and Stewart has two children, Edward, 12, and Elias, 3, who live with her in Gatesville.

Stewart was a corrections sergeant with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Gatesville from 2008 to March, where she worked in both men’s and women’s prison units, managed 54 officers and 2,000 inmates. She got her bachelor’s degree in psychology during her time with the prison system and is planning to get a master’s in psychology.

Stewart said she was ready for a change in careers because of what she describes as the “new breed” of inmates, who she says are not interested in bettering themselves but are concerned more about what they can get, when they can get it and who they can scam.

“I decided I wanted to help people,” she said. “I wasn’t helping people where I was at. I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I want to be able to talk to a population of people where I can sit down and ask them, ‘What do you want to do? How do you want to get there?’ I want to make a difference in somebody’s path.”

One Stop officials, including Hernandez, who has an office there, want to put more emphasis on mental health issues that are causing about 20 veterans nationwide to take their own lives each day. That is a growing concern that needs more attention, they said.

“They are all coming here for something,” LaFayette said. “They can choose to come here and we encourage them to do so. But once they do, we do what we can to help inspire hope for them and help them walk the pathway to make the changes they need to make.”

Hernandez also wants to try to get more veterans service organizations involved in the One Stop and work with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials to make sure the Doris Miller VA Medical Center stays open and viable as an effective resource for mental health treatment.

Stewart said she is excited about helping veterans and guiding them to services that are available.

“This building and the services provided here are blessings because this isn’t the three-story-get-lost-in-the-maze VA,” she said. “You come here for help, and the peers here are able to relate. If someone comes here and says I need help, the volunteers are able to speak to the veterans and pinpoint what help they need and put them with the right person. They don’t get caught up in red tape or lost in the maze. They have somebody here to talk to, which is sometimes all a veteran needs or wants.”

Texas governor signs bill allowing more armed teachers

AUSTIN — Texas will allow more teachers to have guns in school and will increase mental health services for students under bills that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Thursday as major parts of the state’s response to a 2018 mass shooting at a high school near Houston.

School districts will be allowed to place as many armed teachers or school personnel on campus as they see fit. The new laws also are designed to put more mental health counselors on campus, train teachers to recognize mental health problems and create “threat assessment teams” to help identify potentially dangerous students.

“We are proud to have responded to one of the most horrific days in the state of Texas,” the Republican governor said of the shooting at Santa Fe High School in which eight students and two teachers were killed. “We can never erase the pain that this tragedy caused, but we can act to make our schools safer.”

Lawmakers also approved separate measures to “harden” campuses with metal detectors, vehicle barriers, new security doors, shooter alarm systems and other means.

Abbott called school safety one of his top priorities this year, but he and the Republican-majority Legislature made no move to restrict the sale or possession of guns in a state with more than 1.3 million handgun license holders.

Efforts to create so-called “red flag” laws to keep guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others, and to toughen penalties for negligent home storage were defeated. Addressing mental health and a push to arm more school personnel quickly became the focus for lawmakers.

A push for red flag laws, “Right now it’s not necessary in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “We think the best approach is what we passed.”

Texas isn’t alone in its push to arm more educators. Florida recently approved increasing the number of armed teachers in response to the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland that killed 17 people.

Gun rights advocates say the added marshals will save lives. But teachers groups, gun control activists and some parents worry that more guns on campus could lead to lethal accidents. Critics have also suggested that it could lead to more violence against black students because of inherent biases.

The Texas State Teachers Association lauded the boost in mental health services and training but opposed expanding the marshal program.

“Teachers are trained to teach and to nurture, not double up as security guards,” union spokesman Clay Robison said.

It is unclear how many school marshals — the term used to describe school workers who go through “school marshal” training — will be added by next school year. The program is voluntary and marshals must be approved by their local school districts for the 80 hours of training, which includes “active shooter” scenarios. The governor’s office did not immediately provide an estimate for how many it expects will be certified for the 2019-2020 school year.

Texas had less than 40 school marshals throughout its more than 1,000 public school districts in early 2018. Applications rose sharply after the Santa Fe attack, which authorities blame on a student at the school who faces charges, and the number of school marshals rose to nearly 200 by the end of the school year that just ended.

Previous law limited the number of school marshals to one per 200 students or one per building and the new law removes that cap. Marshals will still have to keep their guns locked away from students. A separate effort to allow marshals to carry concealed weapons on them in school didn’t pass.

Rusty Norman, president of the Santa Fe school board, said his district is still undecided on whether to put armed school marshals on campus.

“After the community suffered the tragedy we suffered, people are willing to look at all aspects of safety, and that’s just one additional thing that does make people safer,” Norman said. “Others are worried about introducing more guns on a school campus.”

Jury deadlocks on committing repeat offender as sexual predator
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A jury deadlocked Thursday while trying to decide if a Gonzales County man who sexually assaulted an 8-year-old boy when he was 13 should be branded a sexually violent predator and committed for treatment.

Jurors in Waco’s 19th State District Court deliberated about 3½ hours Wednesday and about 2½ hours Thursday morning before telling Judge Ralph Strother that they were hopelessly deadlocked. Strother declared a mistrial.

The jury of 10 women and two men was asked to determine if Gregory Dee Green, 34, is a sexually violent predator who suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to commit future acts of sexual violence. Twelve could not agree that he would, and at least 10 could not agree that he would not offend in the future.

State law requires that Green be retried within 90 days, Strother said.

Green is serving 15 years for sexually assaulting a fellow inmate at a Texas Youth Commission facility in Mart in 2004.

If the jury had made an affirmative finding in the civil commitment trial, he would have been sent to the Texas Civil Commitment Center in Littlefield upon his release from prison in May 2020.

Civil commitments to the West Texas sex offender treatment facility are indefinite, but inmates’ cases are reviewed every two years to see if they can be released to a less-restrictive environment or if their multi-tiered treatment program needs to be modified.

Green is the third repeat sex offender to stand trial in McLennan County under the civil commitment statute. The other two were committed for sex offender treatment.

The state was represented at the three-day trial by Maureen Whittmore and Tara Matlack, attorneys in the State Special Prosecution Unit’s civil division. Green was represented by Samarla Parker and Shawn Horocks of the State Counsel for Offenders Office.

Green testified Wednesday that he was sexually abused by his parents at a young age and was thrown into a flawed state foster care system. He said he sought sex offender treatment while he was locked up but was not afforded the help he needed.

Whittmore argued in closing statements that Green is a violent sex offender who will never change and who will offend again.

Green was placed on juvenile probation after he sexually assaulted the boy in Gonzales County in June 1998, but his probation was revoked. He was sent to the Mart TYC facility, where Green, then 19, sexually assaulted a 16-year-old inmate and was a suspect in at least two other sexual assaults.

He also was convicted of indecency with a child by exposure in a 2005 incident involving his former girlfriend’s younger sister.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Riesel Lions Club Sweetheart Kennedy Kalka, 17, moves to the front of her float before the start of the 70th annual Riesel Lions Club parade and carnival. The fundraiser for the community continues through Saturday night and features live music each evening along with food, rides and more.