Texas Replaces National Guard Chief After String of Reports about Border Mission Problems

Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, then the Adjutant General of Texas.
Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, then the Adjutant General of Texas, speaks at Maj. Gen. Dawn M. Ferrell’s retirement ceremony January 23, 2021, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. (Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has replaced the top officer of the Texas National Guard amid the state's troubled border security mission that has seen troops face pay issues and turn to alcohol abuse and self harm, as well as prompting some to try to unionize.

In a news release Monday, the governor's office announced that Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer is replacing Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris as the adjutant general of the Texas Military Department.

"I thank General Norris for her exceptional service to the State of Texas and am honored to appoint her successor, Major General Thomas Suelzer, as the Adjutant General of Texas," Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement. "General Suelzer brings a wealth of military experience to this new role, and I am confident that he will uphold the integrity of the Texas Military Department and exemplify servant leadership throughout every aspect of this position."

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The news release noted that Norris' three-year term expired in February. But it is not uncommon to renew an appointment; her predecessor served as adjutant general for seven years.

Texas' Operation Lone Star, the border patrol mission Abbott launched in March 2021 as he accused President Joe Biden of being soft on immigration, has been plagued by months of reports of miserable conditions for Texas Guardsmen.

Military.com previously reported that more than 1,000 troops have faced pay issues, including some being shortchanged thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, requests to be taken off the open-ended mission because of family hardships, including financial issues and needing to care for children or sick family members, have been largely denied.

There have also been multiple reports of suicide attempts and incidents related to alcohol abuse. An investigation by Army Times found at least four soldiers connected to the mission have died by suicide.

Amid those issues, an undisclosed number of enlisted troops and officers in the Texas Army and Air National Guard have moved to unionize, with the goal of building better relationships with Texas Guard leadership and advocating for troop-friendly legislation.

Norris has received some of the criticism for the mission's issues, but Abbott's political rivals said the blame lies with the governor.

"You can switch Generals, but we know where the buck stops," Beto O'Rourke, the Democrat running against Abbott for governor, tweeted Monday. "Abbott took 10,000 Guard members from their jobs and families, treated them with incredible disrespect. Pay delayed. Tuition benefits cut in half. Used as political pawns in his campaign. Time to bring them back home."

Norris' successor, Suelzer, has served as the deputy adjutant general-air for the Texas National Guard at Camp Mabry in Austin since January 2021. That role made him Norris' main adviser on Air National Guard issues and put him in charge of policies affecting three wings and more than 3,200 Air National Guard troops.

Suelzer joined the Texas National Guard in 2007 following 10 years in the active-duty Air Force and seven years in the reserves. He has served on two state missions on the U.S.-Mexico border and led the Texas National Guard's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to his official biography.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Texas Guardsmen Could Unionize. What Does That Mean?

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