A1 A1
Sabine High School student Yale-bound

Halyn McKenzie has attended Sabine ISD since prekindergarten. The high school senior is proud of her education and her community, and she believes it is why she is going to Yale University in the fall.

McKenzie, 18, is the first student from Sabine High School to be accepted to an Ivy League school. She did not stop at acceptance; Monday morning, she found out she received a scholarship that will pay for her entire education from the university. She will receive $77,525 a year.

“When I first got in, (my parents) were excited, but my mom was nervous about distance and money,” McKenzie said Monday. “I actually found out about my scholarship (Monday) morning, and I called my mom in class. Now she’s ‘worry free’ is what she kept saying.”

Being the first student from her school accepted at Yale means a lot to her, McKenzie said.

“I’m so proud of where I come from; I know it’s such a small town — compared to Yale it’s, like, nowhere — to think that someone from around here is going somewhere like that. Even if it wasn’t me, I would be so excited,” she said. “I feel like I’m really grateful for the community I live in. I feel like they’ve impacted me so much. I would not be able to go there if it weren’t for my school and community.”

McKenzie said she plans to study environmental or chemical engineering. She said she wants to work with energy and preserving natural resources. She said her interest helped her with the interview process, because the Yale representative who interviewed her also studied energy.

The application process tested her writing and creativity, she said. Aside from a typical application essay, she also had to respond to questions in 25 words or less.

One was “if you were teaching a class at Yale, what would it be and why?” she said. She chose to write about a Nancy Drew computer game that she used to play, and focused on “female heroines in video games, and how they affect young women growing up, because that’s important to me, too,” she said.

Apart from an interview, the essays and the actual application, McKenzie showed she is a well-rounded student in her application.

She is on the basketball and golf teams. She is on the University Interscholastic League academic team, vice president of the Spanish Club, in National Honor Society, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is a lifeguard.

Sabine High School counselor Angela Loveless said in a written statement that McKenzie is able to balance her responsibilities “effortlessly.”

“Halyn is an agile thinker with a strong work ethic,” Loveless said. “She is looked up to by many, including myself.”

McKenzie’s accomplishment will only help the school, Principal Monty Pepper said in a written statement.

“Halyn’s acceptance to Yale opens other students’ minds to their own possibilities,” he said. “The ‘what if’ factor comes into play in regard to what they might be able to accomplish. We are proud of her, but not surprised. She is talented, extremely bright and very motivated.”

McKenzie said she thinks sometimes people at rural schools might be discouraged from applying to an Ivy League school.

“They don’t think they can get into places like that, because it just seems so distant that would happen,” she said. “But really, what’s the reason of not applying? It’s worth the shot, no matter what. Even if you don’t get in, the worst thing is, you don’t get in. There’s plenty of other places.”

US troops in Iraq got warning hours before Iranian attack

AIN AL-ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — American troops were informed of an impending missile barrage hours before their air base in Iraq was struck by Iran, U.S. military officials said Monday, days after the attack that marked a major escalation between the longtime foes.

At 11 p.m. Jan. 7, U.S. Lt. Col. Antoinette Chase gave the order for American troops at Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq, to go on lockdown. Military movements froze as her team, responsible for emergency response at the base, sent out alerts about the threat. At 11:30 p.m., she gave the order to take cover in bunkers.

The first strike landed sometime after 1:35 a.m. on Jan. 8 and the barrage continued for nearly two hours. Half way through the attack, Chase learned the missiles were being launched from Iran.

No American soldiers were killed or wounded, the U.S. has said, although several troops were treated for concussions from the blast and are being assessed, said Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman at the base for the U.S. coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

“The reason why we pushed it at 2330 is because at that point in time all indications pointed to something coming,” she told reporters touring the base. “Worst case scenario — we were told was it’s probably going to be a missile attack. So we were informed of that.”

The Iranian attack was in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike near Baghdad airport that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.

An Associated Press crew touring the Ain al-Asad base saw large craters and damaged military trailers. Forklifts lifted rubble and loaded it onto trucks from an area the size of a football stadium. U.S. soldiers inspected portable housing units destroyed in the attack.

The sprawling complex in western Anbar province is about 110 miles west of Baghdad and is shared with the Iraqi military. It houses about 1,500 members of the U.S. military and the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group.

The Iranian attack — the most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran — raised fears of a wider conflict although both sides have since indicated that they won’t seek further retaliation, at least in the short term.

“There were more than 10 large missiles fired and the impact hit several areas along the airfield,” Caggins said. At least 15-30 minutes passed between successive strikes, Chase said.

The attack destroyed facilities that house dozens of soldiers and one missile hit near an airstrip where six drones were parked but caused no damage, he said.

The base received a notification that the missiles were on their way, thanks to early warning systems, Caggins said, and troops were moved out of harm’s way. He described soldiers who lived through the attack as “warriors.”

Because of the long intervals between barrages, a few curious soldiers peered out to inspect the damage.

“After the first boom, I was confused and so I stuck my head out to see what it was,” said Capt. Jeffrey Hansen, 30, from North Carolina. “The second boom blew a bunch of debris on my face.”

The Ain al-Asad air base was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Facilities at the base were split with Iraqi forces when U.S. troops returned in 2014 leading a multi-national coalition to defeat IS militants.

President Donald Trump went to the air base in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President Mike Pence has also visited.

On Monday, most soldiers walked around the base without any body armor, amid large tents and street signs written mostly in English. The base was ringed by large concrete barriers blackened by the bombardment.

Chase said troops had conducted a drill the week before the attack and that they had received some warnings earlier in the day that had prompted them to move troops around the base.

“I had zero casualties and everybody is alive to tell the tale. So as far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be prouder of the actions that the soldiers and the coalition forces took that night,” she added.

Hospitals seeking help with indigent costs get more help from county

The safety net for unfunded indigent care costs in Longview widened a little Monday.

The Gregg County Commissioners Court voted to allow Longview’s two hospitals to put back more revenue to use as matching funds for federal reimbursement on the money they spend caring for low-income and uninsured patients.

Christus Good Shepherd and Longview Regional medical centers can now reserve up to 6% of the net revenues they collect from all patients — a rate that could draw as much as $35 million between the two hospitals.

If and when the federal government opens indigent funding, the hospitals can use those reserves as a match for federal indigent care reimbursement dollars, hospital administrators and County Auditor Laurie Woloszyn said.

County commissioners unanimously increased the rate to 6% from the previous rate of 5.61%. The maximum rate allowed by state law is 6%, Woloszyn said, and when combined with the $6.28 million already in the fund, it could mean as much as $35.35 million that the hospitals could reserve from net patient revenues this fiscal year.

The court also authorized the county clerk and auditor to handle transfers of the hospitals’ money into a Local Provider Participation Fund — a state requirement — so that the money is available more quickly when federal matching funds are requested.

“This is a new statute that the Legislature adopted this year,” Woloszyn said, “and it just requires us to coordinate with the court in the portal to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.”

In 2015, Gregg County created the Local Provider Participation Fund under a new state law meant to reimburse Longview’s two hospitals with, at that time, $15 million or more from Medicaid. The reimbursements helped offset about $50 million in uncompensated care that the hospitals provided to uninsured, low-income or Medicaid patients.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd said those unfunded indigent care costs have been a financial burden to both Longview Regional and Christus Good Shepherd.

“That was a big part of them barely making it” several years ago, Boyd said, “so that’s one thing that made me want to do this.”

Gregg County was among the first in the state to create the fund, but Local Provider Participation Funds have since been established in 28 counties including Smith, Cherokee and Bowie, said Mary Elizabeth Jackson, vice president of government affairs and community relations for Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System.

The reimbursements supplement the local hospitals for treating those whom Jackson described as among “the most vulnerable patients that they have in our communities.”

Local Provider Participation Fund programs “are in a lot of areas where you don’t have big public hospitals,” Jackson said, “and yet people can’t get from Longview to Dallas or Austin or Houston when they get sick. They come to the emergency rooms of the hospitals (in Longview), and that’s what this is about, and so by coming and developing these programs that are approved by the federal government and approved by the state government, Gregg County was one of the first that came together.”

Jackson and Longview Regional CEO Casey Robertson attended the Gregg County commissioners’ meeting Monday to thank the county for expanding upon a program that helps offset the indigent cost burden.

“I would just echo we appreciate the court considering this the last several years that it’s been approved,” Robertson said, “and it is much needed.”

After the meeting, Jackson said, “I think the citizens should be very proud that Gregg County undertook to work with hospitals and to understand what the needs of the citizens are to ensure that regardless of their ability to pay, that when they are ill, if you are a citizen here in Gregg County, that you have a place to go and get taken care of.”

Today in Longview history

Jan. 14, 1949: Gregg County wrote a new chapter in oil history when a well was presented to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of East Texas. All three members of the Texas Rail Commission were on hand, along with Scouting officials from the region.

Jan. 14, 1959: Longview Industrial Districts Inc. and a committee of the Longview Chamber of Commerce agreed to begin work to improve the 180-acre West Industrial District at Greggton. Improvements included platting, installation of rail facilities and utilities.

Jan. 14, 1965: Hundreds of East Texas business, industrial and financial leaders turned out for the formal opening of the new facilities of Goodwin Chevrolet on Spur 63. Mayor E.K. Bennett said it was a byproduct of the city’s strong industrial growth.

Jan. 14, 1975: City commissioners unanimously authorized City Manager Henry Mosley to enter final negotiations with the Sabine River Authority for a long-term water purchase contract. The deal was to ensure the city could receive water from the Sabine through 2005.Jan. 14: 2016: Kmart officials said the company’s Longview store at 1100 McCann Road would be closing March 13. It was the second recent loss of a major business in central Longview. Earlier, Patterson Nissan said it was moving to Fourth Street and Eastman Road.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Catholic, draws criticism over new refugee ban from Texas' Catholic bishops

Texas’ Catholic bishops issued a sharp rebuke of Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Catholic, following his decision Friday to ban refugees from initially settling in Texas.

In a joint statement by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which includes leaders from Texas’ 15 dioceses, the group called the decision “discouraging and disheartening.”

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided,” the group wrote. “It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans.”

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien,” the statement said.

In response to the bishops’ statement, Abbott spokesperson John Wittman said the governor’s decision won’t deny anyone access to this country.

“No one seeking refugee status in the United States will be denied that status because of the Texas decision,” he stated in an email. “Importantly, the decision by Texas will not prevent any refugee from coming to America. Equally important, the Texas decision doesn’t stop refugees from moving to Texas after initially settling in another state.”

Some Texas bishops also added individual statements that stressed that Abbott’s decision was counter to their values.

“Having just celebrated Christmas, we are mindful that the Holy Family were refugees. As Christians, a cornerstone of our faith is to welcome and care for the stranger, which has made our country great,” said Rev. Joe S. Vásquez, bishop of the Diocese of Austin in a statement. “I ask that we all commit ourselves even more ardently to work with people of good will, including our federal, state and local governments, in helping refugees integrate into our communities. I offer my prayers for refugees who will suffer from this decision.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Browsnville urged Abbott to change his mind.

“They flee violence & persecution, and seek a chance to live, work & contribute in peace. The Governor should reconsider,” Flores wrote in a tweet.

Abbott explained last week that his decision was based, in part, on Texas’ need to focus attention on those already in the state in need of assistance.

“At this time, the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless—indeed, all Texans,” he wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday.

In September, the Trump administration issued an executive order that requires the country’s refugee resettlement agencies to obtain written consent from states and local entities before they can resettle refugees in those areas. Abbott was the first governor to decline. Governors have until Jan. 21 to decide whether they will participate in the refugee program. About 40 governors have so far committed to allowing refugees into their states, including Republicans.

It’s not the first time Abbott has disagreed with the religious groups over state policy. He was criticized in 2014 when, as attorney general, he filed a lawsuit to stop the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.

Religious groups were also opposed to Senate Bill 4, an omnibus, state-based immigration enforcement bill Abbott declared a legislative priority in 2015.

In 2015, the Tribune reported that Abbott attends the University Catholic Center in Austin.