By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 15, 2006 – About 800 National Guard troops have arrived for duty in four U.S. border states as "Operation Jump Start" gets under way. The Guard members reported to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, to support the U.S. Border Patrol and are expected to begin their missions by next week, Michael Friel, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman, told American Forces Press Service.
"They're in various stages of in-processing," Friel said. Some command-and-control elements are already standing up a joint task force, and many of the operators are expected to be working within days, he said. Paul McHale, assistant secretary for homeland defense, and Army Lt. Gen. H Stephen Blum, National Guard Bureau chief, traveled to the region June 13 for two days of site visits and coordination, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Tracy O'Grady, a Pentagon spokesperson.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano placed a conference call June 13 to thank troops supporting the border security mission for taking time away from their families and jobs. "We need your help," she told them. President Bush announced plans to temporarily boost the National Guard's contribution to U.S. border security in mid-May. Under the president's plan, up to 6,000 National Guard members will provide mobile communications, transportation, logistics, training and construction support to the U.S. Border Patrol.
Guard officials expect to have about 2,500 troops along the border by the end of June. The guardsmen will not play a law enforcement role, officials emphasized. During the mission's second year, Guard participation is expected to drop to 3,000 or less. In announcing his plan, Bush said the effort will give the Border Patrol time to recruit and train more members.
Blum is a strong supporter of the plan and said it's well in line with missions the Guard has been conducting for years. "The National Guard has almost 20 years of history in supporting the Border Patrol," National Guard Bureau spokesman Emmanuel Pacheco, said today.
Some Guard members are already operating along the Southwest border in support of those long-established arrangements, Friel said.
Among them are combat engineers from the Utah and Connecticut National Guard, who reported for duty in Arizona earlier this month. They were greeted by searing temperatures - almost as hot as what many of them faced last year in Iraq - and quickly went to work installing lights and building a corrugated metal fence as part of the Defense Department's Innovative Readiness Training program.