By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2006 – With about 3,600 troops reporting on or ahead of schedule so far for border security duty in the Southwest, the National Guard is solidly on track to meet the requirement of up to 6,000 troops by Aug. 1, the chief of the National Guard Bureau told Pentagon reporters today. Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said he's received nothing but positive feedback about the National Guard response to the mission, both about its speed and the capabilities it brings in support of the U.S. Border Patrol. "We are delivering the capabilities and effects that they have requested," Blum said.
As Operation Jump Start kicked off June 15, just a month after President Bush announced it, the National Guard had already exceeded the scheduled commitment of 800 troops by 237, Blum noted. By the month's end, the Guard's commitment skyrocketed to 2,800 -- 300 above the expectation. Most of the Guardsmen are coming from the four border states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Arizona and New Mexico, both with smaller National Guard forces than their neighbors to the immediate east and west, will rely more heavily on augmentees from other states, Blum said.
Arizona, with two of the biggest areas of focus -- Tucson and Yuma -- is likely to see the most out-of-state forces, he said. These troops will generally rotate to the region for three-week rotations conducted as their regularly scheduled annual training periods, Blum explained. So far, 30 state governors have committed to support the mission, with no governors refusing to participate, Blum said. "There is a great cooperation (and) collaboration among the nation's governors, and they understand the importance of having the National Guard be a reliable, essential and ready force, because they are also commanders in chief of their National Guards," Blum said.
"And since Sept. 11, 2001, they have seen how essential the Guard is both overseas, for the global war on terrorism, and here at home, to deal with natural or man-made disasters that may happen in our own nation." Blum said he's abiding by his promise to governors that he will ensure they always have at least 50 percent of their capability as they support the terror war, border mission and other national-level requirements.
During Operation Jump Start, Guardsmen are providing communications, transportation, logistics, training, medical and construction support to the U.S. Border Patrol as it boosts its own ranks. They're building and maintaining roads; installing fences, lighting, sensors and towers with cameras; and providing aviation support over big expanses with no roads, Blum explained.
The Defense Department hasn't yet authorized the Guard to provide intelligence analysis support, but Blum said he expects that it will. "We anticipate we will be doing that, because we do that in the drug-enforcement mission," he said. Guardsmen assigned to the mission are getting trained in everything from the political and cultural sensitivities of the operation to the practical aspects of operating in the desert heat and being exposed to insects and reptiles, Blum said. Each Guard member receives a tri-fold card that explains the rules of engagement. He emphasized that Guardsmen aren't defending the border, but simply are supporting civilian authorities who control it. but each has the "inherent right of self-protection," he added.
Blum said he expects the mission to last no more than two years, after the Border Patrol trains more people and develops more infrastructure so it's able to protect the border without support. "I expect to work our way out of this mission," he said. In the meantime, he said, Guardsmen are benefiting through the opportunity to conduct an important real-life mission in their training.