By Steven Donald Smith
WASHINGTON, July 25, 2006 – The Army National Guard will meet its goal of having 6,000 soldiers along the Southwest border by Aug. 1 to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in stemming the flow of illegal immigrants, the head of the National Guard Bureau told reporters here today. "They will be in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas come the first of August," Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said. "We will meet the president's commitment to do that."
In May, President Bush requested the Guard be used to help strengthen the border. The following month Operation Jump Start was launched. The operation is expected to last two years while the Border Patrol beefs up its ranks. Blum said the Guard might even exceed the 6,000 specified soldiers. He said it is hard to predict the exact number because military units are not built based on numbers. "They're built to deliver capabilities," he said.
Adjustments to the total number will be made over time, he added. Roughly 4,500 Guard members are supporting the operation. Blum reiterated that these troops do not signify a militarization of the border and emphasized that the Guard's mission is solely to support the Border Patrol.
The Guard will only be using non-lethal military technology, such as high-tech sensors and infrared radar. Their primary tasks will be surveillance and building "tactical infrastructure," such as fences and roads, Blum said. "The biggest thing we bring in terms of numbers and capability to the game is the additional eyes and ears ... so the Customs and Border Patrol have greater situational awareness of what is going on in places they could not go, could not see, or could not hear," the general said.
"The National Guard will just see it and report it to Border Patrol," he added. The general said law enforcement would remain the purview of the Border Patrol. "We are not doing law enforcement," he said. "We are doing everything else that other badge-carrying border patrol people used to have to do. We are replacing them so they can get badges back to the border."
Since the operation began last month, 250 border agents have already returned to doing their intended law enforcement and apprehension functions, David Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, said. By the end of August, the Border Patrol intends to have 581 agents back on the border in a strictly law enforcement capacity. "We're about at the halfway point," Aguilar said.
Six hundred fifty-four agents are training at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, N.M., he said. Blum also emphasized that the Guard is capable of meeting its other obligations. About 68,000 Guard members are deployed around the world fighting in the war on terrorism. From Maine to Texas, Guard members are prepared to respond to hurricanes, and about 10,000 are performing other duties, like fighting wild fires. "In spite of all that, ... recruiting has been the busiest we've seen," Blum said.
The Army and Air National Guard just completed their ninth consecutive record-breaking recruiting month, Blum said, and retention and reenlistment are 122 percent above the target goal. "In other words, we are keeping people -- experienced, trained veterans -- at a higher level than we ever have in the history of the volunteer force," he said.