By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2006 – The National Guard has exceeded its troop requirement along the southwestern U.S. border by almost 200 servicemembers and is assisting U.S. Border Patrol activities there, a senior Defense Department official said here today. "We were obligated, by Aug. 1, to have 6,000 National Guardsmen deployed to the four-state southwest border region. And, in fact, as of close of business yesterday, we had 6,199 soldiers," Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, said in an interview. "We kept our commitment to the secretary of defense, Lieutenant General (H Steven) Blum (chief of the National Guard Bureau) and the president of the United States. And, most importantly, we kept our commitment to the nation."
President Bush set the Aug. 1 deadline in May when he announced that National Guard troops would be sent to the border as part of his plan to curb illegal immigration into the U.S. National Guard troops at the border are supporting Border Patrol officers by manning observation posts, building barriers and fences, acting as translators, and monitoring sensors that detect illegal movement across the border, McHale said. The Guardsmen do not and will not participate in law enforcement activities, because that responsibility falls to the Border Patrol, under the Department of Homeland Security, he emphasized.
"We have capabilities that we can provide to assist DHS to better enable them to meet their mission requirement and, frankly, to give a little bit of relief to their officers so they can focus on law enforcement activities that are really related to arrest, search and seizure -- things that we do not do," he said.
The National Guard's deployment to the border also frees the Border Patrol to train an additional 6,000 agents that will permanently bolster the force, McHale said. The Guard's deployment is for two years, he said, and the Border Patrol has assured DoD leaders that the extra agents will be trained by then. "I have found the Border Patrol to be a very professional organization. If they tell me they can get the job done, I believe them," he said.
The presence of the National Guard on the border has already acted as a deterrent to illegal immigration, McHale said. In recent months, there has been a decrease in the number of people trying to cross the border illegally, which is the goal of the deployment, he said. "Our goal is not to increase arrests," he said. "We want to have a presence on the border that will create an environment of deterrence."
About half of National Guard troops deployed to the border will be part of entry identification teams in multiple observation posts along the border, McHale said. These teams monitor the border and, when they see illegal movement, notify Border Patrol agents, who move in and enforce the law, he said.
Guardsmen on the border may face situations where force is required, so they are all trained in detailed rules on the use of force, McHale said. Central to those rules is the right to self-defense and the requirement not to use lethal force unless it is necessary to save human life, he said. The missions the National Guard is performing on the border are very similar to the missions it has performed for years in counternarcotics operations along the border, McHale said. This two-year deployment, with Guard units rotating in and out for their annual training period, allows the Guard to make more progress than in the past, he said.
"Now we'll have more projects in many more locations, specifically for the purpose of supporting border security," he said. In addition to supporting border security, the Guard's operations at the border will help train the soldiers for future deployments overseas, McHale said. The terrain is similar to that which the soldiers would face in some other countries, he said. And many of the operations, like observation, construction and translation, are similar to what they would do overseas.
"When I went to the Southwest, I saw not only a mission requirement to assist the Department of Homeland Security, I saw a great training requirement for our soldiers," he said.