By Donna Miles
Dec. 1, 2006 – The National Guard Bureau chief got a look this week at how the forward operating base concept used for U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world can work for domestic missions, too. Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum toured Forward Operating Base Border Wolf, a new support base within this border town's industrial park, during his week-long visit to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to observe Operation Jump Start. The base provides housing and other support services for almost 200 Army and Air National Guard troops from around the country supporting the mission. They're among about 6,000 Guard members serving in support of the U.S. Border Patrol. The mission is expected to last for about two years as the Border Patrol recruits and trains more agents.
FOB Border Wolf offers the perfect answer to the quandary that confronted the National Guard when President Bush ordered Operation Jump Start in mid-May, explained Army Col. Richard Rael, commander of the joint task force assigned along the New Mexican border.
Deming, with fewer than 10,000 residents, didn't have the infrastructure to support a large-scale National Guard presence, especially one lasting two years. On the other hand, troops conducting a mission of this scale and length -- especially the bulk of the volunteers serving long-term "durational" tours here -- needed a reasonable level of support systems, Rael noted.
The perfect solution, he said, turned out to be what the military relies on heavily for overseas missions. By setting up a forward operating base that supports the Guard's operations, Guard troops have a place to sleep, eat, shower, watch TV, do laundry, visit a cyber cafe and even get in a workout -- all without a single permanent building being constructed.
The 10-acre FOB, expected to be completed within the next week or two, ultimately will accommodate up to 350 troops.
During his Nov. 29 visit here, Blum toured the FOB, walking through the living quarters and dining facility, checking out the morale, welfare and recreation facility, and stopping in at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service van on the property.
Meeting with some of the 186 troops now based here, Blum said he liked what he saw, but urged the Guardsmen to offer any suggestions that might improve it. "This is not a dog-and-pony show," Blum said of his visit with the troops. "I came here to thank you, but I also want you to tell us what's working and what's not working. I want some soldier input and some airman input into how to make this thing better.
"This is going to be your home for awhile," he said, "and you should have some say in how we set it up."
During his walk-through, one of the women in the group said she'd like to have a little more privacy in the open-bay sleeping area, where beds are separated only by dressers and portable closets. Blum immediately turned to Rael and directed him, "If you're not at capacity here with the females, let's thin this out a little and give them a little more room."
Blum compared the FOB here with others many of the Guardsmen have served in overseas. The FOBs in Iraq "weren't this good," and FOB Border Wolf "is much, much better" than those in Afghanistan, he told the troops.
He asked how many of the Guard volunteers had served at FOBs in Bosnia and Kosovo, then told them, "That's the kind of standard we want to get to."
In addition to offering an array of support services and creature comfort, FOB Border Wolf offers operational advantages as well, Blum told the group. "I like it pulling you together as a team," he said. "Second of all, it will save you hours of getting to work and back off of work every day."
But another important benefit, Blum said, is that the FOB will help maintain cordial relations between the Guard members and the local community that's simply not big enough to accommodate them. "It will make the people of Deming still like you when you leave here as much as they like you now," he said.
"Because if I push all of these troops that are projected to be in this Deming area into the infrastructure of Deming, they won't have any hotel rooms (or) motel rooms for truckers or people moving through here," Blum said. "They won't be able to handle the tourist season. We'll overwhelm their few little diners that they have.
"Besides," he quipped, "I don't have any quality control over that food or anything to say about it." He asked the troops if they were satisfied with the food they're served here and specifically asked the Georgia National Guard troops, the largest group based here, if the grits they're getting are making the mark. "We'll work on that," he promised after hearing their negative response.
The Deming community has welcomed the Guard members here and gone out of its way to make them feel welcomed, Rael said. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars post hosted a Thanksgiving Day dinner, and many Deming residents invited Guardsmen into their homes for the holiday or sent meals to the FOB for troops who couldn't break away from duty.
"The community has opened its arms, and families have opened their homes," Rael said. "They see the big impact the Guard has brought here. ... They used to lock their doors, but now they appreciate that crime is down."
FOB Border Wolf is helping achieve three major goals that Army Brig. Gen. Kenny Montoya, adjutant general for New Mexico, said he'd like to see satisfied when the National Guard troops here complete Operation Jump Start.
"When they leave, I want to be sure they have good relations with the Border Patrol and with the people of Deming," Montoya said. "And I want the out-of-state Guard volunteers to be able to leave here feeling good about their service here and what they accomplished."
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