By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 3, 2010 - Almost 1,100 National Guard members are on duty on the Southwest border performing a mission that is very familiar to many of them, a Guard official said today.
"This [mission] is not really unique," said Jack Harrison, the director of communications for the National Guard Bureau here. "The National Guard has been involved at the Southwest border for two decades."
During that time, he said, National Guard members have worked in the counter-drug program in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
"Above and beyond the 1,200 authorized for this mission, there are over 350 counter-drug personnel [in these states] doing that mission," Harrison said.
Almost 6,000 Guard members from around the country were deployed in support of Operation Jump Start, a two-year mission that ended in 2008.
"So, this is not new," Harrison said.
Many of the Guard members, who have volunteered for the current border mission, also have overseas deployment experience.
"And yes, those experiences are certainly useful for this mission," Harrison said.
The Guard, he said, will act as "extra eyes and ears" for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during the one-year mission. And, they'll also provide entry identification and criminal analysis support to these agencies, he added.
The Guard's mission along the southwest border primarily involves surveillance and it doesn't perform law enforcement activities, Harrison said.
"They will be armed," he said, "but that will be more for self-protection than anything else."
Of the 1,100 troops on duty, there are about 975 Army Guard members and 100 Air Guard members.
Harrison said the Guard members volunteered for this mission and were not called up as part of a unit. Each state, he said, is employing volunteers to man the border mission.
"There are no units or individuals from outside those four states being called in to help in those four states," Harrison said.
The incremental deployment of Guard members began on July 1, Harrison said, noting the one-year mission includes training time, "boots on the ground" time and the ramp down at the end of the mission.
The training can take from two to three weeks, he said, and it focuses on the agencies' tactics and procedures, as well as any equipment that may be used during the mission.
Harrison said this is a federally funded mission, but it's not federally commanded.
"The governor and the adjutant general in each of these four states maintain command and control over each person on duty," he said. "They control the flow of the forces and the numbers of forces on duty ... and they will maintain that level of control throughout the mission."
Harrison said the total amount authorized for the border mission for up to 1,200 Guardsmen for up to one year is $135 million.
Of the almost 1,100 Guard members currently on border duty, there are about 300 in California, 450 in Arizona, 90 in New Mexico and 225 in Texas.
"We take this mission very seriously," Harrison said. "The president has asked us to support this mission, while CBP and ICE hire new agents.
"Everything is going as we expected it to go," he added, "and we are on track for up to 1,200 people."
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