'Operation Jump Start' Puts 2,500 Guardsmen on Southern Border in June
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 6, 2006 As part of Operation Jump Start, the National Guard will place about 2,500 troops along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the month to support efforts to curb illegal immigrants from entering the country, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said yesterday.
"The National Guard will support federal law enforcement agencies that have responsibilities for the security of our borders," Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum said. "What we will be doing is bringing military skills, military equipment, military expertise and experience to assist at the request of the Department of Homeland Security."
In a speech earlier today at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, N.M., President Bush said it is unacceptable to have millions of illegal immigrants crossing the border and living in the United States.
"Guard members are arriving at the border and they're going to set up a headquarters to support Border Patrol operations," Bush said. "You notice I said, 'Support the Border Patrol.' The Border Patrol is in the lead. That's why you're going through significant training."
The U.S. Border Patrol is currently beefing up of its ranks with the goal of doubling in size to about 18,000 agents within two years. At that time National Guard involvement in Operation Jump Start, which will grow to 6,000 troops, will come to an end.
"If we got a problem, let's address it square on. And if part of the problem is we're waiting to get new Border Patrol agents trained and we can't wait, let's move some troops in, National Guard troops, that will be able to help ... on the front lines of securing our border," Bush said.
Blum stressed that Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities. "We will be expanding their (Border Patrol) eyes and ears with entry-identification teams," he said.
After guardsmen spot suspected illegal immigrants crossing the border, they will inform Border Patrol agents, who will then respond to the scene. In essence, the Guard will do detection work and Border Patrol agents will make the appropriate apprehensions.
Operation Jump Start began when the four governors from the border states - California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas - recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the Defense Department. It stipulates that the Guard will not participate in "overt" law enforcement.
Blum explained that the Guard already has about 450 personnel along the border doing counterdrug missions in the four states.
"For about 20 years we have had an ongoing mission of supporting civilian law enforcement," he said.
In addition, the Guard participates in "innovation readiness training," where units from around the country practice their engineering, surveying, communication and medical skills along the southern border, Blum said.
"When you take the counternarcotics mission and the innovative readiness training initiative, we have well over 500 National Guardsmen on our border this morning, but not as part of Operation Jump Start," the general said.