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Radio Interview with Lt. Gen. Steven Blum on the Michael Medved Radio Show

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief, National Guard Bureau
May 16, 2006

            Michael Medved:  Another great day in this greatest nation on God’s green earth where all across this great nation people are talking about the President’s presentation last night.  A presentation about the issue of immigration, an issue on the minds of so many millions of Americans.


            But the one thing that has gotten the most attention is not the five key points that the President made about patrolling the border, about ensuring assimilation, about workplace sanctions.  The thing that’s gotten all the press and inspired all the controversy appears to be the proposal to put up to 6,000 National Guardsmen on the border to help the over-stretched, over-taxed Border Patrol.


            It turns out that what you’re talking about in terms of service on the border would involve lot just some 6,000 Guardsmen but up to 156,000 Guardsmen who would rotate through.


            To help explain to us how this would work, there is absolutely nobody better than Lieutenant General Steve Blum.  He is Chief of the National Guard Bureau.  He’s been looking at the situation for a while.  General Blum, on a very busy day thanks for making time for us.


            LTG Blum:  Thank you, Michael.


            Michael Medved:  Tell me first of all, how long each individual Guardsman who was deployed to the border would actually be there? How would this work?


            LTG Blum:  Well, it would work in a combination of ways.  There would be a duration force.  There would be people there from the effected states, from the Joint Force Headquarters of the National Guard in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas that would be there for the duration and they would coordinate and plan and synchronize all the efforts of these National Guardsmen that would come in for shorter periods of time.


            You wouldn’t be meeting a new commander every week and you wouldn’t be making a new relationship with the Border Patrol and the Immigration people.


            What you would be is, for instance the heavy equipment operator, the bulldozer operator that’s building a barrier or a fence or a road, or an engineer.  He or she may be there for two weeks to three weeks and then go back home so that it fits their normal National Guard model that they’re used to.  They know every Guardsman is going to have to get together for training for anywhere between two and three weeks every year.  We call this annual training.  The employers of the civilian citizen soldiers and airmen expect it and so do their families and they plan for it.


            All we’re going to do is schedule that training to occur at a different place and focus their military skills against this operational mission so it will help the Border Patrol and the Customs officials be much more efficient while they’re growing their additional capability.  It gives realistic training to our Guardsmen and it actually is probably a very, very sound way in my judgment to approach this problem.


            Michael Medved:  Let me get this straight because I think this is tremendously important and there are a lot of people who are misunderstanding the situation, General Blum.  You’re saying that the President’s proposal won’t take any additional time away from families, won’t take any additional time away from work, that what you’d be doing is assigning Guardsmen who would be doing their regular yearly training anyway, assigning them to the border.  Is that the point?


            LTG Blum:  That’s correct.  Again, let’s go back to the engineer.  Rather than move dirt around at Fort Swampee for their 15 days of annual training that earth that they move around will actually have some operational requirement attached to it so that there’s some real goodness to it.  And actually, there will be a lot of pride in the work because it will last after they leave.


            Michael Medved:  This actually changes my reaction to this entirely.  What you’re saying is some of those folks who were howling today and saying oh, the National Guard family’s going to be really ticked off about this, we’re going to be taking people who have already been stretched out to be deployed to Iraq and we’re going to rip them away from families –- None of this is true, is that right?


            LTG Blum:  No, that’s not true.  In fact we’re very sensitive to

make sure that that does not happen.  If we were to do this in another way where we in fact brought the soldiers on and said you’re going to go down on the border for a year, I think the critics would have something to howl about.  So would the National Guard members and their families and employers.


            We’re going to make sure we take the howl factor out of it by actually doing this in a very judicious method, which it’s going to be almost transparent to the soldiers.  They’ll just do it at a different location than they originally intended.


            Michael Medved:  That’s a great thing.  Let’s talk about the howl factor for a moment, because one of the people you’d want to have howling is you’d want to have the coyotes howling.  And some of them –-


            LTG Blum:  I think they will, Mike.  I think they probably already are howling and this is probably the greatest threat to making anybody’s life miserable is probably for the coyotes because they’ll have less places to go and more people that they’ll be encountering that will interrupt their illicit work and their criminal activity.


            Michael Medved:  Let me make it clear for any animal rights advocates out there.  We’re not talking about the four-legged coyotes, we’re talking about a lower form of life, the people who smuggle human beings across the border and sometimes get rich doing so and abusing people.


            What about the idea, USA Today had an editorial today where they said oh, gosh, people in the border states are going to be very upset to see a bunch of Guardsmen running through their back yards carrying M-16s.  Should they be worried about that?


            LTG Blum:  No, I don’t think they’ll see anybody running through anybody’s back yards with M-16s.  The kind of work that we’re going to be doing is engineering work, transportation, aviation support, intelligence, maintenance, medical support, command and control, synchronization of the efforts down there.  The actual law enforcement work will be strictly done by the Border Patrol and the Customs officials and our presence there will free them up and give them additional capabilities to do it even more effectively while they grow their force so they can basically work themselves out of a job over the next two years.


            Michael Medved:  One of the things that I think immediately occurs to folks is this sounds so reasonable the way you’re describing it right now, number one, why didn’t the President get as specific as you are in describing this thing and avoid some of the confusion?  And number two, if it’s so reasonable and such a good idea and such a way of using deployments and training, why should it be limited to one year?


            LTG Blum:  It’s not limited to one year.  We’ll do this as long as the nation needs it.


            Michael Medved:  I see.  So when the President said they’re going to be there on the border for one year he wasn’t saying for one year only.


            LTG Blum:  No, I think he’s trying to set reasonable expectations that we’ll be there at least a year, and certainly the President has come out, and others in the Cabinet have come out and said we’re going to be stepping this down as, again, as the Border Patrol and Customs officials grow in their capacity we’ll be able to ramp ours back and we can get out of this.


            I might add, we’ve been doing this kind of work for about 25 years on the border.  This is really a time proven, effective model that produces great results and it’s built on long-lasting enduring relationships between the National Guard of those border states and civilian law enforcement, and the inter-agencies and the inter-governmental agencies on both sides of the border, both on the US side of the border and the Mexican side of the border. So this will really leverage a very, very successful model that we’ve employed with counter-narcotics.  We’ll just do this to a much larger scope and in greater numbers for the foreseeable future.


            Michael Medved:  Is the greatest value of this kind of deployment, this kind of training exercise, if you will, is the greatest value symbolic, sending a message to people on both sides of the border that the National Guard is there, we’re taking this seriously?  Or are there very direct operational contributions that your Guardsmen can make, general?


            LTG Blum:  First of all, there’s very real operational contributions we can make.  This is not a cosmetic activity.  We are the ones that have built the barriers and walls that exist today.  We’ve done, by the way Mike, we’ve done that by rotating forces out of the National Guard states for two and three week periods with an enduring force to supervise it and to make sure there was continuity there.  We’ll leave the equipment in place and rotate the people just as we’ve done on Operation Grizzly and other successful ventures where the results speak for themselves.


            Michael Medved:  And in terms of the message that you send by the presence of the National Guard, is that an important element of this as well?


            LTG Blum:  I think any time you call out the Guard you call out America, and I think the American people were looking for a response from their federal government and their state government and I think this is probably the best blend of a shared authority and responsibility between the states and the federal government that we could come up with.


            Michael Medved:  You know the troops that you command in the National Guard.  What’s been the reaction in the ranks?  Are people kind of shrugging their shoulders and saying well, I’ll do what I’m told?  Or is there enthusiasm?


            LTG Blum:  Well we’ve got a magnificent bunch of young men and women, unlike any that we’ve ever had in our nation’s history.  We’ve always had patriots, but I’ve never seen a generation more willing to step up and do what is required to keep this nation safe than this great bunch of citizen soldiers and airmen volunteers.  They’re fighting overseas, they’re responding to hurricanes and floods and forest fires here at home, and now we’re going to increase our efforts on the border as well.


            Michael Medved:  And under your command I look forward to great success for those efforts.


            General Steve Blum.  He is head of the National Guard Bureau.  He is one of the people directly responsible for implementing the suggestion the President made last night.


            Thank you for your service to your country, and thank you for joining us on the radio show, General Blum, and I wish you Godspeed.

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