Jim Vilanucci: We’re talking to Lieutenant General Steven Blum. He is the senior uniformed National Guard officer responsible for formulating, developing, and coordinating all policies, programs and plans effecting more than half a million Army and Air National Guard personnel. He was appointed by the President. He is the principal advisor to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force on all National Guard issues. We’re going to talk to Lieutenant General Blum about putting the National Guard troops on the border.
Thank you for making time for us, sir. How are you?
LTG Blum: Great, Jim. It’s a pleasure to be on the show.
Jim Vilanucci: Talk me through this. How is this going to work, putting National Guard troops on the border? How many troops are we talking about, first of all?
LTG Blum: The President told me to prepare to put up to 6,000 National Guardsmen, Army and Air, on the border, to support the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Enforcement officials. We are preparing to do that. We’re going to do it by developing four separate state plans that will be coordinated here at the National Guard Bureau in Washington. The troops will be under the command and control of the governors. The federal government will pay for these soldiers. So it’s a perfect sharing between state authorities and federal resources.
I think that putting the National Guard on the border is the proper force and the appropriate force to put there because we have the training and we have the skills and we’ve done this in a tried and proven method and model down on the southwest border now for about 25 years when we provided support to civilian law enforcement for drug enforcement. So we have the long enduring relationships with civilian law enforcement, the National Guard of the four states along the border, the southern border. We work with the inter-agency and the inter-governmental officials on both sides of the international border, both U.S. and Mexican, and we can leverage all of those good relationships to do something that they’re used to except we’re going to do more of it with more people for a longer period of time.
Jim Vilanucci: How many, approximately how many for California, how many for Arizona, how many for New Mexico, how many for Texas?
LTG Blum: That is being worked out right now because they all have different topography. Some have barriers and walls and fences, some do not. Some have mountainous ranges, others have wide expanse of desert, so without going ad infinitum on that, it’s not one size fits all and we were developing the package to what the U.S. border patrol needs within the border that’s contained in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas as separate pieces, but then they’ll all be nested together so there are no seams. It will be a seamless response.
Jim Vilanucci: Pick a number. Let’s say there’s a thousand for New Mexico. Are those going to be all New Mexico National Guard people? Or are they going to be people from other states? Who will be, will they be under the command of the New Mexico National Guard person, Greg Vinetti or whoever that is in this state? Or will they be under a guy that’s in charge of all four states? How does that work?
LTG Blum: No, it will be under the adjutant general, ultimately it will be under the Governor. The governor is the commander-in-chief of the National Guard in the state of New Mexico, for example, and Kenny Montoya is his adjutant general, his military leader. Every National Guardsman that shows up in the state of New Mexico, Army or Air, whether they’re in the Air National Guard or the Army National Guard, they’re still going to come under that joint force headquarters in New Mexico. Governor Richardson will be the commander-in-chief of that effort. If we need soldiers and airmen from other states because they have special capabilities or special equipment, they’ll be brought in and they too will be responsive and under the command and control of the governor through the adjutant general and the joint force headquarters.
Governor Richardson never relinquishes control not only of his National Guard while they’re in New Mexico, but any other National Guard that comes in to help them.
Jim Vilanucci: For how long?
LTG Blum: For as long as necessary. Right now we’ve been told to prepare to do it at least six months and be ready to do it at least a year, and then there’s talk of continuing it beyond a year at a much reduced level. In other words we’re supposed to work ourselves out of a job. We’re supposed to provide capabilities for the U.S. Border Patrol and the Customs law enforcement people so that we can in fact go back to doing other things in the National Guard and they stand up additional capabilities of their own over the next two years.
Jim Vilanucci: He will be reimbursed for all costs by the feds?
LTG Blum: The federal government will pay the full cost of the National Guard being there. The states do not have to pay for the use of the National Guard because, again, the federal government, the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, see this as a federal mission, but they want the troops involved to be National Guard troops so they remain under the command and control of their Governors as they should here at home. I think it’s a perfect blend of a partnership between shared responsibilities and authorities between the state and the federal government. It’s federal resources and state control in support of a federal law enforcement organization.
Jim Vilanucci: Will they be armed? Will they be arresting people?
LTG Blum: They will not be performing law enforcement activities. The Border Patrol will. Our National Guard members that are down there will actually be performing other duties that enable them to do more law enforcement with the numbers that they have and devote more of their people to law enforcement and get them out of non-law enforcement activities.
As far as arming the National Guard, only the soldiers will be armed with side arms and small arms that need to be, that fit the mission profile for the work that they’re doing. If they’re medics or if they’re communication support or they’re admin support, they won’t be armed. But if they’re out there where they could make contact with these coyotes, the so-called coyotes, these illegal criminal bands that operate along the border, then they have the right to self protection and we’ll make sure they’re equipped to do that.
Jim Vilanucci: So if for any reason they are fired upon, they have the ability to protect themselves and fire back if necessary?
LTG Blum: Yes. The rules of engagement and rules of use of force always allow US soldiers to protect themselves if they are in peril of loss of life or severe injury.
Jim Vilanucci: What would happen if you got into a skirmish with the Mexican army?
LTG Blum: I don’t see that happening. If we do our coordination properly, and as I said, we’re building this on a long, enduring relationship for over 25 years. That’s why the Guard was selected for this. We know how to do this so that we don’t have skirmishes with the Mexican army.
Jim Vilanucci: I think this is the right thing to do and I support you and I appreciate you making time for us, sir.
LTG Blum: Thank you, Jim.
Jim Vilanucci: Thank you, sir.