President, DoD, Military Officials Discuss Guard Border Security Mission
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2006 National Guard troops are expected to begin assuming their border security mission as soon as early June, with about three-quarters of the force to come from the Army National Guard, top officials involved in the process told Pentagon reporters today.
The initial force will ramp up to 6,000 troops through a phased-in deployment that ensures troops can begin operations as soon as they arrive in the area, said Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense. "We don't want soldiers sitting on their packs," he said. "We don't want to make a statement in terms of the speed of movement that is then belied by a lack of activity once the soldiers get there."
A phased-in deployment "will ensure that, upon arrival or almost immediately upon arrival, we can begin giving to these soldiers the training that they deserve," he said.
Today in Yuma, Ariz., President Bush emphasized that the mission will be short-term, aimed at getting "immediate results" while the Border Patrol beefs up its force. After an initial one-year commitment, "the (Guard) forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new equipment comes on line," he said.
The Department of Homeland Security yesterday sent DoD a list of missions it will look to the military to support. These track closely with those the Guard has been carrying out through the National Guard Counterdrug Program since 1989, but with "more people, over a larger area, with greater resources," McHale said.
"The Guard will operate surveillance and communications systems," Bush said today. "They will install fences and vehicle barriers; they're going to help build patrol roads; they will analyze intelligence; they will help spot people."
The National Guard is already doing many of these missions on a smaller scale along the southwest border, the president noted today. "In other words, this is something we've tried. This isn't anything new," he said. "We've got Guard already helping the Border Patrol right now."
Bush emphasized that the National Guard won't be involved in direct law enforcement.
McHale echoed Bush's words, noting that DoD will play no role in directly apprehending or handling detainees captured by security agents, McHale emphasized. "In short, law enforcement along the border will remain a civilian function," he said.
Through its support, the Guard will free up Border Patrol agents to conduct the law-enforcement mission, Bush said. "The Guard will make it easier for the Border Patrol to do its job," he said.
The exact number and mix of troops to be used is still being determined, but the National Guard has most, if not all, the capabilities needed, McHale said. DoD wants "to keep the door open" to the possibility of augmenting the force with active-duty troops with specific specialties, but isn't likely to use many, he said.
The four southern border states -- -Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California -- are likely to contribute the largest number of National Guard troops, but other states will participate as well. "We have lots of states that are interested in supporting this mission," Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, Army National Guard director, said.
Two groups not expected to be tapped are those just returned or about to deploy to overseas missions in support of the war on terror and, at least until November, Guardsmen whose states might need them to respond to a hurricane. "We'll box off hurricane states until we get beyond the hurricane season, then look again," Vaughn said.
Most of the Guardsmen who support the border-security mission will serve two- and, more likely, three-week rotations as their regularly scheduled active-duty-for-training periods, he said. As a result, most of the DoD funding required for the mission -- an estimated $756 million -- is already programmed into the National Guard budget.
McHale called the deployments a valuable way for Guard troops to sharpen the skills they could be called on to use in combat or in support of domestic missions.
"If you have a National Guardsman who is a combat engineer, putting that combat engineer on a D-9 (bull) dozer to build a roadway along the U.S.-Mexico border is about the best (military occupational specialty) training he can possibly have in preparation for the earthmoving he would do in a warfighting environment," he said.
"If you have a communicator, putting that communicator on the border to construct a communications net identical to or similar to what he or she would be using in an overseas environment is great MOS training," he said. "And if you have a helicopter pilot, putting him or her up in a helicopter with a flare capability in order to conduct night-vision surveillance at the border is great training for what he or she might do in combat two or three years later."
At the same time, these troops will be making a valuable contribution to U.S. border security, he said.
The success of the effort can't be measured just in terms of more illegal aliens captured by the Border Patrol, he said. Even more important though difficult to gauge is how many people don't attempt to enter the United States illegally. "The fact that we communicate that there will be a more robust capability along the border provided in a supporting role by the National Guard may well deter the number of people who would otherwise try to come across the border illegally, knowing that the likelihood of capture is far greater," McHale said.
This deterrence will have other benefits, from the lives saved by those who give up the notion of crossing the border under life-threatening conditions, to the adverse training impact when the Marine Corps' Yuma Range has to shut down due to illegal aliens entering the range, he said.
"This is a moment of historic opportunity & to achieve comprehensive immigration reform," McHale said of the mission. By providing "a more robust, more effective presence on the border," DoD will make an important contribution to a much larger national challenge, he said.