Guard Chief Joins Border Patrol in Praising ‘Operation Jump Start’ Troops
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
DEMING, N.M., Nov. 30, 2006 The top National Guard officer praised Guardsmen serving here along the Southwest U.S. border for protecting the United States against threats ranging from illegal immigrants to criminal activity to drugs to terrorism.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum chats with Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Barnes and Pfc. Ernest Barmore from the Georgia National Guard, who volunteered for the Operation Jump Start missions along the Southwest U.S. border. The two soldiers are manning a “skybox” observation post at the Radar West site in New Mexico, about a mile and a half north of the Mexican border. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum stopped here yesterday during a week-long visit to meet with some of the 6,000 National Guard members serving in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California in support of the U.S. border patrol.
“I want to thank you for what you’re doing … (and) for coming down here and performing this mission,” Blum told a group of Guardsmen from throughout the country who volunteered for duty. “It is making a very, very big, positive difference for the U.S. Border Patrol to be able to make our border safer.”
Blum emphasized that the initiative, which President Bush announced in May, is progressing exactly as planned and giving the Border Patrol the extra manpower it needs as it recruits and trains more members.
The Guardsmen provide surveillance, operate detection systems, work in entry identification teams, analyze information, assist with communications and give administrative support to the Border Patrol. “They’re covering gaps, and denying them to those who would take advantage of them,” Blum said.
None of the Guard missions involve law enforcement, but their presence frees up Border Patrol members to move into those and other front-line positions, he said.
“So what you are doing is letting the Border Patrol get control of the border,” he told the Guardsmen. “This is not a military operation. This is military support of a civilian law enforcement operation. We just bring our skills and our capabilities to support the U.S. Border Patrol so that we can help them do their job better.”
Blum told the group the American people are proud of what they are doing and recognize that “this really matters.”
People coming across the border illegally along the Southwestern U.S. pose problems not here, but throughout the country, he said. “Eventually they end up in places like Tennessee and Oregon and other places,” the general said, referring to states that the Guard volunteers call home.
He emphasized that the mission isn’t designed to close the border between the United States and Mexico, but simply to ensure that it’s secure.
The goal, Blum explained, is to keep the full range of threats from entering the United States: illegal immigrants, criminals, drugs, and even weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. “If they can get illegal immigrants in here, they can also get in terrorists,” he said.
“So are not trying to shut down the border; we want to get control of it,” he said. “We want people and vehicles and commodities and goods and services to be able to go across the border. But we want to be sure we know what’s coming in and what’s coming out.”
Earlier in the day, Blum told American Forces Press Service that Operation Jump Start represents “a win for the American people and a win for the Mexican people” that’s securing both countries’ borders. “The intent is to eliminate criminal activity on both sides of the border,” he said.
He called the way the operation is being carried out — with federal funding and state control — “a perfect model of federalism” as America’s founding fathers envisioned it.”
“What we have are shared responsibilities and authorities between federal and state governments, military members and civilians, and inter-agency partners,” he said.
Blum praised Pentagon leaders who recognized that the one-size-fits-all model simply won’t work for a mission covering as large and diverse an area as the Southwestern U.S. border. Each state operates its own program slightly differently, based on its geography, demographics and politics.
“It says a lot about the transformational thinking at the Pentagon” to support the homeland defense mission,” Blum said.
The result of that flexibility and cooperation is “a pretty well-oiled machine” that’s winning praise of the Border Patrol and the local communities who are seeing its effect.
“I believe it’s been a huge, huge, huge success,” said Supervisor James Acosta from the Deming Border Patrol Station. The Guard’s presence in this area that has historically been “overrun” with illegal border crossings has proven to be “a real deterrent,” he said.
“It’s had a huge impact because they know (the Guard members) are here,” Acosta said of would-be illegal immigrants. “And by being here, they have helped loosen us up to do more patrols in areas we couldn’t get to before.”
“They bring an immediate impact on the border in terms of boots on the ground,” agreed Robert Gilbert, chief Border Patrol agent for the El Paso, Texas, sector.
Gilbert said he’s impressed by the training and experience the Guardsmen, most of them combat veterans, bring to the mission. “They bring an already well-trained, well-equipped and well-disciplined force,” he said.
But what particularly inspires him, Gilbert said, is the Guard members’ willingness to serve. “We recognize that many of these men and women were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and came home, and are still willing to help us with this mission,” he said. “We recognize that’s they’re contributing a lot, and that to do so, they’re spending a lot of time away from their loved ones.
Deming, a community of less than 10,000 people, notices the changes the Guard’s presence has brought, said Army Col. Richard Rael, commander of the New Mexico Guard mission. “The civilians love it,” he said. “They used to lock their doors, but now they appreciate that crime is down.”
During the Thanksgiving holiday, the Deming VFW threw open its doors for the Guard members, and many community members invited Guard troops into their homes to share Thanksgiving dinner. “The community has opened its arms, and families have opened their homes,” Rael said. “They see the big impact the Guard has brought here.”
“It’s a magnificent mission that really does contribute to the security of the border and the United States,” Blum said.
Meanwhile, the troops serving here say they’re proud to be part of Operation Jump Start. “Morale is extra high,” said. Blum. “I haven’t met a soldier or airmen here yet who doesn’t think they’re doing something that’s making a positive difference.”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Barnes, who manned a skybox — a high-tech watchtower equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment — said it’s gratifying, after serving overseas in Somalia, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, to be able to contribute at home, too.
Blum said it’s important for military leaders not simply to send their troops off on a mission, but to ensure they have what they need to do their jobs, are well cared for and know they’re appreciated.
“I’m here to express appreciation to the soldiers for what they’re doing, and make sure they recognize that the leadership knows and values their service,” he said.
Army Sgt. Maj. James Megoluff, sergeant major for Joint Task Force Zia, the New Mexico sector of Operation Jump Start, called Blum’s visit “awesome.”
“It’s really good motivation,” Megoluff said. “This is a very, very difficult mission, looking out over binoculars for hour after hour. Having someone at his level come visit the troops and thanks them speaks volumes.”