Lars Larson: It is my pleasure to welcome to the program Lieutenant General Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, Department of Defense.
General, it’s great to have you on the program.
LTG Blum: Thanks, Lars. It’s great to be on the program.
Lars Larson: Is it Blum or Bloom?
LTG Blum: It’s Blum.
Lars Larson: Blum, very good.
The President last night told us that his plan is to put 6,000 National Guard troops down on the border but not actually doing border patrol. Tell us what we should know about that plan.
LTG Blum: Well, when the President orders the plan we execute it. I think it’s probably, choosing the National Guard was absolutely the right thing to do for this particular mission. The Guard is absolutely perfectly suited for this. We are the National Guard, we do guard the nation but here at home and overseas, and we’ve had a long, long enduring history with long-lasting relationships of actually working on the Southwest Border with law enforcement, drug enforcement, interagency and inter-governmental officials on both sides of the border, I might add, which will be highly, highly useful to leverage for this particular mission.
Lars Larson: General, the President talked about the kind of duties that the National Guard will be doing down there. It’s not going to be patrol duty, but they’ll be doing things like building fences and roads?
LTG Blum: We’ll be doing those things that will enable the Border Patrol and the Customs officials and the immigration, [ICE] organization, the Immigration Enforcement Agency, to catually do more law enforcement work. Free them up and enable them to do it in a more effective manner.
This is not unusual. The National Guard has a long, long history, at least for the last 35 years, of supporting civilian law enforcement, particularly in the counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism area.
Lars Larson: General, why wouldn’t it be appropriate to have the National Guard actually guard the nation’s borders?
LTG Blum: Because the Border Patrol is rightfully the United States Border Patrol. It guards our borders both on the North and the South of our nation. It is a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security that is trained, organized and equipped to do this, and they need some additional capabilities that they can leverage out of the Department of Defense while they are buying some time to develop greater capabilities and a deeper bench of Border Patrol and law enforcement officials.
No one wants to militarize the border. None of the Governors want to militarize the border, the President certainly does not, and the National Guard and Department of Defense doesn’t want to be seen as militarizing the border. But we do have unique capabilities that we can bring -- medical, communications, engineering, maintenance, some intelligence analysts. We have surveillance systems and remote sensors both on the ground and in the air that will really make the Border Patrol much more effective as they build up their numbers and their own capabilities.
Lars Larson: General, it’s interesting because I know the President’s in charge, he is the Commander-in-Chief. Under the UCMJ you can’t very well criticize the man. He is your Commander-in-Chief. But when you say nobody wants to militarize the border, I daresay that the real government, the founders saw the people as the real government of this country. I think a majority of Americans wouldn’t mind seeing that border militarized if that’s what it takes to stop the roughly one million illegal aliens from crossing it every year.
LTG Blum: Lars, you know that’s not a military decision to be made. That’s a political decision that will have to be made. I think it is wise to use the National Guard under the control of the governors, and that’s the way it will be. It will be federally funded. The National Guard will be funded by the Department of Defense federally. They will seek reimbursement from the Department of Homeland Security which is the rightful way to do it. And the National Guard will be under the command and control of each of the Governors. So California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas can each develop their own unique plans for their own unique geography, demographics, and local issues and problems that are down there so that we can make this the most effective response to basically putting a little more discipline into how we handle the people along our border without making it a militarized border.
Lars Larson: We’re talking to Lieutenant General Steven Blum, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau of the DoD at the Pentagon.
General, people have wondered and I wonder, with a border that I think in air miles is 1,951 miles long, they wonder how much difference 6,000 Guard troops can make. That’s a long border and that’s not very many troops.
LTG Blum: I think we can make quite a bit of difference. It depends on exactly what mission sets they ask us to do, but you can make law enforcement, existing law enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol law enforcement, much more effective if you have barriers, fences, and you can channelize the movement of people, you can track the movement of people, you can basically provide more information so that they can more adequately focus their finite resources as they develop more.
Lars Larson: General, the other question is, as I understand it, the plan is to put the 6,000 troops down there and roughly rotate them about every two weeks or so. Is that the way it’s going to happen?
LTG Blum: Some will rotate every two weeks, but some will be there for the duration. We’re not going to be exchanging key people every two weeks.
Lars Larson: Of course not.
LTG Blum: The key planners and those that you need long-lasting relationships between the military and the law enforcement officials and the governmental officials, they’ll be left in place. But the people who have unique skills, for instance a bulldozer operator, doesn’t need to be down there for a year. After all he’s a citizen soldier. They’re willing to go for long deployments overseas but when they come home they know they’re going to pull 15 days or more of concentrated training, we call it annual training, but once a year the unit gets together and they practice their military skills.
What we’re going to do this year is target those same skills and instead of just practicing military skills for the sake of doing that, we are going to leverage their skills and their normal training schedule and use that in an operational support role in support of the Border Patrols and the Customs Enforcement Agency.
Lars Larson: General, the state I’m in right now, Oregon, has about 900 Guardsmen in Afghanistan right now. Some have questioned whether or not we have enough of the National Guard from all of the Guard units from around the country to fill this role. Do we?
LTG Blum: We’ve got 460,000 citizen soldiers and airmen that make up the Army and Air National Guard. That’s our total inventory. Right now we have about 17,000 of them overseas. That still leaves me lots and lots of Army and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen to use, especially if we’re not going to interrupt their lives and their civilian employment or their education for more than two or three week increments.
This is kind of business as usual for the National Guard. It’s our normal model that we generally operate under when we’re not at war overseas, and frankly, we have a time proven model of success and efficiency that we’ve applied on the Southwest border supporting the Drug Enforcement Agency and civilian law enforcement now for about 25 years.
Lars Larson: General, I’m up against the clock. One last question.
These guys are going to be out there. They may run into some of these folks crossing, and some of the coyotes are armed. Are there rules of engagement, and will our soldiers be able to protect themselves if they’re fired upon?
LTG Blum: Absolutely. There are rules of engagement, and soldiers always have the right of self protection and they will be armed and equipped for the mission profiles that would put them in such a situation. Absolutely, Lars.
Lars Larson: Very good. Lieutenant General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. General, thank you for the time.
LTG Blum: Thank you, sir.