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National Guard efforts leading to success on the U.S.-Mexico Border

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp and Master Sgt. Eric A. Johnson
  • 119th Wing
Airmen of the Air National Guard and Soldiers of the National Guard from all over the country have been deploying to the United States' southern border-states since the very early stages of Operation JUMP START (OJS), which began June 15, 2006.
The Guards' border mission is to provide support to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol along the southwest border. OJS allows Guardsmen to fill such critical roles in the areas of administration, communications, intelligence, maintenance, construction, entry detection and identification. 

Airmen like Technical Sgt. Robert Stefko, a communications specialist assigned to the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Wing, also known as the Happy Hooligans, are assigned to various tasks and sprinkled throughout the southwest border region.
Sergeant Stefko is a member of Task Force Yuma and serves as a communications specialist managing radio and computer systems in the forward operating base near Yuma, Ariz. 

In this capacity he provides communication support to the entry identification teams, also known as the "eyes and ears" for the Border Patrol, in their effort to detect people attempting to illegally cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. by maintaining the radios that link the National Guard members with their Border Patrol counterparts. 

More than 200 miles east of Sergeant Stefko, another Happy Hooligan, Staff Sgt. Ryan Hehr, of the 119th Maintenance Squadron, looks over the desert hills and valleys on the U.S.-Mexico border near Nogales, Ariz. 

Serving as a member of an Entry Identification Team, Sergeant Stefko looks through binoculars and scans the rugged terrain for any signs of undocumented aliens who may be attempting to cross the border into the U.S. and reports any activity to the Border Patrol. 

"We plug holes along the border where needed and we act like funnels for the Border Patrol so that they can more easily apprehend undocumented aliens," said Senior Master Sgt. Lawrence L. Nelson of the 119th Aircraft Maintenance Flight. 

Sergeant Nelson is the operations noncommissioned officer for Task Force Falcon, based in Nogales, and is assigned to supporting three flights of entry identification teams. 

Meanwhile, the Soldiers of the 188th Engineer Company, Wahpeton, N.D., and the 816th Engineer Company from Hettinger, Mott, Dickinson and Williston, N.D., are in the midst of three-week deployments participating in Task Force Diamondback near Yuma and Nogales. 

Task Force Diamondback's mission is to erect and reinforce segments of border fence along with other construction projects to help secure the southwest U.S.-Mexico border. 

The Soldiers in the 188th Engineer Company from North Dakota are skilled workers versed in many areas of vertical construction and heavy equipment operation. On the mission, they are reinforcing the primary steel fence at the border by adding welding to the interlocking tabs on the new metal panels. 

They are also erecting light poles and a secondary fence inside the primary fence, which will create a well-lit enforcement zone that will be the domain of only the Border Patrol vehicles when complete. 

Additionally, the 816th Engineer Company is working on a remote road that will provide the Border Patrol with better access to the border. 

"This is a great training opportunity for the younger troops because they are getting a chance to use equipment they might not have a chance to use during regular training back in North Dakota," said Army First Sergeant Marvin H. King Jr., who is responsible for the well being of the 188th Soldiers near Yuma while deployed. "They're gaining skills and experience beyond their pay grade." 

While the missions are providing valuable training for the Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from all around the country, it is also proving valuable to the security of the nation's borders. 

"They're helping us get badge and gun-carrying agents back into the field," said Senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Agent Marlan Holland of the Nogales Border Patrol station. 

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol statistics, the undocumented alien border crossing in the Yuma sector has been reduced 68 percent since the beginning of OJS. 

"We've had numerous Air and Army National Guard units in from throughout the United States, including units from Guam, Hawaii, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Maine, said Master Sgt. Ricky L. Walters, from the 188th Fighter Wing, Arkansas, and part of the duration staff located near Yuma, Ariz. 

"Everybody understands that when they get to this location they have to come in here open-minded and flexible because their job can change with very little notice." 

"Everybody is working hard and jumping in to do whatever is asked of them despite the heat and the challenges presented by the Arizona desert, like poisonous snakes, scorpions, spiders and biting insects," said 2nd Lt. Lonnie L. Wangen, of the 188th Engineer Company. 

Together the North Dakota Army and Air National Guard personnel, along with the rest of the joint military agencies and the U.S. Customs and border Protection's Border Patrol are making a difference in the nation's effort to secure the southern border of the United States.