May 30th, 2006
National Guard on border to be armed! info
| Guard will be armed on border |
Web Posted: 05/26/2006 12:00 AM CDT
Sig Christenson and Hernan Rozemberg
Express-News Staff Writer
The National Guard's chief said Thursday that some of his troops will work close to the Mexican border and will be armed — with rules of engagement allowing them to fire their weapons.
"Any soldier assigned to a mission where he would be placed in harm or danger, where his life would be threatened potentially, will in fact be armed and will have the inherent right of self-protection," Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum said.
The rules will be part of a larger memorandum of understanding that will guide the assignment of Guard members to the border. The agreement could be wrapped up today and sent to the border governors for their signatures.
Federal funding and troops could begin moving to states on the Mexican border next week once the Guard and Defense Department approve the document.
Blum added that the rules of engagement "will be the same in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas."
The comments, in a lengthy interview with the San Antonio Express-News, came as rules for the use of force were being ironed out at a meeting in Phoenix among representatives from four border-state governors and the National Guard.
The Texas National Guard's commander, Army Maj. Gen. Charles G. Rodriguez, said the talks on rules of engagement centered on "harmonization" between the states' different laws on self-defense.
Blum said he doesn't believe the Mexican government will react negatively to the presence of small bands of armed Guard members. Mexicans, he said, see the Guard "in a far more positive light than they would active-duty troops."
That, Blum said, is in part because of relationships established over decades with the Guard — which has helped support counter-narcotics missions — and the temporary nature of the arrangement.
The Guard is to stay on the border for two years as the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs boost their ranks.
All the troops along the Texas border initially will come from the Lone Star State, and be volunteers, said Col. Bill Meehan, spokesman for the Camp Mabry-based guard.
Rodriguez said several hundred soldiers could staff each of Texas' five border sectors, but predicted only a trickle of troops would go south in the early weeks of operations. They would be planners and liaison officers working with their Border Patrol counterparts in each sector, Rodriguez said.
Troops at vehicle inspection stops and engineers working along the border also could be armed. Weapons would vary, with soldiers carrying the M-16, variations of the rifle, 9-mm handguns and even shotguns.
"But we're not going to be carrying machine guns. We're not going to be carrying heavy weapons. We're not at war here," Blum said, explaining he wants troops "to be in a position to protect themselves."
News that the Guard would have surveillance assignments in close proximity to Mexico came as a surprise to the Border Patrol, the agency tasked with halting illegal border crossings.
Agency spokesman Todd Fraser said troops would work in support roles ranging from repairing and maintaining Border Patrol jeeps and manning surveillance cameras from remote locations to giving agents advanced firearms training.
Some troop assignments are being tweaked, he said, and soldiers' precise jobs and locations remain to be hashed out between top Border Patrol administrators and their Guard counterparts. But, Fraser said, "As far as I know, a National Guard unit deployed along the border, right on the line, that's not a scenario I had heard about."
Troops assigned to entry identification teams, as well as engineers, will be armed and won't have to wait for someone to shoot at them first — an engagement rule he termed "silly."
"If he has to fire, he has a right to fire," Blum said. "There are judgment calls that have to be made by mature, disciplined soldiers, and I'm confident that these soldiers have the discipline, the training, and the experience and judgment to make the proper call or we wouldn't be employing them in this mission."
About damn time, I'm glad that these soldiers will be able to protect themselves and the nation.