Members of the Texas National Guard say their mission to secure the border is a waste of time and resources | News






A member of the National Guard near the Texas-Mexico border.




(CNN) – Since Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott deployed thousands of people to the US-Mexico border, the operation has been called overtly political and a waste of resources by Democratic lawmakers and even some members of the National Guard participating in the mission. .

Back in March, Abbott, who is up for re-election, launched “Operation Lone Star,” citing a crisis on the US southern border. The operation – which relied on the resources of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard – reached more than 10,000 military personnel.

The speed with which the operation took off and its scale fueled frustrations internally and among veterans of the Guard. Several members of the Guard who are deployed on Operation Lone Star and spoke to CNN described long hours with little to do, poor planning and a lack of mission – which they say contribute to morale bottom of the soldiers.

“Being in the military, people know the term hurry and wait. It’s just the biggest hurry and wait that I’ve been a part of, and there’s really no set, ‘hey, we’re doing this , or hey, go out and do this.’ It’s just that we sit around doing nothing,” one soldier said.






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Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference in Mission, Texas on October 6, 2021.




Last year, several Republican governors across the country sent law enforcement officials to the US-Mexico border, giving everyone the opportunity to emphasize their loyalty to former President Donald Trump while simultaneously lambasting the administration of President Joe Biden.

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Abbott has been a vocal critic of the White House, attributing a rise in border migrants to Biden’s immigration policies, although there have also been spikes under the Trump administration.

Here in Del Rio, authorities dealt with a wave of migrants last September that left thousands of people, mostly Haitians, waiting to be processed under a bridge and necessitating a scramble for resources. Since this crisis, border arrests have remained high.

In December, the US Border Patrol arrested more than 33,000 migrants in the Del Rio area, up from the previous month, according to the latest available data, from just under 9,200 in December 2020 and 3,000 in December 2019.

The National Guard, however, usually plays a supporting role and notifies US Border Patrol if it encounters migrants, so officers can pick them up. In Del Rio, Humvees are located along the border at vantage points with soldiers assigned to them to monitor activity, which may vary by location.

“There are guys standing at our points doing nothing so they don’t really see a mission. They just see it because we’re just being used as political pawns for an election year,” the soldier said.

“I saw a lot of soldiers here collapsing. I just saw a lot of soldiers, as if their attitude had changed dramatically,” the soldier added. “Morale was definitely low and sanity declined.”

Other common complaints reported to CNN included cramped quarters leading to Covid-19 outbreaks among soldiers, delayed pay and lack of proper equipment.

Retired Command Sgt. Major Jason Featherston, who was involved in the initial planning of the operation and retired last year, argued that it need not be so.

“We want soldiers to deliver those specific sets of tasks there, and then have those tasks properly planned out,” Featherston said. “And to be honest with you, if this thing had been planned correctly, we wouldn’t be sending soldiers there with inappropriate equipment.”

Those concerns surfaced during a two-hour virtual town hall in mid-January where senior commanders answered questions from deployed units. Among the issues raised were soldiers swapping gear because there wasn’t enough for each person, insufficient tools, living conditions and soldiers not being paid on time, according to audio obtained by CNN. .

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The Texas Military Department said it was working on issues raised, equipment and living conditions and following Covid-19 protocols. On Wednesday, around 2.5% of the soldiers assigned to the operation were impacted by Covid-19, according to the department.

“The mission of the Texas National Guard and DPS has been clear from the beginning: to deter and prevent immigrants from entering Texas illegally, including by constructing barriers to accomplish these goals, and to detain and arrest those who violate the law. of Texas,” Nan Tolson said. , a spokesperson for Abbott, in a statement.

But the list of problems has already taken its toll on deployed soldiers. “It made me lose faith in a lot of things that I used to trust when it came to the military,” another soldier told CNN, citing frequently changing plans.

“My frustrations are mostly at the state level. Lack of planning, general concern of individuals on the ground,” echoed another soldier deployed on Operation Lone Star.

Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Martinez told CNN that the mere presence of authorities keeps residents of Del Rio, which falls under his jurisdiction, safe.

“If their duty is, you know, to sit at a station and make sure nobody shows up and if somebody shows up, call Border Patrol, you know, too bad, I think that’s is necessary,” Martinez said.

A large white tent has been erected in the parking lot in front of the sheriff’s office to serve as a processing center for migrants arrested by state authorities for criminal trespassing. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, more than 2,900 migrants have been arrested by state authorities for criminal trespassing as part of Operation Lone Star.

A key tactic of Abbott’s operation is to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants for trespassing on private property after crossing the border. CNN previously reported that hundreds of migrants, through their lawyers and court documents, claimed their constitutional rights were being violated as part of the Abbott-led effort.

Asked about Operation Lone Star, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the agency had “no role or partner in any way with the DPS of the Texas in Operation Lone Star”.

Texas civil rights groups filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Justice Department in December over Operation Lone Star, calling it “illegal”, “xenophobic” and “racist”. .

Deaths and suicides

Democratic members of Congress in Texas, along with some of their colleagues, also raised questions about the operation with the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, arguing that the programs led to violations of the laws of state and constitutional due process rights. And in January, lawmakers urged the Inspector General of the Texas Military Department to open an investigation into the department’s actions related to Operation Lone Star.

Among the concerns listed by lawmakers was a spate of deaths, first reported by the Army Times, linked to the operation. There have been four deaths of service members assigned to Operation Lone Star, according to the Texas Military Department. Two were suicides and two were accidental off-mission firearm discharges.

This week, the Texas Military Department announced that a Texas National Guard soldier died in a non-mission related incident in the town of Brackettville, 30 miles from Del Rio.

The Soldier – identified as Texas Army National Guard Spc. Dajuan Lester Townes – had been assigned to Operation Lone Star and died from an accidental firearm discharge. The incident is under investigation.

“We are deeply saddened by this loss,” Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, chief general of the Texas Military Department, said in a statement. “We are focused on supporting the soldier’s family and providing all available resources.”

For some of those who remain deployed, the deaths and continued uncertainty with the mission are troubling.

“When I sign up for the National Guard, I sign up for a week and a month, two weeks a year. If there’s a natural disaster in the state, I’ll be there. If another state needs of us for a natural disaster, I’ll be there. If I have to deploy to another country for a legitimate mission, I’ll be there,” one of the soldiers told CNN.

“A lot of guards, myself included, we had to wrap up our civilian lives and our civilian careers and put it all on hold,” the soldier said.

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