Skip to comments.NATIONAL GUARD INSPECTORS' EXIT FROM BORDER STOKES WORRIES
Posted on 05/07/2003 8:20:33 AM PDT by madfly
EL PASO - A Defense Department plan to pull 450 National Guard troops away from inspection duties along the border is sparking an outcry among critics who fear it will lower the nation's defenses against terrorism.
Some of the Guard troops have been on the job for more than 10 years and were trained to identify suspicious vehicles with hidden compartments that could conceal weapons.
Under a plan approved in February by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the new customs agency will hire inspectors and train them to replace the Guard troops.
"This proposal would pull out the National Guard from doing cargo inspections at a time when we are worried about the possibility of the introduction of weapons of mass destruction," said U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.
Defense officials, however, say the pullback of the Guard from the border will improve national security by allowing the troops to focus on military duties such as reconnaissance and intelligence.
On the border, the Guard troops have been checking vehicles, putting luggage on X-ray conveyors in airports, inspecting mail and doing other things that are not strictly military duties, said Andre Hollis, the Defense Department's deputy assistant secretary for counternarcotics.
Hollis said the change would expand Guard roles in land and air reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, construction of border fences and barricades, and radar surveillance of unofficial border crossings.
"We're not talking about cutting the number of Guardsmen," Hollis said. "We're talking about having them do things that are military unique. ... We'll keep the Guard busy."
On Friday, the new Bureau of Customs and Border Protection announced it is looking for people "to fill several hundred customs inspector positions along the Southwest border."
David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney in Albuquerque, N.M., and chairman of a panel that advises U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on homeland security, said during a recent border tour that he opposed pulling the Guard out. About 25 Guard troops are assigned to inspections in New Mexico, working at ports of entry on the border with Mexico and at Border Patrol inspection stations near Las Cruces and Alamogordo.
Along the Texas-Mexico bases, the number of Guard troops assigned to vehicle and cargo inspections has fallen from about 115 two years ago to 60, officials said.
Reyes, the El Paso congressman, said homeland security officials are concerned about being able to find enough agents with adequate experience. He said he is trying to delay the Guard pullback, now scheduled to be completed next February.
Customs officials, however, say they can handle the border inspections.
In a letter to Defense officials, Douglas M. Browning, deputy commissioner of customs, said the agency "will be able to effectively discharge its functions even with the anticipated withdrawal of the Guard."
Browning said the corps of inspectors has increased lately because fewer are leaving and there was a net gain when agencies were combined under the new Department of Homeland Security.
Guard troops are trained in the use of tools that span from hammers to X-ray machines. Dismantling teams tear apart vehicles suspected of transporting illegal drugs.
"The current mind-set is that this is not a core soldier's skill," said Col. Russ Malesky, commander of the Texas Army and Air National Guard counterdrug program. "It's not recognized as beneficial for a soldier to have these skills. However, since 9-11, soldiers have had to be trained in these skills."
Lt. James Monroe, the Texas Army National Guard soldier who runs a unit of about a dozen troops in El Paso, said the troops seemed more permanent than customs agents, who would come and go.
Monroe said having the Guard troops conduct inspections freed customs agents for law enforcement duties. He added that Guard members often train customs workers in use of inspection equipment.
"It's the same procedure whether you're looking for drugs or bombs," he said.
Ashcroft should get a new advisor in New Mexico.
This bozo Iglesias does not even know that N.M. only has on PORT OF ENTRY not PORTS OF ENTRY.
I'd bet this guy has never set foot outside of Albuquerque.
If constructing border fences and barricades is what they have in mind for the guard, then maybe that's not so bad. The Army Corps of Engineers can do the job faster, more efficiently, and cheaper than private contractors anyway.
Seems like a perfect fit to me. Give them the authorization to shoot illegal entrants and it would be perfect.
Yes, Columbus, New Mexico.