|On the Border: Oregon Guardsmen serve unique mission in Operation Jump Start
Story and photos by Senior Airman Trish Harris, 142nd Fighter Wing Visual Information
PHOENIX, Ariz. - Donning protective gear and carrying a weapon while standing watch over the desert landscape. Performing maintenance on UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. Climbing 100-foot communication towers on remote mountains. Pushing steel pipes into the ground. What do all these things have in common? They are all tasks being performed by Oregon Air and Army National Guard personnel in Arizona.
Just what exactly are Oregon National Guardsmen doing in Arizona? The answer would be, a little bit of everything. Oregon Guardsmen have integrated into nearly every part of the Operation Jump Start (OJS) mission in Arizona since it began in June 2006.
In May 2006, President George W. Bush announced a plan to aid U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) with stopping the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons across the U.S.-Mexico border. Operation Jump Start is this plan, and its purpose is to bring National Guardsmen from all over the country to the border to support CBP in various roles.
There are approximately 2,500 Guard members currently in Arizona supporting OJS. More than 8,300 Army (ARNG) and Air National Guard (ANG) members from 49 states and two territories, Guam and the Virgin Islands, have served in the OJS mission in Arizona since it began.
"Having the Guardsmen serving in these different support roles has allowed Border Patrol agents to return to the field to perform their vital law enforcement role," said Sgt. Gustavo Soto, CBP supervisory patrol agent. "This law enforcement role, which Guardsmen do not do, includes confronting and arresting illegal drug, weapons and human traffickers and apprehending those entering the country illegally."
According to Soto, there were 9,200 apprehensions in the Tucson sector and more than 290,000 pounds of marijuana seized between Oct 1, 2006 and Jan 31, 2007.
"Apprehensions of illegal crossers have dropped 12 percent, which means less people are even attempting to cross the border illegally, while drug seizures have gone up 29 percent since last year," said Soto.
Stoto attributes this positive change to the presence of Guardsmen serving in OJS, "The Operation Jump Start mission is a success," he said.
The Oregon National Guard has played a part in that success, as there are currently 32 Oregon Guardsmen serving in Arizona; nine ANG personnel and 23 ARNG personnel. These Guardsmen are scattered across the state, performing duties in Sasabe, Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma and cities in between. An additional 42 ANG personnel from the 142nd Civil Engineering Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base (PANG), are also scheduled to serve for OJS beginning in mid-April.
Some of the missions assigned to Oregon Guardsmen include finance and administration; entry identification teams; aviation support; vehicle maintenance; communications; construction and installation of vehicle barriers, roads and permanent fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The varied tasks these Guardsmen perform are each unique and essential to the overall OJS mission, supporting CBP agents.
Army Sergeant Ross Willey of Portland, Ore., from Echo Company (Civil Engineer Unit), 3rd Battalion, 116th Calvary, based in Prineville, Ore., is serving near Sasabe, Ariz. His mission as a welder for Task Force Diamondback's Sasabe Vehicle Barrier Team is essential to preventing vehicle traffic from crossing the border illegally.
"We take recycled railroad tracks, cut them down into smaller sections and weld them into individual barricades," explained Willey. "We then transport them to the border by truck, unload and put them into place with a forklift along the border line, and weld them all together, creating vehicle barricades miles long."
Army Sergeant Steve Hilger of Stayton, Ore., from Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Calvary, based in Redmond, Ore., is creating a different type of permanent vehicle barrier along the border, about 60 miles south of Ajo, Ariz. Hilger is a member of Task Force Diamondback's Vehicle Barrier Team 2. He uses a Push-it machine to install steel pipes in the ground as permanent barriers to prevent vehicles from illegally crossing the Arizona-Mexico border.
Another aspect of the mission is the Entry Identification Team (EIT) mission. Airmen and Soldiers from all across Oregon serve on EIT sites in both the Tucson and Yuma sector in Arizona. Their mission is to be the eyes and ears for CBP.
"Basically, my mission is to observe the border areas for illegal crossing of individuals or unusual activities and report back to Customs and Border Patrol," explained Senior Airman Dion Rives of Portland, Ore., from the 142nd Fighter Wing, Communications Flight, based at PANG. Rives is an EIT member assigned to sites in Nogales, Ariz.
The EIT sites are scattered across the entire southern border of Arizona. Soldiers and Airmen man these sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week, watching for any sort of illegal activity, such as smuggling of drugs or people from across the border. The EIT teams immediately report any suspicious activity via radio communication to CBP agents who arrive on scene and handle all law enforcement activities. The EIT sites, which are in highly visible locations and serve as deterrents, also detect and direct CBP agents to apprehend, those that do cross illegally into America.
CBP is appreciative of the Guard members like Rives who are serving at the EIT sites.
"The EIT site mission has made our job much easier by deterring illegal entering traffic and by being our extra set of eyes of ears, letting us know where illegal crossings are taking place," Soto said. "We are able to respond to communications much faster."
Communications is another task Oregon Guardsmen are contributing to the OJS mission.
Senior Airmen Joshua Hart of Klamath Falls, Ore., from the 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron based at Kingsley Field, serves as the Internet Technology & Communications Manager for the OJS Joint Force Headquarters in Phoenix. He is charged with tracking and maintenance of communications devices, such as satellites and radios, and with coordinating the set-up of all communications systems for the entire state of Arizona.
"Without this job, mission communication between OJS personnel and CBP is lost," stressed Hart.
Another Oregonian handling communications is Tech. Sgt. Mark Quinn of Gresham, Ore., also from the 142nd Fighter Wing Communications Flight, based at PANG, who is a team chief for the Task Force Diamondback Repeater Team.
The Repeater team has been tasked with upgrading the CBP communications system. They conduct site surveys at the CBP communication tower sites all over the state of Arizona. Their job is to determine what must be done and what materials are needed to complete the upgrade. When they receive the new materials, the team will then install the new equipment without any downtime of the communication system during the upgrade.
"Once the new communication system is in place, it will increase the effectiveness of communications for CBP statewide," said Quinn.
The communications towers are from 80 to 180 feet tall, and some are in locations so remote Quinn and his team can only reach them by a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.
Responsible for maintaining those UH-60 Blackhawks is Army Sergeant Stephen Dotson, of Union, Ore., from Detachment 3, Bravo Company, 351 Aviation Maintenance, based out of Pendleton, Ore. Dotson is serving in Phoenix, performing standard repair and maintenance on the Blackhawks used for various aviation support missions for OJS, such as transportation of personnel and materials across the state.
OJS is a joint mission with Soldiers, Airmen and CBP agents working side-by-side daily to accomplish their tasks.
"It's really nice to see our Soldiers and Airmen out here cooperating and everyone working together to make our country a safer place," said CBP Senior Patrol Agent Norm Antuzzi.
Overall, many of the Oregon Guardsmen say they are enjoying their time in Arizona and expanding their skills.
"I'm having fun meeting Guardsmen from different states," said Quinn. "This experience has also given me the chance to learn more about my job than I would have been able to back home."
"This is a good mission, we are doing a job that is worthwhile," stated Rives.
070118-F-6095H-187: Oregon Air National Guard member, Tech. Sgt. Mark Quinn of Gresham, Ore., from the 142nd Fighter Wing Communications Flight, Portland Air National Guard Base, scales a communications tower near Tucson, Ariz. on Jan. 18 to conduct an inspection of the tower. Quinn is deployed to Arizona in support of Operation Jump Start and is assigned to the Repeater Team in Tucson, Ariz. which is supporting U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in upgrading their communications system. The inspection survey is part of this upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trish Harris, 142nd Fighter Wing - Visual Information)
070119-F-6095H-033: Oregon Army National Guard soldier, Sgt. Ross Willey of Portland, Ore., from Echo Company (Civil Engineer Unit), 3rd Battalion, 116th Calvary, based in Prineville, Ore., welds a railroad tie into place to create a vehicle barrier south of Sasabe, Ariz., on Jan. 19. Willey is working in Arizona as part of Operation Jump Start, supporting U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The barriers will be used to prevent vehicles from illegally crossing the Arizona-Mexico border. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trish Harris, 142nd Fighter Wing - Visual Information)
070204-F-6095H-002: Oregon Air National Guard member, Senior Airman Dion Rives of Portland, Ore., from the 142 Fighter Wing, Communications Flight, Portland Air National Guard Base, reports border activity via radio to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents near Nogales, Ariz. on Feb. 4. Rives is serving in Arizona on an Entry Identification Team for Operation Jump Start, which is supporting CBP by performing border surveillance and reporting illegal activity back to CBP agents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trish Harris, 142nd Fighter Wing - Visual Information)
070204-F-6095H-004: Oregon Air National Guard member, Senior Airman Dion Rives of Portland, Ore., from the 142 Fighter Wing, Communications Flight, Portland Air National Guard Base, watches for illegal activity near Nogales, Ariz. on Feb. 4. Rives is serving in Arizona on an Entry Identification Team for Operation Jump Start, which is supporting U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) by performing border surveillance and reporting illegal activity back to CBP agents. The wall between the U.S. and Mexico is shown in the background. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trish Harris, 142nd Fighter Wing - Visual Information)
070220-F-6095H-006: Oregon Army National Guard soldier, Sgt. Stephen Dotson, of Union, Ore., from Detachment 3, Bravo Company, 351 Aviation Maintenance, based out of Pendleton, Ore., performs maintenance on a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in Phoenix, Ariz. on Feb. 20. Dotson is serving in Arizona on Operation Jump Start, and the UH-60 Blackhawks are used for various aviation support missions, such as transportation of personnel, and supply of materials. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trish Harris, 142nd Fighter Wing - Visual Information)
Oregon National Guard Public Affairs
Capt. Michael Braibish