National Guard Troops Supporting Border Patrol Agents

By Michel Marizco
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, May 24, 2018 - 7:27am

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Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Arizona National Guard Private First Class Jose Razo is now tasked as a range safety officer for the Nogales Border Patrol station.

When President Donald Trump called for a military presence at the border last month, state leaders rallied around the plan. National Guard units from across the country were deployed to the Mexican border, an executive mandate adopted by the last three U.S. presidents. This time, the mission's very different.

"Sorry, I’m going to be distracted trying to keep him from eating all your equipment."

Sgt. Thomas Evitts of the Arizona Army National Guard pats the muzzle of a friendly U.S. Border Patrol horse with a taste for a reporter’s microphone. Evitts was deployed down to Nogales, Arizona, last month as part of Operation Guardian Support. That’s Arizona’s contribution to Trump’s call for the military on the border, 338 Arizona National Guard troops performing various jobs in support of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Arizona National Guard Sergeant Leonard Gastelum has a reporter's microphone attached to his uniform for an interview about his deployment to the Border Patrol's Nogales station garage.

"I’m over here, I take care of the herd for horse patrol. Take care of the feeding, watering, any medicines they need to. We have some like Cobalt here, who’s on a special diet," he said.

Unlike most of his colleagues, this isn’t Evitts’ first time here. He was sent out during Operation Phalanx when President Barack Obama ordered the Guard to the border facing concerns of unrestrained violence in Mexico.

The National Guard deployment of both Phalanx and an earlier operation — Operation Jump Start under President George Bush — involved running surveillance, criminal analysis, and observing and reporting illegal entries along the border.

This time, the operation is purely a support role.

"It really does aid them. They’re able to keep their teams in the field and be productive," Evitts said.

In his case, he freed up a Border Patrol agent who’s now patrolling on horseback on the border.

Both the Border Patrol and the National Guard wanted to demonstrate this support role, taking reporters to different parts of the agency’s Nogales compound, including its garage.

"Most common? Tires. The agents take these off-road every day, the tires get worn out pretty bad," answered National Guard sergeant Leonardo Gastelum when asked what role he's working. Today, he’s working on the brakes of a gray federal pickup truck.

And again, the message of a support role.

"The mechanics here are great but having extra hands, we get the vehicles faster to the field for those agents that need those vehicles guarding the border," Gastelum said.

Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Arizona National Guard sergeant Leonardo Gastelum works on the brakes of a federal government pickup truck at the Nogales Border Patrol station.

Border Patrol spokesman Daniel Hernandez said soldiers are only handling support for the agents.

"Doing support mission and support mission only. So if we need a water truck brought somewhere, if we need a facilities repair at the checkpoint, that’s the extent of it. No interaction with the public. We take that 100 percent," Hernandez said.

But that hands-off support role is a little murky with Guard troops in the air.

The Border Patrol released a video Wednesday of a Missouri Guard helicopter helping to track down a group of people running from Border Patrol agents in the West Desert.

The operation is intended to end Sept. 30, the close of the fiscal year.

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