HORSE sense on the fence

  • Published
  • By 1st LT Jay Ostrich
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing
At the crossroads
Dusty, drug infested, deadly and downright desolate are just some of the daily obstacles faced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers patrolling nearly 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Vast stretches of desert canyon, rocky terrain, switchback roads and hairpin turns make for slower response time, dangerous conditions and high maintenance costs for the CBP.

In essence, to protect the border, CBP officers actually have to get to the border where illegal immigration and drug smuggling are 24-hour operations.

That's why a call went to the 201st RED HORSE Squadron from Fort Indiantown Gap, whose proven wartime expertise in heavy equipment operation and engineering is ideal for the austere conditions faced in Operation Jump Start, a National Guard mission to help enforce border security and construct valuable infrastructure set to end in July.

You didn't have to call them twice.

"This is exactly what we do when we deploy," said 1st Sgt. David Godin, whose team was charged with a three-week project to finish building a firing range and improving hazardous roads near Campo, Calif., some 60 miles east of San Diego.

While on the border, the 201st RHS would move thousands of tons of steel, heavy rock, dirt and sand to make better training and operational conditions for their colleagues at CBP.

"Members of this unit live for this kind of atmosphere and mission," said Godin.

'Please come back'
"Everywhere we go our goal is to make it a better place than when we arrived," said Godin.

You don't have to tell that to Vincent Burke, a California chemist who volunteers his spare time to the Mountain Minutemen's Patriot Point Posse, a group comprised of concerned U.S. citizens outraged by the state of affairs on the border. They camp out on the fence and try to be extra eyes and ears for CBP, often reporting dozens of incursions into U.S. territory.

"We're being invaded and it all starts right here," said Burke.

Burke said black tar heroin and criminals stream over the border every day and they could be coming to a neighborhood near you.
"They are killing Americans every day," said Burke. "We need more of you. Your Guardsmen are helping save precious time for the Border Patrol to respond, which means they are saving lives with the work they do here."

Yvonne Keefauver, a great-grandmother who drove 710 miles from Redding, Calif., to volunteer her time to the Mountain Minutemen's efforts, said she is beyond thankful for the Guard's efforts here.

"We really want your families to know how grateful we are for your service here," said Keefauver. "To me, this is a war here and we really need the Guard, so please come back."

That wouldn't be a problem with Master Sgt. Gregory Speicher, an airfields crew supervisor, whose son, Grant, 25, is a CBP officer working in the area.

"I'm proud of the work we are doing here," said Speicher, who has had multiple deployments to Arizona and California for OJS. "I know through (Grant) it's making a difference."

An added bonus
"This is the front line in the war on drugs and illegal immigration," said Chief Master Sgt. George Flick. "We're just glad to have a role in it. The added bonus is that we get a lot of valuable 'stick time' while we're here."

For the Airmen of the 201st RHS, stick time means getting the 50 hours of hands-on training in heavy equipment operation needed to gain certification and be deployable in war.

Moreover, the field conditions on the southern American border are very similar those the 201st faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Flick.

"We just don't have an opportunity to train like this at home," said Flick. "A mission like this is ideal in that they are doing something real and getting their certifications at the same time. They're thrilled to be here."

For Senior Airman Toni Chia, personnel specialist, and Senior Airman Veronica Tobin who works in supply, it was an opportunity to see firsthand what it takes to be a part of this oft-deployed unit.

"I really like getting my hands on stuff and actually doing my job," said Chia. "It's been a great opportunity to learn new things and see how hard this unit works when we're out in the field."
Sunset on success
As the hot California desert sun sets upon miles of thin steel fence separating freedom from desperation, a few constants were in play in this region of uncertainty.

CBP agents prepared to work into the night to keep our borders and citizens secure from human traffickers and drug smugglers. On Patriot Point, the Mountain Minutemen manned their binoculars and two-way phones, ready to call in another round of illegal activity. Down the rough road a spell, the 201st RHS cleaned their equipment and readied for another hard day of work.

"Any way you look at it, it's been a win for the Border Patrol and a win for the Pennsylvania National Guard," said Master Sgt. Chris Blackwell, airfield crew leader. "We're really proud to have been here."