National Guard Troops Help at U.S.-Mexico Border More than 6,000 National Guard troops are now on the U.S. border with Mexico, helping the U.S. Border Patrol confront people attempting to cross illegally. The Guardsmen are helping with logistics, surveillance and maintenance. The Guard help has put more agents back on the border. Sarah Bush of KUT reports.
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National Guard Troops Help at U.S.-Mexico Border

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National Guard Troops Help at U.S.-Mexico Border

National Guard Troops Help at U.S.-Mexico Border

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DON GONYEA, host:

The National Guard says it has met today's deadline for troops to be sent to help patrol the U.S. border with Mexico. Officials announced yesterday that almost 6,200 troops have been deployed along the border. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry promised to send 1,500 of his National Guard troops.

Sarah Bush reports.

SARAH BUSH reporting:

At state headquarters for the Texas National Guard in Austin, Colonel Robert Cannon debriefs an auditorium full of eager soldiers.

Unidentified Man: Troops! Ten hut!

BUSH: It's day two of training for this group at Camp Mabry.

Colonel ROBERT CANNON (Commander, National Guard, Texas Border Support Mission): Take a seat, gentlemen.

BUSH: The commander of Texas Border Support Mission has been doing this for new recruits just about every day.

Col. CANNON: When we're out there on the field, we identify people. We're going to call the U.S. Border Patrol on the radio and tell them, hey, I've got somebody over here, and they're going to come get them for you.

BUSH: After two more days of briefings and paperwork, the soldiers head to the U.S./Mexico border for about a year. They volunteered to help the Border Patrol with administrative, mechanical, and surveillance tasks. Col. Cannon says the Texas National Guard is meeting Governor Perry's goal, and still has enough troops to respond to state emergencies.

Col. CANNON: We will well make the numbers that we need to for the Border Support Mission. We have more than enough troops coming in to do the job.

BUSH: In El Paso, Texas National Guards soldier Sarah Ciconne(ph) isn't affected by the scorching summer temperatures.

Unidentified Man: One-zero-seven. Zero-zero (unintelligible).

BUSH: She's holed up in a video surveillance room, watching border crossers try to beat the heat and Border Patrol agents.

Ms. SARAH CICONNE (Soldier, Texas National Guard): You just see people just running or walking, just however - crossing over the river. I don't know if they know about the cameras or anything, but they're basically just walking across the river, just trying to be - trying to hide, be discreet about it. But we can see them. We can see them.

BUSH: Ciconne and another soldier scan nine miles of border using joysticks to operate cameras mounted on poles. If they see anything suspicious on their screens, they radio Border Patrol agents, who then respond. Thirteen agents from this station are now back in the field due to the National Guard soldiers filling in for them.

Vehicle maintenance is another job the soldiers have assumed. Here at the headquarters shop, Sergeant Tony Lafayette, recently back from Iraq, tinkers with patrol SUVs.

Sergeant TONY LAFAYETTE (Texas National Guard): They were doing layoffs where I work at.

BUSH: When Governor Perry called for volunteers to serve on the border, Lafayette says he immediately signed up.

Sgt. LAFAYETTE: And so here I am in El Paso.

BUSH: Lafayette says vehicle maintenance had gotten so far behind before Guards soldiers came to help that agents were being pulled in from the field.

Sgt. LAFAYETTE: Slowly but surely, we're being able to get it to where it needs to be so they don't have to worry about all the rope trucks. They can bring something in and have it worked on, and hopefully by the end of the day it's to where they can have it the next day.

BUSH: Senior U.S. Border Patrol Agent Rajulio Garcia(ph) says he's relieved not to have to worry about broken down vehicles.

Agent RAJULIO GARCIA (United States Border Patrol): National Guard has been cranking out these vehicles, getting them ready for Border Patrol agents - that we have these vehicles at our disposal. As soon as our briefings are over, we can hop in them and get out to the field.

BUSH: Many Texas National Guard soldiers are from the border area. After serving as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan, they say they're glad to be close to home.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Bush in El Paso.

(Soundbite of music)

GONYEA: This is NPR News.

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