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Governor announces troop border deployment at airport conference

LOUISVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett Jr., adjutant general of Tennessee, met here Thursday, Oct. 26, with troops under their command to wish them well on their 30-day deployment this month to operating locations near the Mexican border at Laredo, Texas.

Bredesen said 27 members of the 1/230th Air Cavalry Squadron, part of Tennessee’s Army National Guard, will join comrades at arms already deployed near Yuma, Ariz., to help U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents apprehend aliens seeking to cross the international border with Mexico illegally.

Bredesen, at a briefing held at the Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility No. 2, near McGhee Tyson Airport, called immigration reform a “complex and serious issue” requiring difficult, long-range solutions.

“The challenge ultimately requires a comprehensive, national solution,” Bredesen added, “but it falls to state and local governments to step in and fill the void left by the federal government” to “plug the leaks” in a porous Mexican border.

“I’m committed to doing what we can in Tennessee, and helping to secure our nation’s border is one critical part of that effort.”

Bredesen’s re-election campaign used his June decision to send Guard troops to the border as a talking point for the political challenge faced from state Sen. Jim Bryson, R-Franklin.

Hargett said about 550 Tennessee Guard soldiers and airmen have participated since August in Operation Jump Start along the border.

The general called deployment “a win-win” for soldiers who will gain valuable training in desert operations, similar to those in Iraq, even as they help patrol the border.

Bredesen said the current deployment — which includes six Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters — came at the request of Texas’ governor and adjutant general.

About 106 Tennessee Guard members already are on a border which generally entails observation and reporting illegal border crossers to USCBP agents on the ground.

Hargett, pictured right with Bredesen on left, said the unit’s Bell OH-58-D Kiowa helicopters carry no weapons but are well-equipped for nighttime patrols that employ infrared thermal imaging, effective from five miles’ distance, and other specialized gear. The choppers cost about $4 million each.

Maj. Melvin R. Clawson and Capt. Andrew D. Maguire said about three-fourths of those being deployed already have similar reconnaissance experience in Kosovo. Clawson said the basic mission would be to “identify and report” any illegal aliens detected.

Guard members in Tennessee and 10 other states, since early summer, have helped agents patrol the border in the wake of heightened concerns in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy that struck terror in 2001. Operation Jump Start uses Guardsmen to provide logistical and other support for federal Border Patrol agents seeking to stem the tide of illegals, crossing the border from Mexico.

Among those now in Arizona are members of the Tennessee National Guard’s 168th Military Police Battalion who man cameras at desert surveillance posts in Arizona.

States have sent about 1,800 Guard troops in all to beef up security along the porous southern border. Guardsmen do not enforce immigration laws, but serve as “eyes and ears” for Border Patrol agents who do.

State Guard units, by late August, had aided USCBP agents in apprehending 6,500 illegal aliens, seizing 34,000 pounds of narcotics worth an estimated $74.5 million, and had helped rescue 43 people who were in distress as they tried to cross illegally into the U.S.

President George W. Bush signed a bill Thursday, Oct. 26, authorizing a 700-mile fence to be built along segments of the 2,100-mile Mexican border.

No money has been appropriated for the mammoth project which, planners say, entails a $1.2 billion down payment for fencing, access roads, barriers, lighting and high-tech equipment to make effective border patrol easier.

Bredesen said the immigration problem would “long be over before lines could even be drawn on the ground” to show where such a new fence should run. A fence, while a politically attractive idea, was no substitute, he said, for having actual “boots on the ground” to watch the border. Bredesen said the state would be out no money on its border efforts, since federal government agencies will pay expenses.



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