By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
National Guard Bureau
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (12/14/10) - National Guard troops deployed to the U.S. border with Mexico are boosting Border Patrol agents' efforts here, a senior Customs and Border Protection agent said Tuesday.
"They've been hugely beneficial to us," said Mark Moody, a patrol agent in charge who is serving on detail as operations division chief in CBP's San Diego sector.
Among other missions on this section of the Southwest border, California National Guardmembers are supporting civilian authorities by manning 17 entry identification team sites - observation posts where Guardmembers report suspicious activity for Border Patrol action.
"That's 17 EIT sites per shift, per day, which equates to over 200 [Border Patrol] agents," Moody explained.
Because of the Guard's presence, "Now we're allowed to . either man additional observation posts or put them back on the border doing line watch, so it's an incredible benefit to us."
"Just the added eyes and ears we have, allows us to do more interdiction and less observation, has been hugely beneficial to us."
Moody's comments came during a visit to the Southwest border by Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, assessing the progress of the National Guard's yearlong contribution in the border states.
"It's great to see the collaboration," McKinley said, after visiting with Guardmembers on the ground, who are working with the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard and other officials.
"This whole mission of assisting law enforcement [on the border] is very important to the National Guard," McKinley said. "I'm most impressed with the California National Guard . and the support to local law enforcement. They're doing great work."
The California National Guard was credited with supporting ICE agents in finding two tunnels under the border last month, according to a CBP and ICE briefing.
The Nov. 3 discovery of the first tunnel resulted in capturing 30 tons of marijuana, the single largest drug seizure associated with a tunnel.
Another 20 tons of marijuana was seized upon the discovery of a second tunnel Nov. 25.
A National Guardmember serving as a criminal analyst through Joint Task Force-Sierra, the official name for the Guard's border support here in California, conducted case support and link analysis for the investigations, which resulted in arrests, and additional support after the discoveries.
"This discovery again shows the cartels' growing desperation in the face of beefed up border security and the extremes these organizations are trying in an effort to avoid detection," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for ICE homeland security investigations here.
At one time known as one of the most challenging sections of the U.S. border with Mexico, the San Diego Sector is now viewed as a model of border enforcement.
A combination of personnel, infrastructure and technology deployed over the last decade has seen this stretch of border move from the days of Border Patrol agents being overwhelmed by "bonsai runs" by hundreds of illegal immigrants at a time to significantly enhanced border security.
"We've gone from averaging over 500,000 apprehensions a year [to] this past year we had 68,000," Moody said. "We've seen our apprehensions reduced by over 80 percent over a 15-year period."
"We've had to find the right combination of personnel, technology and tactical infrastructure. This is the blueprint for what everybody would want to have."
The Border Patrol faces an emerging threat on the maritime border, where smugglers are using the sea to try to compromise border security.
Five of the EIT sites being supported by the National Guard observe maritime approaches.
"The National Guard, by manning these five EIT sites that would take us 10 agents every shift, 30 agents every day, minimum, to get out there and staff them allows us to take those 30 agents and either put them on additional observation sites or allows us to respond to any of the traffic that the National Guard spots," Moody said.
Up to 1,200 National Guardmembers are currently supporting civilian law
enforcement authorities to enhance security on the Southwest border.