Will National Guard Troops at the Border Be Armed? It Depends

In this April 10, 2018 frame from video, a National Guard troop watches over Rio Grande River on the border in Roma, Texas. (AP Photo/John Mone)
In this April 10, 2018 frame from video, a National Guard troop watches over Rio Grande River on the border in Roma, Texas. (AP Photo/John Mone)

The National Guard soldiers and airmen deploying to the border between the United States and Mexico may be armed as they support operations to control illegal immigrants from crossing the border, Pentagon officials said today.

About 900 Guard members from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have deployed to the southwest border so far to support for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, vice chief of the National Guard Bureau, stressed that Guard personnel will only be performing support operations and not be participating in missions requiring them to be armed.

"Guardsman and women will not perform any federal state law enforcement functions; they will not be employed in ... missions that place them in direct contact with personnel on the border, nor will they be required to be armed to perform their assigned CPB missions," Hokanson told reporters at a press briefing today.

It will be up to governors and adjutant generals of each state participating to decide of guard members will carry their personal weapons for self-defense, Hokanson said.

"They will take a look at the exact job that person is doing, and they will determine if ... they need to be armed, "Hokanson said.

Hokanson said could not say whether any of the roughly 60 Guardsman from New Mexico, 250 from Arizona or 650 from Texas are currently armed.

"The National Guard will perform many operational support functions including monitoring cameras and sensor feeds to assist with the overall situational awareness. They will provide much-needed aerial support, and we anticipate they will help with repairing roads and vehicles along with other duties," said Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"To be clear, border security is and will remain a civilian law enforcement responsibility; the National Guard will serve in a support capacity and not be directly involved in border patrol,” he added. “Their assignments will not put them in harm's way and they are not going to be required to enforce the law."

The border mission could require up to 4,000 Guard personnel, but Pentagon officials currently see a need for about 2,000 Guard members, said Robert Salesses, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense Integration.

In addition to personnel, the mission will require aviation support in five sectors of the border, which will equate to about 12,000 flying hours, Salesses said.

Currently, the mission is being funded through National Guard training accounts, but it could expand to other Defense Department accounts, Salesses said.

It's unclear how long the Guard personnel will be needed for the mission, Vitiello said, explaining that that the goal is to achieve "operational control" of the border, an end-state that involves the CPB's ability to detect and deter individuals from crossing the border illegally.

"This is a finite resource, so I can't tell these guys we are going to be working together for the next 10 years; it really depends on what investments that are made to help us achieve what we have been asked to do," Vitiello said. "When we feel like the measurements for operational control are in place in vulnerable locations, then we can start to talk to the Guard about a draw-down."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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