The Republican governors of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Nebraska this week joined a growing list of those deploying National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border to bolster the ranks of the Texas National Guard's scandal-scarred mission.
The roster now includes at least 13 Republican governors who collectively made pledges to send roughly 1,300 Guardsmen to the border to support Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star, which is well into its second year and has cost at least $4.5 billion in an effort to combat illegal immigration and smuggling.
The Texas National Guard makes up the lion's share of the mission. At its peak, Operation Lone Star had some 10,000 National Guardsmen, but the Texas Guard did not have the personnel to sustain that mission for a long period of time, thus prompting Abbott to ask other states for their troops in May.
"I have approved the deployment of members of the WVNG to help secure our border, reduce the flood of fentanyl, and combat the human trafficking crisis," West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement Monday. "Several governors are doing this because the situation on our Southern Border is terrible, and I want to make sure we're doing our part."
The Texas border mission has long been plagued with complaints of late pay for soldiers and issues with troops having little to actually do, leading to issues of drinking and poor morale. There is also little evidence the Guard's mission is combating smuggling and illegal immigration.
Many of the out-of-state deployments to Texas are relatively small and short missions. Each of the three states sending troops this week are sending only about 50 Guardsmen and for only a month, leaving little time for actual operations on the border after moving personnel and gear on and off the mission.
All of those deployments are voluntary and with created task forces instead of a pre-existing unit.
Meanwhile, each state sending assistance to the Texas border is also juggling its own missions at home and abroad.
Ohio, for example, was one of the first states to deploy to Texas, sending 185 troops in 2021. The following year, it deployed some 2,000 troops to Syria and Iraq, marking some of the only conventional troops deployed to a combat zone at that time. Virginia deployed 100 Guardsmen to the border in May, shortly after it returned from its mission in the horn of Africa.
The Guardsmen with Operation Lone Star are on state active-duty, or SAD, orders. That means they are generally paid less than if they were on traditional military duty and must even fill out new W4 tax forms like state contractors.
Troops on SAD orders do not accrue benefits associated with service, such as the GI Bill or VA home loans, and are not entitled to disability through the Department of Veterans Affairs if injured on duty.
Guardsmen usually fall under federal protections against retaliation from their civilian employers for taking time off to serve, but those laws mostly do not protect them while on state duty, though some states have their own protections.
The Operation Lone Star troops are separate from the 4,000 service members on the border as part of a federal mission largely centered around administrative tasks ordered by President Joe Biden. Under federal orders, troops earn full pay and benefits.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.