Dalton Man Participates In U.S. Border Patrol Mission

Wednesday June 6, 2007

U.S.-Mexico Border Patrol

A local man is back on a much more peaceful border - here at a place in the north where New Hampshire and Vermont meet - after spending two months on the border of Arizona and Mexico as part of a federal border patrol mission known as Operation Jump Start.

Brian Halloran, a more than 20-year veteran of the National Guard and a member of the 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron, took part in the mission from April until this past weekend, he said in an interview this week.

A copy of a newspaper from where he was stationed - at the border of Nogales, Mexico, but staying in the Arizona town on the U.S. border also known as the town of Nogales, has a lead story on its cover headlined, "The Corridor of Killing: A rash of bloody violence is taking lives on both sides of the border."

During both day and night missions, Halloran said he and members of his unit - Task Force Falcon - would be deployed out into the desert in four-man teams. "We set up in what's known as an overt position," he said, as opposed to hidden or covert. "We were visible, intending to be visible and act as a deterrent to those trying to cross the border."

Sgt. Edward E. Balaban, with the New York National Guard, said Tuesday that Operation Jump Start was to send 6,000 guardsmen to the border. And about a year into the mission, about half that number have been deployed.

The guardsmen are in all four states that share borders with Mexico - California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, he said, but the Tuscon, Ariz., station where Halloran was based is the busiest of all border stations.

He said roughly 40 percent of the Guard members are in Arizona, where there is 376 miles of border with Mexico, "most of it wide open."

What is happening at the border is something "most people back east don't have a clue about," Balaban said.

National Guard volunteers from all 50 states and U.S. territory, he said, are on the front lines helping to defend the country - people like Brian Halloran.

"It's a very serious issue," he said. Guardsmen are helping to build roads, build fences, patrol and more, to bolster U.S. security.

The Global War On Terror

Where Halloran was stationed, Balaban said, is "the busiest sector in the country with regard to illegal immigrant activity and narcotics seizures."

He said what the Guard is doing at the border is "another front in the global war on terror."

"I was down there for two months," Halloran, 48, who is a lineman with Verizon, said this week. "We have some individuals who will be down there for a year." He was deployed to the border assignment from April 3 to June 2.

The assignment, he said, really opened his eyes as to why many struggling Mexicans do want to cross the border and try to make a better life for their families in the U.S., but he said the fact that those crossing are illegal immigrants and will compete for jobs and work at lower rates than Americans is disturbing.

He also said the fact that there is so much smuggling of narcotics over the border was daunting and he heard tale after tale of border murders related to drug cartels and gangs attempting to smuggle either humans or drugs over the border.

There are countless tragic stories as well, Halloran relayed, saying he heard a story of a mother and her young daughter attempting to cross the border and being apprehended by a group of banditos, or gang members, who repeatedly raped them.

He shook his head, and said the magnitude of horror and violence and desperation that exists along the U.S.-Mexico border is overwhelming, and the nation is not putting enough resources into controlling what happens on our side of the fence.

"We would go down and stand 24 hours on sites in the desert and on sites in town," Halloran said. "Oftentimes, there were scouts on the Mexican side watching us. They were scouts for the smugglers, but dressed in civilian clothes. They're getting paid a job, basically, often by the drug cartels and we were watching them and they were watching us."

The guardsmen - Halloran included - are armed as they patrol the border, he said, showing photos of himself carrying a weapon.

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"When you're out there watching you're watching for trafficking of humans and narcotics, but it happens in the day time, too," he said. "We had various types of equipment - night vision goggles, infrared observation devices, thermal imaging. Oftentimes, it was easier to see them at night rather than the daytime."

A Flimsy Fence In Places

Halloran said being from the New Hampshire National Guard put him in good company with other guard members from across the nation, who also were there doing their national duty they had been called up on.

In some places in the desert, only a tiny fence stands, and metal fences that are high and harder to cross are being erected, but are being cut into and gotten through every day. Halloran said he saw welding trucks out every day, patching.

One thing that surprised Halloran, he said this week, was that "not all of the people crossing there are Mexicans. There are a lot of South and Central Americans, too. I would say someone was Mexican, and I got corrected once or twice that they were undocumented aliens.

"Every day, every night, 24/7, there are people trying to cross the border and get into this country," Halloran said.

The reality of what is happening at the border - rapes, murders, the infiltration into the U.S. of illegal immigrants from all over the world and of narcotics, is incredible, Halloran explained. There is a human side, too, he said, and he observed firsthand that side of the story while he was there.

"It really opened my eyes as to how poor they are," Halloran said.

He said in many locations, a single strand of barbed wire separates the border, and "there are just not enough border agents to cover that amount of terrain."

In the battles against the illegal activity, the death toll of U.S. agents and law enforcement from the federal government, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, has been high, he said.

To try and improve the problems, the infusion of the guard and other units - including The Minutemen group, which has members in New Hampshire who travel to the border, are trying to "shut down some of their more traditional smuggling routes so the drug cartels are having a harder time getting their product over," he said. That, however, has led to "creating violence on both sides of the border," as the desperate drug gangs push to accomplish their missions, killing however many people attempt to get in their way, oftentimes.

Finding Bodies

"The border patrol has been finding bodies in the desert," Halloran said.

People trying to come across with the aid of human traffickers will travel in packs of 10 or 12 people, and banditos will come along and kill them since each may have $2,000 or $3,000 to pay to come across to the person helping them get through. The people are being slaughtered to take that cash off their bodies, he said.

Halloran said he wanted to share the story of what he learned at the border since he was unaware himself until experiencing it how serious and grave the matter is.

"There needs to be public awareness about how porous our borders are," he said. "I never realized until I got down there - 365 days a year there are people trying to get across.

One border patrol unit which Halloran met while there "witnessed an individual cross back over into Mexico, and then he was preyed upon by two other individuals who doused him with gasoline and set him ablaze," he said. "While we were there, we were put on alert at one point that there was an active gun fight with 30 to 50 members of gangs in a running gun battle," he said. "Members of a drug cartel came into this town in pickups (in Mexico) and they killed five police officers and two civilians and then they were chased out of town by the military and there was a running gun battle taking place."

Halloran said since the Operation Jump Start was put into place to try and bring some 6,000 more people to bolster the border - the National Guard an important presence among them - that there have been some federal border patrol agents hired "but not nearly enough."

"I don't know what the solution is," Halloran said. "I know we're building a fence down there ... but I was an Army engineer at one point in my life and we were constantly reminded that an obstacle is only an obstacle if it is observed by direct or indirect fire - so this fence, unless there are people watching it with video cameras, that's not going to deter these people from crossing.

Halloran said that "after 9/11, I think there's been a big push to secure our borders."

And he said the seriousness of people coming into the U.S. from many perspectives makes it a critical issue in his view, after living the issue for two months straight.

Halloran's hope for the overwhelming problem? "I hope our borders can be secured and that these individuals can have the opportunity to immigrate legally. I've heard on television that this country was founded by immigrants, and that's true, but it was founded by legal immigrants who came through Ellis Island. These people aren't coming from Ellis Island."

When asked about the border he lives on, and what it's like being home - on the New Hampshire-Vermont border, Halloran laughed and said jokingly, "If I see anybody coming across (from Vermont) I'm going to send them back across the river."
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