Winter Freeze Wrap-Up

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell National Guard Bureau

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The National Guard’s support to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol to help prevent illegal aliens from entering this country along a 295-mile stretch of the U.S.-Canadian border paid some pretty big dividends during the three-month duration of Operation Winter Freeze that wrapped up in January.

Nearly 250 Army and Air Guard men and women from across the country, along with military personnel from U.S. Northern Command’s Joint Task Force North, helped the Border Patrol identify three smuggling organizations.
Joint Task Force North, based at Biggs Army Air Field, Fort Bliss, Texas, coordinates and manages military homeland security support provided to the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies for the interdiction of suspected transnational threats within and along the approaches to the continental United States.

U.S. Northern Command is the combatant command established in 2002 to provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts and to coordinate defense support to civil authorities.

Military participants in Operation Winter Freeze added information to 50 cases currently under investigation. They contributed to an FBI investigation involving four suspects who Border Patrol agents have arrested in the Swanton Sector that is centered in Vermont.

That was the gist of a report that Vermont Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Thomas Shailor delivered to a couple of hundred military people and civilians involved in homeland defense during a recent two-day conference hosted by the U.S. Northern Command.

“We flew more than 1,500 hours with zero accidents. All of the assets that we used were returned to their home stations in working condition,” said Shailor of the Guard’s nighttime aviation mission along the international border over eastern New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. The Guard mission officially ended on Feb. 15.

The Border Patrol and the National Guard joined forces from November until January in an effort to keep potential terrorists out of the country and to break up smuggling rings that try to get them in. The Border Patrol was the lead federal agency. The Guard’s primary mission was to detect, deter and monitor suspicious actions with helicopters and airplanes.

“Data captured will enable predictive targeting of alien smuggling operations,” Shailor reported at the conference. “Operation Winter Freeze has significantly contributed to coordination efforts … which will be long-lasting and will have positive effects on future collaborative ventures to target the threat.”

“The Department of Defense presence in support of Operation Winter Freeze proved to be a deterrent and created a spillover into adjacent sectors,” said Chief Patrol Agent Stanley Spencer, Swanton sector chief. The National Guard spearheaded the defense presence.

“You deserve big kudos for your safety record while flying over difficult terrain in difficult weather. Good job,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge, the U.S. Northern Command’s deputy commander, during the conference at Peterson Air Force Base where USNORTHCOM is headquartered.

Shailor was one of many speakers during the first conference that brought together members of the U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau’s Joint Task Force-State, as well as Guard representatives from all 54 states and territories. They explored ways the organizations can work more closely and effectively together to defend the American homeland – both groups’ primary objective.

Shailor was the fourth National Guard senior officer to command Title 32 National Guard and Title 10 active duty personnel during a military mission in this country within the last year. He noted that by combining the command and control structures of the active and Guard organizations involved in the operation, the taxpayers reaped a savings of more than $8 million. Two other Army Guard generals and a colonel had similar “dual-hatted” commands for the Group of Eight economic summit in Georgia and the Democratic and Republican national conventions in Boston and New York City. All three were National Special Security Events. Those military support missions were focused on events that were held in specific locations and that lasted for a single week.

Operation Winter Freeze lasted considerably longer for Guard members and covered a lot more real estate. Nearly 250 Guard members from Vermont and 20 other states – from Massachusetts to California – contributed to the effort. An average of 112 Guard men and women were on duty throughout the operation.

Seasoned Army Guard pilots flew night surveillance missions in Reconnaissance and Air Interdiction Detachment (RAID) OH-58 helicopters out of South Burlington, Vt. Air Guard crews flew twin-engine, C-26 airplanes out of Syracuse, N.Y. Both types of aircraft are equipped to detect people and vehicles on the ground. They are used primarily for counter-drug operations. The 19 helicopters and eight C-26s used in the operation were believed to constitute one of the largest operations for those specialized aircraft in National Guard history.

The Vermont Army Guard’s 86th Medical Company also had four Blackhawk helicopters and crews ready to perform search and rescue missions for all Winter Freeze participants. Their services were never needed.

Also, members of the Vermont Air Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing assisted the Border Patrol unit at the Swanton Sector’s headquarters in northern Vermont by recording the information that patrol officers, other military personnel and other law enforcement agencies gathered about people trying to enter this country illegally.

“The Guard has the right assets and the experienced people to do this mission. It’s the right mix and the right thing to do,” Shailor observed midway through the operation. He stood by those words when it was over.