46TH Engineers help secure U.S. – Mexico Border

By Armando Carrasco | JTF North Public Affairs | September 06, 2007

After the tragic events that occurred on September 11, 2001, securing our nation’s border against all potential threats is a national priority. 

In response to a request for Department of Defense assistance submitted by the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, Soldiers from B Company, 46th Engineer Battalion, deployed to the Arizona/Mexico border for the past two months to provide military engineer support to the Tucson Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol.

The Fort Rucker based engineer unit volunteered to execute the mission coordinated by Joint Task Force North, the U.S. Northern Command organization that manages all military homeland security support provided to the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies within and along the approaches to continental United States.

After several months of planning, coordination, and accomplishment of mandatory pre-deployment training, the unit deployed via military airlift to Naco, Ariz., in July.  The unit’s border mission site, historically known as a drug and human trafficking corridor, is located 100 miles south of Tucson, Ariz.

“The unit’s mission was to construct approximately 3.2 miles of primary fence west of the port of entry in Naco, Arizona,” said Maj. Joel R. Quinn, JTF North engineer mission planner.

“From the start of the mission in July, up to their redeployment last week, B Company, 46th Engineer Battalion demonstrated an unmatched level of performance and professionalism.  The Soldiers’ motivation, discipline and expertise proved invaluable to the successful accomplishment of their mission,” Quinn said.

“They met and complied with all the requirements established by the U.S. Border Patrol and set the standard for future primary fence construction missions.”

JTF North support missions provide the supporting units with training opportunities that are directly related to their military duties to include: mission planning, deployment, mission execution, and redeployment.    Engineer units especially benefit from the multiple skill level military construction opportunities.

“I volunteered my unit for the JTF North mission because it provided us with a great opportunity to train on tasks that will support our future deployments.   The scope of work for the mission allowed us to train all our key elements,” said Capt. Angela Smoot, commander, B Company, 46th Engineer Battalion.

“The mission gave us a great picture of what we do well as a unit and what we need to improve.”

The unique JTF North joint service and multi-agency environment is also beneficial to the supporting units.
“The most important benefit for my unit was leadership development --- from Private to Commander.  We learned how to work in a joint environment with civilians, U.S. Border Patrol, National Guard, and U.S. Air Force; this definitely resembles what we can expect to do in Iraq,” said Smoot.

Recent military engineer school graduates particularly benefit from the support operations.  First term Soldier, Spec. Thomas J. Keener said, “I would say our deployment to Arizona was a good experience.  We got off to a rough start because we were the first to emplace this new style of fence; however, after a few changes in our system, we went from putting in 8-10 panels a day to putting up 40-50 a day on average.”

The high pace tempo of engineer support missions, combined with the continuous movement of construction equipment in the arid high desert environment, makes safety a top priority.  

"The unit leadership maintained and strictly enforced the highest levels of safety standards throughout the mission.  They executed the entire two month long operation without incident or accident,” said Nancy Peterson, JTF North Safety Officer.  "Safety consciousness was evident at all supervisory and worker levels.  They were a true pleasure to work with".

Department of Defense policy restricts JTN North engineering support only to the Southwest border.   In FY07, JTF North engineer support missions along the southwest border included approximately 4 miles of road construction and improvement, 1 mile of border perimeter lighting installation, 8 miles of border fence construction, 1 bridge and various mobility construction projects; i.e. drainage structures, vehicular guard rails, etc.

The majority of these missions were executed in San Diego, Calif.; Yuma, Ariz.; Naco, Ariz.; Douglas, Ariz.; and Columbus, N.M. The focus and priority of these areas are in direct relation to a threat base analysis done by both JTF North and the U.S. Border Patrol Field Intelligence Center.

JTF North will generally fund all mission costs, to include travel, per diem, and other associated mission costs.  All costs for materials used on engineer support missions are paid for by the supported law enforcement agency.

For more information on JTF North, visit the command’s website at: www.jtfn.northcom.mil