Soldiers support JTF North homeland security mission

By Maj. Deanna Bague Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office


FORT BLISS, Texas – Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division provided operational support to the U.S. Border Patrol - El Paso Sector as part of their pre-deployment training conducted here. The 1-6 Cav, based at Fort Carson, Colo., along with support elements from its higher headquarters at Fort Riley, Kan., deployed to the U.S. and Mexico border as part of a Joint Task Force North homeland security support mission.

Joint Task Force North is the subordinate command of U.S. Northern Command that is tasked to support the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies in the interdiction of suspected transnational threats within and along the approaches to the continental United States.

The Cavalry Soldiers came to El Paso not just for a training exercise, but to contribute to the defense and security of the homeland, said their commander, Lt. Col. John Thompson. “This is just another front on the Global War on Terrorism,” he said.

While supporting the Border Patrol with real world missions, the squadron was also able to exercise most of its mission essential tasks list, Thompson said. The terrain and environment in the El Paso area are similar to that of Iraq and Afghanistan and provided great training opportunities.

“The flight profile and the command and control operations are similar,” Thompson said. “We focused on specific areas at the U.S. Border Patrol’s request and conducted operations around the clock.”

The exercise with the border patrol provided a real-world training opportunity for the unit, said Chief Warrant Officer Sheldon Gresham, a pilot for C Troop, 1-6 Cavalry. “This (training) is outstanding, especially for our younger pilots,” he said.

“They’re able to see what a human being actually looks like under FLIR (forward looking infrared) image," Gresham said. "Being able to adjust while in the air to the tactics being used by people on the ground is exactly what we do when we’re overseas. It’s what we’re doing right here, right now.”

While executing the border patrol support operation, the unit conducted concurrent military training in preparation for their future deployment to Iraq.

The ranges at Fort Bliss were ideal for performing their firing requirements, Gresham said.

“We were able to do our hellfire shoots on McGregor Range,” he said. “There are only a couple of ranges in the United States where we could actually conduct this training.”

The Border Patrol requested air surveillance support from JTF North to assist in the interdiction of narcotrafficking and alien smuggling along the U.S. and Mexican border, said Oscar Benavides, assistant chief patrol agent, U.S. Border Patrol – El Paso Sector, part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security.

JTF North, based at Biggs Army Airfield, is a joint service command comprised of active duty and reserve component Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Department of Defense civilian employees and contracted support personnel.

“Joint Task Force North coordinates military support to law enforcement agencies in order to deter and prevent transnational threats to the homeland,” said Armando Carrasco, JTF North public affairs officer. “All military support for homeland security is based on support requests and threat assessments.”

In support of the border patrol, the 1-6 Cavalry performed night reconnaissance missions to identify transnational threats.

“The 1-6 Cav. provided us with aircraft and the manpower to fly in certain areas of southern New Mexico,” Benavides said. “They were our eyes and our ears. They were able to communicate with our agents on the ground in the event they observed any illegal activity."

The support provided by the 1-6 Cav was strictly operational, Benavides said. The military personnel who provide support to the Border Patrol do not participate in law enforcement operations. Their role is strictly to observe and notify the Border Patrol agents on the ground, who in turn respond and make any necessary arrests.

“Any time we receive support such as this, we encourage it," Benavides said. "(The Soldiers) are basically a force multiplier. This specific support (from 1-6 Cav.) assisted us in apprehending 182 illegal migrants and confiscating illegal narcotics."

It's a win-win situation for the Soldiers and the Border Patrol, Carrasco said.

“It provides the military with tremendous training opportunities while simultaneously providing law enforcement agencies support that they would not otherwise receive,” he said.