Members of the Iowa National Guard recently returned from a deployment to the border of Mexico in Texas. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds sent the units to support the Texas National Guard, who are patrolling the border. Stephen Osborn, Adjunct General with the Iowa National Guard, who is originally from Davenport, spoke with Local 4 about the most recent deployment.
“We got the request to support the Texas Guard down in the Del Rio Eagle Pass area,” said Osborn. “They (the Iowa units) were located at kind of a temporary military installation in Del Rio, TX. That’s where they live. That’s where they operated from, but they actually manned static and other points in that area and at the Eagle Pass and Del Rio sectors along the border.”
The Iowa units worked side by side with the Texas Guard, manning static observation points, where they observed known illegal crossing areas outside the legal points of entry to the U.S. They also patrolled along the border, providing surveillance and observation.
The units encountered what they called “mass migration pushes” that sound similar to crowds rushing a store on Black Friday and meant to overwhelm the resources on the U.S. side of the border. “The cartels, they would push large amounts of migrants across at one location at one time,” said Osborn. “These pushes were meant to overwhelm the resources on the U.S. side. (Their goal) was to take all those resources, both law enforcement and military, to one location, so other locations then would be less observed, where they could move more people, more commodities, drugs, whatever they wanted to move across the border.” The Guard members worked closely with Customs and Border Protection and the local state law enforcement in the area.
Osborn said these pushes were carefully planned. “We talked to the Texas Guard, we talked to the Texas Department of Public Safety while we were down there with the governor and that’s exactly what they do. The cartels would hold people on the Mexican side of the border until they got an adequate number and their conditions were set for whatever else they wanted to move. They would push hundreds of people at one time at one location, in order to offset and bring everybody together on the U.S. side.”
The Iowa units searched in brush areas and wooded areas, along with CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection), for migrants who were trying to avoid detection. Not all the migrants were trying to avoid detection, he said. “A lot of the migrants who came across wanted to be captured by CBP. They just came across and said, ‘hey, we’re here. You have to process us now.’” Others were engaged in illegal activities, hoping to avoid detection. “Our guys would support CBP, moving through some of the brush and thicker areas to look for those folks who were trying to avoid detection. Our first priority, through the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Guard, was to try and verbally announce to people to stop, to go back, not to come to the border. But people were coming across (and) intended to be captured by CBP and processed.”
Not all the groups trying to cross were large. “There were certainly a lot of one or two or three or small groups,” Osborn said. “We encountered those folks as well, carrying packages. A lot of military aged males moving across together, trying to avoid detection, and small groups carrying bags, carrying other equipment. If we did detain them, we simply held them there and contacted CBP or local law enforcement and turned them over.”
Osborne expressed sympathy for some of the people trying to cross the border. “A lot of people (are) trying to better their lives and leaving a desperate situation somewhere in the world. But they’re being used by the cartels for the money. The people there (are) commodities just like the drugs and everything else that they’re trying to move across the border. Then you tie that with the influx of terrorists, as the governor mentioned yesterday, it’s just a conglomeration of things trying to move. But the cartels are certainly in charge and they’re directing the movement of people across the border.”
Osborn says he’s not aware of any plans for units to redeploy to the border, but his troops are ready if necessary. “What’s interesting is I welcomed all these soldiers back when they got back home. We processed them before we sent them home before Labor Day and I said, ‘hey, if the governor were to ask again…’ and I said not that she will, but if she were, ‘how many of you would volunteer again?’ I probably had 90% of those people raise their hands that they would do this again.”
Osborn says it’s difficult to explain what it was like at the border unless you were there. “We did get the governor an opportunity to see our soldiers at Eagle Pass. Eagle Pass has been in the news a lot. That’s where a lot of traffic, a lot of activity, a lot of arrests are occurring. But she got to see some National Guard soldiers working at Eagle Pass. We took her to a checkpoint that was kind of deep in the woods along the Rio Grande River.”
One thing that struck Osborn was the juxtaposition of ordinary, daily life right next to more questionable activities. “One of our checkpoints, or observation points, looks across (the border) and there were folks on the Mexican side, normal folks doing normal things along the river, having a picnic and then there were also odd things like people providing or conducting surveillance on our people at the same time. So it’s just a very, very interesting situation.” He said Reynolds met with other governors who sent units to the border, including the governors of Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
Osborn sees these deployments as part of the job of being in the Iowa National Guard. “In the Guard, we swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of our state,” he said. “That’s what provides the governor the authority to utilize the National Guard within each state, domestically. Governor Reynolds determined that this was a good use of the Iowa National Guard, in support of Texas. That’s what we do, we answer to our civilian authorities, be it on the federal side or the state side. Our soldiers did quickly volunteer. We identified the units we wanted to go and we only needed about 30-35 members out of each unit. We quickly got those volunteers from those units.”
Osborn said for many of the members of the Guard, this is a chance to make an impact closer to home. “There’s a security issue for our country and a lot of these soldiers have been deployed overseas, doing things for the safety and security of a region and ultimately for the safety and security of our country. But this is really the most direct opportunity they had. They were doing something directly for the United States in providing stability, safety and security and also the humanitarian crisis. You know, we all care about the people that are down there. We don’t want anybody to get hurt. We want to make sure that that the folks who are involved in the cartels, not part of the cartels, but unfortunately under the controls of the cartels, are safe.”