As the New Year approaches, thousands of members of the National Guard remain posted to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of two distinct missions intended to address record levels of migration there.
There is a group of around 2,500 federalized National Guard troops under the Pentagon’s control strung along the southern border, and Pentagon officials confirmed in late October that their mission there assisting the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection will continue through at least the end of fiscal 2023.
But the federally-controlled border mission continues in the shadow of a major investigation launched by U.S. Northern Command in response to a Dec. 2021 Army Times investigation. The story revealed issues with command organization there that contributed to problems with equipment, misconduct, substance abuse, command climate and more. It’s not clear if the NORTHCOM investigation is complete.
Meanwhile, more than 5,000 members of the Texas National Guard remain deployed to the state’s border with Mexico under Gov. Greg Abbott’s control. Operation Lone Star is a state active duty mission in coordination with state law enforcement officials intended to respond to and reduce migrant and drug trafficking along the border.
Despite — or perhaps because of — their work setting up observation posts and constructing barriers along the Rio Grande, the number of migrants apprehended along the Texas border has increased since OLS began in March 2021 and expanded that fall.
But the troops’ use of state trespassing laws to arrest migrants has overwhelmed local justice systems, according to reports, and has even led to a Justice Department civil rights investigation. Meanwhile, a series of joint investigations by Army Times and The Texas Tribune found that the thousands of involuntarily-activated Texas Guardsmen struggled with substandard living conditions, pay issues and more.
Ten soldiers linked to the mission have died via accident or suicide since September 2021, and three of the Texas Guard’s top leaders suddenly departed their jobs in April.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.