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Senior Enlisted Leaders Learn Threats, Challenges of Southwest Border Firsthand

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Command senior enlisted leaders, led by Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled the U.S.-Mexico border last week to learn about the threats and challenges that affect the nation stemming from drug trafficking, human trafficking and other cartels.

Troxell and his 24-member Defense Senior Enlisted Leader Council traveled about 1,000 miles of Southwest border territory from Aug. 13 to 15 to observe and report back to their leaders about border concerns and the assistance the Defense Department and the National Guard are providing.

“We should promote what we can do at the tactical and strategic levels,” Troxell said following numerous briefings and Border Patrol tours. The senior enlisted contingent from all around the United States toured numerous ports of entry and border stations and were briefed by law enforcement officials of the threats that exist along the border.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis authorized up to 4,000 National Guard troops in April, and 2,100 are deployed for the mission. The Guard members are working behind the scenes to free up U.S. Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Patrol officers to search ports of entry and the border by four-wheel-drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, horseback, aviation and boats on the Rio Grande River.

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“As we continue to get after bad people around the world, it was important that we brought this [summit] together so that we could see firsthand not only the interagency fusion that’s happening between the border, but more importantly, [we saw] the passion and quiet professionalism of every border patrol agent that’s on some of the roughest terrain that you can find,” Troxell said.

“They don’t have all the resources or people they want to have, but through the use of the ‘big three’ – people, technology and tactical infrastructure – they’re mitigating the risks as best they can, and leveraging our DoD assets to assist and continue to get after the mission,” he emphasized. “My takeaway is when people inside the Beltway – especially up on the Hill – start having these preconceived notions about what’s happening down there, I can say, ‘[That’s inaccurate]. I was just there; I had the senior-most enlisted leaders in the DoD with me.’”

Interagency Collaboration Vital

Troxell said he was impressed by interagency collaboration and cooperation among DoD, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Patrol officers.

“Defending the homeland by, with and through our partners is based on a DoD effort to detect and monitor in the other areas we call ‘find and fix’ so that our partner forces can [fix issues], whether it’s an illicit product, illegal aliens or drug trafficking,” he said.

The American public, Troxell added, needs to understand that its National Guard has an important mission, not only in their home states, but also in defending the U.S. homeland.

“Our National Guardsmen … are not doing any law-enforcement activities. They are supporting law enforcement. So being able to get down here and get my eyes on that, along with this collective group of senior enlisted leaders, confirms what I already knew: We are not violating codes or authorities in the use of our Guardsmen,” he said.

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If the United States was trying to end the war on drugs with a victory, it would take a lot more resources, Troxell noted.

Joint Task Force North is doing an effective job within their mission and their respective authorities to assist law enforcement in disrupting and deterring drug trafficking organizations, transnational criminal organizations and illicit product coming in our country,” he said, speaking of a task force that falls under North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command.

Briefings Outline Concerns

“The threat is what’s getting away – the drugs, aliens and bad actors,” a Rio Grande Valley sector Border Patrol agent said of South Texas at one of the numerous briefings for the summit leaders.

The participants learned the Southwest border has nine sectors from California to Texas. In South Texas, no structure is in place to stop the cartels’ passage, and about 52 tons of marijuana comes over the border every week, along with about 6,000 people, resulting in about 3,800 apprehensions. Other challenges in South Texas are gang violence from groups such as MS13, home invasions and innovations such as drones carrying drugs across the border.

The senior enlisted leaders also learned that while the bulk of illegal aliens are South American, many come from all over the world, including 15 Yemen citizens this year. They were also told illegal border crossing is considered not just a U.S. problem, but an international one, and that the United States is working with Mexican authorities on the passage of the illegal cartels. More than 90 percent of drugs in the world come through Mexico, which also is the world’s third-largest heroin grower, the leaders learned. The Border Patrol says that every eight minutes, an American dies of an overdose.

Combatant Commands Attacking Networks

Senior enlisted leader Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan K. Zickefoose of U.S. Southern Command, which faces its own border challenges, said Socom is about attacking the networks. “There are a lot of networks out there,” he said. “One of the biggest things is how the network with Socom affects U.S. Northern Command, and that connection, and how it comes together [is] how we can work together better.”

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Aaron G. McDonald, command senior enlisted leader for Joint Task Force North, organized the summit at Troxell’s request. “I hope that each one of the senior enlisted leaders walks away with a greater understanding of what Joint Task Force North does as far as the Title 10 forces provided by DoD [are concerned], and how we partner with our law enforcement agencies, from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Justice,” he said.

McDonald said he also hopes the senior leaders at the summit saw opportunities that are available for their formations to volunteer and come to the Southwest border to take advantage of opportunities not only to support law enforcement agencies, “but also to enhance their readiness to take on emerging threats across the globe.”

He told the command senior enlisted leaders that 72,000 Americans died in 2017 because of drug overdoses, adding that this is more than those who died fighting during the Vietnam War and every conflict since then.

 “So the threat is real — it does affect national security — but there are good men and women who are dedicated professionals both in law enforcement and in the Department of Defense getting after the problem,” McDonald said. “This mission is unique, and it develops the readiness of a force with specific skill sets that will make them even more effective in our national security as well as abroad.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)

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