More than 400 Virginia Guard troops begin border mission

BLACKSTONE, Va. —Now that the final phases of deployments to the U.S./ Mexico border, which began June 30, 2006, have been completed, some 420 Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard stand ready to carry out their mission to help protect our borders. These Soldiers and Airmen heard the call and volunteered to take on the monumental task of securing the border between Southwest Arizona and Mexico as part of a larger contingent of troops from around the country.

Earlier this summer, President George W. Bush authorized the use of National Guard Troops to assist border patrol agents in controlling the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. Virginia received the mission shortly thereafter and had no trouble assembling a group of dedicated men and women known as Task Force Stonewall to take on the mission, dubbed Operation Jump Start.

Col. Mike Harris, the task force commander, was pleased but not surprised with the response.

“Virginians stepping up to help others is what the National Guard does,” he said. “We have the best of the best and it shows in their dedication to duty and their hard work.”

Currently Task Force Stonewall is located in the southwest corridor of Arizona and is broken down into three smaller task forces operating in the cities of Nogales and Ajo, and in the town of Sasabe, with command and control headquartered in Tucson. The primary responsibility of the Task Force is to support U.S. Customs and border security operations, which will allow agents to better focus on illegal activity along the border.

According to Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant of Virginia, the initial plan was to deploy troops at the end of hurricane season but when the call for help came, members of the Virginia National Guard in the “strongest tradition” came forward to take on the mission.

Newman said the Virginia National Guard will remain capable of meeting the potential challenges of the upcoming hurricane season even with these troops deployed on the Southwest Border.

Virginia Guard Soldiers and Airmen deployed to the border in three phases; June 30, July 15 and July 30 respectively. They are scheduled to return to the Commonwealth September 30.

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hampton,  Virginia Guard Public Affairs