29th ID troops patrol the border in Arizona

U.S./MEXICO BORDER — Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment have been busy the past few weeks securing the U.S./ Mexico border in Arizona as Task Force Raven and Task Force Diamondback for Operation Jump Start.

Operation Jump Start is the National Guard mission to assist the United States Customs and Border Protection to secure the U.S. southern border.

The Soldiers from the 2nd Bn., 224th Aviation cover both air and land using multiple strategies with air support the main effort. Since the battalion began its operation it has seen a drastic decrease in the amount of narcotics entering the U. S. as well as a large increase in the number of illegal immigrants detained, registered, and returned to Mexico.

The Soldiers have also saved the lives of many illegal immigrants that became stranded in the desert without any water or medical aid.

Task Force Raven, the air patrol portion of OJS, alone has stopped over 200 vehicles from entering the U. S. illegally and most of them were carrying narcotics and weapons. The air-support provided by Task Force Raven Soldiers has also helped turn back over 20,000 illegal immigrants who decided it would be better to turn back than be detained.

“It is something different to deal with. The training and experience we are getting out here is something that we could use in the places where we are fighting,” said Sgt. Darryl E. Ingram, crew chief and aircraft mechanic with C Company. Ingram has been part of Task Force Raven since June 9. “If you can work out here, you can work anywhere.”

Sgt. Charles Byrd of A Company is a crew chief and aircraft mechanic.

“I enjoy flying around and seeing the sights. We will fly over rock formations and check to see if there are any caves the illegal immigrants could hide in,” said Byrd.

The flights are also great training for the Soldiers.

“These flights are increasing my ability to perform as a crew chief,” said Byrd.

Soldiers also look for abandoned vehicles that might have been used to transport illegal immigrants, narcotics, or weapons into the United States.

“I am here to defend my nation’s interests,” said Byrd.

With all of the flying, there is a crucial need to perform frequent maintenance on the aircraft. That is the domain of Spc. Ryan Dutema. Dutema, also a crew chief with A Company, is one of the mechanics who helps to make sure that the aircraft are ready to fly.

“My job is more maintenance than anything,” said Dutema.

With the flights going into extremely hot temperatures and flying in the desert where there is a high possibility of sand getting into the equipment, it is up to mechanics like Dutema to make sure that everything works properly.

Nothing is accomplished without team work and cooperation. There is a strong feeling of teamwork and brotherhood within the group of mechanics in charge of maintaining the multiple aircraft.

“I love the comradeship. It’s just really cool working with people where everyone is on an equal level,” said Dutema.

Task Force Diamondback, the ground element of OJS, also consists of Virginia and Maryland National Guard Soldiers of the battalion, whose main responsibility is to drill wells and build roads and barriers that aid in the securing of the national border. They have built over 66 miles of vehicle barriers, 19 miles of fencing, and ten miles of high-intensity lighting.

The vehicle barriers help to stop illegal immigrants from entering the country’s border using vehicles, which is how most drug-runners who enter the country. The drug-runners will try to enter through a part of the dessert where they think there will not be any barriers or patrols. With the new vehicle barriers in place they now can not just drive over the border like they were once able to do.

The fencing that the National Guard has been putting in place comes in to stages. The first stage is the primary fencing, which is mainly a thick solid metal sheet that can not be seen through. The primary fencing has concrete based at the bottom to help hold it in place as well as to stop illegal immigrants from digging under the fencing. The second stage of fencing is secondary fencing, which consists of a taller, sturdier wire-mesh fence.

Homeland Security is just one of the missions of the 29th Infantry Division. The air and ground support the Soldiers of the 2nd Bn., 224th Aviation Regiment are providing in Arizona are making an impact on border security. Their efforts will help maintain the integrity of the southern national border.

Story By Spc. John Wood, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs