The size and scope of the American military presence here in Iraq is enormous. I guess I knew that already. But now that I’m actually in Iraq, deployed here with my Army National Guard unit, I’ve been able to catch a glimpse of it firsthand. It’s impressive. It’s not only the fact that we have so many people, both military and civilian, over here. We operate a vast infrastructure–a complex of over 100 bases served by fleets of supply trucks. Base facilities are constantly being upgraded in ongoing construction projects.
In a scant two and a half years, we have made our physical mark on the territory of Iraq. We have altered the landscape. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., our borders are still unsecured. Thousands of illegal aliens cross into our territory with impunity. They openly flout our laws and little is done about it. One of these days, a terrorist might just carry a weapon of mass destruction over the border.
Some say it’s impossible to secure our borders. I don’t believe it. Here in Iraq I’ve seen what a determined national policy can accomplish in a short time. Back home, borders could be secured, if the political will existed. The technical means exist already. We have the resources. We have the personnel. Some have suggested we use the National Guard to secure the borders.
I think it’s a great idea. An excellent idea. An idea whose time has come. Many of the tasks necessary to secure the U.S. border are the same tasks we are already performing here in Iraq. They could be carried out just as easily (and less expensively) on our own borders. Here in Iraq, National Guardsmen are patrolling 24/7, logging thousands of miles in armored humvees. Why can’t they do the same on our own borders ?
In Iraq, Guardsmen secure defensive perimeters, they man guard towers, they operate UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). They do surveillance in the dark with night-vision equipment. Why can’t they do the same on the borders of their own country?
Currently, Guard units are being called up on 18-month deployments to Iraq and other places. Why can’t they be deployed the same length of time to guard the border? When a Guard unit is not deployed, guardsmen train a total of about 40 days a year, one weekend a month and a two-week “annual training” period. Why not rotate National Guard units in and out of border duty for their yearly “training” period?
Other military branches–such as the Army Reserve, the Marine Reserve, and Air Force Security Forces–could be asked to participate as well. Under current federal law, the U.S. military can’t physically detain illegal aliens, and leaves it to the border patrol to do it. But the military can still do patrolling, reconnaissance, and surveillance on the border. We’re doing it in Iraq right now. To support these operations, permanent bases could be constructed along the border, to house troops and store equipment. Putting the Guard on the borders would send a message that we are finally serious about controlling our own borders.
–Allan Wall is currently deployed somewhere in Iraq, with his Texas Army National Guard unit. The views expressed in this column are only those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Guard, the Department of Defense, or the Bush administration.