News: MWSS-272 helps DHS secure southwest border
Story by Lance Cpl. Manuel Estrada
NOGALES, Ariz. - A detachment from Engineer Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 272, based at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., deployed Feb. 28 to Nogales, Ariz., to construct a new border security road and improve several existing roads in support of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Southwest Border Infrastructure Enhancement Program.
The engineer support mission was coordinated by Joint Task Force North, the U.S. Northern Command unit tasked to support the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies’ counterdrug and homeland security efforts.
JTF North, which has no assigned forces, solicits volunteer units from all four Department of Defense branches to execute the support missions requested by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security agencies.
The ongoing project is phase three of a multi-year engineer support operation designed to enhance the U.S. Border Patrol – Tucson Sector’s abilities to counter transnational criminal activities being conducted along the U.S./Mexico border in Southern Arizona. The project site is located amidst a well known illicit drug and illegal alien smuggling corridor.
MWSS-272, which volunteered to perform the current phase of the FY13 engineer support mission, will gain real-world training opportunities that are directly related to their military engineer tasks.
The Marines have been tasked to install three drainage culverts, distribute 3,000 tons of aggregate that will serve as the foundation for the newly improved border security road, widen several unimproved border roads, and execute numerous other engineer support functions.
“The Marines also created a helicopter landing zone to accelerate medical evacuations from the steep and rocky terrain,” said Staff Sgt. William Rueppel, the detachment’s safety staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
Additional landing zones to be used by U.S. Custom and Border Protection air interdiction assets were constructed during previous phases of the project.
“Each service takes turns sending a unit to the area to construct a comprehensive road network designed to cut the time it takes to reach areas near the border, close to the city (of Nogales, Ariz.),” said Staff Sgt. Donald E. Stehley, MWSS-272 staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
Prior to the start of the road construction project in FY12, Border Patrol agents took up to 40 minutes to respond to the border areas on all-terrain vehicles or on foot.
Even though the roads have not been entirely completed, agents can now respond on the upgraded roads using their four-wheel-drive vehicles within 10 minutes.
“By us helping them with the road, it gives them more maneuverability around the terrain,” said Stehley.
Unlike most Southwest desert border sites, which are normally flat and sandy, the border engineer support site near Nogales is extremely mountainous and consists mostly of hard rock terrain.
“Every aspect of the construction is good training, from the lance corporal operating the equipment to the officer who had to compensate for the mountains by posting a checkpoint halfway up to relay messages,” said Stehley. “The added difficulty was not an issue.”
“Most military engineer units are used to constructing improved combat trails with limited or no formal plans,” said Army Maj. Aubrey Semien, JTF North engineer mission planner.
“The Nogales engineer mission required the volunteer units to comply with strict U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guidelines, adhere to approved blueprints, and maintain the established lateral limits,” said Semien.
Stehley said this kind of construction is what Marines might see when working for civilian companies of contractors.
“The MWSS-272 Marines are true professionals,” said Nancy Peterson, JTF North safety officer. “They have been very safety conscious and a pleasure to work with.”
The Marines are expected to complete their phase of the project in mid-April.
Another volunteer engineer military unit will continue the mission in FY14 and will expand on what the Marines have accomplished.
For more information on JTF North, see the attached sidebar article or visit the command’s website: www.jtfn.northcom.mil