News: Arizona soldiers, US CBP unite to secure border hot spot
Story by Maj. Gabe Johnson
TUCSON, Ariz. – As overseas contingencies and deployments for U.S. armed forces taper off, Arizona’s citizen soldiers are shifting their focus to domestic missions to gain real-world experience and maintain readiness.
The Arizona Army National Guard’s Tucson-based 2220th Transportation Company found a creative way to hone their skills and help secure the Arizona-Mexico border in the process. Working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the light-medium truck company moved 193 tons of concrete barriers from El Centro, Calif., to Naco, Ariz., over drill weekend March 1 to fortify a porous section of the state’s border.
Army Guard and Customs officials called the convoy operation a success and said it was a model for future inter-agency coordination.
“We’ve been working on a solution for getting that border infrastructure into place in Naco for quite some time,” said Manuel Padila, Jr., the chief patrol agent for the Tucson sector. “When the Guard saw this as a training opportunity it became a win-win situation for everyone. This certainly highlights the long-standing partnership we’ve had with the Guard and it points to new ways we can work together.”
Where once a fence line was the only impediment for vehicles looking to illegally breach the border at Naco, now a robust barricade denies ease of entry.
In all, the Guard delivered 115 cement blocks – 15 more than originally requested by CBP. In a matter of days, 52 Arizona Guardsmen mobilized 26 vehicles to transport the load more than 400 miles.
“We used every section in the company to support the mission,” said Army Capt. Janek Kaslikowski, the company commander. “We have an operations section that planned the mission – estimated fuel, rest stops, and driver changes – and a maintenance section that kept us running. Our soldiers received invaluable experience with securing a load, off loading, vehicle recovery, and the importance of preventive maintenance checks and services.”
According to Kaslikowski, the mission was the perfect vehicle for bridging the gaps in experience between his junior soldiers and his combat-tested senior noncommissioned officers.
“It was interesting to see them work together on this mission because this is exactly what we would do in theater,” he said. “The NCOs led this mission and gave the junior soldiers plenty of opportunity to gain experience that they may not get without deploying.”
“We paired experienced drivers with inexperienced drivers,” said Army 2nd Lt. Sha-raya Harris, first platoon leader on her third drill with the Guard. “I was one of the inexperienced drivers.”
Some of the most junior motor transport operators in the company had only 10 minutes behind the wheel from initial training, said Harris. Now they all have seven-to-eight hours of experience negotiating turns, hills, and stops with 16 tons in tow.
“It was great training, but I think this mission was equally important for building relationships. Everywhere we went people supported us. Border Protection employees, the ranchers in Naco, even other drivers on the Interstate – everyone found this mission interesting and wanted to help us along the way,” said Harris.