TUCSON, Ariz. — Active-duty soldiers from Fort Hood and Fort Bliss deployed in mid-February to southern New Mexico and southern Arizona to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection border security efforts.
Fort Bliss soldiers from 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division; along with Fort Hood Soldiers from Battery E, 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade; and additional DoD assets were deployed along the mountainous, desert border between the United States and Mexico.
The soldiers are tasked with the mission to conduct 24-hour reconnaissance and ground surveillance. To accomplish this, they use advanced optics and sensor equipment as they provided aid to Border Patrol agents during a high-traffic season for human and narcotics smuggling.
The mission, known as “Operation Nimbus,” is a coordinated effort between Joint Task Force – North, a U.S. Northern Command element under the operational control of U.S. Army North, and CBP. The operation was designed to enhance air and ground detection along the international borders of New Mexico and Arizona. Operation Nimbus is a distinct federal mission and not related to the National Guard’s “Operation Phalanx.”
“CBP’s role in Operation Nimbus is to respond to anything that the Army sees out there in terms of any type of incursions – whether they be on foot or through the air,” said Border Patrol Special Operations Supervisor Andy Adame, Joint Field Command – Arizona spokesperson. “Once something like that happens, they contact Border Patrol agents that are working in the area and/or other CBP air assets that we have.”
The military support to federal law enforcement enhanced CBP’s ability to secure the nation’s Southwest border, said Adame.
“One of the biggest benefits that we see, working with active-duty military, is the technology and expertise that the Army brings to border enforcement,” Adame said. “CBP owes a lot to the military personnel who come out to the border. We realize that they’re there 24/7 in the elements.”
Army scouts conducted day and night reconnaissance missions using the Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System to detect, recognize, identify and geo-locate possible incursions, which they would then report to Border Patrol agents. Avenger soldiers, using the Forward Looking Infrared system, and soldiers monitoring Sentinel radar, also augmented border air incursion detection efforts.
The work was challenging, said Capt. Scott Young, commander, 6th Sqdn., 1st Cav. Reg., 1st SBCT, 1st Arm. Div., whose soldiers supported border detection efforts in the Nogales, Ariz., area of operations.
“There’s a real thinking enemy here that you have to adjust for,” Young said.
He said that the mission was the first real-world operation for the unit, which was reactivated in January 2011, and that the experience was invaluable training for future deployments.
“The big gains were understanding the mission cycle, convoy briefs, troop leading procedures – the rapid repetition of the cycle with the benefit of not being shot at,” he said.
Spc. Joseph Bazan, Troop F, said that although the work was very different from his normal job as a tow missile operator, it was useful.
“I think it has given us a mission focus and prepared us for deployment,” Bazan said. “Also, being isolated out here in the desert has helped prepare us for what it will be like in Afghanistan.”
Soldiers were prepared for the mission before deploying to safeguard the border.
“We have a lot of new soldiers, but we also have a lot of experience non-commissioned officers to help them along the way,” said 1st Lt. David Endter, Btry. E, 1st Bn., 44th ADA Regt. “Before we came out here for the deployment, we did a lot of training back in garrison, trying to give the troops a synopsis of what’s going on here – what they need to do, what they need to learn – and so they’ve done the learning back in garrison. Now, here’s the application.”
The mission was essentially a return to fundamentals for the soldiers.
“This mission provides Avenger and Sentinel operators the ability to hone their basic core competencies that have been realigned over the past decade due to other operational requirements and mission sets,” said Capt. Mike Dail, commander, Btry. E.
In the CBP’s Arizona Joint Field Command, located in Tucson, representatives from the CBP’s Office of Field Operations, the Border Patrol and the Office of Air and Marine, coordinated the mission with JTF-N personnel.
“Joint Task Force – North, as a part of Operation Nimbus, is involved in two (CBP) sectors, both the El Paso sector and the Tucson sector,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Goff, JTF-N lead planner, Southwest Regional Support Team. “The Joint Field Command is overall in charge for CBP. I’ve got seven planners; we’re located here at the Joint Field Command and down at the Border Patrol stations as liaisons.”
The successful coordination between military forces and federal law enforcement agencies during Operation Nimbus II had another benefit.
“The assets that JTF-North brings to the region during this operation serve as a force multiplier,” said Jeffrey Self, Commander Joint Field Command – Arizona. “We always welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of Defense to leverage their capabilities toward achieving our goal of securing the border.”
The support provided by the active-duty personnel during the initial phase of Operation Nimbus II has been credited with assisting CBP efforts to apprehend illegal border incursions and seize illicit drugs being transported across the international border.