1AD CAB ‘Iron Knights’ help secure the homeland supporting Border Patrol in South Texas
JTF North Public Affairs:
Second Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, an element of the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade, recently completed its first federal law enforcement agency homeland security support operation.
The “Iron Knights” deployed their UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64 Apache helicopters in early July to conduct an aviation reconnaissance mission in support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s, or CBP, South Texas Campaign, or STC, along the U.S./Mexico border near Laredo, Texas. The Fort Bliss-based aviation unit conducted both daytime and nighttime operations.
The support request for Department of Defense assistance was submitted by CBP, the Department of Homeland Security component with primary responsibility for securing the nation’s borders, and coordinated by Joint Task Force-North. JTF-North, an element of U.S. Northern Command, also based at Fort Bliss, is the DoD organization tasked to support the nation’s federal law enforcement agencies in the identification and interdiction of suspected transnational criminal organizations’ activities conducted within and along the approaches to the continental United States.
JTF-North homeland security support operations are mutually beneficial to the military units that volunteer to execute the missions and the federal law enforcement agencies that request the support; the missions additionally benefit other federal, state and local interagency partners that participate in the joint homeland security efforts.
“By detecting border incursions and providing intelligence support to Border Patrol agents in the field, the military support enhances the Border Patrol’s ability to counter threats along the border,” said STC Commander Robert L. Harris.
In support of the STC operation, the Iron Knights aviators were tasked to fly over Border Patrol-selected areas of interest and report all suspected illegal activities observed. Border Patrol agents routinely accompanied the Soldiers during the now completed air reconnaissance operations. The CAB’s forward-looking infrared-equipped aircraft proved highly effective at detecting illegal activities, including drug trafficking being conducted along the border during the hours of darkness.
“The ongoing collaboration between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and JTF-North continues to support the CBP mission while providing invaluable training opportunities for the military,” said Harris.
The support missions yield significant real-world training value that enhances the volunteer unit’s combat effectiveness against thinking, moving and dynamic threats; the Southwest border environment helps prepare the units for future deployments.
“As we conducted these joint operations, we had a great opportunity to form a special bond with the Border Patrol,” said Lt. Col. Todd Turner, commander of 2nd Bn., 501st AR. “My Soldiers learned a lot from the agents, both on the ground and in the air, and I hope that they learned some valuable skills from us.
“This support operation allowed us to train on over 90 percent of the skills that we will require on our pending overseas deployment,” added Turner.
The active-duty and reserve component military personnel executing the JTF-North missions operate strictly in a support capacity; they are prohibited by federal law from being used in a law enforcement role.
“This training mission not only increased my company’s nighttime and command and control training capabilities but enabled us to conduct joint operations with the U.S. Border Patrol and other supporting units in preparation for our future deployment. Overall, my Soldiers played a significant role in our national security by helping stop narcotics from crossing over the border,” said Capt. James Kelly, commander of A Company.
The Iron Knights conducted their support operations from a base camp established at the Laredo International Airport. Throughout their deployment, the Fort Bliss Soldiers experienced repeated demonstrations of support and appreciation from the Laredo community.
“Bienvenidos a Laredo! – Welcome to Laredo!” Mayor Raul Salinas said, speaking to the Soldiers during his visit with “Task Force Iron Knights.” “For us in the city of Laredo, hometown security has always meant homeland security. The cooperation of efforts by the federal law enforcement agencies in the city of Laredo has helped to protect the country; especially when working in conjunction with our local law enforcement to protect our city as well.”
Salinas is an Army veteran and retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent.
“On behalf of all the citizens of the great city of Laredo, Texas, and Webb County, thank you very much for your service to this great nation,” the mayor said.
During the deployment, the entire unit was treated to several catered meals hosted by Laredo business and civic leaders. Soldiers were also treated to donations of baked goods dropped off by local residents, who further expressed their gratitude by thanking the Soldiers for their service to the nation and for helping to keep it safe.
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