‘No military training value’: National Guard chief criticizes deployment to US-Mexico border

Credit: Alex Brandon

Credit: Alex Brandon

The chief of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday that stationing Guard members on the U.S.-Mexico border detracts from their military mission and underutilizes troops.

About 2,500 members of the National Guard are assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in monitoring border crossings. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the force, said their time and effort would be better spent elsewhere.

“There is no military training value for what we do,” he told the Senate Appropriations Committee during a hearing on the National Guard’s budget. “That time, I think, would be better utilized building readiness to deter our adversaries.”

U.S. troops have supported the Department of Homeland Security’s work at the southwest border since 2018, when former President Donald Trump deployed units to “stop the flow of deadly drugs and other contraband, gang members and other criminals, and illegal aliens.”

President Joe Biden has kept troops in place since taking office in 2021, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year extended the mission through September.

The Guard members are serving under U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for defending the continental U.S. and Alaska. There are additional Guard members who were deployed to the border by governors and are under state control.

Hokanson said he knows the National Guard is helping border patrol fill manpower gaps, allowing agents to focus on detention and processing, but the deployments are personally frustrating for many troops.

“They might as well be deployed to Kuwait or somewhere overseas because they’re away from their families,” he said. “They’re there doing mission sets that are not directly applicable to their military skill set.”

Active-duty Guard members sent to the border by the federal government are not allowed to participate in civilian law enforcement activities and are largely relegated to administrative and logistical duties, including warehousing, detection and monitoring support.

Security at the border has dominated lawmaker conversations on Capitol Hill in recent months and has emerged as a top issue ahead of the presidential election in November.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, criticized the Biden administration on Tuesday for its “failed” immigration policies and questioned the impact of continuously stationing National Guard troops at the border.

Others have also cast doubt about the practicality of the policy. Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, the former commander of NORTHCOM, has said the deployment of troops should be temporary.

“I think, long term, this is not an enduring mission of the Department of Defense,” VanHerck told lawmakers in 2022. “We need to fully fund and resource [the Department of Homeland Security] to do their mission, and the [Defense Department] should be used in extremis times for the support on the border mission.”

Former President George W. Bush called on the National Guard to help secure the border from 2006 to 2008, and former President Barack Obama used troops in a similar role in 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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