Headed to the border

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Two Española National Guardsmen will spend a year on deployment

By Jennifer Garcia

Patrolling a wide area plagued by violence in recent months isn’t exactly how most people envision spending the remaining days of summer.

The New Mexico-Mexico border has become a hot spot for drug smugglers and people crossing the border illegally. As a result, Gov. Bill Richardson ordered National Guard troops to the 2,000-mile southern border.

Two local men will be there.

Sgt. Nicholas Varela, 24, and Spc. Thomas Rodella, 22, both of Española have volunteered for the mission at the border. Assigned to the 1115th Transportation Co. in Taos, the duo is part of a detachment (Det. 3) of soldiers that trains in Española. They will leave Aug. 1 to begin a yearlong deployment as part of a counter-drug task force, in which they will attempt to decrease the number of smugglers and illegal border crossers.

Though this mission might seem daunting to some, Varela and Rodella said they are looking forward to it.

“It’s a selfless service,” Varela said of his decision to volunteer.

Added Rodella: “It’s a chance to do something better.”

Both native New Mexicans, the pair understand the enormous drug problem that plagues the state, particularly Rio Arriba County.

Rodella probably understands the immensity of the problem better than anyone. He was born and reared in the Española Valley and is the son of newly elected Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella and State Rep. Debbie Rodella (D-La Mesilla).

“There is a big drug problem in the state,” Rodella said, “especially here (in Española).”

He’s hoping that his efforts through the National Guard will help stop the flow of drugs into the Valley.

This won’t be Varela’s first brush with danger.

A 2004 graduate of Santa Fe High School, he’s been in the National Guard for five years. He spent a year in Iraq with the National Guard’s 1/200th Division, Alpha Co., based in Rio Rancho from 2007-2008. He also worked along the U.S.-Mexico border with the Renegades Recon team in 2006.

“We’ve been training the whole time we’ve been with the Guard,” Varela said, adding that they are prepared for the mission. “Whenever you’re trying to get between someone’s drugs and their money, it’s never a good thing.”

Varela said one of the hardest aspects of this deployment will be leaving family behind. He will be away from his wife Andrea and their two children, Achilles, 2, and Arabella, 7-months-old.

Rodella is relatively new to the National Guard. A 2006 graduate of Pojoaque High School, he’s been in the Guard for two years and is studying computer software engineering and Spanish at Northern New Mexico College. Now in his junior year, he hopes to continue his classes online while he’s deployed.

He said his family isn’t in favor of him going to the border, but they’re not against it, either.

 “The worst part about going to the border is that I’m going to miss my family … and hunting season and birthdays,” Rodella said.

He also mentioned, however, that he feels the experience will be rewarding because: “We’ll be able to help with the situation.”

As a father of two, Varela feels that their effort will benefit not only his children, but future generations, as well. “We’re providing a safe future for our next generation because there will be less drugs,” he said.