Domenici wants continued guard presence at border

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By Carol A. Clark

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is seeking to gain assurances for a strong continued National Guard presence on the New Mexico border when Operation Jump Start (OJS) ends this summer.

Domenici has sought to continue OJS, the two-year program launched in 2006 to deploy National Guardsmen to the Southwest border to assist the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in border security. There are currently some 300 guardsmen associated with OJS on the border.

Guard personnel were instrumental in 79,875 arrests and the seizure of more than 784 tons of illegal drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs, as well as 21,603 weapons and $32.6 million in property on the national level.

“There’s no secret that drugs are coming in from Mexico and I think these numbers speak for itself as indicating that this program should continue,” said Los Alamos Police Det. DeWayne Williams this morning. “Law enforcement only tends to catch a small percentage of what’s really happening so you can just imagine what the numbers really are.”

Domenici questioned Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, at a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the FY2009 budget for the Guard and Reserve, according to a news release.

Blum said the Defense Department plans to end OJS by July 1. As many as 6,000 guardsmen were deployed on the Southwest border at the peak of this program.

Domenici said there continue to be reservations about ending OJS in New Mexico, adding that recent drug-related violence on the Mexican border has only raised those concerns.

“I think the Guard has done a great job on the border to increase security, and a strong and continued presence there is necessary,” he said.

According to Blum, the Guard will continue to have a presence on the Southwest border through two ongoing programs, the Innovative and Readiness Training and the Counterdrug Program, both of which Domenici has supported in the past.

Blum told Domenici that the Guard recognizes the positive “synergistic effect” these programs have on readiness training, border security and counterdrug trafficking activities. He also encouraged the subcommittee to fully fund the Guard’s counterdrug account.

The administration’s budget requests $167 million for the National Guard Counter Drug State Plan, which would only fund 1,900 Guard positions. Domenici has requested an additional $4 million in counterdrug funding for the New Mexico National Guard and is supporting an $88 million increase to support some 2,800 Guard positions.

“This year’s defense and homeland security budgets will have a significant impact on the Guard’s ability to support counterdrug activities,” said Domenici, who also serves on the Senate subcommittee that funds Department of Homeland Security. “It is essential to ensure that the United States continues to provide adequate resources to combat the flow of drugs over the border.”