Vermont Guard troops to train on Mexican border

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has approved a plan to send roughly 130 members of the Vermont National Guard to the Mexican border, to beef up patrols there. The soldiers will conduct their annual two-week training period in Arizona to help reduce the number of illegal aliens who are entering the country.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel)The Vermont soldiers will be part of a mission known as Task Force Lobo. Their principle job will be joining with federal border patrol agents to search for people who are trying to illegally cross the Mexican border into Arizona.

Governor Douglas says he thinks this mission is an appropriate use of the Vermont National Guard and he’s given Adjutant General Michael Dubie the authority to participate in the border program:

(Douglas) “There have been requests to send National Guard troops to the Mexican border and I’m happy to do that.”

(Kinzel) National Guard Public Affairs Officer Captain Jeff Roosevelt says the Vermont troops aren’t being deployed but instead are being sent to serve their annual two-week training program guarding the Arizona border:

(Roosevelt) “They’re going to be working closely with the Border Patrol agents and basically establishing those entry identification teams to provide the information to the Border Patrol for that two-week period of time. They’re looking at from positions relatively close to the border to see people crossing the border.”

(Kinzel) Roosevelt says a critical component of this mission is to make certain that Vermont Guard troops who are placed in dangerous situations are allowed to use their weapons to protect themselves, if the need arises:

(Roosevelt) “It’s self protection, rules for self protection in various situations. That will be part of their training when they get on the ground there, what those exact rules are.”

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy is the co-chairman of the U.S. Senate National Guard Task Force. Leahy says the Guard troops are no substitute for hiring more federal border patrol agents:

(Leahy) “What I think is more appropriate is for the Bush administration do what we’ve asked them to do for years – to beef up our Border Patrol, hire the people that we’ve given them the money to hire. They haven’t done it because all of these different kinds of funds get diverted to pay for the war in Iraq. At some point somebody’s got to realize you can’t do that and keep doing it in deficits.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont troops are expected to spend the first two weeks of September on this mission.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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