Borderland to Battlefield: Army “Drills” Prepare People for Complete Militarization of the Border

Guillermo Jimenez
Traces of Reality
July 28, 2012

 

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The United States Armed Forces have landed in Laredo, Texas.  Citizens of the border town are being treated to a very small sample of life under military occupation, as the Army prepares for a complete militarization of the border.

Beginning in late June, 250 Army soldiers were deployed to South Texas, setting up temporary bases along the nation’s largest inland port, Laredo, Texas.  Black Hawk and Apache Helicopters have been spotted flying in formation all over the City of Laredo, as the Army and the Department of Defense, in coordination with Customs and Border Protection, run “drills” along and across the southern border of Texas.

The specific purpose, benefit, and duration of these drills were not immediately made known to the public, the media, or even City of Laredo officials.  As mentioned, the military was first spotted arriving at Laredo International Airport in June, setting up tents and a temporary base visible from Bartlett and Thomas Ave behind the airport.  The first official statement regarding the Army’s arrival, which came in the form of a pair of press releases, did not surface until July 5.

The first release came from Custom and Border Protection announcing the arrival of Joint Task Force North (JTF-North), a division of U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), itself a division of the U.S. Army, and explaining the reasons for their arrival in the vaguest possible terms.  The second release came, curiously, from the office of Congressman Henry Cuellar, in which he lauds this “productive and beneficial exercise.”

In last week’s episode of TORradio, I pose the question: “Well, Congressman (Cuellar), what exactly is it producing, how is it beneficial, and to whom?  This doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that some of your biggest donors and supporters to your campaign are defense contractors, like Boeing and Honeywell International, does it?

As co-chair of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus (CUSC), and one of the primary people responsible for bringing UAV technology to the border in the form of Vanguard Defense Industries’ Shadowhawk drone, Rep. Cuellar is gushingly and enthusiastically in favor of militarizing the border (and with it the entire city of Laredo), welcoming the Army with open arms—privacy and safety concerns, Posse Comitatus Act, and U.S. Constitution be damned.

Local mainstream media first reported on these drills on July 9, and until recently, had been deafeningly quiet on the issue.  KGNS TV, Pro8News, briefly acknowledged the public’s growing concern over the presence of the military in the city on their July 22 broadcast, before quickly reminding the viewing public that the “government has already explained themselves” and it’s all for our best interest and safety.

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Still, despite the propagandists’ best efforts, many Laredoans remained troubled by the Army helicopters circling their homes.  Some have taken to contacting their city officials directly, lodging complaints with their district representatives.

Councilman Alejandro Perez Jr., representing District III of Laredo, the only public official to date that has agreed to speak with TOR on the record, has himself received complaints from constituents.  “These helicopters are often flying very low, over people’s homes, and that has caused a disturbance in some neighborhoods, keeping people awake at night,” commented Mr. Perez.

The councilman went on to say that he was not made aware of the joint training operation until after JTF-North’s arrival, and as far he knew, neither was any other member of the city council or Laredo city official.  When he tried to follow-up on the complaints regarding the helicopters, he was also given the cold shoulder from CBP and DoD. “All questions and concerns are being redirected to Mr. Jose Flores, Laredo International Airport Manager.”

I spoke with Mr. Flores last week, who provided me with the same information he provided Councilman Perez, or anyone else who has contacted his office regarding the military drills.  The airport was first notified about the leasing the space for the Army about 3 months ago—for a limited duration, short-term lease, of 30 days.  To his knowledge, the drills will continue for a few more weeks, upon which time the units stationed in Laredo, primarily the 1st Armored Division, Combat Aviation Brigade, will be redeployed to Afghanistan.

While there is little doubt that this squadron will indeed ship out in the next few weeks, ridding the skies of Laredo of potentially armed Apache helicopters, the fact that according to CBP’s own press release and JTF-North’s stated mission goals these armored divisions of the army have every intention of returning to the continental borders of the United States—perhaps even permanently, has been woefully overlooked.

CBP DOD Army JTF JTF-NORTH Fort Bliss Texas Laredo Border military drills helicopters happening why statement explanation
Email from William Brooks, Branch Chief, Southwest Border, Media Division

Very few have bothered to ask the question: If this is all a drill, what is it that this division of the army is practicing for?  Are they going to use this training exercise along the border of South Texas for the “the interdiction of suspected counterdrug and transnational threats” in Afghanistan?

As noted, the purpose of JTF-North is to “provide command and control of DOD homeland defense efforts and to coordinate defense support to civil authoritiesand claim jurisdiction over “the entire North American continent, to include the air, land and sea approaches” (emphasis added).  These drills are indeed just a practice—a trial run.  And while they test the waters in South Texas during the month of July, the goal of this unit is clearly to return, establish a permanent military presence, and militarize the homeland, specifically the border.

While concerns among citizens of Laredo have mounted, there is still a large number who quietly accept the circumstances around them, and further still some who echo Rep. Cuellar’s enthusiasm for military occupation.

The underlying issues regarding this casual acceptance of a heightened security police-state apparatus along the border run deeper than the general acceptance of increased security at the expense of civil liberties that the country as a whole has experienced since September 11th 2001.

As I wrote, in an article published a year ago in LareDOS, titled The End of Privacy: Airports, TSA, and the Border, Laredo, as well as other bordertowns, provide for unique case studies in the security vs. privacy and liberty debate.

Citizens of Laredo, for example, including me, who grew up along the border and did any amount of traveling by land, inevitably become quite accustomed to a police-state like environment, entirely surrounded by federal agents and checkpoints, victims of their geography.

“Whether it’s ‘going across’, traveling to and from Mexico, or driving north towards San Antonio or east towards Freer, the vast majority of Laredoans have answered questions from Federal agents and faced the possibility of search and seizure repeatedly throughout their lives.  In fact, until fairly recently – when it comes to Nuevo Laredo, a large number of Laredoans experienced it on a daily basis – and some still do.  As you travel further up north, the word ‘checkpoint’ has a very negative connotation.  But in Laredo, a checkpoint is as ordinary as checking the mail.  The strangeness of this fact is something that for some may not be easily recognizable.  It takes a moment of objectivity – to step back and take a look – from the outside in, and realize how conditioned we’ve become.” – The End of Privacy

Add to this the fact that over the past year Nuevo Laredo and other Mexican cities along the border have been become essentially federalized municipalities, completely militarized zones, as a result of the drug war and increases in violence.  While this has happened, citizens across the Rio Grande, some who still have family in Mexico and who may still visit regularly, have become emotionally and psychologically calloused to the sight of military occupation—of a city under siege.

A failed drug war and the fear of narco-terrorism is enough for many citizens of either side of the Rio Grande to accept a federal and armed military take-over of their community—accept being locked in a cage, as long as the “bad guys” are kept out.

Laredoans have been asked to accept routine searches and seizures when they travel.  They have been asked to accept checkpoints and questioning from federal agents as minor inconveniences.  They are now being asked to accept potentially lethal unmanned drones to surveil their city.  They will soon be asked to accept a permanent military occupation of their city—helicopters, tanks, armed soldiers and all.

These drills are not just preparing the army for combat in Afghanistan. They are preparing us, the people, for what’s to come.