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Old 04-05-2019, 11:34 AM
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Cool Bad Food, Broken-Down Trucks: What It’s Like to Be a U.S. Soldier on the Mexico Borde

Bad Food, Broken-Down Trucks: What It’s Like to Be a U.S. Soldier on the Mexico Border
By: Thomas Gibbons-Neff / April 5, 2019

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For soldiers who have been deployed to the southwestern border, the assignment is much like an overseas operation: long, tedious and marked by logistical issues.CreditCreditTamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Soldiers from the Second Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, returned from a nine-month deployment to southern Afghanistan in November, only to deploy again three and a half months later. Now more than 100 troops from the unit are in the southern United States, tasked with securing the border with Mexico.

The small contingent from Fort Carson, Colo., is part of the roughly 3,000 active-duty troops and 2,000 National Guard soldiers reinforcing portions of the wall along the southern border. The Pentagon has said little about the new troop surge that the Department of Homeland Security requested in January. A month later, President Trump declared a national emergency, prompting the Defense Department to transfer $1 billion in military personnel funding toward construction of a permanent wall.

The engineers, support soldiers, military police and ad hoc infantry squads currently deployed are responsible for stringing up 167.4 miles of concertina wire “on top of the existing pedestrian wall barriers along strategic stretches along the U.S.-Mexico border between Arizona and California,” according to military documents obtained by The New York Times. Costing millions and disrupting planned training exercises for some units, the deployments have been decried by lawmakers and pundits as a political sideshow.

After receiving its deployment order, certain units within the Fort Carson brigade had less than a week to deliver their first soldiers to Arizona by mid-February. The situation on the ground looks much like an overseas operation: long and tedious, and marked by near-constant logistics issues. Soldiers are being shuffled from one border station to the next. They’re contending with food reminiscent of an outpost in Afghanistan, broken-down vehicles and bouts of uncertainty around their mission.

Below is a summary of a situation report that one of the units on the border sent to brigade headquarters in Colorado last month.

‘Assigned wall section completed’
As of the middle of March, the unit had completed work on more than 14 miles of wall. But some parts of it had already been breached, and a strange rivalry was brewing between the soldiers and a Marine unit working on an adjacent portion of the wall. “Welding capabilities of other units leave much to be desired,” the report says. A soldier “holds a picket that was tac welded just the day prior by the Marines that shared part of our sector; the welds were so poor that this fell off the next day,” one caption reads.

‘Several units being relocated for work in different areas; our location/mission has yet TBD’
Although the Fort Carson cohort has been deployed since February, the unit had yet to receive an assigned location to set up a permanent base when the report was written. The soldiers were still awaiting approval to leave the small makeshift post they had erected in the lot of a Customs and Border Protection station in Pine Valley, Calif. (where wind storms have blown down some tents), and move to a nearby station in the town of Boulevard. Because some of these units had not received orders to relocate, their mail — including care packages from home and from Amazon — was being held until they reached their next section of wall.

‘Support requests for UGR-A’s to supplement diet with fresh fruit/milk/bread, etc.’
Since the unit is away from large towns and almost entirely confined to its base, some of the brigade’s only hot meals are Meals, Ready to Eat, or MREs, and Unitized Group Rations-Express, or UGR-Es, a larger variant of the former that can serve 18 people from a preheated, prepackaged slab of food. As described in military documents, UGR-Es offer “an alternative to individual meals as the sole source of subsistence in austere, remote locations.”

The soldiers requested fresh fruit, milk and bread.

‘Continued lack of maintenance supplies or adequate plan for receiving maintenance equipment’
As with most deployments, keeping vehicles in working order has been an issue. Out of the brigade’s current motor pool, two vehicles were repaired and six were being assessed for maintenance issues. Soldiers have had to scavenge items from nearby bases, which the report makes clear was “not a long-term solution.” Mechanics “have been able to conduct clever maintenance with what is on hand,” the documents say. On the border, trucks and Humvees are used to shuttle around troops and wire. Because of the wall’s height, the trucks are often used as welding platforms.

The brigade’s mission should be complete in a matter of weeks, according to the documents, and the Pentagon currently has no plans to send any more troops to the border.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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