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Airborne engineers boost Border Patrol's efforts to stop drugs, trafficking

Airborne engineers boost Border Patrol's efforts to stop drugs, trafficking

CREATED Jan 20, 2012

Reporter: Claire Doan

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) – It’s a joint mission to boost security at the Arizona-Mexico border: building roads that allow agents to better patrol the rough terrain and stop the illegal entry of drugs and people into the United States.

Officials call it a win-win situation. Border Patrol gets a new road to better police the border. Civil engineers from the Joint Task Force North unit of the Department of Defense receive training to prepare for bigger missions down the road.

The airborne engineers from Alaska parachuted in more than a week ago on a C17 military aircraft ready for one mission.

“We were sent here honing our skills, closing different aspects of construction, cutting, filling, dumping, just operating equipment throughout the day,” said Specialist Nickalous Herd.

Basically, they are building a near one-mile stretch of road west of Nogales to boost Border Patrol’s efforts to stop border crossers and illegal narcotics.

“It allows our agents to respond to areas quicker – get from point A to B – to address any kinds of entries or threats that may be attempting to get into the United States,” said Steven Passement, a Tucson-based Border Patrol supervisor.

However, getting the project off the ground was a tractor-sized battle.

“The biggest challenge we have is terrain for sure. These hills – as you can see – are very steep in some areas,” said Mission Commander Michelle Zak. The other challenge is moving around very heavy equipment weighing thousands of pounds in the remote area.

However, for dozens of civil engineers on the job, the challenge is the benefit: getting the skills to run a construction site, anytime and anywhere.

“They are going to make the same assessment about what you find on the ground and make the right call that you’re building the road that is quality and within the time frame you need,” Zak said.

It’s a win-win situation for Border Patrol and the engineers, that adds up to more than just training for the latter. If they can hack it in Southern Arizona, then they can swoop in and help in any combat zone abroad, where there is greater urgency. 

“[The roads] bring everything from food to soldiers to supplies that the soldiers need, while in and around that mission,” said Sergeant First Class Everill Gustave.

The Joint Task Force North unit is only there in a support capacity and does not have any law enforcement role.

There are three more construction missions slated for Nogales to be completed sometime in Fiscal Year 2012.