Fewer National Guard troops still watching the border

Brigadier General: Mission open-ended pending more DPS

SAN ANTONIO – Unlike the Texas Department of Public Safety troopers dispatched from across the state, Texas National Guard troops are hard to spot in the upper Rio Grande Valley.

"They are right on the river. That's why you don't see us," said Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commander of domestic operations.

Hamilton said their numbers have fluctuated since 1,000 soldiers were deployed last June for Operation Strong Safety by then - Gov. Rick Perry.  

Now it's estimated only about 200 are still watching the border.

The Legislative Budget Board last December allocated $17 million to keep the Guard there through August. The Texas Legislature will decide funding beyond that point.

State leaders said the Guard should stay until more DPS troopers are hired and trained, as well as additional cameras to monitor the border.

"I don't know how long it's going to take," Hamilton said. "We are prepared to stay as long as the governor and DPS needs us to stay there."

For now it appears their mission is open-ended, but Hamilton said every soldier in the Valley volunteered.

He said if someone needs to leave, another soldier is brought in.

"We've had no shortage of people volunteering to come and serve in this mission," Hamilton said.

Unlike prior federal deployments to South Texas to support U.S. Border Patrol, Hamilton said Operation Strong Safety was triggered to back up DPS in the wake of thousands of Central American children and families pouring across the border.

Hamilton said they've not seen signs of another historic surge.

"I have no reports that would indicate that at this point," Hamilton said. "That just means we're doing our job."

Hamilton also said their job is not to militarize the border.

"Then it would be very visible and they would give us the mission to secure the border which they have not done," he said.