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P&F 2006 Campaign News Coverage

From the 16 May 2006 Fresno Bee, original version no longer available there:

Valley residents with ties to Guard question deployment

Local residents with ties to the California National Guard expressed mixed feelings Monday about President Bush's proposal to use guardsmen on the U.S-Mexico border.

Former National Guard troops spoke more freely than current troops about Bush's plan to bring guardsmen into the already controversial issue of illegal immigration.

Some current and former soldiers contacted by The Bee supported the plan, but most did not.

"Using the Guard is a band-aid. It's a temporary fix," said retired Brig. Gen. Ed Munger, who spent more than 20 years with the state's Army National Guard. "It's not going to solve the problem. I don't think it's a proper use of a valuable resource."

Munger said illegal immigration is an issue that needs to be addressed and resolved at the federal level.

"My concern is simply that there is a serious national problem with border security and immigration control," said Munger, who lives in Fresno County. "It is not going to be solved, in my view, with a soldier on the ground carrying a gun."

Bush, in a nationally televised speech Monday night, called for deploying National Guard troops to the border.

Some former guardsmen, such as 35-year-old Fresno fire spokesman Ken Shockley, say the Guard already has too much on its plate.

"I think the Guard's being stretched too thin, and that it's taking a toll on National Guard families," said Shockley, who served with the Army National Guard between 1998 and 2002.

Shockley said assigning the National Guard to border patrol duties while so many units are deployed overseas would make the strain too great.

Munger agreed. "I think the Guard is closely approaching the saturation point, if it's not there already."

However, retired Maj. Gen. Ron Markarian, who spent three years with the National Guard before joining the Air Force, supports Bush's vision.

"It makes a lot of sense," said Markarian, 75, of Fresno. "The National Guard is particularly suited for that purpose."

Markarian believes the National Guard has ample resources to assist in both international missions and on the border.

"All the National Guard is not deployed at one time," he said. "There are elements that are deployed. I don't think it's going to be unduly burdened."

Active troops like Brian Dodd, 48, of Clovis were not as willing to wander into the political battlefield.

"I don't really have an opinion on the matter," said Dodd, who returned in January from a one-year peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. "I'm in the Cali Guard. We all follow orders. We all do our jobs. We try to stay nonpolitical."

Answers like Dodd's don't surprise Shockley. "I think National Guard soldiers are going to do whatever's asked of them. It's not in their nature to question the mission. They'll get the mission completed."

Some local experts and advocates aren't happy with the plan, either, saying it won't fix the broken immigration system.

"The use of the National Guard is a cop-out. ... It admits that the national government is willing to pass the buck to the states while ignoring the need for comprehensive immigration reform," said David Schecter, an assistant professor in the political science department at California State University, Fresno.

Rufino Domínguez, general coordinator of Frente Indígena Oaxaqueño Binacional, said the use of National Guard troops could escalate into cases of abuse. Frente Indígena focuses on indigenous Mexican immigrants and provides educational and social service programs.

"We know the Border Patrol is trained for that [enforcement] and even with that, there's been deaths," Domínguez said in Spanish.

Domínguez said migrants will just end up taking more dangerous routes to cross. To stop migration, Mexico and the United States each must create jobs and good wages in Mexico, Domínguez said.

John Crockford, who retired in 2002 from the Border Patrol in Fresno, asked why, if Bush wants to help support the Border Patrol, he doesn't he try to increase the agency's efficiency.

Crockford said some agents are used to perform vehicle maintenance, build furniture at their offices and to do construction work on site.

Crockford said using troops along with the border patrol is a "recipe for disaster" because they have different training. He cited the case of a goat herder who was killed by the military in the 1990s. Crockford worked on the Texas-Mexico border for 10 years for the Border Patrol and 15 years in Fresno.

Schecter said the Bush administration is in dire straits and was slow to react to the historic marches related to immigration: "He's playing catch-up."

Fresno is home to several units that seem to be suited for the type of work Bush is expected to assign to National Guard units. The Fresno-based 185th Quartermaster Battalion's Web site states the unit's mission is to provide fuel support to other units that are performing tasks such as construction or surveillance.

The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Paul Bryant, oversees four transportation companies based throughout California, a maintenance company and a combat support detachment. Many of those units have been sent to Iraq in recent years. Bryant referred questions to National Guard headquarters in Sacramento.

1st Lt. Toni Gray, chief of media relations for the California Air National Guard, said no one can comment until the governor issues an order.

Gray said that the California National Guard has about 20,000 service members assigned to the Army and Air National Guards.

The reporters can be reached at teberly@fresnobee.com, vcolon@fresnobee.com and dboyles@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6465.


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