Without them, the mission would not be possible, according to Steve McCraw, who leads the Texas Department of Public Safety. McCraw told that to members of a new State Senate Committee on Border Security.
On Tuesday, the committee began a series of hearings about the border operation.
"The challenge that we face in the Legislature is, we want deterrence, we want security, but how much of it," said Committee Chairman Brian Birdwell (R) District 22.
McCraw told the committee, to address deployment fatigue, adjustments have been made for State Troopers. The original 14-day rotation has been changed.
"We have to sustain this it’s been over a year, and we don’t know how long this is going to take. So we've moved to a 9-day cycle which is better for our Troops in regard to reacclimatizing themselves, families," said McCraw.
McCraw also addressed questions some guard members have raised about their purpose in the deployment.
"They are making a tremendous difference, in that regard, whether they know it or not. Because they are in an observation post that is clearly visible to the Gulf Cartel, people and drugs don’t cross in that area of operation which allows us to be able to detect and interdict along the Farm to Market Roads," said McCraw.
The strain on the National Guard was first voiced several months ago by retired Command Sergeant Major Jason Featherston. FOX 7 Austin spoke to him Tuesday afternoon and asked if things have improved on the border for National Guard members.
"I would say yes, things have definitely improved, they are not where they need to be, but General Ulis and General Erickson are working really hard trying to correct issues for the soldiers down on the border," said Fetherston.
Featherston who was the Senior Enlisted Advisor with the Texas Guard said he supports Operation Lone Star, but believes a changing of the guard is needed.
"I think the guard should have an end date, but I think that the same thing can be accomplished with using technology. The Guard is super expensive, I don’t think right now Texas is getting a return on its investment. What could we do if we put a couple of billion dollars more into the hiring of state troopers, I think we'd get a lot better return on the investment," said Featherston.
How to sustain the deployment remains a big question for the committee.
"You can secure an area, with barriers, but it’s not barriers alone we have to have people," said McCraw.
With the people they have, McCraw testified 3 of 104 border zones are now classified as secure. FOX 7 Austin asked what is the timetable to get the other zones.
"One at a time," said McCraw.
Along with more boots on the ground, McCraw supports a major federal policy change as a deterrent.
"I don’t know if anyone should be rewarded and even considered for asylum if they come between the ports of entry," McCraw told the committee.
McCraw justified that idea later when asked by FOX7 if it was too harsh.
"At least that way it will protect the amount of resources Border Patrol is having to dedicate, dealing with family units and unaccompanied minors between the ports of entry because if they know, and they know, there are messaging and social media, and they talk to family, if they know they come illegally between the ports, that they will not have the opportunity for asylum, they will show up at the ports of entry," said McCraw.
The leadership of the Texas Guard will weigh in during the next hearing which is set for the end of March or early April. That meeting will also involve several state agencies that have received money as part of Operation Lone Star.
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