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NH soldiers’ first impressions from Texas: It’s busy

New Hampshire NH NG.3
Courtesy of the NH National Guard
New Hampshire National Guard soldier Pfc. Macenzie Connors watches for illegal activity at an observation point in Eagle Pass, Texas.

New Hampshire Bulletin writer Annmarie Timmins is reporting from Eagle Pass, Texas, this week, in collaboration with NHPR, while shadowing the 15 National Guard soldiers sent by Gov. Chris Sununu to assist with border patrol. You can find her reporting at New Hampshire Bulletin and NHPR, both on air and online.

Two weeks into their mission in Texas, New Hampshire National Guard soldiers said they are seeing more attempts to cross the border illegally than expected. That’s true even for those who’ve been deployed to the border before.

“This mission differs immensely in terrain, number of integral breaches in our barriers, as well as the difficulty of operation effectiveness,” said Sgt. Connor Decker in an email. “The way cartel runners or illegal immigrants alone breach through secure border are evolving and cannot be so easily solved with a static solution.”

The New Hampshire Bulletin communicated via email last week with four of the 15 soldiers Gov. Chris Sununu deployed earlier this month to assist the Texas National Guard in securing the border. It’s a state-paid $850,000 trip — unlike the prior deployments, which were federally ordered and funded.

New Hampshire is paying the Texas National Guard $200 a day per soldier for room and board as well as other base expenses. The state funding will also cover salary and benefits.

In asking lawmakers to approve his funding request in February, Sununu said he believes all states should send troops to help Texas stop the illegal crossings by undocumented migrants and the smuggling of fentanyl, the drug responsible for the most drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire in 2022, according to a state medical examiner’s report.

However, U.S. Sentencing Commission data showed that Americans account for a huge percentage of fentanyl trafficking convictions. In 2022, it was 90 percent.

Some Republican governors have sent fewer soldiers — Montana deployed 10 this month — while others have sent more, such as Iowa, which deployed 100 in early April.

The New Hampshire soldiers, all of whom volunteered to go to Texas, are working in teams of three or four, alongside soldiers from the Texas National Guard and Louisiana National Guard. They are working 10-hour night shifts, and while they are with a military police unit in New Hampshire, they are not arresting or detaining individuals, said Greg Heilshorn, spokesman for the New Hampshire National Guard.

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He described this as an “eyes and ears” deployment in support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star. The soldiers are watching for illegal crossings at observation posts and roving patrols, looking for breaches in the fence. They are scheduled to return in June.

Pfc. Macenzi Connors is serving her first deployment to the southern border and is one of three women who volunteered. She said the partnership with Texas has been rewarding.

“Knowing that I get to help out a fellow state to deter illegal immigrants and report . . . any suspicious activity that we see is a good feeling on its own,” she said in an email. “So far, it has been a lot busier than we thought, but working as a team and knowing that the people I came down with will always have my back makes being down here a lot easier.”

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, federal law enforcement is reporting fewer encounters in the Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass, each month since December, when it spiked to 71,048. In April, the agency reported 11,281 encounters.

Spc. Carson Geha is also serving his first mission. Even with the drop in the number of encounters, he too has been surprised by the number of cartel “runners” cutting the fence to cross illegally: “Working side by side with the Texas National Guard has brought a sense of teamwork in order to deter illegal immigrants and keep our border secure.”

Spc. Connor Sills spent about a year at the southern border as part of last year’s federal deployment. He told the Bulletin he volunteered to return to help the soldiers who haven’t been through the experience. In an email last week, Sills said the Texas soldiers are doing the same. He has spent his nights roving the fence line, separating the Rio Grande from Texas.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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