Border duty will be optional for state's National Guard, Gregoire says
OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire said she will not compel any of the state's National Guard troops to serve on the Mexican border if they're asked.
"I'm not going to force any National Guard member to go there," Gregoire said.
"If I have volunteers who want to, we will support their request."
President Bush wants to post 6,000 troops along the borders of four Southwest states during the next year as the government hires and trains new Border Patrol agents to capture people trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
The governors of those states — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — signed agreements with the federal government Thursday to provide the first deployments of this effort starting this month.
Federal officials have not begun talks with Washington leaders on a similar pact.
"We have been involved in the process from the beginning," Maj. Phil Osterli, public-affairs officer for the Washington National Guard, told The (Everett) Herald. "We have not been asked by the Department of Defense to provide anybody."
Washington has about 6,000 members of the Army National Guard and 2,200 in the Air National Guard.
Today, about 600 are deployed overseas, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osterli said. That total is down from a peak of nearly 4,400 in 2004.
Last year, nearly 600 Washington Guardsmen went to the Gulf Coast to assist in recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina.
Bush outlined his plan last month, calling for rotating National Guard members from across the country for one-year deployments on the border of those four Southwest states. Troops from states in the Gulf and Atlantic coast regions are expected to be excluded so they will be available in case another major hurricane hits.
The president said troops will not be involved in any direct law-enforcement activity. Instead, they will carry out duties like constructing fences, installing vehicle barriers, running surveillance systems and analyzing intelligence.
The intent is to absorb some duties from existing Border Patrol agents, so they can focus on nabbing people trying to cross into the U.S. illegally.
Gregoire said she is not opposed to the federal plan, dubbed "Operation Jump Start." She said she views it as a stopgap measure to boost border security.
Operation Jump Start will begin in the coming days, with Arizona dispatching 300 troops to its southern border and New Mexico sending 50 Guardsmen to its border. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger committed 1,000 troops to his state's border, starting July 15. Texas will act similarly, though no specific number of troops has been announced.
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