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Texas Guardsmen support border mission with intelligence

June 15, 2008 -- EL PASO, Texas (June 15, 2008) - Tech. Sgt. Cruz Guevara and Staff Sgt. Michael Esparza anticipate landing new jobs boosted by the experience they gained here. Staff Sgt. Staffon Isaac is going back to his civilian job as an oil refinery operator. After four years on active duty in support of Operation Noble Eagle and a year and a half here on Operation Jump Start (OJS), Chief Master Sgt. Ellen Adler is ready for some down time.
As OJS prepared to close down in early June, these and other Texas National Guardsmen working at Biggs Army Air Field here in the Border Field Intelligence Center as part of the operation wanted to talk about their experiences as it prepared to close down.
Although they couldn't talk about specific "intelligence" they may have learned, they were ready to let others know something about the role they played in the two-year operation, during which National Guard support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) allowed the agency to put more agents on the border while new ones were hired and trained. In addition to BORFIC, Texas National Guard Soldiers and Airmen served on OJS in the Laredo, Del Rio, Marfa and El Paso sectors.
Carlos Almengor, assistant chief patrol agent, CBP Office of Intelligence & Operations Coordination, termed the Guardsmen at BORFIC as "value added" to CBP.
"They provided us an immense amount of work," he said. "The biggest thing they did was to provide open sources data research services. Now analysts will have to do their own."
Open sources data research is both a simple concept and a demanding task. It essentially involves performing Internet searches on various topics or searches and compiling them for CBP analysts.
The Guardsmen's duties included searching online publications and other Web sites - all available to the general public -- for information specifically related to drug cartels, dope and drug smuggling, human trafficking, gang violence, terrorism and the like.
"On a typical morning, the analyst would task me, and this would free him up for other duties," said Tech. Sgt. Jeff Schram, a member of the 136th Airlift Wing, in Fort Worth. "I'd spend the day searching for information and pulling down the [pertinent] documentation."
In the words of Master Sgt. Sharon Cosner-Pachar, the last master sergeant here to go off OJS orders, BORFIC was the "extra eyes, ears and hands" of CBP.
Topic areas were assigned to different teams, so that team members could "specialize" in these areas, although they frequently shared appropriate information with one another.
"There were six teams for most of the time, each led by a master sergeant," said Sergeant Cosner-Pachar, who led one team and ended up supervising all of them in the final weeks. She also took care of training. She pointed out that she received her last stripe while on OJS, noting that OJS duty was no barrier to promotion.
She began serving with BORFIC in September 2006 and mentioned that at its height, BORFIC included at least 35 members. With the OJS wind-down, she had to combine teams and coordinate the transition of the Guardsmen's duties to civilian analysts.
"We've been showing the analysts the procedures we've developed," said Sergeant Esparza of the 204th Security Forces Squadron, in El Paso. "We've developed SOPs [standard operating procedures] for after we're gone."
When BORFIC was originally set up, the concept was different, according to Chief Adler, who has led the team at the center the last three months, since the last officer departed OJS.
"Originally, there were going to be 50 slots, and BORFIC was under the El Paso sector of OJS," said Chief Adler, who further explained that the original concept also envisioned the positions being filled with people whose military career or occupational specialties were in intelligence. However, after only a few Guardsmen with this background applied for OJS, it was arranged for other BORFIC volunteers to obtain all the training they really needed at Biggs or in downtown El Paso.
Guardsmen came to join OJS and BORFIC from different backgrounds and for different reasons. Staff Sgt. Evangelina Valdez came from the 149th Fighter Wing, in San Antonio, with a background in administration and supply. Senior Airman Richard Lynch came from the 136th Airlift Wing, in Fort Worth, with a background in hydraulics and munitions. Both wanted the opportunity to work closely with the Border Patrol.
Spcs. Jesus Ybarra and Antonio Gonzalez, among the handful of Army Guardsmen at BORFIC, belong to different organizations within the 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment. Best friends in school before they joined the National Guard, they both completed training just a few months prior to signing up for OJS. They wanted to work together as well as gain some experience in the intelligence field.
Specialist Gonzalez also got the opportunity to work on his translation skills, as did Sergeant Esparza and likewise Sergeant Guevara, another member of the 204th Security Forces Squadron. Translation of the information located was another service BORFIC provided the analysts.
In addition to giving to BORFIC, the Guardsmen also took something away from the time they spent here.
"From this experience I learned to be able to work with a diverse group," said Sergeant Valdez. "I was able to go from a supervised position to a supervisor position."
BORFIC duty was an eye-opener for Sergeant Isaac of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing, in Houston. His team performed research on the U.S.-Canadian border.
"I didn't know [so much] was coming through the northern side ... where there are few border patrols and a big area to cover," he said, noting that BORFIC was concerned with all U.S. borders and coastlines.
"We were nationwide here," said Chief Adler, pointing out that information gathered at BORFIC could go to agencies all over the country.
The chief also summed up the experience.
"BORFIC members got to work with other people in the state and got ideas to take back to their units," she said. "From the time we first started, there were good relations between the Border Patrol and the military.
"Everyone is going away with good experiences and greater appreciation of the other services," she continued. "The relationship will continue -- regardless of the name [of the operation]."