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HMLA 267 Marines help secure Texas border

Aug. 12, 2005; Submitted on: 08/12/2005 12:01:21 AM ; Story ID#: 20058120121

By Mr. Armando Carrasco MCAS Miramar

El Paso, Texas, USA, 12 August 2005 — Securing the border against transnational threats is a high priority mission for the men and women of the U.S. Border Patrol. They perform this duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

While the size of the border enforcement force has significantly grown over the past decade, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the agency has continuously sought additional resources that could be used to prevent, deter and defeat the activities conducted by individuals or groups that threaten the national security of the United States.

High technology surveillance is among the most powerful tools currently being used to safeguard the nation against international terrorism, narcotrafficking, human smuggling and weapons of mass destruction. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, Forward Looking Infrared Radar-equipped aircraft have proven to be extremely effective in the barren, desolate and sparsely populated border desert regions, especially during the hours of darkness.

In response to a recent request for Department of Defense nighttime aviation surveillance assistance submitted by the El Paso sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, recently provided the much needed FLIR support.

Working under the tactical control of Joint Task Force North, the U.S. Northern Command unit that manages and coordinates military homeland security support to federal agencies, the Marines of HMLA-267 deployed their FLIR-equipped AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters to the border city of El Paso, Texas.

Serving as "the eyes in the sky" for the agents on the ground, the Marines used their FLIR systems to identify and report suspected illegal activities.

“The Marines had Border Patrol agents onboard the UH-1N Huey helicopters. The agents provided the Marine aircrews with area familiarization and served as the link to the agents on the ground,” said Lt. Col. George Benter, JTF North mission planner.

“The FLIR provided thermal images to the pilots in the AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey helicopters that were an indicator of suspicious activities of individuals on the ground. With practice and training, you can distinguish people from animals on the FLIR,” said Benter.

This unity of effort enabled the U.S. Border Patrol to maximize its personnel resources by directing its agents to specific areas of interest, rather than having them patrol the expanses of the Southwest desert.

“Groups of individuals hiding or trying to blend in with the hot rocks or sand make them suspicious. The agents on the aircraft passed the suspicious activity information obtained by the Marines using the FLIR to the agents on the ground for further investigation or apprehension,” said Benter. “This concept also contributed to the safety of the agents.” The mission yielded tremendous training benefits for the Marines of HMLA-267.

“The ability to participate in such missions benefits national security and provides invaluable experience and training for HMLA-267,” said Lt. Col. Shaun L. Sadler, commanding officer, HMLA-267.

The Marines exercised over 90 percent of their mission essential task list, to include mission planning, self-deployment by air and land, mission execution and redeployment.

“The border missions provided the Super Cobra and Huey aircrews with a realistic opportunity to develop and refine the FLIR reconnaissance skills that could be employed by Marine aircrews operating in Iraq,” said Major Keith C. Darby II, tactics officer, HMLA-267.

“The squadron also gained invaluable exposure to operations conducted in a high density altitude and hot-weather environment,” said Darby.

While HMLA-267 did not encounter any major aircraft maintenance problems during the mission, the aircrews quickly learned that desert heat does have an impact on aircraft components.

“The biggest challenge is the way that the aircraft reacts to the heat and altitude. Oil seals and electronic components especially react to the heat,” said SSgt. James Sorenson, quality assurance representative, HMLA-267.

“Seeing how the aircraft reacts to hotter and dustier environments has provided the Marines with training that will benefit them greatly in future deployments,” said Sorenson. The Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Marines of HMLA-267 contributed immeasurably to the accomplishment of the U.S. Border Patrol’s mission.

The Marines also gained training benefits that will better prepare them to perform their military duties both in training and in operations across the globe.

Story provided by U.S.M.C.

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