Army Aviation

Under the Radar…

Reserve Components Aviation / By COL J. Ray Davis: Greetings again from the Army National Guard (ARNG). Here’s an update on what Your Guard Aviation teammates have been doing.

New York Army National Guard deploys its UH-72 Lakotas to the Texas/Mexico border. / NEW YORK NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO BY SFC STEVEN PETIBONE

First, a quick review of history regarding this operation. The Army National Guard established Operation Phalanx in July 2010, based on an Executive Order from President Obama along the 1,933-mile southwest border in support of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. Operation Phalanx is the successor operation to Operation Jump Start (2006 -2008), which was declared by former President Bush.

In March 2012, this operation morphed again and is now an aviation-only mission, which has been successfully supported by the ARNG security & support battalions, without fanfare or hiccup. Providing aviation capability and capacity for the warfight or supporting Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) is what we do.
This National Guard DSCA mission is a response by the Defense Department (DoD) to a request by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which results in an annual executive order extension. Operations have been renewed each year since 2012, with funds originally provided by the ARNG, but now direct from Congressional appropriations

Officially, it’s called Operation Phalanx, but we refer to it simply as “Southwest Border” (SWB).

The SWB Mission
Here’s the summary: U.S. Customs and Border Protection surveils the southern border of the United States, with emphasis on two high-threat areas in Texas and Arizona. In support, ARNG security and support aircrews deploy with their UH-72 Lakotas to Laredo and Harlingen, Texas, and Marana, AZ. On order, they support ground CBP patrols with aerial detection and monitoring to help detect, interdict, and disrupt Terrorist Criminal Organizations and Drug Trafficking Organizations (TCOs/DTOs).

The mission is ideal for our Security and Support flight companies and exactly what was envisioned when these organizations were created in 2006. Initially, the Guard deployed 21 aircraft, and today this number stands at nine Lakotas – six in Texas and three in Arizona. With its searchlight, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor, and civil band communications suite, the UH-72 Lakota brings an effective observation and response platform to the fight.

Each location has its unique focus and “operational environment.” The Texas area of responsibility (AOR) is characterized by private land, ample cover and concealment, relatively dense air traffic, and people-trafficking. Arizona’s operations are largely on/over public land, marked by sparse vegetation and aimed at drug interdiction. Regardless of AOR, the ternary-of-terrain that exists along the southwest border is unquietly suited for rotary-wing aviation support.

Bottom line, “black-market” smugglers hate the sound of helicopters because it impedes their nefarious activities. The UH-72’s ability to rapidly close time, space, or distance is a significant force-multiplier for the ground force: U.S. Border Patrol agents.

This is classic air-ground integration of employing ARNG Lakotas to provide aerial support, especially useful when agents are “in contact” with smugglers. Bad guys don’t outrun helicopters or UH-72’s civil-band radios. As some CBP agents are fond of saying, “you can run, but you’ll just go to jail tired.”

The Results
The close partnership between these Guard air assets and ground-based law enforcement patrols and quick-reaction forces has resulted in increased apprehensions and drug seizures. By the numbers, for the period between 1 March 2012 and 6 July 2016, Guard Aviation support has directly led to the following totals• Over 35,000 flight hours logged for aviation assistance

  • 7,100,000 pounds of marijuana seized
  • 10,600 pounds of cocaine seized
  • 1,300,000 apprehensions

We think this is a pretty good return on investment for a 65-man aviation force, and thus, we will continue to provide professional, safe, and effective support… under the radar.

Fly Army Guard.

COL J. Ray Davis is the chief of the Army National Guard Aviation and Safety Division located in Arlington, VA.