Troops at bor­der bat­tle morale, wait for car­a­van

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY THOMAS GIB­BONS-NEFF, HE­LENE COOPER AND TAMIR KALIFA

BASE CAMP DONNA, TEXAS

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Micek, a pla­toon sergeant with the 89th Mil­i­tary Po­lice Bri­gade, tore open the brown pack­ag­ing of his MRE on Thurs­day.

It was a chicken and noo­dle dish, one of the more sought-after ra­tions be­cause it came with Skit­tles. But from the cot out­side his pla­toon’s tent at the Army’s lat­est for­ward oper­at­ing base, Micek could al­most see the bright or­ange and white roof of Whataburger, a fast-food utopia 8 miles away but off lim­its un­der cur­rent Army rules. The desert tan flatbed trucks at the base are for haul­ing con­certina wire, not food runs.

Such is life on the lat­est front where U.S. sol­diers are de­ployed. The midterm elec­tions are over, along with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s rafter-shak­ing ral­lies warn­ing that an ap­proach­ing mi­grant car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans amounts to a for­eign “in­va­sion” that war­rants de­ploy­ing up to 15,000 ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary troops to the bor­der states of Texas, Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia.

But the 5,600 U.S. troops who rushed to the brown, dry scrub along the south­west bor­der are still go­ing through the mo­tions of an elab­o­rate mis­sion that ap­peared to be set into ac­tion by a com­man­der in chief de­ter­mined to get his sup­port­ers to the polls, and a Pen­tagon lead­er­ship un­able to con­vince him of its per­ils.

In­stead of foot­ball with their fam­i­lies on this Vet­er­ans Day week­end, sol­diers with the 19th En­gi­neer Bat­tal­ion, fresh from Fort Knox, Ken­tucky, were painstak­ingly web­bing con­certina wire on the banks of the Rio Grande, just be­neath the McAl­lenHi­dalgo-Reynosa In­ter­na­tional Bridge.

Nearby, troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Wash­ing­ton state were mak­ing sure a sick call tent was prop­erly set up next to their aid sta­tion. And a few miles away, Staff Sgt. Juan Men­doza was di­rect­ing traf­fic as his en­gi­neer sup­port com­pany from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, un­loaded mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles.

Come Thanks­giv­ing, they most likely will still be here.

Two thou­sand miles away, at the Pen­tagon, of­fi­cials pri­vately de­rided the de­ploy­ment as an ex­pen­sive waste of time and re­sources, and a morale killer to boot.

Lead­ing up to the midterm vote Tues­day, the mil­i­tary an­nounced that the bor­der mis­sion would be called Op­er­a­tion Faith­ful Pa­triot. But De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis on Elec­tion Day told of­fi­cials to drop the name, and the Pen­tagon sent out a terse news re­lease a day later say­ing the op­er­a­tion was now sim­ply to be known as bor­der sup­port. The term “faith­ful pa­triot,” of­fi­cials said, had po­lit­i­cal over­tones.

A fi­nal cost es­ti­mate of the de­ploy­ment has not been made avail­able. But De­fense Depart­ment bud­get of­fi­cials fret that if the num­ber of troops sent to the bor­der does reach 15,000, the price tag could hit $200 mil­lion, with no spe­cific bud­get al­lo­ca­tion from which to draw.

The last time ac­tive­duty troops were sent to the bor­der was in the 1980s, to help with coun­ternar­cotics mis­sions. Since then, Trump’s pre­de­ces­sors have re­lied on the Na­tional Guard, which ar­rived with con­sid­er­ably less fan­fare than the con­voys of ve­hi­cles and tent cities that have sprung up in re­cent days.

The De­fense Depart­ment’s fis­cal 2019 bud­get had al­ready carved out funds for fight­ing the Is­lamic State group in Iraq and Syria, con­tin­u­ing the end­less war in Afghanistan and pre­par­ing for a po­ten­tial con­flict with a for­eign na­tion, such as China, Rus­sia, North Korea or Iran.

There has been no money set aside to com­bat

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