Texas Governor Greg Abbott is running for re-election in 2022. He finds himself coming under fire from both sides of the aisle, from Republican primary challengers and from Texas Democrats. The Texas National Guard is facing some problems for which the governor is being held responsible.
Governor Abbott put Operation Lone Star in place in March 2021 in response to the overwhelming illegal migration crisis at the southern border. Under his direction, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) carries out its mission to combat human smuggling and drug smuggling into Texas along the border using air, ground, marine, and tactical security assets. Abbott deployed Texas National Guard troops to participate in Operation Lone Star. Operation Lone Star is a separate mission from the federally controlled National Guard task force on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Army Times published a story about four suicides of Texas National Guardsmen serving in Operation Lone Star. All four deaths were from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the previous two months.
*Sgt. Jose L. De Hoyos was found dead in Laredo, Texas, on Oct. 26. He was a member of the 949th Brigade Support Battalion’s headquarters company.
*Cortez died overnight Nov. 6.
*1st Sgt. John “Kenny” Crutcher died Nov. 12, as time ran out on his temporary hardship waiver. He was the top NCO for B Company, 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry.
*1st Lt. Charles Williams, a platoon leader in Crutcher’s company, died at home overnight Dec. 17 while on pass.
Questions are being raised about the mission. Its organization and purpose are under scrutiny, along with indefinite involuntary call-ups. Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Featherston who retired on November 30 addressed some complaints.
“The [Texas Military Department]’s leadership has lost focus on what matters most, and that’s the soldier,” he said. “Their inability to focus on the individual soldiers’ needs has cost several lives, and until they [focus], more tragedies will continue to happen.”
At the time, a Texas Military Department spokesperson urged caution in discussing the suicides.
“The loss of any service member is a tragedy and mitigating loss through enforcing safety protocols and ensuring resources that promote the total health of the force is something the Texas Military Department takes seriously,” the spokesperson added. They pointed to the organization’s 24-hour confidential counseling lines for soldiers and commanders, in addition to their “large team of independently licensed therapists” that offer services free of charge to all department personnel.
“In addition to the aforementioned resources, there is a behavioral health team assigned to Operation Lone Star with members in each region our task force supports,” the spokesperson said. “The OLS behavioral health team practices proactive, face-to-face outreach through education on self-care, crisis mitigation, and resources available.”
Republican Allen West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel running for governor, blasted Abbott’s management of his signature border security operation. West calls for an investigation into the Texas Military Department. He said that Abbott has some explaining to do. West said that some guard members have reached out to him. Habitual pay delays and poor working conditions are frequent complaints. They are exposed to COVID-19 and missing ammunition as well as other equipment during deployment. “This falls squarely on the shoulders of the person that ordered the commencement of Operation Lone Star and that’s you, Gov. Abbott,” West said. West calls for the resignation of Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard. She was appointed by Abbott. West wants her relieved of her command.
Abbott’s spokeswoman didn’t address the call for Norris’ resignation but put the blame squarely on the Biden administration and the Biden border crisis.
“Since Governor Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March, National Guard soldiers and DPS troopers have apprehended over 85,000 migrants, arrested over 9,600 who committed a border-related crime, including smugglers and human traffickers, seized over 208 million lethal doses of fentanyl, and erected strategic barriers to stem the flow of illegal immigration,” Eze said in the statement. “Texas is beyond grateful for the brave men and women of the National Guard and DPS who are diligently and selflessly securing the border in the federal government’s absence. We continue working with service leaders to ensure all who are deployed in Texas and overseas have the support they need to keep forging ahead and serve our great state and our nation.”
A statement was issued by the Texas Military Department about the complaints, too. There are 10,000 troops in the mission.
Brandon Jones, a spokesman for the Texas Military Department, said that as of Tuesday all service members are receiving paychecks and detailed pay stubs. He also said that service members have access to a payroll hotline if they encounter issues, and “any discrepancies or anomalies are few.” The Texas Military Department told KHOU last week that there were “approximately 150 service members experiencing pay issues” at that time.
“There is no doubt, missions of this magnitude have administrative challenges, and onboarding thousands of Guardsmen into a state payroll system is always a hurdle for any National Guard state active duty mission,” he said. “However, we are always looking at continuous process improvements.”
Jones also said the department had been made aware of unsanitary conditions at some locations that did not have portable restrooms for soldiers but that the “scope of this challenge is not large.”
“As with any military operation, the first wave of personnel in have to operate in austere conditions with limited resources. Over time, the infrastructure follows,” Jones said. “We are working to address this issue. As missions evolve, we continually add additional infrastructure to better resource operations.”
Robert Francis O’Rourke, a.k.a. Beto, weighed in when the Army Times article was published. He blames Abbott for a lack of leadership.
“Abbott is the commander-in-chief of the Texas National Guard,” O’Rourke said in an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle. “If he chooses to deploy those under his command, it is his duty to pay them, deliver the benefits he promised them and ensure they receive proper mental health support in order to prevent the kind of tragedy we’ve seen in recent months.”
Operation Lone Star has resulted in 83,000 migrants apprehended and 9,200 arrests, according to the governor’s office. Delays in pay and cuts in tuition assistance funding are bringing criticism of Abbott’s decisions from other Texas Republicans. “These are the men & women being called by Gov. Abbott to work on the Texas border,” state Rep. Matt Shaefer, R-Tyler, said in a December social media post about the payroll problems. “It is appalling that this is still happening.”
None of these hardships would be happening to Texans if Joe Biden was competent in securing our southern border. Governor Abbott had little choice but to act to protect the state as best as he can. Border security is a federal responsibility yet almost a year into his term in office, Biden continues to turn a blind eye to the chaos his border crisis has produced in border states, particularly Texas, the epicenter of illegal migration. Look for candidates in both parties to criticize Abbott going forward as the primary races approach their election dates.