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Mass death among National Guards deployed at border raises questions

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A recent spate of deaths among Texas National Guardsmen deployed as part of Governor Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star is raising questions about this mission.

In October, the governor announced that more troops would be sent to the US-Mexico border, totaling up to 2,500.

Last week, Davis Winkie with Army Times reported a jarring trend among those defenders: four people have died by suicide since late October.

“The main stressor that all four of these soldiers had in common was, the state of Texas asked them to give up their lives for two weeks, a week, possibly with less notice,” Winkie told Nexstar.

“The most recent was Lieutenant Charles Williams, who passed away last Thursday while on vacation home and seeing family. He led the soldiers out there in Del Rio on the border, and was actually in the same company, the same unit, with Sgt 1. Kenny Crutcher passed away in November,” Winkie explained.

While Winkie says it’s difficult to speculate, the sentinels deployed in Operation Lone Star have faced some tough challenges.

“For someone who didn’t have to give up their civilian life on that kind of announcement, to go on a mission you don’t know how long you’ll be there. You don’t know if you’re allowed to see your family that often, which is a really significant stressor,” added Winkie.

In addition, defenders in the operation have faced delays in payment and benefit cut.

In a statement, the Texas Department of the Army said it can confirm the four deaths, but has not confirmed suicide, citing ongoing investigations.

“We take the loss of any service member seriously and make minimizing the risk of death a priority in everything we do. We can confirm the loss of these four service members; however, the cause of death and the circumstances surrounding each person are currently under investigation,” said a TMD spokesperson.

Winkie reached out to the people who know the bodyguards best to learn more.

“By talking to family members, by talking to sources with knowledge of the investigation or sources regarding the deceased men, and then also through the Official TMD data that I have, all four members died of alleged self-inflicted gunshot wounds,” Winkie said.

Those killed now raise questions about the need to deploy all 2,500 troops on our southern border.

“Most of them were unable to do anything meaningful to address the immigration challenges we faced, and a real mental challenge resulted in the deaths of four members of the National Guard. ,” Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke said this week. “They are being asked to join the political scene.”

The governor has repeatedly stressed the importance of a troop presence on the southern border to help respond to this year’s surge in migrants.

“Since Governor Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March, National Guard and DPS soldiers have apprehended more than 83,000 migrants, making arrests,” the governor’s spokesman said on Tuesday. more than 9,200 border offenders, including smugglers and traffickers, were arrested. 200 million doses of fentanyl are lethal, and strategic barriers are erected to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. ”

Immigration experts have called the move political, explaining more troops are not the answer.

“Our current border crisis is the ultimate crisis that must address the source and why people are fleeing. And that’s what the administration is working on,” said Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute.

But, that takes time. Meanwhile, local authorities in border towns say they are grateful for the extra manpower.

“I would rather let the state do what they are doing than the federal government do nothing,” Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez said last month.

But immigration experts also point to data posted by the border patrol each month, showing that the number of migrants apprehended has remained steady since the start of Operation Lone Star in the spring.

“There is no doubt that border enforcement is at a different stage at this point. But the way to do that is to try to manage it effectively, to work together collaboratively, what is happening in Texas, is really a political greatness,” Meissner said.

The governor’s office said it will continue to work with service leaders to ensure all troops deployed to the border get the support they need.

“Texas is deeply grateful to the brave men and women of the National Guard and DPS who are diligently and selflessly defending the border in the absence of the federal government,” the statement said. continue.

In addition to what the National Guard has provided for mental health care, TMD also said it has a team specifically assigned to Operation Lone Star.

“We need to make sure our military knows they have options when it comes to health,” said Dr. Donald McGeary, of the STRONG STAR PTSD research organization at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. mental.

“The two key components to stress are that something changes, and you have a response to it. In this case, the response can be quite important when you are called on to duty, you plan to do other things,” says Dr. McGeary.

“As for the National Guard, they have a network of individuals who are providing free mental health care to anyone in need. So if they don’t know who it is, they can contact their NCO, if they have a counselor, a psychologist or mental health resources available, that’s even better. ,” explains Dr. McGeary.

He also urges those with friends or family members to reach out to them regularly.

“Sometimes with the risk of suicide, it can be very difficult to talk about it, even though you feel the risk is coming, you feel the risk is increasing, it can be difficult to talk about it. But try to take a moment to tell others about it. So when you trust someone you know, care about you, and someone you care about, give yourself a chance to work it out,” says Dr. McGeary.

Anyone in need of help can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

https://kfor.com/news/string-of-deaths-among-national-guardsmen-deployed-at-border-stirs-up-questions/ Mass death among National Guards deployed at border raises questions

JACLYN DIAZ

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