Operation: Guardian Support

By Maj. Ryan Sutherland | Utah National Guard Public Affairs Office | March 17, 2020

DRAPER HEADQUARTERS, Utah —

Utah has a long history with the Southwest border of the United States. 

More than 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson mobilized the National Guard with the National Defense Act to secure the Southwest U.S. border from Francisco "Pancho" Villa’s raiders and gun-runners during the Mexican Revolution. The members of the Utah National Guard were among those who fought to secure the border, including a certain major named William Gray Williams, who would go on to serve as the adjutant general of the Utah National Guard in 1917, and again in 1920-1936.

On October 1, 2018, members of the Utah National Guard were once again called on to secure the Southwest border. The 141st Military Intelligence Battalion mobilized 35 Soldiers as part of Operation Guardian Support, a larger National Guard mission in support of the Department of Homeland Security.

In a presidential memorandum issued on April 4, 2018, President Donald J. Trump authorized the National Guard, with the affected governors’ approval, to enhance its support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection along the Southwestern border.

"They will not perform law enforcement functions during this deployment, and they will not be placed in direct contact with personnel coming to the border," said Lt. Col. Scott Chalmers, 300th Military Intelligence Brigade administrative officer and 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion commander. “Our Soldiers are primarily working out of CBP headquarters offices and are utilizing their intelligence and analytical capabilities in support of CBP agents.”

Military intelligence soldiers are able to use their background and skills of processing and analyzing information to deliver actionable intelligence to drive operations, explained Maj. Aaron Sutliff, operations officer for the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion.

“In the Intel community, if you can only explain that an incident happened, you’re not a force multiplier,” Sutliff said.  “You need to be able to take information, conduct analysis, and actually turn it into actionable intelligence through predictive analysis.  Predictive analytics is the value that we have been able to provide to the border mission.” 

The mobilized Soldiers are supporting three locations in Texas, working in CBP offices, and in a "reach back" capacity, which allows intelligence professionals located in Utah to exercise their intelligence skills while providing real-world mission support without having to be physically on the ground.

“The operational reach-back is a big piece of this mission,” Sutliff said.  “With the advances in today’s technology, our intel professionals located in Utah are able to support the President’s mission and actually provide anticipatory intelligence for CBP agents to drive operations in Texas.”

National Guard units supporting the Operation Guardian Support mission through reach-back increases the pool of available intelligence professionals across National Guard units to support ongoing mission requirements, enhances the sustainability of intelligence skills, and minimizes mission cost since most members will be working within the commuting distance of their home unit.

The mission, originally planned for six months, was extended to two years at the request of the CBP. 

“Once we came in and were able to actually provide predictive analysis and actually start delivering tangible products to Custom and Border Protection, they immediately saw capabilities that we brought to the border mission and they said this is a resource that we can’t lose,” said Sutliff. 

“Having ready, capable forces to fill any need within the intelligence community, that’s business as usual for the 300th,” Sutliff added. “We can augment any operational force with a complex suite of intelligence capabilities.”

While Soldiers focus on the homeland security mission, it enhances their ability to be more combat ready.

“The analytical support our Soldiers provide aligns with the mission essential tasks assigned to our unit and replicates what our Soldiers are expected to provide in any theater in the world,” said Chalmers. “Readiness is our number one priority, our Soldiers are getting an opportunity to serve their nation by improving the effectiveness of the Customs and Border Protection intelligence capabilities, while also honing their skills as intelligence professionals. Our support to CBP truly improves National Guard readiness.”

“It’s always impressive to me to watch our Soldiers fall in on a task that is not well defined,” added Chalmers. “Our Soldiers are committed to the mission, they’re flexible, they’re professional, and they use their skills, training and experience to improve the capabilities of any organization that we support, whether that be fighting our nation's wars or protecting our homeland.”

“Our Soldiers are 100 percent committed to the protection of this nation regardless of what shape or form the threat takes on,” added Sutliff. “That’s why we wear the uniform; to protect this country.  Our Soldiers don’t need much more than that for motivation.”

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