Opinion: Guard members shouldn’t be political pawns, says Beto O’Rourke
By Beto O’Rourke
Terrible news emerged last week that four Texas National Guardsmen who had been activated for Operation Lone Star have committed suicide since October, raising concerns over the role and treatment of troops who have been deployed to the border by through precipitation, involuntary, and indefinite deployments.
News of the suicides broke on Christmas Eve, as thousands of soldiers remained at the border far from their homes and families – sleeping in truck trailers converted into squad barracks bays – at the amidst salary delays, cutbacks in benefits and unresolved sanity. crisis within their units.
This devastating series of suicides must serve as a wake-up call for the way our Guard members are being treated at the border.
The warning signs have been there from the start. As Governor Greg Abbott rushed to expand his border mission in September, Texas deployed a total of 10,000 troops in a matter of months. Some were given less than a week’s notice before deployment, complicating work and family obligations and leaving Soldiers scrambling to resolve issues at home when deployed to their posts along the border.
On top of that, families reported that some troops went without pay for months. A woman I met in Lubbock a few weeks ago told me that her husband had been on duty in Laredo for over six weeks, but had not received any paychecks or per diems that had been promised to him.
Public inquiries confirm payroll delays are rampant, leaving hundreds of soldiers with no idea when their next paycheck is or how they’re going to put food on the table for them- themselves or for their families. Some of those who received a salary say their paychecks have been sporadic and are for much less money than they were promised during deployment.
And on top of that, as heads of state scrambled to triple the border security budget to $ 3 billion, in part so they could afford to deploy more troops to the border, they reduced the tuition assistance benefits promised to Guardsmen upon enlistment. The unexpected reduction in benefits derailed the soldiers’ education plans and, as it came after the start of the school year, many Guard members found themselves stranded without the reimbursements they had relied on for classes. that they had already paid.
Considering all of this, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Force is going through a serious mental health crisis. It is a slap in the face for the men and women who are committed to serving this state and this country in uniform. And to make matters worse, it seems they are being told that what they are doing at the border is more political theater than anything else.
The members of the guard themselves say that their involvement in the border mission does not make sense. A soldier told the Army Times that although he had seen press releases from the governor’s office claiming that troops were helping arrest migrants and ban drugs, he had “heard no confirmed report that an NG soldier was directly involved in border policing operations â.
Retired Command Sgt. Major Jason Featherston, who was the Texas National Guard’s top enlisted official from May 2020 through late November 2021, echoed the sentiment, saying members of the Guard “don’t do shit on the border “. Featherston described the clear political motives behind Operation Lone Star as “common knowledge in the office” and said soldier morale has deteriorated because “the current leadership is focused on a governor’s pleasure rather than on the safety of soldiers â.
In other words, Governor Abbott removed 10,000 men and women from their homes, families and jobs for a mission without a clear purpose. And that takes a heavy toll on them.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free and confidential support to people in distress. 800-273-8255
Last month, a 21-year-old Guard member was preparing to take on his dream job when he was recruited for the border mission, with no idea how long his deployment would take. He applied for parole so that he could accept the job, but his request was denied.
He committed suicide a few days later.
Governor Abbott is the Commander-in-Chief of the Texas National Guard. If he chooses to deploy those under his command, it is his duty to pay them, offer them the benefits he has promised them and ensure that they receive appropriate mental health support in order to avoid the kind of tragedy we’ve seen in recent months.
And if he cannot justify their deployment, he owes them and their families to send them home.
Beto O’Rourke is running for governor of Texas in the 2022 election.
Cover photo: Texas National Guard soldiers deployed to the Mexican border by Governor Greg Abbott. (Photo courtesy of the Texas Military Department)