Four South Dakota Army National Guard soldiers and a UH-72 Lakota helicopter began a journey Monday from Rapid City to America’s southwest border to provide aerial detection and monitoring for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The three pilots and an analyst will work with the Arizona National Guard to bring additional air reconnaissance capabilities as part of a broad federal effort to enhance security operations along the U.S.–Mexico border, said Lt. Col. Anthony Deiss, director of public affairs for the South Dakota National Guard. The mission is expected to last 90 days.
South Dakota’s participation in the effort came after a request from the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va., was approved by Gov. Kristi Noem, Deiss said. Noem touted the decision Tuesday in her State of the State address, prompting a round of applause from the South Dakota Legislature.
“Just yesterday I approved a four-soldier aviation crew with a UH-72 helicopter to deploy this week to Arizona in support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection security operations along the southwest border,” Noem said. “We must do what we can to secure the southern border and our country.”
Deiss said the South Dakota crew will join about 2,100 other National Guard members and approximately 2,300 active-duty soldiers already stationed along the border. The deployment marks the fourth time the South Dakota National Guard has sent aircraft and crews for southwest border support. Previous deployments were in 2007, 2013 and 2015.
The South Dakota National Guard also assisted in southwest border operations with Operation Jump Start in 2006 and 2007, when it provided engineer and project management support during the construction of barriers and access roads along the U.S.–Mexico border.
Deiss said all costs associated with requests for support from the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be funded by the Department of Defense.
“I don’t believe there will be,” Deiss said when asked if there would be a cost to the state for the operation.
The cost of the soldiers' pay, allowances for food and lodging, and aircraft expenses such as fuel are reimbursed to the South Dakota National Guard by the National Guard Bureau, which also falls under the umbrella of the Department of Defense, Deiss said.