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Gen. Blum: Not every guardsman on border 'will be armed'

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum


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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- President Bush announced this week that 6,000 National Guardsmen would be sent to the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border to assist Border Patrol with surveillance and intelligence duties.

Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told legislators in Washington that such a deployment wouldn't strain the Guard, Lt. Gen H. Steven Blum, who heads the Guard, elaborated on Bush's plan during an interview with CNN's Kyra Phillips.

PHILLIPS: Tell us, I want to hear it from you, the rules of engagement for these National Guard men and women.

BLUM: Well, the rules of engagement and the rules for use of force will be universal between California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. We are working with our states' attorney generals to make sure that there's no contradiction amongst the rules of engagement in each of those states, and we'll build upon the time-proven rules of engagement we've used for the counter-narcotics program that we've had on the southern border for about 20 years now.

PHILLIPS: Will they be armed, and if they get into a dangerous situation, if they feel their life is at stake, there is a high-threat situation going on, will they be able to fire that weapon?

BLUM: In short, absolutely. Every soldier and airman always has the right of self-protection to preserve their life and to save the lives of others. But no, not every soldier and airman will be armed.

There will be a lot of jobs that we'll be performing that will not require people to carry sidearms. However, if they're in a mission profile where they could be subject to threat or injury, or their life is threatened, they will, in fact, carry weapons, just as they do in other missions around the world.

PHILLIPS: Will they be working for the governor of the state where they are, or will they be working for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?

BLUM: They will be allowed to work under the command and control of the governors of the states, and they will be in support of the federal law enforcement agencies -- in this case, the border patrol and customs officials.

So it is a perfect job for the National Guard. They're superb at this. We've done this for 25 years on the southwest border. It will be sort of business as usual, but we'll do it on a much grander scale. And it will now -- we will now support a new customer, being the customs and border patrol forces.

PHILLIPS: And what do you think those forces will learn from your men and women?

BLUM: Well, I think they're going to find out that they're superbly trained, they're very well disciplined and they're very, very committed citizen soldiers and airmen. They're absolutely the right kind of forces for this job.

PHILLIPS: Now, is it possible that the National Guard could be federalized and (the U.S. Northern Command) could get involved sending in active duty soldiers as well?

BLUM: It's not anticipated that the Guard will be federalized. They are federally funded.

They will be in Title 32, which means that the pay and all of the expenses will be paid by the federal government. This is good for the governors because they share their National Guard forces, but it doesn't mean that they have to pay for it, because they are in support of a federal mission.

If we need niche capabilities that we do not have in the Guard, then we would go to Northern Command. For instance, if I were to need naval support in the Pacific Ocean or I need some naval support in the Gulf of Mexico because the border is on both ends of it, we do have significant bodies of water, that would be coordinated through U.S. Northern Command.

PHILLIPS: So that leads me to my next question. Will the National Guard be able to cross over the border into Mexico?

BLUM: It's not anticipated that that will be required. That is not right now in our mission profile. But one of the great features of using the National Guard is they have a very long-lasting relationship with the armed forces and law enforcement forces in the border states, have their counterparts across the Mexican border. They have frequent training exercises and long-term relationships that we can leverage if that were necessary. But that's not anticipated at this time.

PHILLIPS: Well, do you think that you'll be able to bring in troops from other states to help, not just border states?

BLUM: Oh, absolutely. I've already received calls from neighboring governors and governors as far away as New England and the northwestern part of our country. The Guard is family. When you call out the Guard, you call out America. And every time the Guard is called out, all of the other National Guards around the country want to know what they can do to make the unit successful that's being activated.

So this is terrific. The best part is we're going to have the flexibility to not mobilize these soldiers for long periods of time. We will have a duration force which will be there for an extended period of time, but they will be the leaders and the planners that need the long-term relationships with the Department of Homeland Security.

The bulldozer operators and the radio operators and the medics, they will rotate in there for periods of two to three weeks so that it's very painless for their families and their civilian supporters, so we don't pull them away from the workplace or their schoolroom, or from their families for undue lengths of time.

PHILLIPS: Let's say some other National Guardsmen and women come from a different state into Arizona. Is it the governor of Arizona who tells those other men and women what their duties will be? Who will command those that come from other states?

BLUM: All of the National Guard forces within California will be commanded by the joint force headquarters of the National Guard in California. They will ultimately be commanded by Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger. The same thing applies to Gov. [Janet] Napolitano in Arizona, Gov. [Rick] Perry in Texas, and the same arrangement would also happen in New Mexico.

PHILLIPS: So if, say, a National Guard unit from a state that's not a border state comes into a border state, they will be under the command of the governor of the state that they're in?

BLUM: That is absolutely correct, and it's done by a prearranged agreement between the governors before we send the soldiers.

PHILLIPS: Obviously, God forbid, we don't want to see another Katrina. But if that were to happen, are there enough men and women in the National Guard to respond immediately to a natural disaster?

BLUM: The short answer is absolutely yes. But Gov. Schwarzenegger is rightfully concerned, as are all of the other governors of our 50 states and territories, that we have sufficient National Guard capabilities left in the state to handle what normally comes their way, or what they don't see coming, maybe an act of Mother Nature or an act of terrorism in their state. And they depend heavily on their Guard.

I have made a commitment to every governor that they will have sufficient forces left in their state to deal with their normal weather patterns and the ravages of Mother Nature, or a terrorist attack.

I might tell you we are better prepared for this hurricane season than we were last year. I have more troops available in the National Guard distributed amongst the states. Our equipment has been pre-positioned already for this year's hurricane season, and we have purchased about $800 million worth of interoperable communications equipment so that whatever occurs in the United States of America, we can handle that and still do this border mission.

You have to remember that up to 6,000 troops means less than 2 percent of my force or the National Guard force will be on that border at any given time. And we have a combined number of airmen and soldiers. It totals 460,000, and right now we only have about 20 percent of our force overseas, which leaves us a very significant capability here at home, Kyra.

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