Governor Kristi Noem claims that her pimping out of our National Guard to go hang around the border in Texas last summer made some sort of difference in crime and national security. We know Noem’s deployment was a largely misdirected excuse for campaign photo ops. But a new investigative report in the Army Times finds that the Guard deployment cobbled together by South Dakota and several other states was a sloppy operation that led to crime and demoralization among our part-time troops:
Among Army Times’ findings:
- When troops weren’t on duty, most were at hotels in remote locations. Alcohol and drug abuse became so widespread that senior leaders issued breathalyzers and instituted alcohol restrictions that tightened as the misconduct incidents piled up.
- Leaders initiated more than 1,200 legal actions, including nonjudicial punishments, property loss investigations, Army Regulation 15-6 investigations and more. That’s nearly one legal action for every three soldiers. At least 16 soldiers from the mission were arrested or confined for charges including drugs, sexual assault and manslaughter. During the same time period, only three soldiers in Kuwait, a comparable deployment locale with more soldiers, were arraigned for court-martial.
- Troops at the border had more than three times as many car accidents over the past year — at least 500 incidents totaling roughly $630,000 in damages — than the 147 “illegal substance seizures” they reported assisting.
- One cavalry troop from Louisiana was temporarily disbanded due to misconduct and command climate issues — an extremely rare occurrence.
- A 1,000-soldier battalion-level task force based in McAllen, Texas, had three soldiers die during the border deployment. For comparison, only three Army Guard troops died on overseas deployments in 2021, out of tens of thousands [Davis Winkie, “Death Drugs and a Disbanded Unit: How the Guard’s Mexico Border Mission Fell Apart,” Army Times, 2021.12.08].
And while Kristi went to What-a-Burger for pop and pix, one wayward Alabama Guardsman went to What-a-Burger to get cocaine for his Task Force Phoenix comrades:
Illicit drugs, including cocaine and fentanyl, also appeared in TF Phoenix’s drug tests, according to military justice reports and a source familiar with the unit’s drug testing.
The most notable incident occurred in September when an on-duty soldier from the Alabama National Guard allegedly tried to pick up a kilogram of cocaine to transport to a McAllen hotel that housed fellow soldiers.
According to federal court records, Spc. Derrick Sankey arrived at a Whataburger in Hidalgo, Texas, wearing his uniform and driving a marked CBP pickup truck. Undercover Homeland Security Investigations agents arrested him as soon as he accepted the cocaine from them.
Sankey’s arrest made headlines, but dozens more soldiers either tested positive for drugs or were arrested by civilian law enforcement agencies, according to the military justice blotters and incident reports [Winkie, 2021.12.08].
And here Noem told us she was sending the National Guard to Texas to fight illegal drugs. Oops.
The Army Times report doesn’t specify any South Dakota troops involved in misconduct. But the lack of clear mission and the widespread troubles into which demoralized troops got during Task Force Phoenix makes it sound like the best way to support the troops is to stop Kristi Noem from sending them on feckless photo ops.