Beto O’Rourke called out Gov. Greg Abbott’s political theatrics at the cost of Texas National Guard members in a recent Houston Chronicle op-ed.
Gov. Abbott’s Operation Lone Star – a mission to secure the Texas border with the National Guard – has been a logistical nightmare. The Texas Governor’s troop quotas necessitated the involuntary activation of guardsmen and left them only days to settle civilian affairs before deployment.
“Abbott is the commander-in-chief of the Texas National Guard. If he chooses to deploy those under his command,” O’Rourke said, “it is his duty to pay them, deliver the benefits he promised them and ensure they receive proper mental health support in order to prevent the kind of tragedy we’ve seen in recent months. And if he can’t justify their deployment, he owes it to them and their families to send them home.”
Pfc. Joshua R. Cortez was about to accept a “lifetime job” with a large health insurance company just before his sudden deployment. Cortez missed his first opportunity in September due to another deployment to Louisiana during the floods. He had described his most recent job opportunity as his “last.”
Cortez’s company commander recommended approval for release, but the battalion and brigade commanders disagreed.
They rejected Cortez’s release at 8:19 p.m. on Nov.4.
“Sometime in the next 36 hours, Cortez drove to a parking lot in northwest San Antonio and shot himself in the head. First responders found him at 7:40 a.m. on Nov. 6” (Army Times).
Four soldiers have died by suspected suicide since Operation Lone Star began, according to family members, Guard troops currently on the mission, and official documents obtained by the Army Times.
Sgt. Jose L. De Hoyos, Oct. 26.
Pfc. Joshua R. Cortez, Nov. 6.
1st Sgt. John “Kenny” Crutcher, Nov. 12.
1st Lt. Charles Williams, Dec. 17.
The mission’s already questionable troop conditions and lack of purpose have led to more well-deserved scrutiny.
“The [Texas Military Department]’s leadership has lost focus on what matters most, and that’s the soldier,” he said. “Their inability to focus on the individual soldiers’ needs has cost several lives, and until they [focus], more tragedies will continue to happen,” says Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Featherson.
Many believe the mission to be politically motivated. Featherston described it as “common knowledge around the office.”
Troops deployed on American soil are facing poor living conditions, for a mission they don’t even believe in. “They’re not doing shit on the border,” Featherson said.
Most troops live in hotel rooms or truck trailers converted to squad barracks.
One junior soldier assigned to an observation post said, “[We just] sleep in a humvee.”
Another junior soldier’s weapons were confiscated after declaring suicidal intent earlier this month. Officials handed him a rifle and live ammo the next day.
To top the whole ordeal off, troops aren’t even being paid for months at a time. And when they are eventually compensated for serving their country, it is not the amount they were promised.
Guard members report concerns they may be unable to put food on the table for their families back home.
In order to “heighten” border security, state leaders have tripled the security budget to $3 million. Partly to pay for the 10,000 troops now stationed at the Texas border.
Guard member tuition has been slashed, forcing troops to put their educational plans on hold and even leaving them unable to afford classes they have already registered for.
There is still little to no evidence showing any guard members conducting any arrests at the border.