Earlier this year, National Guard members that are part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s highly touted border mission were dispatched to famous Texas ranches with private security.
Adding to the series of unfortunate events that make up Operation Lone Star, troops were placed at spots along the U.S. Route 77, nearly 80 miles away from the border.
Where they stand around for hours, staring at each other, the highway, or occasionally at the private security of the ranch.
Service members with firsthand knowledge of the mission told The Texas Tribune that even if they did see a migrant – which was extremely rare – they could not pursue them since they are not authorized to enter the private ranch, or make arrests.
So, I guess their job was to be expensive scarecrows?
“We really don’t understand why we are there,” a service member told the Tribune. “We’re essentially mall security for ranches that already have paid security details to protect them.”
Those troops said their time was being wasted standing guard outside ranches with wealthy or politically connected owners when they could have been more useful at other posts. In February they were removed from their post outside private ranches, according to service members.
This incident only adds to the long list of questions surrounding the soundness of Operation Lone Star, whose own troops have been decried as aimless, political, and oversized. Not to mention, extremely expensive. The cost of the mission has ballooned up to $2 billion a year, with almost zero results to show for.
Taking on the full force of criticism was Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, leader of the Texas Military Department, who on Monday, was replaced by Maj. Gen. Thomas M. Suelzer, under Abbott’s orders.
Norris began her three-year tenure in 2019 but came to heavy criticism in the fall after reports on Operation Lone Star unmasked alarming pay issues, poor living conditions, lack of appropriate gear, and mental health problems that led to several suicides amongst the troops.
In February, a leaked morale survey revealed major dissatisfaction among troops, with more than half of the service members surveyed expressing skepticism or frustration with the mission, as reported by The Texas Tribune.
However, in a news release announcing Norris’ replacement, Abbott did not acknowledge the criticism, instead thanking the general for her work with the department.
“General Norris faithfully served the Texas Military Department with dignity, as Adjutant General beginning in January 2019, as Assistant Adjutant General in 2016, and over her decades of service,” said Governor Abbott. “I thank General Norris for her exceptional service to the State of Texas.”
Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat challenging Abbott in the November election, placed the blame for the mission’s recent controversies squarely at the incumbent governor’s feet.
“You can switch Generals, but we all know where the buck stops. Greg Abbott took 10,000 Guard members from their families, jobs, and communities,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “He has treated them with incredible disrespect as he has delayed their pay, cut their tuition benefits in half, and used them as political pawns in his re-election campaign. It’s time to bring them back home.”