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A A Marine camouflage “ghillie suit” alone. And like the Border Patrol, the 1st Marines were hooked on drug interdiction money. The division burned an extra $9.1 million worth of JTF-6 green during the four years prior to the Redford mission. Wrote the ranking general: “Unequivocally, my commanders depend on, and plan for, this annual infusion.” FRIENDLY FIRE Late one afternoon in February 1997 the very same month that JTF-6 and the 1st Marines began planning the Redford mission Border Patrol agents Johnny Urias and James DeMatteo heard gunshots while patrolling the Redford riverfront. Urias and DeMatteo were at the landing used by Juan Olivas, Redford’s part-time boatman. Olivas rows passengers across the Rio Grande for fifty cents a head. If a friend lacks the fare, Olivas has been known to take groceries in trade. The service isn’t legal. Nor is it lucrative. For most of the year, the river is shallow enough to ford without getting a knee wet. The two agents were walking among the cottonwood trees by the river when Urias [heard what he] remembered [as] a “firecracker kind of pop at a distance.” DeMatteo recalled “three popping sounds coming from out left.” Unsure what was happening, they climbed back into their truck and drove slowly up the dusty lane to Farm Road 170, the two-lane blacktop that winds through Redford. Before they reached the village, a beat-up truck approached them from behind. It flashed its headlights. The agents stopped. So did the old white pickup. A boy hopped out and ran up to the Border Patrol vehicle, “I’m sorry that I was shooting,” the agents recalled the boy telling them, “I thought someone was doing something to my goats. I didn’t know you were back there.” The tall, lanky teenager was Esequiel Hernandez Jr. Known as “Skeetch” or “Zeke” to his friends and simply as “Junior” to the adults in the village Esequiel was the sixth of eight children of Maria de la Luz and Esequiel Hernandez Sr. Esequiel Sr. farms a small tract of land in the oldest part of Redford, called El Polvo. It was named after a Catholic mission established here in 1684. The Franciscans called it San Jose Del Polvo, or St. Joseph of the Dust. The name fits. The Hernandez family draws its blood from this river, and this dust. High mountains let few raindrops pass into this part of the desert. But where .the river floods there are small strips of muddy soil. The adobe and cinder block village of Redford stands in the desert above the precious red soil, every inch of which is planted in alfalfa, melons, pumpkins, or other crops. Esequiel Jr. was a popular kid at Presidio High. He was the only boy to sign up for the folk dance troupe. He was a straight kid who didn’t smoke, drink, or do drugs, according to his peers. His only brushes with the law were a result of his habit of driving without a license a common West Texas transgression. Esequiel wasn’t college bound. The only visible indication of personal ambition was a large Marine Corps recruiting poster mounted on the wall above his bed. For the time being, he played cowboy. He rode horses in parades wearing an embroidered shirt and large white hat. When he wasn’t on horseback, he helped his father tend the family’s forty-three goats. It was his chore to walk them to the river each afternoon. And he usually took with him a World War I-era .22-caliber rifle his grandfather had given him. The old gun was mechanically unreliable, but straight shooting. This, too, he hung on the wall above his bed. As the February sun crept behind the high, hard mountains to the west, Urias and DeMatteo studied the boy who had followed them down the dusty lane. No harm intended, they figured. No harm done. Urias left the boy with a friendly warning. “Use more discretion when shooting your weapon,” he later recalled telling Esequiel. “Especially at night.” UNREADY SOLDIERS Corporal Banuelos first set foot in the Redford desert three months later. On the morning of May 13, 1997, he scouted the stony bluff just downstream from El Polvo with his commanding officer, Captain Lance McDaniel. Banuelos noticed an empty cardboard bullet box that had contained .22-caliber rounds. Unaware of the Hernandez’ habits, they speculated that the box had been left by drug smugglers. McDaniel picked Banuelos to lead a four-man team that would surveil the Redford crossing. The 22-year-old corporal’s team called Team 7 was to watch the crossing at night, and radio reports of any illegal activity to the Border Patrol. During the day, Banuelos and his men were to retreat to a “hide site” in an arroyo just down river. There the soldiers were to conceal themselves from the villagers. The assignment was a coup for Banuelos, who was not much older than Hernandez when he joined the Marine Corps. The boy from San Francisco had matured noticeably during his three years in service, earning an achievement medal rarely awarded such a junior enlisted man. And now, while still a corporal, he had been selected to lead an observation team at Redford. All the other team leaders were sergeants, If the mission went smoothly, Banuelos THE T8XAS OBSERVIIR 11 SIIMMBER 25, 1998