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FEATURE Trouble at Porvenir Crossing What Happens When Soldiers Become Witnesses for the Prosecution? BY JAKE BERNSTEIN ast month a bipartisan group Lof 62 congressmen calling themselves the Immigration Reform Caucus demanded President Bush militarize the U.S. border. The representa tives want the president to deploy as many as 20,000 federal troops. As a pretext, they offered the “war on terror” and a spate of border shootings by the Mexican military. Fortunately, the Bush administration has shown little interest. Security czar Torn Ridge is said to have told legislators the White House opposes stationing troops for “cultural and historic” reasons. One can’t but wonder if the “historic” reason uppermost in Bush’s mind is the senseless killing of Esequiel Hernandez, which occurred in Redford in May of 1997, during Bush’s first term as governor. The 18-year-old boy died while watching over his family’s goats. Hernandez was carrying his .22-caliber World War II-era rifle as he often did in the wild brush country surrounding his house. This time, he apparently fired unknowingly in the direction of a group of four camouflaged marines on patrol for an antidrug task force called Joint Task Force Six. One of them blasted him with an M-16. Two months after the killing, JTF-6 ended its ground patrols. The memory of this tragedy is still fresh in West Texas. For the rest of the nation, all it will likely take to forget the incident is one successful foreign bomber discovered to have entered the U.S. through a land crossing. After that, pressure to call in the troops will increase dramatically. But if the administration needs more reasons than the killing of an innocent boy to demonstrate why the armed forces shouldn’t patrol the borders, they need look no further than what took place in a courtroom in Pecos this past June. For perhaps the first time in the history of JTF-6, soldiers acted as witnesses for the prosecution in a drug case. What happened when the armed forces got pulled into a civilian criminal proceeding illustrates just why policing and soldiering are better kept separate. It begins five years ago, on March 31, 1997. That night a Suburban rented by the Border Patrol pulled over on the Chispa Road, which runs between the Van Horn and the Sierra Vieja mountains down to the Rio Grande. It’s a remote area of parched West Texas ranch land where three counties intersect: Presidio, Culberson, and Jeff Davis. The passengers of the Suburban, a team of six experienced soldiers from the Army’s 51st Infantry, piled out and faded into the night. The JTF-6 was formed in 1989, aimed specifically at anti-drug efforts in the southwestern border region, but by the mid ’90s its scope of operations had expanded to the entire continental United States. The goals of JTF-6 have always been twofold. The first is to support civilian law enforcement in its efforts to stop illegal drugs.To this end, the task force continues to this day to provide training, intelligence, aviation reconnaissance, engineering, and infrastructure development. Additionally, JTF-6 activities, open to all active duty branches of the armed forces, present an opportunity for the military to practice in the field. As one of the infantrymen on that Chispa Road mission would later recall: “Our instructions from the commander were to do things like a wartime training mission.” Each soldier that night carried 100 pounds of weight including water, 12 meals, a spy scope, binoculars, and night vision goggles. The soldiers split up into two groups of three. A forward observer team found a depression on a cliff about 1000 meters from a lowwater crossing on the Rio Grande called Porvenir. Another group of soldiers deployed far to the rear to act as a command post. They dug in for a seven-day mission to watch the river and the Mexican village on the other side. Under normal circumstances, the area is only monitored by the Border Patrol through three motion sensors on the Chispa Road. The JTF-6 soldiers in the forward observation post huddled under a camouflage tent, monitoring the crossing in three-hour shifts during the day and for 60-minute turns at night. Mostly they saw the villagers on the Mexican side go about their daily routines.Then on the fourth night, sometime a little after 9:00 p.m., one of the men, Sgt. 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7119/02