Our friend and frequent contributor Heath Hansen, a former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, recently sent us another article he penned while patrolling the border with the Arizona Border Recon. Enjoy!

— Steve Balestrieri, Senior Editor, SOFREP

Pop! Pop! Distant AK-47 fire pierces the night. I’ve been sitting in my spot on this mountain for a few hours when I hear the gunfire. Up until now, I had been plunged into the endless silence of a desert night in the Coronado National Forest. The sky above me bursts with more stars than you could ever see in the city. When you are this far away, nature is overpowering. Pop! I hear another gunshot, this time it’s closer. The scouts are communicating with their group, situated further south, that it’s time to move forward across the Mexican-American border. I watch through the green hue of my Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) unable to see the group but knowing they are there. Unfortunately for the drug mules attempting to move product into the U.S., they are unaware Arizona Border Recon (AZBR) is on patrol at this section of the border, upholding their motto and conquering “One Hill at a Time.”

Smugglers crossing the U.S. border carrying heavy rucks and weapons. (AZBR photo)

Recently, I trained with the AZBR in these mountains and was invited back for an operation. Once in Southern Arizona, I stopped at Tim Foley’s house to get updated grids and a plan for the week. While there, the leader of AZBR updated me on the situation at the border and the threats to expect while patrolling the treacherous terrain. I walked into his office, and he showed me recent footage he had caught while hiking in the area. “Here, on the mountaintop, you can see three scouts, holding AK-47s. They’re waiting for the group to move north.” I see armed men, wearing camouflage, casually perched on a ridgeline. “I thought guns were illegal in Mexico,” I said to Tim, smirking. We look at each other and laughed. “Yeah, me too,” he replies. Foley then tells me the base camp locations (our group is large so we will have two camps); we will be half a mile from the border. The next morning, we load the vehicles and head out.

The route is dusty, winding, and very rocky. My vehicle nearly bottoms out a few times before reaching base camp. Tall saguaro cacti dot the high mountains surrounding our tent area. In the distance, to the south, the wall that Trump built is visible. Some of the low spots of the wall have gaps where a hinge system was meant to be constructed. This system would allow water to flow freely, and at the same time prevent people from passing. When the Biden administration took over, it halted wall construction. Now, the smugglers use the gaps to push their loads into the U.S. Before nightfall, AZBR has already sent patrols outside the perimeter; the operation has begun.

As the days progress, patrols regularly flow in and out of the camp day and night. “Enzo,” a heavily tattooed, bearded EMT who was born and raised in Spain, directs each recon team to specific grid locations. Based on recent intelligence, these locations should give the best vantage point to intercept drug smugglers. The sun has already set as I head out with “Doc,” a country boy from North Carolina and former Army medic, to the LP/OP (Listening Post/ Observation Post). With equipment on our backs and weapons in our hands, we hump our way up a mountain to the grid and tuck in behind a bush looking down on the border wall. “Recon Two (Enzo), this is Recon Six, we are in position,” Doc announces over the encrypted radio. “Recon Six, Recon Two, roger, good copy,” Enzo acknowledges.

We quietly scan the rolling hills covered in small bushes and cacti south of the border; the moon is providing plenty of illumination for our NVGs. Generally, smuggler groups prefer not to move at night because the trails are too hard to see and the terrain too perilous. Tonight, because of how much light is reflecting off the moon, Arizona Border Recon expects to see movement somewhere in our area of operations. We sit for hours, staring at a still horizon, not observing any activity. “Recon Six, Recon Two, it’s quiet tonight, go ahead and return to base,” Enzo orders over the radio. “Recon Two, Recon Six, roger. RTB.” We quietly gather our gear and start moving towards camp.

As we descend down the hill, there is a rustling in the bushes about 20 meters south of our position. Recon Six and I quickly scan the area as we head into the brush. Suddenly, I hear rapid footsteps. Under the glow of the NVGs, we see a man running south, through the dense growth, quickly escaping via a gap in the border wall. That was a scout, attempting to position himself on the U.S. side, in order to guide in the smugglers, who are a few miles further down the trail. The “coyotes” will try to push the group through the line soon. We arrive at camp and get some rest; tomorrow’s mission will be dynamic and start early.