A member of the Texas National Guard assigned to the US-Mexico border was accidentally shot and killed by a fellow soldier on Monday during a non-mission-related incident. The soldier, who the Texas Military Department has not named, was part of Operation Lone Star and is the second soldier to die within the operation when another soldier had accidentally shot himself last January.
Documents obtained by the Army Times showed that the Texan Guardsman and a fellow soldier were parked at Fort Clark Springs in Brackettville, Texas, as they were undergoing swimming training. He handed his gun to his fellow soldier from the front seat of the car when it fired when the second soldier was taking the handgun from him, shooting the soldier through the seat into his fellow soldier’s back. He was pronounced dead despite medics trying to resuscitate the Texan soldier and later sending him to a trauma center in San Antonio.
Governor Abbott expressed his sympathy for the soldier who was shot in a statement. He also deemed it necessary to have an investigation about the shooting to prevent any similar accidents from happening again.
“Our hearts are heavy at the news of the tragic death of a Texas Guardsman stationed at the border as part of Operation Lone Star. We grieve for the soldier who died and lift their family and loved ones up in prayer,” said Abbott.
“The Texas Rangers will conduct a thorough investigation into this tragedy, and the Texas Military Department is taking action to ensure such loss of life never happens again,” he continued.
What Is Operation Lone Star?
Operation Lone Star is a mission launched by Governor Greg Abbott last March 2021 in response to the increase in illegal immigration and illegal drug trafficking along the southern border between Texas and Mexico. According to the US Customs and Border Protection, it had reported around 1.6 million encounters with migrants that were trying to cross the border in 2021, the highest in recorded history. 27% of these encounters were repeat crossers who had failed to cross the border illegally. If we combine this number with the Office of Field Operations (OFO) encounters, the number would be as high as 2 million.
Mexicans topped the statistics, comprising over 608,037 encounters or 37%. In contrast, the remaining 63% came from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, which also recorded an all-time high in terms of recorded encounters from the Northern Triangle countries.
With the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard teaming up under the operation, it has over 10,000 military personnel under the program’s command with the aim of reducing illegal immigration along the border.
Other Deaths and Poor Working Conditions
This isn’t the first time there was a death within Operation Lone Star. Another Texan soldier had died in an accidental shooting last year, and four soldiers have been said to have killed themselves in 2021.
During the soldier’s break between Christmas and New Year’s Day, a soldier assigned to Operation Lone Star had accidentally shot and killed himself while he was reportedly intoxicated.
A series of suicides from within the operation was blamed on morale issues and harsh working conditions in the mission. Pfc. Joshua R. Cortez, who had been waiting to accept a life-changing job, had missed his original opportunity when he was called up for a flood mission in Louisiana. He applied for a hardship release from Operation Lone Star and was denied by Col. Robert Crockem of the 176th Engineer Brigade. Cortez proceeded to shoot himself in the head in a parking lot in northwest San Antonio where first responders found him lifeless a few days after.
Another soldier, 1st Sgt. John “Kenny” Crutcher committed suicide on November 12 because time had run out on his temporary hardship waiver. 1st Lt. Charles Williams, who was part of Crutcher’s company, died while he was on a holiday pass. Lastly, Sgt. Jose L. De Hoyos committed suicide last October 26.
There was also a failed suicide attempt reported last December 28, when an infantry NCO had cut their wrists in their hotel room. Luckily, four soldiers had seen him bleeding and quickly called the paramedics to arrive.
This series of suicides raised questions on Operation Lone Star’s work conditions, with over 150 hardship requests as of writing. Reports showed that military personnel were living in cramped barracks, with some living in truck trailers and humvees, with many of the soldiers having to carry their own personal firearms. Pay delays were also a source of tension and the lack of medical equipment, portable toilets, and basic hygiene toiletries. Which is pretty unacceptable in our view.
Jason Featherston, a former Senior Advisor for the Texas National Guard, who once voted for Abbott, stated that putting 10,000 troops along the border without proper planning was not sustainable and added that it was merely a political stunt for reelection. He also alleged that the troops assigned to the border were not doing anything and that it was focused on pleasing the governor instead of protecting its soldiers.
“If you’re going to send soldiers to the border, you need to pay them. You need to give them the right equipment. If they have hardships, those things need to be considered because life gets a vote in anything that we do. There were hardship packets that were denied that should have been approved, and unfortunately, if it wasn’t for Operation Lone Star, there’d be another four families that would have loved ones still here with us,” said Featherston.
According to Timothy Dunn, a tenured professor of Sociology at Salisbury University with a specialization on the US-Mexico divide stated that the operation was just a way to boost “somebody’s political campaign.” He also stated that it was a waste of resources, and a more humane system could be built to deal with the problems on the border.
“Just think what we could do with those resources other than spending on this performative bull**** that really has very little impact,” he stated.