The Border War: Into The Valley Of Death, U.S.A.
There are two new areas of operation in which I've had a particular interest in setting up SAFE operations. One is Nogales, the other is the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. The most pressing of the two, for a variety of reasons, was the reservation. Due to a confluence of facilitating circumstances, the appropriate moment to get the ball rolling there came last Tuesday, December 28, and so a team of us headed out for an initial scout of the center of the northern border of the rez.
Me, holding up a burlap sack used by drug mules, laying in a cache of discarded sacks, a mere 15 meters from busy US Interstate 8. Riddick, behind me.
The rez was important to me because of intel I had received indicating that it was a hotbed of cartel and illegal immigration activity. The need to get a handle on the situation was made even more pressing by the fact that the reservation nullified nearly a third of the Arizona/Mexico border, replacing it with the much more complex multi-dimensional border that Arizona shares with the reservation. Now, keeping in mind that the reservation is a de-facto sovereign nation over which the United States has no authority or control, and therefor is left unable to police its border with Mexico, take a look at what I'm talking about:
Now, also keep in mind that the so-called "smuggling superhighway" to Phoenix, the "superhighway" that Sheriff Paul Babeu's deputy was ambushed and wounded in, the Vekol Valley, flows directly through the reservation and out of its northern border. Here's an excellent video for some background on this "superhighway" through a valley of what I will later show you to be death and rape:
The team that was assembled for the day was led by "Charlie," an Iraq war Marine vet who had seen plenty of action, and otherwise consisted of myself, another Iraq/Afghanistan combat vet with the call sign "JP," a Marine vet (who did time in Arab Gulf States prior to the war) and perhaps the best weapons/armed-defense instructor in the country with the call sign "Riddick," a young civilian Conservative from a solid Marine Corps family with the call sign "Vengeance," and a civilian weapons expert and longtime Conservative activist with the call sign "Jericho." Other than me, who decided to go out Old-School-Pat-Dollard-In-Iraq-style (no weapons but camera, pen, and paper), everyone was more than appropriately armed and armored. Charlie and JP had already done an earlier scout, so we weren't going out totally blind of prior eyes-on. At about 09:00 my video camera broke, leaving me with just a still shooter. No time for a fix. At about 09:15 Charlie delivered the Op Order, and we all programmed the necessary emergency numbers into our cell phones. We loaded up into our 4x4's, and headed out. We were well-prepared for confrontation but not necessarily looking for it, as this was to be a simple initial scout, my first attempt to get an eyes-on handle of a portion of what was to become a critical new AO for the SAFE Citizen Patrol. Look, feel, and gather physical battlespace intel. Simple, but as always, potentially deadly.
Charlie had previously done some patrolling with me and another SAFE team. JP, who will now be commanding this new AO for SAFE, had not. I'd known him for some time prior though, and had been anxious to get out in the field with him, because they just don't come any better. JP is a genuine American hero. He's likely to kick my ass for saying that, but I consider it to be true. He is a Marine who was a friend of one of the four contractors who were murdered, mutilated, burned, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah in a notorious incident that served as a primary catalyst for the two Battles of Fallujah, the second of which ultimately won us control of what had become Al Qaeda's capital in Iraq. JP was not much interested in leaving either the incident unavenged, or his friend's body in the hands of these animals. He helped organize a team, and went into the city which was still essentially entirely controlled by the enemy, in order to get the body of their friend, who was also a Navy Seal. JP's brief description to me: "We went in and killed a lot of the motherfuckers who did it. We fucked 'em up, and then we brought my friend's body back. Then we sent him home to his family. We don't leave any man behind."
Infamous shot of contractor's body hanging from bridge in Fallujah
Before I give you the report on our day's scout, I'll now give you the abbreviated version of the Rez border mission that JP and Charlie did just a few weeks prior to this one. It was an overnighter, just meters adjacent to Interstate 8. Now, the average thinking man responds to this revelation with the thought, "Well, what kind of nefarious and illicit drug gang activity is going to happen just meters from a giant, well-lit, all-American interstate highway, right under God's and the world's noses?" As you are about to disturbingly discover, the answers are "plenty," "the worst kind," and "deadly."
Before they went out, Charlie and JP had access to a picture taken from a camera set up right beneath a low-slung I-8 overpass, an overpass and its immediate environs that they were going to observe for the night. Here it is:
Yes, that indeed is a drug mule with a big-ass, burlap-wrapped pack of drugs on his back, almost certainly marijuana, and quite likely with a stash of meth or cocaine at its center. This is a common packaging technique.
And so, it was around this overpass, that Charlie and JP "set up shop" for the night. I'm not going to reveal their positionings and tactics, as validating and as interesting as such details may be to military and law-enforcement readers, but 1. I'd rather keep our methods and capabilities undisclosed to the enemy, and 2. such details and language are likely to bore and confuse the layman, without me belaboring an explanation. I'll give general descriptions of such details where necessary. Point being, if you're military or law enforcement, don't assume anything about how they operated, I'm just gonna use fast, common-language descriptors to keep the reader oriented to the basics of events, comprehending of the unfolding of the action.
Many long, freezing, and tedious hours passed. Utilizing a rough watch rotation, Charlie racked out in his vehicle. Suddenly, at around 03:00, JP and an unaffiliated third party who was acting as their guide for the night (necessary for safety's sake, because this was JP & Charlie's first night out in a very dangerous area), heard the ominous and familiar crunching of feet on rocks. Clearly, someone was approaching, and almost certainly, someone hostile.
JP realized they were about 20 meters away. He was concerned that if they were carrying long-guns his team was well within the enemy's field of fire. Given that, he decided to spring an ambush. He immediately yelled "Contact front!" and illuminated the enemy with his Surefire weapon light. And, quite significantly, he began a full weapon-forward charge right at them, his third party guide bringing up his rear. This revealed two enemy scouts carrying small backpacks and sidearms, drawn and in hand but not pointed aggressively. It also caused Charlie to spring awake, and into action. The enemy scouts, quite freaked out and quite terrified, quickly dropped their backpacks, scattered, hopped a fence, ran through a covered gully, reappeared at its end, jumped the guard rail of the I-8, and began a mad and dangerous dash across traffic. Quickly, they were out of sight. Cartels: meet JP.
During this process, it didn't make tactical sense for JP and his boys to give hot pursuit, as it was simply too dangerous to chase two armed hostiles through dark, covered, and previously un-scouted gullies.
Charlie raced the vehicle ahead to the point where JP and the guide had stopped their chase. Our boys then retrieved the enemy's packs, and went through them, finding nothing but garlic (always carried out of superstition because garlic is considered both lucky and a necessary talisman against the mythical Chupacabra), a change of clothing, food and water. The weapons in hand served as a primary clue to the fact that these two individuals were not merely "innocent" border crossers, but actually scouts for a rear team of drug-toting mules. Keep in mind that handguns are illegal in Mexico, and for the most part are only possessed by hardened criminals.
Standard SOP for a cartel is that they send out 2-4 scouts ahead of the main group, and the scouts use cell phones to relay any important intel that they may discover throughout the trek.
JP and the boys notified the Border Patrol by cell phone. Then they sat and waited. After about 20 minutes, the lights of a vehicle appeared in the distance. Was it good guys? Was it bad guys? They didn't know. The vehicle drew closer. It didn't look like a standard Border Patrol SUV. It seemed to be a Ford F-150. They readied themselves.
To Be Continued.