McAllen, Texas — A Breitbart News videographer recently joined a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) aircrew during a night mission. The aircrew provides assistance to ground-based agents in the apprehension of migrants and drugs being smuggled across the Texas-Mexico border.
Breitbart News videographer Matt Perdie joined an AMO helicopter aircrew in November for a night mission along the Rio Grande border in South Texas. The AMO aircrews assigned to the McAllen Air Branch routinely provide assistance to Rio Grande Valley Sector Border Patrol agents in apprehending smuggled migrants and seizing illicit drugs being trafficked into the nation’s busiest sector.
The technology onboard the Airbus AS350 A-Star helicopter provides multiple tools for the aircrew to quickly find migrants being smuggled and direct the ground-based Border Patrol agents to their target. “Electro-optical/infrared sensors and video downlink provide intelligence and communications support that enhance officer safety during high-risk operations and increase covertness during surveillance operations,” according to information obtained from CBP officials.
“It is our job to help to use the helicopter to interdict people and illegal contraband,” AMO Aircrew Member Juan Peña told Breitbart News. “The way we do that is (we) work with the guys on the ground to facilitate them.”
The tech-filled dash of the A-Star helicopter provides a bird’s-eye view of the area being searched by Border Patrol agents during daytime or night operations. The sensors provide images that allow the rapid detection of people moving or hiding in the thick brush along the Rio Grande.
“It really gives a big advantage to the guys on the ground,” Peña explained. “We can actually talk in the agents whether it’s investigative intel, illegal aliens, or drugs.”
As the mission unfolds, the AMO aircrew is notified about a group believed to consist of 11 migrants who had been moved across the border by Mexican cartel-connected human smugglers. The aircrew immediately responded to the location near Chihuahua Gap.
Mapping technology on the helicopter provides visible imagery to the aircrew about the location of Border Patrol ground-based assets in the area. Utilizing a brilliant spotlight and an infrared detection system, the AMO agents quickly locate the “bodies” hiding in the brush and direct the Border Patrol agents to their location.
“I know by looking at the camera how thick (the brush) is,” Peña expressed.
A few minutes later, Peña spots the migrants on the ground. “I think I have your bodies here,” Peña reports to the agents on the ground. “It’s halfway between you and the road to your north.”
The aircrew quickly moved the agents into position to safely apprehend the migrants hiding in the thick brush and darkness.
“Agent coming from the south — come to a stop,” Peña directed from above. “They’ll be straight west of you.”
“Agents coming from the north — left shoulder, left shoulder,” he continues.
Peña the watches as the agents step into position and apprehend the migrants. “No runners, no runners,” he informs the ground crew — meaning they have successfully apprehended the migrants without any additional ground pursuit.
“Good job, Omaha,” the ground-based agents express. “Omaha” is the radio call-sign for all AMO helicopter operations.