Neighbourhood watch US-style toughens homeland security

US President George W Bush, through the US National Security Strategy, makes it clear: "Defending our nation against its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the federal government. To defeat this threat we must make use of every tool in our arsenal - military power, better homeland defences, law enforcement, intelligence, and vigorous efforts to cut-off terrorist financing."

However, research suggests the Homeland Security effort is still a 'work in progress', especially concerning border security. After the declared war on global terrorism, and subsequent comprehensive review by the US government, illegal immigration continues to be a problem, particularly on the southern border and specifically in Cochise County, Arizona along the Arizona-Mexico border, near the town of Naco.

In an attempt to curb this illegal immigration, volunteers from across the US embarked on a month-long effort to help the US Customs and Border Protection agency (US Border Patrol), which is part of the US Department of Homeland Security, apprehend illegal immigrants entering the US. In April 2005, the Minuteman volunteer group, (approximately 800 in all) travelled to Arizona to provide assistance. According to their website: "The mission of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, headquartered in Tombstone, Arizona, is to report suspicious illegal activities to proper authorities and deter, by legal means, illegal aliens, drug traffickers and terrorists from entering the US by physical presence along the immediate US-Mexican border." Upon arrival in Arizona in late March 2005 and after attending a 'rules of engagement' seminar, this citizens group took up surveillance positions along the Arizona-Mexican border and commenced to report illegal border crossing incidents to the US Border Patrol.

Chad Groening, of Agape Press advises that the US Border Patrol has been quoted as saying the apprehension of 315 suspected illegal immigrants to the US, between 1 April 2005 and 26 April 2005, was "directly facilitated" by Minuteman volunteers.

Additionally, Mike Albon, a spokesman for US Border Patrol Local 2544, which represents the agents patrolling the 27-mile sector where the Minuteman volunteers have camped out, states he has not had any complaints from his rank-and-file staff about the volunteers' work. Albon goes on to say: "The Minutemen have not caused any problems for the agents in the field. We have not received any complaints [about] any of their activities being out of line. They have been real supportive of the [Border Patrol] agents in the field." The group, however, has been criticised in the press, with some reports expressing concern that the Minutemen would act as vigilantes, apprehending or otherwise infringing on the individual rights or liberties of the illegal immigrants. However, these fears appear to have been unfounded, with no such incidents occurring during the volunteers' tour of duty along the border.

Volunteer organisations, both civilian and military are not a new phenomenon in the US. At present there are several government-sponsored civilian volunteer organisations. For example, The Citizen Corps, sponsored by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), and the White House-sponsored USA Freedom Corps who assist the homeland security effort. Another volunteer organisation, the American Red Cross has a long and distinguished history of providing volunteer services during both wartime and for natural disasters.

As well, the Office of Civil Defense was a valuable source of volunteers during the Second World War, performing a variety of services, such as air raid wardens. This organisation, established by US President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, later evolved into the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is now part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Tradition steeped in history

Volunteer military organisations have historically played an important but unheralded role in homeland defence and homeland security, particularly during declared emergencies such as the Spanish-American War and the First and Second World War.

During the early days and years (in the case of the Second World War) of each conflict when the outcome was in question, several volunteer organisations were utilised to augment the active and reserve US military forces that were mobilised for traditional operations. Specific examples include Naval Militias and Home Guard or State Guard units.

During the Spanish American War, Naval Militia units from several states, such as New York, provided harbour security assets and in this isolated case were used for combat operations outside the Continental United States (CONUS) operating off the coast of Cuba during hostilities.

During the First World War, Naval Militias were again used to provide harbour security and this time, land counterparts or Home Guard units were organised to replace the large numbers of National Guard units mobilised for the war effort. These volunteer military organisations were normally sponsored by each state, with each governor responsible for maintaining and equipping them. State Guard or Home Guard units, who were modelled after the departed National Guard in form and function, provided mission support by assisting local and state law-enforcement officials in quelling labour strikes and other local law-enforcement contingencies. In addition, State Guards assisted local agencies during natural disasters such as floods, as well as guarding critical infrastructure sites. Individuals who had prior service experience, some with distinguished careers, often manned these units.

During the Second World War approximately 35 states organised State Guard units. Similar to their First World War counterparts, State or Home Guard units of the Second World War period were volunteers, subsidised by each state governor and strictly used for state service, ably filling the void left by the mobilised National Guard. During the critical weeks following the Pearl Harbour attack, some 13,000 State or Home Guard troops were on state active duty conducting security missions, for example, guarding critical infrastructure sites while also training for combat missions in the case of an enemy invasion of the US.

While never entering a combat situation, Second World War State or Home Guard units provided a much needed asset to governors during a critical time in American history. Presently, 22 states and Puerto Rico use Home Guard units now called State Defense Forces (SDFs). These units carry on the time-honoured tradition of their First and Second World War colleagues by being volunteers and augmenting National Guard forces where needed.

Other volunteer military organisations that have historically provided 'value added' assets include the Civil Air Patrol and the US Coast Guard Auxiliary. Both organisations are sponsored by their parent federal service, the US Army Air Corps (later the US Air Force) and the US Coast Guard.

New Jersey aviation advocate and visionary Gill Robb Wilson conceived of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in the late 1930s. With the help of New York Mayor Fiorello H La Guardia, the new CAP was established on 1 December 1941. By 1943 it was recognised by a Presidential Executive Order and became the official auxiliary to the US Army Air Corps, and by 1948 the CAP officially became the auxiliary organisation of the new US Air Force.

Because of the frequent U-Boat attacks off the eastern seaboard in the early stages of the Second World War, these civilian aircraft were armed with aerial bombs. All told the CAP coastal patrol flew 24 million miles, found 173 submarines, attacked 57, hit 10 and sank two. In total, the CAP flew 500,000 hours during the war, and 64 CAP aviators lost their lives in the line of duty. During a candid interview after the war, a former German U-Boat commander commented: "The coastal U-boat operations were withdrawn from the US because of those damned little red and yellow airplanes." Similar to their CAP counterparts, the idea of organising a civilian auxiliary to the US Coast Guard began in the 1930s. By 1940 the newly formed Coast Guard Reserve had enrolled 2,600 men and 2,300 hundred boats. However, by 1941 preparation for war was underway and the Coast Guard Reserve was divided into two elements, one as a feeder system for the federal Coast Guard and the other strictly manned by civilians who owned small pleasure craft to be utilised for a number of short-range security missions.

In early 1942 as German U-boats arrived off the east coast of the US, the Navy and the Coast Guard were woefully short of escort vessels with the necessary anti-submarine weaponry, and ineffective at keeping the U-boats from running amok in the shipping lanes. In desperation the Navy ordered the acquisition of civilian craft in any way capable of going to sea in good weather for a period of at least 48 hours.

These vessels were manned by the Coast Guard as an expansion of the Coast Guard Reserve and patrolled a 50-fathom curve of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, some armed with depth charges stowed awkwardly on their decks. As new ships of the line were commissioned, these civilian craft were relegated to other duties. While never sinking a German U-Boat, these gallant ships and crews were credited with saving several hundred sailors of torpedoed vessels.

While not all inclusive, these examples provide proof that organised and properly led volunteer organisations are perfectly capable of positive contributions in times of need. With the current 'war on terrorism' and the increased operations tempo on US active and Federal Reserve component forces and the increased importance of border security, research suggests the US Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense should consider all assets when planning homeland security efforts.

Brent C Bankus (LTC, Cavalry, AUS Ret) is a consultant for SERCO North America focusing on homeland security and peacekeeping/counterinsurgency.

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