Four Texas National Guardsmen have committed suicide since October
Four Texas National Guard soldiers have died in suspected suicides since October as force rapidly grows to carry out Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to guard Lone Star state’s border with Mexico, report says .
An investigation of the Army time released Thursday revealed that in order to meet Abbott’s troop quotas for Operation Lone Star, the Guard resorted to the involuntary activation of troops from across Texas.
The report cites interviews with family members, Guard soldiers and official documents.
Retired Command Sgt. Major Jason Featherston, the top enlisted official in the Texas National Guard from May 2020 until his retirement on Nov. 30, questioned the purpose of the mission and the effects involuntary calls have on soldiers.
“The [Texas Military Department]The leadership has lost focus on what matters most, and that is the soldier, ”Featherston told the Army Times. “Their inability to focus on the individual needs of the soldiers cost many lives, and until they [focus], other tragedies will continue to occur.
Operation Lone Star is separate from the federally ordered National Guard deployment to assist immigration officers at the southern border.
Critics of the operation say it is fueled by politics and point out that Abbott faces a main challenge from right-wing schemer Allen West, a former army officer who was forced to to retire in 2003 after torturing an Iraqi detainee.
West, a former congressman from Florida who also served as president of the Texas Republican Party, has made securing the border a major focus of his campaign.
Featherston said the political motivations behind the operation are “common knowledge around the office”.
He said members of the Guard began to suffer from low morale as the mission shifted from a small volunteer-based operation in the spring and summer to an involuntary posting.
Abbott ordered the activation of 1,500 troops on September 20 in addition to the 1,000 already involved in the operation, the Army Times said, citing documents.
On October 7, the governor activated 2,500 additional Guard members for the operation, bringing the total to 5,000.
There are currently around 10,000 members of the Texas Military Department supporting Operation Lone Star, according to the report. Of those, 6,500 are stationed along the border and 3,500 provide aid in other parts of the state.
The growing need for manpower forced the department to involuntarily call up entire units of the Texas National Guard and mobilize members of the Texas State Guard.
Some units were given less than two weeks ‘notice to report to the border during the September and October activations, with one soldier telling the Army Times he was only given four days’ notice to the advance.
“The soldiers don’t have time to prepare [for] being away from home “when they get so little notice,” Featherston said.
For most federal deployments, Guard troops are given several months’ notice, enough time to sort out their affairs before they have to leave their families and homes for long periods of time.
A spokesman for the Texas Military Department told the Army Times that “some of these [deaths] are still the subject of an open investigation ”pending a definitive cause of death.
But the report says all four deaths occurred as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
“The loss of any serviceman is a tragedy and loss mitigation by applying security protocols and securing resources that promote the total health of the force is something the Texas Military Department takes seriously,” said the anonymous spokesperson.
The department noted that there is a 24-hour counseling line for soldiers and commanders, as well as a “large team of licensed independent therapists” who provide free services to all personnel in the department.
“In addition to the aforementioned resources, a behavioral health team is assigned to Operation Lone Star with members in each region that our task force supports,” the spokesperson said.
“The OLS Behavioral Health team practices proactive face-to-face outreach through education on self-management, crisis mitigation and available resources. “