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Homeland Security

Vipers' support U.S. border patrol in Arizona

May 1, 2012

NOGALES, Ariz. -- More than 100 Soldiers assigned to the 103rd Engineer Company "Vipers", 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, based at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. are currently on a 30-day deployment in support of the U.S. Border Patrol's Southwest border infrastructure improvement and construction program along the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona.

The U.S. Border Patrol requested Department of Defense construction support through Joint Task Force North, the U.S. Northern Command unit tasked to support the nation's federal law enforcement agencies. JTF North missions provide law enforcement with much needed military assets and yield great training opportunities for the units that volunteer to execute the support operations.

The Nogales engineer mission, which consists of three separate project sites, is designed to improve the Border Patrol agents' mobility along one of their main border security routes.

"The challenges these Soldiers face are similar to any other challenge faced when building a new road," said Capt. Andrew Lowery, 4th MEB engineer. "They are expected to accomplish this mission using organic equipment assigned to their unit in an austere terrain with a contingency plan requirement."

The construction projects included: a total of 1.5-mile road span, placement of two large culverts, construction of erosion control measures with environmental considerations, severe road elevation improvements, and widening of narrow road passages.

"Our guys are working on roads that are anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent inclines, while operating enormous (engineer) equipment," said 1st Lt. Timothy Suprenant, 3rd platoon leader. "Normal highway grades usually don't exceed six percent; so our Soldiers are pretty much going to be prepared for anything."

The 103rd Engr. Co. is operating as a company-size element; most recent JTF North homeland security engineer support missions employed platoon-size elements.

"We are operating at three times the amount of strength that our counterparts have been," said 1st Sgt. John Miller, 103rd Engr. Co. first sergeant. "Because of our troop numbers, we have been able to not only train more Soldiers, but accomplish a tremendous amount of improvements to the terrain the border patrol uses everyday."

Soldiers of the 103rd Engr. Co. are working nearly 60 hours per week, said Miller.

With the time spent on site, Soldiers like Spc. Carlos Burgos, a heavy equipment operator and native of San Diego, Calif., are able to gain valuable experience operating equipment that is not always available to a stateside unit.

"This deployment has given me a lot of valued firsts," said Burgos.

Burgos said that he has gained confidence in operating several heavy construction machines such as the Hybrid Excavator, which is routinely assigned to engineer companies, but is often fielded to priority units heading overseas.

"The Soldiers that are training today can very well be the same to head overseas in the years that follow," said Capt. Dennis Hines, 103rd Engr. Co. commander. "This critical training mission is twofold: it gives Soldiers confidence in their ability to do their job and gives organizations like the U.S. Border Patrol peace of mind knowing that their ability to keep our nation safe is unimpeded by the composition of the road."

The 'Vipers' are scheduled to complete their engineer support mission in May.

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