By Terri Jo Neff
Last week’s announcement by Gov. Doug Ducey that all state buildings are to lower their flags to half-staff through Aug. 30 in honor of U.S. service members recently killed in Afghanistan has drawn renewed attention to President Joe Biden’s connection to Afghanistan and the Arizona National Guard.
In February 2008, then-Senator Joe Biden, along with Senator John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, were touring Afghanistan when their helicopters made an emergency landing in a mountainous area during a blizzard.
A rescue team with soldiers from the Arizona National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry Regiment “Bushmasters” was sent out to make the treacherous trek from Bagram Airfield to the landing site, according to a news article later posted on the National Guard’s website.
The article noted that the rescue mission was conducted by Combined Joint Task Force-82 which consisted of a 1/158th platoon and other servicemembers. The soldiers were not initially aware of the identity of the VIPs on the helicopters, Maj. John Bozicevic wrote.
Despite the intense weather, limited visibility, and hazardous route, the rescue team found the helicopters and convoyed the senators back to base. Other soldiers remained with the helicopters and crews for more than 15 hours in stormy weather.
Public records show the Arizona National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry arrived in Afghanistan in April 2007 and returned to Arizona the month after the 2008 rescue of the senators. The unit suffered two casualty while deployed.
Ten years later, the 1/158th was deployed back to Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The Bushmasters returned home in May 2019. Several other Arizona National Guard units have been deployed to Afghanistan over the last 20 years.
Kerry later became U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017, while Hagel served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2013 to 2015. Biden became Obama’s vice president and was sworn in as President in January, after which he has become a frequent target of Ducey’s.
The governor’s order to lower flags to half-staff called out the Biden White House for how the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has been handled.
“As we mourn the dead, we must also recognize the context for this terrible attack,” Ducey noted. “American troops have fought, bled and died in Afghanistan for two decades to keep this country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. We are now seeing in real time how the recent action to withdraw from Afghanistan has made America and the world less safe.”
Ducey also expressed his displeasure with the Biden Administration earlier this month when he announced the extension of the Arizona National Guard’s southern border security support mission through September 2022 with $25 million in state funding. He noted that law enforcement officials are overwhelmed, and the situation is out of control.
“It’s clear that this White House has neither the ability nor the desire to address the border disaster — a crisis of their own making,” Ducey said. “This situation is the direct result of reckless policies and failed communication by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.”
More than 150 Arizona National Guardsmen are serving along with local and state law enforcement agencies in border communities. Guardsmen are assisting those agencies with medical services in detention facilities, data analysis, camera maintenance and surveillance, and logistical and administrative support, according to Ducey.
“The brave men and women of the Arizona National Guard are standing in the gaps,” Ducey said. “Their mission directly contributes to the success of law enforcement officers working to maintain law and order on Arizona’s southern border. I’m grateful to all those who serve our state and are working day and night to keep Arizonans safe.”
In April, Ducey declared a state of emergency regarding Arizona’s shared southern border with Mexico and deployed the Arizona National Guard with $2.5 million in funding for the mission. Then in June, the governor signed state budget legislation which included $25 million in additional funding for the Arizona National Guard’s border mission.
The budget also provided $30 million to law enforcement agencies to assist with their border security operations along with funds for the state’s Border Strike Force.
Data released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shows there were more than 212,000 official encounters with illegal immigrants along the country’s southern border in July. That was up from 188,829 in June and represents a 21-year record high.
DHS records also show that illegal immigrant encounters have gone up every month since President Biden took office in January.