More than a year after a major investigation into the National Guard’s federally controlled mission at the U.S.-Mexico border began, neither U.S. Northern Command nor Defense Department leaders can say when its findings will be released.
Weeks after a December 2021 Military Times investigation revealed systemic and organizational issues with the mission throughout fiscal 2021, NORTHCOM announced an internal administrative investigation into a “wide range of alleged issues” there. The federally-controlled border mission, requested by the Department of Homeland Security and run by Joint Task Force-North, then consisted of an estimated 3,000 Guard troops stitched together from nearly three dozen units mobilized piecemeal from 20 states.
The border force, known as Task Force Phoenix, experienced issues with alcohol and drug abuse that were compounded by command-and-control issues stemming from a hastily-assembled organizational structure. At least one cavalry troop operating in south Texas temporarily disbanded due to leadership problems, and an understrength battalion-level headquarters there needed additional manpower to control its more than 1,000 troops. Three died there.
National Guard troops mobilized under the Pentagon’s authority can provide only limited support to Border Patrol personnel due to legal restrictions on using federal troops for law enforcement.
The command’s deputy leader, Lt. Gen. A.C. Roper, was tapped to lead the Army Regulation 15-6 probe. Roper is an Army Reserve officer who served as the police chief in Birmingham, Alabama, from 2007 to 2017. He referred questions about the investigation to NORTHCOM public affairs officials when reached via social media.
Roper submitted his findings in September. But even as migrant apprehensions and drug seizures remain at or near record highs, neither NORTHCOM nor defense department officials have said what the investigative team found, or even when the findings will be officially approved.
NORTHCOM spokeswoman Air Force Col. Elizabeth Mathias confirmed Roper submitted his findings in September in an emailed statement. Mathias said that defense department leaders “are currently reviewing the investigation and its findings,” adding that she “does not have an update” on the status of the investigation.
A defense spokesperson, Air Force Lt. Col. Devin Robinson, told Military Times that the department “do[es] not have any update to offer at this time” either. He referred future queries to NORTHCOM “once the investigation has concluded and final determinations have been made.”
Despite not addressing their content, Mathias said the command’s top general, Air Force Gen. Glenn VanHerck, “concurred with the report’s findings and has implemented [recommended] improvements to standards, requirements, and processes within his authority” for the border mission.
Now around 2,500 soldiers, the federally-controlled National Guard border mission is distinct from the less-than-5,000-troop Operation Lone Star — a state-funded, state-controlled Texas National Guard border effort also beset by problems detailed in an ongoing investigative partnership between Military Times and The Texas Tribune.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.