Many in state’s Guard willing to go to border

OLYMPIA – Washington likely won’t have trouble meeting a request for 350 National Guard members who would spend the summer countering illegal immigration on the border with Mexico.

More than double the requested number of troops have indicated they want to go.

“Nothing is imminent,” said Maj. Philip Osterli, public affairs officer for the Washington National Guard.

“There’s not been a decision made that we will send anybody. We might not send anybody at all,” he said. “We’re just trying to do the preliminary work.”

Pentagon officials earlier requested that the state determine whether there would be any difficulty gathering 350 people for possible deployment in August or September. The state’s 8,300 National Guard members were contacted by phone, and each was asked whether he or she would be willing to serve from 21 to 90 days depending on the nature of the tour, Osterli said

As of Friday, “more than double had responded expressing interest,” he said.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she will not force any National Guard member to accept the assignment, but will ensure that the state assists those who do sign up.

President Bush in May called for posting up to 6,000 National Guard troops along the border in four Southwest states. They would assist existing Border Patrol agents in trying to halt illegal crossings from Mexico until additional agents are hired, trained and put in the field.

National Guard members will not be involved in any direct law enforcement activity, Bush said. They are not expected to try to capture people coming across the border or staff the jails where those arrested would be held.

Under Bush’s plans, the troops would pick up the chores of the Border Patrol officers, freeing them to focus on catching illegal immigrants. Duties would include building fences, installing vehicle barriers and analyzing intelligence, according to information from the Pentagon.

The border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are providing most of the initial 2,500 troops, many of whom are now in place.

“At this time, they don’t need us there,” Osterli said.

Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, a captain in the Army National Guard, said he told the administrator of his unit that he couldn’t go because of another commitment.

Hobbs is a Democratic candidate for the state Senate in the 44th District. He and Lillian Kaufer are competing in a September primary; the winner will face state Sen. Dave Schmidt, R-Mill Creek, in the November general election.

“I told them it was not a good time,” Hobbs said Monday.

Schmidt also is in the National Guard and is not expected to volunteer because of the campaign. He did deploy to Louisiana last year after Hurricane Katrina hit.

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