Guest After Action Report: 13Mar-15Mar09
The following AAR is written by my friend and colleague Boston, whom I have had the pleasure of serving with on many occasions. Those who know him are very much aware that he fights this crusade valiently on many an varied fronts and venues. I am sorry I couldn't have been there with him and his cohorts this time but I honored to submit to you:
Having been away from the border for almost three months, Springfield and I were growing jealous of reading all about the exploits of C-1, Horsepuckies, Red Army, Weasel and the others, and decided to come down for a full weekend at the border.
In recent weeks, I’ve been corresponding with Wildcard about securing a secondary means of communication for the Mountain Minutemen, apart from our usual FRS radios. (This method must remain secret – because if picked up by any of the drug or human smugglers from south of the border, there is a real risk that the user’s personal information can be obtained. However, this method will be gladly explained to any Minuteman in private, on request.) Therefore, for the past few days I had been scouting out the necessary hardware. On 13Mar, I was successful in obtaining and assembling it.
In addition, having read C-1’s recent post regarding increased presence of the San Diego Sheriff Department in Campo (something Springfield and I welcome), we discussed the need to prepare for interaction with law enforcement so that any contact would be positive. Thinking of ways to smooth any nighttime interaction, I decided to ditch my wallet in favor of a small transparent pouch, into which I placed my drivers license, auto registration, insurance card, etc. This way, if stopped by an LEO, I could avoid the need to rummage in a pants pocket or glove compartment, but simply present my ID from my shirt-front pocket – a position of constant visibility for the LEO. Also, I reconfirmed that our usual area of operations is BLM land, where open carry of legal firearms is permitted. Springfield and I discussed the need to keep any firearms unloaded, locked in a case and in the back of our vehicle (something we, of course, had already been doing) until we had safely arrived on BLM land.
Our planned departure from the home base was originally set for 1700, but due to the need to carefully pack our vehicle, actually occurred at 1805. Our lateness paid off in that we avoided most of the southbound traffic and were treated to a beautiful coastal sunset. On the trip down, Springfield regaled me with tales of his lunch with one of our elected officials — who happens to be one of the most conservative members of our State Legislature.
We stopped for gas and coffee in Alpine at 1930, and were on Buckman Springs Road by 2000. Once on 94, we noticed a SDSD vehicle behind us, which followed us onto Forest Gate Road. After the road became dirt, I decided to voluntarily make a stop in a safe, wide location to allow our LEO friends to chat with us if they so desired. Sure enough, as I pulled over and put my hazard lights on, the SDSD vehicle shined its spotlight on us and two Deputies approached. I immediately shut off my engine, placed my keys on the dashboard, turned on the overhead light, and had my ID presented before they were at our windows. I greeted the first with a polite hello and explained that I thought they might like to chat, so I had stopped to allow that. The first asked what we were doing in the area and I explained we were Minutemen staying the weekend. While he ran my license and registration, Springfield and I chatted with second Deputy, who volunteered that he and his partner were patrolling for smugglers. A polite “so are we” by Springfield broke the ice, and I confirmed with the Deputy that the Sheriff Substation number I had programmed in my phone was correct – a step which seemed to favorably impress him. After our information had come back clean, we were on our way, with a “thank you for your service” from the second Deputy.
This experience shows two things; first, that each of us Minutemen should be prepared for such encounters with law enforcement, and should have systems in place to make these encounters efficient and safe; and second, that these events are opportunities to act as ambassadors for the Minuteman Movement – the more professionally and courteously we act, the better image the LEO will take away with him. We must remember at all times that we are not law enforcement. We are private citizens, legally present on public lands to observe, record and report crossings to law enforcement – that is all.
Given this event, Springfield and I decided that it was too late to visit Horsepuckies’ Ranch and pick up our new magnetized Mountain Minutemen door insignia. Instead, we deployed straight to Patriot Point, where we met with Wildcard. She informed us that Merlin was positioned at Red Point, just west of the Couch Trail, while Viking was at the Five Star. Weasel was expected to arrive the morning of 14Mar.
Springfield and I took up a position at the Donut Hole and established good com with Wildcard, Viking and Merlin. No sooner did we set up our PVS-7D night vision monocular and our 20 MM candlepower spotlight, then at about 2130 an enormous fog bank rolled in from the west. The fog obscured the border fence, the 241, and even the near-full moon. Because of this, we redeployed to the Five Star at 2200 when Viking moved to Patriot Point. At 2330, Merlin reported a “major incursion” at the Couch Trail, which by the noise he estimated to be about 50 individuals. The group’s three guides stayed behind, carefully sweeping the tracks from the border road before hopping the fence and moving toward Patriot Point. Wildcard called in the crossing to Border Patrol, which responded with several vehicles and agents tracking on foot.
Meanwhile, the smugglers stayed up near Patriot Point, making noise and coughing loudly, either because their work was now done or because they were acting as a diversion. Unfortunately, we were unable to see any other groups, and moved to Red Point to join Merlin. Shortly afterward, Wildcard departed for her home base. We slept in shifts with no sightings or activity for the rest of the night.
The day began at 0600 with reestablishment of com among the four of us. At approximately 0730, Springfield and I headed to Cameron Corners for gas, fresh coffee and breakfast. Unfortunately, the Burrito Stand was still closed (although its sign said it was supposed to open at 0600), so we decided to visit Horsepuckies and pick up our magnetized insignia. Although we didn’t intend to mooch breakfast, we were treated to hot biscuits smothered in either gravy or blackberry jam. Shorty was staying at the Ranch – we were told it was for the express purpose of cleaning Horsepuckies’ garage, but we suspect he simply may have become addicted to the biscuits.
At about 1000, Springfield and I headed back to the border by way of Cameron Corners, where the Burrito Stand was still closed. When we arrived back on the line, Merlin and Viking were nowhere to be found. We figured it might be because Weasel had arrived in our absence, and collected everyone for a meeting with Horsepuckies. In any event, Springfield and I decided the best use of our daylight hours would be to ascend the 241 and deny it to the guides and high-pointers. These individuals cross the border in ones and twos during the day, only to guide larger groups across at dusk. If they can be denied access during the day, then the groups cannot be smuggled in later in the evening and night – or at least, not as easily. Unfortunately, the high-pointers know this and can become very aggressive if denied the hill. Regardless of this danger, Springfield and I were very familiar with the terrain, and have previously had great success in preventing these daytime crossings.
At the base of the hill, I called in our position to Border Patrol, and then noticed two vehicles approaching. Three individuals from MCDC’s Camp Vigilance emerged, and one asked if they could join us on the 241. Although they had no compatible communications equipment (only VHF “Tac” radios), we of course said yes.
Upon ascending the 241, we were immediately greeted with the squalor that always accompanies illegal border crossing. Thousands of water bottles, cans, plastic bags and candy wrappers, both new and ancient, were strewn around. We immediately scouted the area to make sure it was not already occupied. Thankfully, the hill was quiet, but three piles of fresh human waste indicated that a group had crossed over the 241 within the last 24 hours, despite the fog.
After confirming the area was clear, Springfield and I took up a relaxed but alert position with the MCDC folks. At approximately 1130, Horsepuckies visited us at the base of the 241, and shortly afterward Wildcard returned to the Point, Merlin took up a position at the Couch Trail, Weasel occupied the Donut Hole, and Viking headed to Zuellner’s High Point. At about 1200, the MCDC individuals departed, stating that they would be back later.
From 1200 to 1500, the six of us maintained a close watch on the border, observing the traffic on the Pemex Road and the Tecate Highway. At approximately 1500, Wildcard advised that two vans filled with Michigan State students had ascended the Point and wanted to discuss border issues with her. Weasel very sensibly said “proceed with discretion.” Apparently, these students were accompanied by two adults who truly wanted their students to obtain a balanced and independent view of the illegal immigration issues – and were not predisposed in a negative way toward the Minutemen.
At 1630, I thought it might make sense to take advantage of the lull in activity to make a final daylight run to Cameron Corners. Viking moved from Zuellner’s to the base of the 241 to maintain a watch on the hill during our errand. We took orders from the Minutemen, which consisted mainly of requests for Monster Energy Drinks. This time, thankfully, the Burrito Stand was finally open, and Springfield and I returned by 1715 with carne asada burritos and copious quantities of energy drinks. We ate quickly at the base of the 241, chatted with Viking, and then re-ascended the hill.
Weasel radioed that a blue vehicle towing a trailer of some sort was approaching from the west. We also had a visual, and saw that the trailer contained two ATVs. The vehicle stopped under one of the large oak trees just east of the intersection of the Pemex Road and the Ranchita Road. A number of people got out, including some children. Springfield noticed that they made a great show of setting up lawn chairs and a barbeque – although no cooking ever took place. Instead, the ATVs drove up and down the Pemex Road, and up and around the access paths running behind the hill due south of the Couch Trail and Tank Trap. The south side of this hill is a prime “staging area” for groups planning to cross, because it is hidden from view from the north.
At about 1745, I noticed a group of four pedestrians walking north from a position southeast of the group under the oak tree. These four walked around the earth berm east of the oaks and disappeared behind a small brushy hill. We lost visual but Springfield saw them reemerge at about 1815 on one of the access paths leading to the “staging area.”
At approximately the same time, an adult and two juveniles from the group of fake picnickers under the oak tree began walking west on the Pemex Road. When they reached the gate, they turned north on the path leading to the south side of the 241. Making no effort to conceal themselves, we noticed one of the juveniles had a long metallic object glinting in the sun. It could have been a pipe, piece of fence, firearm or bow. In any case, we observed the three come up to the south side of the 241 and briefly disappear into a concealed area Springfield calls “Smugglers Hole.” They reemerged a few minutes later, with the juvenile still carrying the long metallic object. Our best guess is that the three were leaving something in the hidden area for a later crossing by others – it could have been contraband or supplies – but unfortunately we could not see what it was. Having done this, the three then walked south on the path, passing the gate, before coming back to the Pemex Road and walking east back to their “picnic.”
Meanwhile, the ATVs were riding back and forth on the Pemex Road and up and back to the “staging area” due south of the Tank Trap. We could only assume that they were setting up for later groups and/or communicating with groups already there that we could not see.
At approximately 1830, Springfield noticed a group of 20 or more individuals walking north from a position several hundred yards southeast of the “picnic.” This group also disappeared behind the range of small hills south of the Pemex Road and east of the oaks – likely to stop for something to eat and for nightfall, before continuing northward.
At 1900, as the sun was setting, I noticed a lone individual in black, with a white shirt or backpack, traveling south from the Pemex Road gate, toward the south side base of the 241. At the same time, Weasel observed an individual in black separate from him, traveling south as well. Springfield and I stood up to make ourselves visible, so that when the first individual ascended, he would see us and know the hill was watched.
After we did so, almost simultaneously, Weasel from the Donut Hole and Springfield from the 241 observed a line of sixteen individuals walking down the path leading to the 241. The individual in black was near them, and they broke into two groups – one of 6 and the other of 10 – and then stopped in the brushy area just southeast of the 241. (This area is bounded by the Pemex Road on the south, the path from the gate to the base of the 241 on the west, the Ranchita Road to the east, and the border to the north.)
The first guide reached the south side of the top of the 241 and Springfield and I immediately made ourselves visible. It was such a satisfying sight to see the look on his face when he realized that he could not bring his group across. Immediately, he got on his cell phone and starting talking as we held our positions and kept eye contact with him. After about 90 seconds, he turned tail and headed back south.
With the sun rapidly setting, Springfield pointed out to me that the group of six had sat down in a rock formation, while the other ten appeared to have laid down in the brush. We and Weasel both lost visual on the individual in black, but we knew he was still in the area since he had not crossed any of the roads in which he’d have been visible.
I brought out our night vision monocular, and although it worked great in the twilight, it simply did not have the clarity necessary to see the two groups which were hundreds of yards away in dark-colored brush. Springfield and I decided to remain on the 241 after dark, I with the NVG and he with our floodlight, to see if the groups would try to cross. If so, when I saw them on the NVG, I would advise Springfield to turn on the floodlight to deter the crossing before it occurred.
At about 2030, we noticed two vehicles rapidly approaching the 241 on the U.S. side of the border. They stopped at the base of the 241 and some individuals emerged. I observed them on the NVG, as they appeared to be readying themselves to ascend. We radioed Weasel, Viking and Merlin and were told that MCDC was in the area, but that since they had no compatible radios, we had no way to confirm this.
I noticed that four individuals began ascending the 241 in what I can only describe as a “stealthy” manner. Although they clearly knew that other Minutemen were atop the hill, from our vehicle parked at the base, they ascended in almost complete darkness, very slowly, and without announcing themselves. Springfield and I had no idea at this point who they were – only that they were not Mountain Minutemen and not Border Patrol. When the group was about halfway up the east side of the 241, we heard the unmistakable sound of a pistol slide being “racked.” At this point, we called out, “Minutemen are on the 241, announce yourselves!” At this point, they responded “we’re MCDC, we were here before.” I said, “OK, but you need to have better communication and not just be racking slides in the dark.” Unfortunately, they did not appear to understand the danger that they had caused.
After about another 30 minutes on the 241 in complete darkness, we saw no signs of attempted crossing and radioed to see where our presence would do the most good. Horsepuckies and Weasel responded that MCDC folks were on Patriot Point and at the Donut Hole, while Merlin was at the Couch Trail and Weasel and Viking were double-teaming the Five Star area. We decided to head to the Donut Hole because it is a key location that allows viewing of several breaks in the fence.
Before leaving the base of the 241, Weasel asked us to advise the MCDC folks there that the San Diego Sheriff had asked that all Minuteman vehicles bear an insignia or placard. This, he was told, would allow Deputies to avoid having to concern themselves with unfamiliar vehicles on the border (and thus reduce the likelihood of traffic stops and checks for Minutemen). When Springfield passed this information along to one of the MCDC gentleman, he was surprised to receive the curt response, “Well, f— them. We have a procedure we’ve been following for many years.”
Now, I mention this not to “bash” MCDC. I, for one, do not believe that the various Minuteman groups at the border can or should divide up areas into “theirs” or “ours.” I welcome the addition of more border watchers in the Patriot Point-241-Cap Rock area. But this response was surprising. We who have been visiting the border know that our place is subordinate to law enforcement. We are there to support and serve them by being additional “eyes and ears” – nothing more, nothing less. Our supposed “procedures” are meaningless and counterproductive if they are not what law enforcement needs. Given the fast-changing situations that can occur at the border, it may be possible that one day, law enforcement (be it Border Patrol or SDSD) wants us to call in our license plate numbers; another day, they may want us to use identifying placards; another day, they may ask us to tie something to our auto antennas. Our response should always be, “Yes, sir, whatever would make your life easier.”
Springfield and I redeployed to the Donut Hole, where we met another MCDC vehicle. Given the strange rock formation there, which prevents observation due south, we agreed that we would observe the eastern flank and MCDC would observe the west, both of which provided excellent views of different breaks in the fence. Springfield and I traded off using our NVG, while we watched Weasel enjoying his new GoLight spotlight. Fortunately, there was no sign of any attempted crossing by the sixteen we had observed south of the 241.
At about 2200, Weasel spotted a total of five individuals ascending a hill due south of the Five Star. We had a visual also, because the five were climbing the western side of the hill. When they reached the top, they dropped down on the southern side, out of view. However, from 2200 onward, two would periodically prairie-dog their heads up from the hill to see if Weasel and/or Viking had left their positions. Each time they did this, Weasel would turn on his GoLight, resulting in them dropping down again. It was quite a sight to watch their continued frustration!
I took a short nap, leaving our NVG in Springfield’s hands, and when I awoke, I asked where our MCDC friends were. Springfield looked around and to our surprise, they had left the Donut Hole without telling us.
At this point, I feel it’s important to point out what could have been done better here. I again stress that I have no problem with, and in fact welcome, MCDC personnel coming down to this section of the border. The Mountain Minutemen cannot, do not and should not have a “monopoly” on border watching here, and more bodies are always needed. However, speaking honestly, the visit of MCDC this weekend was unhelpful in several ways:
1. They had no way to communicate with us, having no FRS radios. It is wonderful to have the more “high end” VHF Tac radios, but an FRS radio is a basic tool for the border. With no way to communicate, we had no idea where MCDC was, what they were doing, how long they were staying, etc.
2. The way that MCDC mounted the 241, in the dark, when other Minutemen were there, was unsafe. Their approach should have been lighted by their flashlights; they should have announced who they were; and above all, there should have been no racking of slides without prior identification.
3. Leaving a position without informing the remaining Minutemen is a great way to leave sections of the border open to crossing. For example, had Springfield and I been told that the MCDC vehicle was leaving the Donut Hole, we could have repositioned ourselves to watch both the western and eastern flanks. As it was, we have no idea how long the western side (with a large gap in the border fence) went unwatched.
So, for what it’s worth, I make these requests to MCDC members planning to visit Campo. Please obtain FRS radios. We monitor Channel 1. Please communicate with us. We have been watching this section of the border for over three years. We have no desire to exclude you, but we need to coordinate with you regarding who is watching what and where. Please do a better job of announcing yourselves when you approach positions that are already occupied by Minutemen, especially in the dark. Please listen to the directives given by law enforcement and obey them, even if you have prior “procedures” that you think are sufficient. Please commit to staying at a position for a certain amount of time and advise the other Minutemen on the line when you are departing. This will help ensure that we have full coverage on the line, as best as we are able.
With the unannounced departure of our MCDC friends, Springfield and I watched the border from the Donut Hole until daybreak, sleeping in shifts. We saw no crossings from our vantage point, but were thoroughly entertained by the smugglers’ repeated prairie-dogging from behind the hill due south of the Tank Trap. Weasel and Viking did an excellent job of watching that hill and flooding the area with light anytime the smugglers emerged. At approximately 0400, they gave up and did not emerge again.
At daybreak, we saw Border Patrol vehicles and ATVs patrolling the Border Road in full force, and decided that our presence would be superfluous. By 0730, we were packed up and the five of us headed to Horsepuckies’ Ranch, and then on to breakfast at the Acorn Casino.
The totals for the weekend are:
Sightings: 13Mar – 50, assisted by 3 smugglers; 14Mar: 4, 20, 6, and 16, assisted by 2 groups of 2 smugglers each.
Crossings Reported: 13 Mar – One group of approx. 50; 14Mar – None.
Please come to the border. Activity is on the rise as the new fence construction funnels more traffic through the Campo area. Your country needs you!