The Maine National Guard has deployed a helicopter to assist with security at the southern border, according to a military official.
The aircraft and two pilots were sent to Arizona in early July to provide “aerial support” to that state’s National Guard, which is in turn aiding federal border agents, Maine National Guard Staff Sgt. Angela Parady said Friday.
Gov. Paul LePage’s office announced the deployment last month, amid a political maelstrom over the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents that caused other Republican governors to refuse to send Guard troops to the border.
In late June, LePage made public statements seeming to downplay concern with the so-called zero-tolerance immigration policy — which caused more than 2,000 children to be taken from their parents at the border — just hours before the president backed off it. Later the same day, the governor’s office announced that he had approved the deployment.
The UH-72 Lakota helicopter and crew are expected to spend 90 days along the U.S.-Mexico border and return to Maine in early October, according to Parady. They “will not be involved in any law enforcement activities,” Julie Rabinowitz, the governor’s press secretary, said Friday.
Parady referred a question about the cost of the deployment to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
“Our soldiers are prepared for this assignment and will gain valuable experience,” Maj. Gen. Douglas A. Farnham, the Adjutant General of Maine, said in a written statement.
Although uncommon, the Maine National Guard has deployed troops to areas around the southern border a few other times in the last two decades, according to LePage’s office.
In 2015, troops were sent south on a similar aviation mission and the Maine Army National Guard had five soldiers at the Arizona border from 2010 to 2016, Rabinowitz said.
From 2006 to 2008, the Maine National Guard sent more than 380 troops to Arizona, California and New Mexico, “most” of whom were doing engineering work, such as repairing roads and culverts, the press secretary said.
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