In a press release by the TMD, state public affairs officer Col. Rita Holton called the allegations “scurrilous” and derided “seemingly reputable media sources” for reporting them.
“After multiple failed attempts to correct the record with these outlets, the Texas Military Department wants to set the record straight to ensure accurate reporting on this mission,” Holton wrote. “It is clear that reporters have gleaned information from anonymous sources and unverified documents, which have then been skewed to push an agenda.”
Holton addressed criticisms of the “rapid deployment” of guardsmen, pay problems, the process for hardship requests, supplies and machinery provided to the guard, the ostensible lack of COVID-19 precautions, and suicide deaths.
Retired Lt. Col. Allen West, a Republican candidate for governor, and former Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Featherston, who was a senior enlisted advisor in the guard, fueled the controversy in a video produced earlier this month with criticisms of Operation Lone Star and Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris.
In the TMD’s statement on Friday, Holton indicated that only two of the guardsmen who died by suicide were serving on Operation Lone Star and noted that the deaths are still being investigated.
“However, there is no evidence to support an assumption that their decisions were made as a direct result of hardship denials. It would be irresponsible journalism at this point in time to tie these tragedies to Operation Lone Star,” Holton wrote.
The colonel stated that out of the TMD’s 22,000 employees, nine of them died by suicide in calendar year 2021. She called the accusations “misleading and false information” and said the recent deaths were reported “without proper context, irrespective of family sensitivities and desires.”
According to Holton, hardship waivers are not being “systematically or routinely” denied and the TMD has granted three-fourths of the 900 requests, which are handled “on a case-by-case basis depending on the individual service member’s circumstances.”
Though she conceded that the Texas military has faced “administrative pay challenges,” Holton said that all Operation Lone Star service members are being compensated and the problems were caused by the volume of people added to the state’s payroll system.
Unlike when the National Guard is deployed to a foreign country, the border crisis is occurring “in our own backyard” and an “immediate response” was necessary, per the TMD.
“The department rapidly surged from 500 personnel to more than 10,000 in a matter of months, due to a dramatic influx of migrant caravans across the Texas-Mexico border,” Holton wrote.
Service members encountering pay difficulties are encouraged to contact its pay hotline at 512-782-1234.
Holton also criticized claims that the TMD is not providing guardsmen with adequate equipment and appropriate accommodations.
“Our personnel are trained to operate and adapt in austere environments at home and abroad. As with any mission, we continue to adjust as the situation evolves,” Holton explained.
“Commanders in the field have identified areas of improvement in regards to equipment and living conditions and are actively working with vendors and supply chains to execute those solutions.”
The colonel stated that “thousands of vehicles and heavy equipment” have been sent to the southern border since the beginning of Operation Lone Star, and that “appropriate protective gear” has also been provided in the last few weeks.
Regarding COVID-19, Holton indicated that less than one percent of the Texas military is quarantined. Service members are also overseen by medical staff if they become ill with the coronavirus or are quarantined.
Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March of last year to deter illegal immigration and help with apprehensions of illegal aliens. The operation includes Texas Department of Public Safety officers, National Guardsmen, and other law enforcement personnel.
In its press release, the TMD reported 100,000 arrests or referals of illegal immigrants as well as “significant drug and weapon seizures.” Holton stated that 9,000 people have been sent back to Mexico as a result of Operation Lone Star.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.