Helicopters and All, Border Patrol Welcome Here

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Tam CoverCLICK HERE
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The Border Patrol is definitely welcome here. We deeply appreciate the officers in this area, not to exclude the helicopters with U.S. Customs and Border Protection printed on the sides of the fuselage. Without their ceaseless patrolling, night and day, there is no question in our minds that our southern Cochise County, Arizona, acreage would be literally overrun with invaders from the south, both cartel affiliated drug runners and people simply looking to make a better life north of the border. We get plenty of them as it is, some few of them (not many, but it only takes one) packing heat.

It’s quite possible we even owe the Border Patrol our lives.

Oh, there are locals who have different opinions of BP (Border Patrol in this case, not British Petroleum). One friend of ours, a burly young fellow, tells an interesting anti-Patrol tale.

He and several of his buddies were out hunting on their ATVs (four wheelers) one fine Saturday. Engrossed in their attempts to sneak up on the wily whitetail deer, they paid no attention to the time. It got dark before they decided it was time to leave the field–which, according to the tale teller, wasn’t all that far from where we live (which is off grid, one mile from the Mexican border).

They all had their ATV’s grouped together, momentarily parked to make sure everybody was present and accounted for, when they heard a whole lot of high powered engines snarling–and they were suddenly surrounded with ultra bright halogen headlights flashing in their eyes.

Now, to understand the story, the reader needs to know a few things. For one, all of the hunters were self reliant and sometimes rowdy young men who were not given to naively trusting new and strange situations. They didn’t wait, but gunned their machines, broke through the encirclement, and raced away in the dark.

Had they been certain their pursuers were Border Patrol, perhaps they’d have stopped…and then again, perhaps they would have kept going anyway. But the thing was, the ATVs chasing them could have been anybody. We’ve lost a fair number of our neighbors to rifle wielding illegal immigrants these past few years, including at least one murder of a prominent area rancher that was definitely a planned assassination.

Our guys weren’t taking any chances.

The machines chasing them were big and high powered–but they weren’t sports models, as were the units ridden by the hunters. Our friend and his friends had opened up a good lead by the time they came to a screeching halt in one man’s driveway, leaped from their steeds, dashed inside the garage, and took up firing positions at the second story windows above the garage.

They were all set when the Border Patrol roared up, stopped, and bellowed some sort of orders to throw down their guns, surrender, whatever.

In response, one man replied, “Don’t think so! We’re American citizens, and you’re out of bounds!”

The officers looked up, squarely into the muzzles of a fistful of hunting rifles that had them dead to rights. It didn’t take long for the leader (of the BP troops) to decide that, yeah, maybe they did have business elsewhere, at that.

So yes, there are stories like that out there…but ever since we became known in the area, our relations have been completely congenial. There was one rookie who shined his spotlight on me one night while I was typing away in our camp trailer, before the Border Fort was built, but I flashlighted him back, and that extremely minor incident was the only glitch in communications between us and the line officers who put their lives on the line every day and every night.

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, we tell the men and women who wear the green, “Thanks for your service.” We also make it clear that any Border Patrol officer is 100% welcome on our land and at (or even in) our home at any time, that we appreciate what they do, etc.

Beyond that, the helicopter passes are pure entertainment for us. Whenever we hear the thwup-thwup of the chopper blades coming our way, searching the ground for illegals either on the move or huddled up under whatever cover they can find, our attention is pulled skyward. “Hipty-copter!” That’s Pam’s term for the whirlybird. If it’s daylight, I’ll often dart outside to see if I can spot it, try to guess if they’ve spotted northbound pedestrian border crossers. We’re within easy hiking distance from the border here, and the central portion of our 20 acres is part of a major corridor. In one dramatic flourish, somewhere around April of 2010, the chopper came in fast, circling a sizeable group (35 to 40, judging by the tracks) just at sunup, a bunch that must have crossed the border fence too late and got caught no more than 100 yards from our residence. Most of those folks were corralled–perhaps not all, but most–as horse mounted officers and vehicles galore came charging to surround them.

Once, in 2012, I stood atop our water tower with the binoculars, watching as not one but two helicopters worked a group spotted in the big wash, just upstream of Paloma Trail. This incident, too, occurred during daylight hours, and daylight is not the illegal traveler’s friend.

Ask any outlaw.

It had been a while, though, since we’d seen much close-in helicopter work–until yesterday, January 8, 2014. I was working out back when the sound of the rotors suddenly announced, “Incoming chopper!” As the bird crossed above the San Pedro River, my hand went to my hip. Out came the Canon PowerShot, but the aircraft was turning around, as good as gone; by the time I could get the camera switched on and the zoom adjusted, the pilot had swung through three quarters of a circle, clearly interested in the 3/8 mile of desert scrub that lies between our place and our nearest neighbor.

Well. I’d missed a great opportunity to get some photos…or would he come all the way around for a second pass?

He did. Either he wanted to make sure there were no illegals trekking through that acreage at the moment or he’d spotted movement. I had my photo op.

By the time I could get the camera up and aimed, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol helicopter was 3/4 through its circle and banking away.  Would it come around again?

By the time I could get the camera up and aimed, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol helicopter was 3/4 through its circle and banking away. Would it come around again?

This is a cropped version of the above photo.

This is a cropped version of the above photo.

I did get distracted for a second or two while the chopper was at its greatest distance. A black throated sparrow seemed quite interested in keeping an eye on things.

A black throated sparrow seemed quite interested in the proceedings.

A black throated sparrow seemed quite interested in the proceedings.

By the time the helicopter had turned from pointing toward the border (south) to pointing north, I was ready to keep clicking the shutter, hoping to get photos that would document the full turnaround. From aiming the camera into the sun (not the best for most photography), to having the sun splash the side of the aircraft, to–if I was lucky–getting the face-on picture that is so often the last thing the enemies of America see (if the helicopter happens to be an Apache gunship)…oh, this was good. This was awesome.

This beat the heck out of actual, you know, work.

In all seriousness, we do love our law enforcement folks. Not just the Border Patrol; our family has a better than average relationship with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department as well. Pam’s son, Zach, tells of a time when he was young and lead-footed, eight or ten years back. The Sheriff himself stopped him for speeding (which at that time he did as a matter of course). At that time, the Sheriff was the renowned Cochise County legend, Larry Dever…who gave Zach a good “dutch uncle” talking-to, then let him off with a warning.

Larry, they say, had walked the walk. As a youngster, he’d been a tad rowdy, too.

But hey. Back to the photo journal of the helicopter’s second circle-pass over the scrub brush.

The law enforcement chopper begins its second circle over the scrub desert acreage lying between our place and our nearest neighbor.

The law enforcement chopper begins its second circle over the scrub desert acreage lying between our place and our nearest neighbor.

Coming clockwise, turning into the camera.

Coming clockwise, turning into the camera.

Here he comes, and--oh, man...

Here he comes, and–oh, man…

...at this point, am I ever glad to report that (a) I'm not a member of the Taliban and (b) that's not an Apache gunship!

…at this point, am I ever glad to report that (a) I’m not a member of the Taliban and (b) that’s not an Apache gunship!

The face-on look at the oncoming chopper triggered a couple of thoughts, one of which was a memory of a particular night during Basic Training in the U.S. Army, circa 1964. We were gathered on a hillside for a nighttime demonstration of the M60 machine gun’s capability. Across a narrow valley, 1,000 yards away on the far hillside, there suddenly marched a column of steel targets. The M60, manned by a sergeant and hidden a bit below our position, opened up. Down went the “enemy squad”, ten steel target men dead, just like that.

The cadre sergeant asked us, “If you’re that squad leader, and that M60 opens up on you and your men, what is the appropriate command to give?”

By this time, we’d all learned never to volunteer anything, so we remained silent–whereupon the sergeant let us in on the secret. The only command you could give in that situation was, “BLEED!”

I could see that facing an armed gunship could provide a warrior with a similar sense of inevitability, no matter how brief.

But there was something else. We’ve seen the choppers work at night and knew that while they did not carry heavy ordnance, they did pack some serious candlepower, able to light up the night with belly mounted spotlights. What I had not realized until studying these photos was the sheer number of lights these choppers carry.

They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!

Instead of firepower, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter carries impressive candlepower.  Not the number of search and/or spotlights dotting the underside of the aircraft.  Even at night, you can run, but you can't hide.

Instead of firepower, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter carries impressive candlepower. Note the number of search and/or spotlights dotting the underside of the aircraft. Even at night, you can run, but you can’t hide.

Okay, if you’re an illegal immigrant, northbound on the run, aiming for a safe house in Sierra Vista or some such, you might be able to hide to some degree. Sure. Duck into a culvert, maybe. That might work. But if the chopper pilot sees you do that, he’s got plenty of lights, enough to aim one at either end of the culvert. If you leave the “safety” of the concrete pipe, he’ll see you go and relay that information to the troops on the ground. If you stay, the K9 handlers will bring in the dogs and flush you out, anyway.

Yep. Works for us. We regularly hear from friends and acquaintances who wonder how on Earth we can stand living this close to our nation’s hyperactive southern border, telling us, “Hey, you guys live right down there in the Mouth of the Dragon!” They don’t understand the forces that keep us safe–in fact, keep us feeling more secure by far than we’ve ever felt in a city or even in a small town in any of the several western states we’ve called home over the years.

Yes, indeed. The Border Patrol is definitely welcome here. We even have a nice, flat, open area just beyond the burn barrel, suitable for the landing of helicopters any time they have need of such. So keep up the good work, guys and gals, and once again, thanks for your service.