Staff Columnist

For politics, promise to troops is broken

Active-duty military will spend Thanksgiving on southern border

United States Marines fortify concertina wire along the San Ysidro Port of Entry border crossing as seen from Tijuana, Mexico on Nov. 20, 2018. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)
United States Marines fortify concertina wire along the San Ysidro Port of Entry border crossing as seen from Tijuana, Mexico on Nov. 20, 2018. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)
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Thanks to pre-election political posturing by President Donald Trump, we must add the military men and women stationed at the souther border to the list of those needlessly separated from family this Thanksgiving.

The midterm elections are over, as are the screeds uttered at Trump rallies against a supposedly advancing caravan of “invaders,” yet the troops sent to mount a response to this “threat” remain. Many were in tents with scant electricity on Veterans Day, and are expected to stay through Thanksgiving.

The now infamous caravan — comprised of a walking, unarmed group of Central American asylum-seeking migrants (men, women and children) — was roughly 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border when President Donald Trump ordered active-duty military troops to southern Texas, Arizona and California. A final cost estimate of the deployment has not been made available by Pentagon officials. But finance people in the Department of Defense have said if the final deployment reaches Trump’s stated threshold of 15,000 troops — about 5,800 are currently deployed — taxpayer cost could reach $200 million.

A study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimated existing deployment will cost between $42 and $110 million, with daily costs between $112 and $143 per soldier, per day.

All of it to address a manufactured crisis: People hoping to escape political violence in Central America or find a better life, traveling as a group because doing so offers a degree of protection from human traffickers and drug gangs.

There is no existing budget line item for this type of expense, and the active-duty troops were given duties already being performed by more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers sent by the Trump administration to the border earlier. Because of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, active-duty military can’t enforce U.S. immigration law.

And, unlike troops deployed to Afghanistan and other places, troops sent to the border aren’t receiving combat pay. Since they aren’t allowed to directly interact with the migrants, when and if the caravan arrives, there is also no hostile-fire pay.

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Military leaders may quietly grouse about what this deployment has done to troop morale, but they nonetheless are following orders. And Trump seems OK with the deployment and cost. On Saturday, he told reporters the troops would remain “as long as necessary,” and boasted that the active-duty military had built a “very beautiful fence.” What the troops will do once the fence is complete is “somewhat to be determined,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters.

To be clear, those who comprise our military bravely go into combat at all times of the year, holidays included. They do so with full understanding that fulfilling their mission may include long-term separation from their family and, of course, the ultimate sacrifice.

The tacit agreement between those who serve and those who command has been that such sacrifice is never done in vain, or for purely political reasons. But not this time.

Break open an MRE. Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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