Image: Soldier on U.S.-Mexican border
Khampha Bouaphanh  /  AP
Utah National Guard soldier Sgt. David Cowley of the 116th Construction Equipment Support Company examines a wall along the U.S. border in San Luis, Ariz., on Monday. Cowley is among the first 50 soldiers sent to the border as part of Operation Jump Start.
updated 6/5/2006 4:43:29 PM ET 2006-06-05T20:43:29

Military bulldozers, road graders and other heavy equipment rumbled along the Mexican border early Monday as more than 50 National Guardsmen from Utah became the first unit to get to work under President Bush’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

The soldiers with the 116th Construction Support Equipment Company rolled out at 3:45 a.m. for more than two weeks of duty. They will improve a dirt road running parallel along the border, reinforce a fence and wire new lighting to help the Border Patrol spot illegal immigrants trying to come across.

“It’s exciting to do something that’s relevant to the safety of the United States,” said Capt. Talon Greeff, the unit’s commander. “There is a sense of excitement when you are doing something real-world.”

The goal is to strengthen the border and free up border agents to catch illegal immigrants. The Guard is not expected to perform any significant law enforcement duties.

Sergeant: Troops feel privileged to be first
The troops arrived in Yuma on Saturday and were briefed Sunday on their mission and given tips on how to survive the triple-digit heat of the Arizona desert.

Under Bush’s plan, up to 6,000 National Guardsmen will be sent to the four southern border states. Officials say 300 Guardsmen from Arizona are expected to begin arriving at the state’s border in mid-June.

The Utah unit is working in San Luis, 25 miles south of Yuma, home of the nation’s busiest Border Patrol station. Two sets of barriers run along the border: a 12-foot corrugated-metal fence and, about 50 yards to the north, an 8-foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Surveillance cameras are mounted on towers, and stadium lights help agents spot people trying to slip across at night.

Most of the 11 soldiers assigned to operate the heavy equipment have full-time jobs in the construction business in Utah. They would normally be pulling two weeks of training duty at this time of year anyway.

Now they are working to widen the dusty dirt track used by the Border Patrol, compact it and top it with gravel so agents can get to hot spots faster.

“They all feel pretty privileged to be out here as part of the first group,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Colledge, a 52-year-old truck driver from West Valley, Utah.

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Video: Troops arrive on Mexico border

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