By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/22/2006 6:57:13 PM ET 2006-06-22T22:57:13

On a firing range in the New Mexico desert, Jorge Fernandez is training with nearly 600 recruits to patrol the U.S./Mexico border.

"I'm getting ready to serve my country, get my country safe," he says.

After five months of training that covers everything from Spanish classes to high-speed chases, graduates of the Border Patrol Academy enter one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement.

There were nearly 800 violent assaults against Border Patrol agents last year, a 108 percent increase over the year before. Smugglers and others crossing the Mexican border are increasingly armed.

"When violence comes, it comes quickly and without warning," says training supervisor Wayne Jackson. "And that's what makes it so dangerous."

Border patrol agents work in remote areas with little backup. That's why new agents spend so much time not just practicing with weapons, but learning to deal with life-and-death situations.

They train in simulators and in the field, with armed role players. To make the training as realistic as possible, the Border Patrol uses non-lethal ammunition. It allows agents to make a mistake and live to tell about it.

In one scenario NBC News witnessed, agents stopped an armed robber who carjacked a motorist. It unfolded in seconds, ending with a dead suspect and a freed victim.

And it's just the reason student Dominic Boswell joined the Border Patrol.

"It's one of the best jobs in America," he says. "It's tough, it's politically charged, but somebody's got to do it and I'm glad I got chosen to do the job."

He'll soon take on of the toughest police jobs, working to secure nearly 7,000 miles of America's borders.

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