A day after President Trump told the Department of Defense to deploy National Guard troops to the southern U.S. border to help the Department of Homeland Security curb illegal immigration, DoD announced April 5 that it has set up a “border security support cell” to coordinate its efforts with DHS.

Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, will lead the new unit, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said at a press briefing. 

Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, will lead DoD's new border security support cell.  (Pentagon photo)
Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, will lead DoD’s new border security support cell. (Pentagon photo)

“This is a 24/7 cell comprised of several DoD representatives who will serve as the single conduit for information and coordination between DoD and DHS,” White told reporters. “The cell will last for the foreseeable future to ensure we surge our capacity to meet the president’s enhanced border security goals.”

White said the National Guard’s efforts will include “aviation, engineering, surveillance, communications, vehicle maintenance and logistical support,” all in support of DHS border patrol agents.

The number of troops involved and the deployment’s cost and timeline will be determined after DoD receives specific requirements from DHS, according to White and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Joint Staff director.

“Once we know the requirement, we’ll move very quickly,” McKenzie told reporters.

DoD has not yet determined how it will pay for the deployment. White declined to rule out the possibility that the department will have to tap its operation and maintenance (O&M) accounts to pay for the mission. Using O&M money could rile lawmakers who championed recent increases in defense funding to restore military readiness.

The National Guard will help counter a recent surge in illegal crossings at the southern border. According to DHS, the number of those crossings surged 203 percent in March from the same month last year.

Also at the Pentagon press briefing, White announced that Dana Deasy, former chief information officer at financial services provider JPMorgan Chase [JPM], will become DoD’s CIO in May. Deasy will oversee how DoD manages and uses information, communications and cybersecurity.

Asked about a recent spate of military aircraft crashes, McKenzie said it is too early to say whether the mishaps, which are still under investigation, are linked in any way.

“We’re going to look at each one in turn,” he said. “I’m certainly not prepared to say that it’s a wave of mishaps or some form of crisis.”

In the latest incident, an Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flown by the Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron went down during a training mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range April 4, killing the pilot. The day before, a Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed during a training mission in Southern California, killing all four crew members.

U.S. Central Command announced April 5 that U.S. air operations in Djibouti are on hold and that U.S. Naval Forces Central Command has canceled the rest of the Alligator Dagger amphibious combat exercise due to two separate aviation incidents in Djibouti on April 3.

In one Djibouti incident, an AV-8B Harrier crashed after the Marine pilot safely ejected on takeoff. In the other, a Marine CH-53E sustained structural damage during a landing; the crew was not injured.