- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

U.S. Customs and Border Protection rolled out the first of its new-look fleet of Border Patrol helicopters, part of an armada of 115 aircraft — both fixed-wing and rotor — that will patrol 6,000 miles of U.S. land and sea borders.

“Since the tragic events of September 11, one of the most profound and important changes in government has been the combining of immigration, customs and agriculture inspectors with the Border Patrol. This single face at the border — U.S. Customs and Border Protection — is responsible for safeguarding our nation’s borders from terrorists and terrorist weapons,” said CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

“The air enforcement efforts of CBP are a significant component in our uniform border strategy and a symbol of our efforts to keep this nation safe and secure,” Mr. Bonner said.

The first helicopter with the new Border Patrol branding — white with a green stripe and the words “Border Patrol” also in green — reported for duty last week at the agency’s air and marine headquarters in El Paso, Texas.

The Border Patrol has several types of helicopters in commission across the United States, ranging from Vietnam-era OH-6As and UH-1”Hueys” to the modern AS350B3 “A Star.”

Under Mr. Bonner’s recapitalization plan the older aircraft in the 40-year-old fleet will be replaced in a process that will take several years. Only the newer “A Stars” will receive the recently highlighted DHS branding design.

Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar said all Border Patrol pilots were field agents first, giving them what he described as the experience and expertise necessary to take part in law enforcement operations unique within the Department of Homeland Security.

Chief Aguilar said pilots who have experienced the hazards of operating over rugged terrain, enduring severe climates in remote locations without backup or immediate support “know all too well the level of dedication that is required of Border Patrol line agents.

“No other law enforcement aviation operation in the world gets as much return for the taxpayers’ dollar,” Chief Aguilar said. “Our success is largely based upon the fact that our pilots are Border Patrol agents who perform their duties from the air in concert with Border Patrol agents on the ground or on the water. They intimately understand each other’s tactics and mission, making a team that is unparalleled anywhere.”

During the 2003 fiscal year, Border Patrol aircraft accumulated more than 44,000 flight hours, apprehending 79,512 people — nearly two arrests per flight hour. They also were instrumental in seizing an average of $214,000 in illegal narcotics every day.

CBP is the unified border agency within Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of the nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry.

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