Watertown-based soldiers return from Texas border deployment

October 5, 2023

Joshua Haiar

Fifty South Dakota National Guard soldiers from a unit based in Watertown have returned home after a month-long, $850,000 deployment to Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ian Fury, spokesman for Gov. Kristi Noem, released some details of the deployment Wednesday after previously declining to divulge information during the deployment “for operational security reasons.”

The unit, Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery, was sent to assist Texas with its Mexican border security efforts.

The Governor’s Office said the deployment helped with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star.” Abbott’s website says the operation aims to “secure the border; stop the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people into Texas; and prevent, detect, and interdict transnational criminal activity between ports of entry.”

Fury provided no further details on the Guard’s specific activities during the deployment, saying “the best description of their mission” was on Abbott’s website.

Scott Linquist, public affairs officer for the South Dakota Army National Guard, said the troops were deployed to “support Customs and Border Patrol agents,” but referred South Dakota Searchlight to the Texas National Guard for further details. The Texas National Guard’s press office did not immediately respond.

Noem welcomed the unit home earlier this week.

“Biden refuses to fix the warzone at the Southern border,” Noem posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “When (Abbott) asked for help, we took action and sent (SD National Guard) troops to assist Operation Lone Star.”

The $850,000 came from the state’s Emergency and Disaster Fund. Noem’s budget proposal to the Legislature last winter did not include a National Guard border deployment, and her budget documents described the Emergency and Disaster Fund as being for emergencies and disasters “in South Dakota.” Lawmakers put $2.5 million into the fund at Noem’s request.

Noem has sent National Guard troops to the nation’s southern border before.

In 2021, she ignited controversy with her acceptance of a $1 million donation from Tennessee billionaire Willis Johnson to pay most of the cost for deploying 48 troops. That deployment cost a total of $1.45 million, according to records obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The $1 million donation was routed through the Emergency and Disaster Fund, and the fund itself covered the portion of the deployment’s cost not covered by the donation.

Also in 2021, Noem approved the sending of additional National Guard soldiers to the border at the request of the federal government. She said at the time that those additional troops were on federal pay status.