PHOENIX – Tennessee Adjutant Gen. Gus Hargett will travel to Arizona next week for a commendation ceremony for four Tennessee National Guard members involved in a confrontation along Arizona's southern border earlier this month.
The guardsman were confronted by gunmen from Mexico and retreated from their post and called for help from the U.S. Border Patrol.
Representatives of the National Guard and other officials have praised the soldiers for their response to the confrontation, which could have erupted into an armed exchange.
But critics have questioned what role the National Guard is playing at the border if it won't confront gunmen who have crossed onto American soil.
The guardsmen were sent to the border as part of Operation Jump Start, which President Bush announced last spring to help slow illegal crossings of the nation's southern border.
The incident involving the Tennessee guardsmen occurred the evening of Jan. 3 while they were on watch at a border post near Sasabe, southwest of Tucson.
Six to eight men wearing bulletproof vests and carrying automatic weapons approached the observation post, with one of the gunmen walking to within 20 yards. The Guard members were armed with M-16s but, per their instructions as part of Operation Jump Start, backed away and called for Border Patrol.
Border Patrol agents arrived by land and air within minutes, but the gunmen escaped south across the border. No shots were fired.
Officials have repeatedly stressed that Guard members are on the border in a backup role and are asked to report, not apprehend, undocumented immigrants.
An Arizona legislative committee will take up the incident at a hearing next week.-