Your Tax Dollars At Work: On the Utterly Lunatic Chimera of "Mission Enhancing Capabilities"

U.S. Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion place wire at California's Otay Mesa Port of Entry. Photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Rubin Tan

With California still burning and reeling and needing not idiocy but help - the death toll stands at 63, with over 600 missing - thousands of active duty troops who could have offered critical support are instead marooned in the Southwest, ostensibly to ward off the "manufactured crisis" that is a few thousand tired, poor, brown people, a third of them children, walking for their lives - an "invasion" still weeks and 1,500 miles away and all but forgotten by the sulking clown who invented the racist-base-appeasing crisis in the first place to win an election that, ha, he lost anyway. This week, two of his stooges - Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen - visited about 1,000 troops at Base Camp Donna in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, some of the 5,000-plus soldiers Trump deployed as part of Operation Faithful Patriot, aka Operation This Is Not An Unconscionably Wasteful and Cynical Political Stunt, Really.

Some of the language of the so-called mission has shifted - Operation Faithful Patriot has been downgraded to "border support," “secure a location” was dropped because "it’s their country - it's their border” - but it remains a zealous go at an estimated cost of $200 million and counting. At Camp Donna, army engineers have built tent cities with hot showers, laundry facilities, a kitchen providing two hot meals a day, and a medical tent where health personnel valiantly fight against chiggers and mosquitoes. For soldiers, many of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pace of life is languid. They work out, play cards, write home, swat bugs and endlessly wrestle with Slinky-like concertina (razor) wire, or what Mattis calls "obstacle emplacement" - running it along crossing points, building barriers, un-spooling it, untangling it, re-spooling it and adorning the arid landscape wherever they're told; done with one area, they wait for orders on where to add more. In locations with existing border walls, troops spend their time welding brackets - to add more wire.

The wire is famously hard to remove: When the officials visited, one brave soldier dared ask Mattis if they'd have to take it down too. His response: "We'll let you know." So it goes. Wire, Mattis admits, "is the only mission I have....Short term right now, get the obstacles in so that the border patrolmen can do what they've got to do." Longer term, "It's somewhat to be determined - the mission is a dynamic, unpredictable kind of thing," which is Joseph-Heller-speak for who friggin' knows. Ditto for whatever clue or plan they might have for when and if the bedraggled "invasion" actually gets there - unlikely given it's now slowly trudging to Tijuana, 1,200 miles northwest of there. For those stranded on the dusty ground but trained to follow orders, the amorphous nature of their job is dicey. Asked if someone somewhere has a plan for what's next, Army North spokeswoman First Lt. Marenda Figgs responded, "Presumably. We are hoping, but it hasn't trickled down to us."

Still, Mattis told the troops, he knows some stuff. The mission is "absolutely legal" - look at Woodrow Wilson! - and "obviously a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen." It's also "great training" and "the world is watching," though maybe not the way he meant. Acknowledging the widely held belief the mission is in fact an unconscionably wasteful and cynical political stunt, Mattis instructed troops to "do what your officers tell you" and ignore their eyes, ears and brains. "There's all sorts of stuff in the news, and that sort of thing," he said. "You just concentrate on what your company commander (tells) you. Because if you read all that stuff, you know, you'll go nuts." Tell us about it. Below, a VICE News video captures the hallucinatory "mission" at work.

"You know, that might be the answer - to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail." - Joseph Heller's Catch-22
 
 
Playing cards at Base Camp Donna. Photo by Calla Kessler/Washington Post
 
 
Watching walls. Photo by Meridith Cohut
 
 
Trying to think of more things to do with wire. Photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Brandon Maldonado
 

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