AUSTIN, Texas (Nexstar) — The death of a Texas National Guardsman is raising questions about whether soldiers at the border have adequate equipment to keep them safe.
22-year-old Arlington native Bishop E. Evans’ body was found on Monday. He was missing for a couple days after he tried to rescue a migrant in Eagle Pass from the water. Evans didn’t have a flotation device.
State Rep. Eddie Morales revealed in a joint House hearing Wednesday there was a request on Feb. 24 for more flotation devices. According to Morales, that request wasn’t addressed for nearly a month. It’s still not clear when it will be fulfilled.
Morales fired off a line of tough questions.
“So, I understood that Special Agent Bishop Evans when he perished was not wearing a flotation device? Is that an accurate statement?,” Morales asked Gen. Thomas Suelzer with the Texas National Guard.
“That’s correct,” Suelzer responded.
According to the Texas National Guard, there are currently 6,128 soldiers on the border — part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lonestar” — aiming to keep the border secure.
Suelzer said soldiers on the border have nearly 200 ring buoy flotation devices. He said there are another 235 on the way.
“Do you have a process or protocol or procedure in place that all soldiers need to follow whenever they see a migrant on the river struggling?,” Morales asked Suelzer.
“We conduct safety briefings… for risk mitigation. We tell our soldiers and airmen don’t go into the water,” Suelzer responded. “Sgt. Evans was a human being. He saw a human being drowning and he jumped in the water to save them.”
There are about 15-20 water rescues per month, which Morales cited in his line of questioning. Texas National Guard Brigadier General Monie R. Ulis said most don’t require soldiers to actually jump in the water.
Ulis said along the border, there have recently been 4-5 where soldiers did jump in.
“I am confident that one flotation device at a security point is sufficient, given the number of incorrect occasions where we have had service members actually attempt to assess migrants,” Ulis said. “We could buy 6,000 float devices…I think that would be a waste of government money, because not all 6,000 [soldiers] are even near the water.”
In Suelzer’s House committee testimony, he revealed soldiers have complained about not having enough equipment, even having to share things like helmets.
According to Suelzer, equipment issues have been resolved for current missions. But he said they’re still lacking equipment for those that are upcoming — which is being addressed.
Morales said he’s heard soldiers as part of “Operation Lonestar” are currently experiencing low morale. He questioned if the thousands of guardsmen stationed at the border is necessary.
“Numbers are seasonal,” Ulis said. “What we do is, we have ‘brief backs’ to those service members… about what may have happened to their left or right so they can see that, oh, they didn’t see anything, [but they’re] still making a difference.”
This story will be updated by Capitol Correspondent Monica Madden after KXAN News at 5 p.m. with reaction from Evans’ family.