AUSTIN — To much of the public, the iconic image of the Texas Ranger is that of a taciturn lawman in a Western hat, a pistol holstered at his side.
But the specialized team of Rangers that Gov. Rick Perry is dispatching to the Texas border comes closer to resembling a military-style commando unit in a foreign war zone.
Wearing camouflage, helmets and bulletproof vests, and armed with sidearms, shotguns and assault rifles, the "Recon Rangers" will be dispatched into the hostile border wilderness near the Rio Grande to maintain a constant vigil for "bad guys" from Mexico.
"Even though Rangers have more training than most conventional law enforcement, these guys have even more," said L.C. Wilson, 51, deputy assistant director of the 144-member Texas Rangers and program manager of the recon team.
Perry, who announced the deployment last week, touted the plan again Tuesday at a news conference with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani, who was mayor during 9-11, endorsed Perry’s call for toughened border security.
'Where the bad guys are’
But Perry said the Ranger-led teams "will go to where the bad guys are" and help Texas overcome what he called the federal government’s "abject failure" to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
Perry said his request for 1,000 National Guard troops has been bogged down by interdepartmental skirmishing within the Obama administration.
The Rangers, who will work in tandem with Texas National Guardsmen and strike teams of DPS officers, will be dispatched to high-crime sectors of the border in an attempt to stem drug- and human-smuggling by Mexico’s powerful criminal cartels. Perry also cited measures passed by the 2009 Legislature to crack down on transnational gangs working with the cartels.
In a telephone interview, Wilson said DPS officials began developing the "Ranger Recon" force at the start of the year and have already conducted a couple of missions. Team members equipped with sleeping bags, night-vision goggles, weaponry and basic supplies will be dispatched to desolate areas that undermanned local sheriff’s departments can’t patrol.
"We are really concerned about remote areas in West and South Texas that are really hard for conventional law enforcement to handle," said Wilson, who has been with the DPS for 30 years, including two decades as a Ranger.
From hunter to hunted
Wilson said much of the terrain is a foreboding mix of mountains, deep valleys and steep hills "where they have to survive out on their own," often against unpredictable weather and menacing wildlife such as cougars. "You can go from being the hunter to the hunted real quick."
Members of the recon force, he said, have trained at Texas military bases and have an advanced skill set that includes survival know-how. When the officers aren’t assigned to the Recon Rangers, he said, they will return to their regular duties, he said.
Wilson declined to reveal the number of Recon Rangers, citing security reasons. They range from early 30s to mid-50s in age and stay in top physical shape, he said.
"I think our guys are certainly going to be equipped and trained to handle any given situation to conduct their mission," he said. "They’re going to stop and deny drug traffickers coming through the remote areas of our state."