When Texas National Guard Spc. Bishop Evans jumped in the Rio Grande last week to help two people he believed to be drowning in the swift current, he wasn't wearing a flotation device, the Texas Military Department tells Military Times and The Texas Tribune. Bishop's body was recovered from the river on Monday.
Bishop was among the more than 10,000 National Guard troops sent to the Rio Grande Valley as part of Gov. Greg Abbott's (R) $2 billion-a-year Operation Lone Star border initiative, but "like many other troops on the mission, he wasn't outfitted with the potentially lifesaving equipment," Military Times and the Tribune reported Wednesday. The Texas Military Department ordered ropes and hundreds of ring buoys for water rescues in February, 11 months after Abbott's operation began, "but the equipment had not yet arrived to most Guard members at the time Evans died."
"The delays are new evidence of TMD's staggering failure to ensure its troops have the equipment they need," even inexpensive items like ropes and floatation devices, Military Times and the Tribune report. "But the absence of water equipment is the first time that lack of supplies may have contributed to a soldier's death."
The U.S. Border Patrol, which is provided floatation devices and ropes, told The Washington Post it rescued a dozen people in the same stretch of the Rio Grande last week, but agents also found 11 bodies on the U.S. side of the river and 12 on the Mexican side this month.
The Texas Military Department blamed the lack of floatation devices on "delays from the vendor and global supply chain issues," but two Guard logistics specialists told the Tribune and Military Times that department officials "sat on a request for flotation devices for three weeks before it was approved."
Six National Guard troops told Military Times and the Tribune that despite the lack of equipment and advice to avoid entering the river, members of Operation Lone Star have been performing 15 to 20 water rescues a month. Read more about Operation Lone Star and its fuzzy details at The Texas Tribune and Military Times.