Jessie Scruggs, supervisor in the Tucson branch of the Office of Air and Marine, points to an object of interest as he pilots an Astar helicopter over the Interstate 19 corridor. Today the office is patrolling airspace above the Super Bowl. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.
Agents in the Office of Air and Marine often work in the shadow of their colleagues in the green or blue uniforms — but the lesser-known branch of Customs and Border Protection is the largest air and maritime law-enforcement organization in the world.
Their Black Hawks and Astars will by flying above Glendale today during the Super Bowl, making sure airspace restrictions are being respected and ready to respond if needed.
Aircraft and marine vessels have been part of border enforcement for decades. But it wasn’t until 2006 that CBP consolidated all assets to create the Office of Air and Marine. Today, it has more than 1,200 agents, 268 aircraft, and 293 patrol and interdiction vessels. It operates on an annual budget of roughly $700 million.
Office of Air and Marine agents work with a range of agencies to do tasks that include providing security during a State of the Union address or the Super Bowl, to humanitarian support after natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti. They also work in foreign countries to prevent drugs from reaching the United States.
In Southern Arizona, one of their primary partners is the Border Patrol.
While the office is an investigative agency, here its agents help the Border Patrol track groups from the air, transport agents to the top of hills to arrest cartel scouts and, lately, a lot of their focus is using their Black Hawks for searches and rescues.
As enforcement in urban areas has increased, smugglers started to take groups into increasingly rugged terrain. Many of the rescues are now concentrated on the Tohono O’odham Nation west of Tucson, said Jessie Scruggs, supervisor in the Tucson branch. Last fiscal year, the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol recorded 459 rescues.
Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.