Author’s note: Additional contributions to this article were made by: Commodore Rick Saunders, ANACO Response-Prevention Group and CommodoreTracy DeLaughter Immediate Past District Commodore District 8 Western Region.
Working on the southwest border wasn’t anything like Auxiliarist David Soderholm expected. “Some days there were 20-30 people being processed and in a blink of an eye, there would be hundreds,” he says. “I am an adventurous kind of guy, and I will say [the volume] was physically demanding at times.”
In spring 2022, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) asked the U.S. Coast Guard to support its southwest border operations. The Coast Guard Auxiliary immediately responded providing logistical support in Texas to address the high volume of non-citizens seeking a better life in America.
The Auxiliarists have played such a critical role that CBP recently requested an extension through November, so the Incident Management Auxiliary Coordination Cell is taking more applications.
It’s an opportunity unlike any other. Capt. Troy Glendye, Chief Director of Auxiliary, met with some of the first waves of Auxiliarists deployed to the Eagle Pass stations along the Rio Grande in Texas. “The Coast Guard Auxiliary has been a tremendous resource for DHS at the Southwest Border,” he said. “This historic deployment is demonstrating the value of Auxiliarists as a force multiplier.”
The Auxiliary’s Publications Division interviewed three members who deployed with the first wave to Eagle Pass Station South: Auxiliarist Caryn Byerson, Auxiliarist David Soderholm, and Auxiliarist Terri Fraser. They said their first-hand experiences erased any prior understandings about immigrant treatment. The facilities were clean, air-conditioned and well-equipped to provide food, water, shelter and showers.
Common themes emerged – the gratitude, respect, and fellowship that DHS, CBP, and FEMA representatives showed to Auxiliarists at the southwest border were overwhelming. Members genuinely felt part of the CBP team (after a short orientation) and knew they were making a difference in helping the vital mission at the southwest border.
The first wave of Auxiliarists deployed to Eagle Pass Station South in Texas under the team leadership of Commodore Tracy DeLaughter, Immediate Past District Commodore of District 8 Western Region. With his direction, the team was able to quickly adapt to the operation and lay the foundation for future deployments. In fact, roughly 20% of that first group committed to either extending their deployment or returning in the summer.
The Auxiliarists helped CBP agents provide the non-citizens with essential humanitarian care: initial processing, inventorying their personal property, handing out food, water and blankets. The Auxiliarists also helped stock supplies in the non-citizen’s temporary living quarters, and unloaded pallets in warehouses.
During off-hours, members would head to the Rio Grande, where they witnessed people fighting strong river currents to seek a better life. “It touches you a lot differently,” Fraser said. Members also visited the local town, sharing meals and attending pool parties with other federal and local responders.
One day, Auxiliarist Ed Dickson led a team of Auxiliarists who hosted an all-day outdoor barbecue for federal responders. “We made five briskets, three racks of ribs, pork butt, and jalapeno poppers,” Byerson said.
This is the first mission in recent history where Auxiliarists don’t need a certain qualification code to apply. “If you have ever wanted to be deployed in support of a Coast Guard mission, but did not think you were qualified, now is your chance,” said Commodore Rick Saunders, Assistant National Commodore, Response-Prevention Group. “We need anyone and everyone who desires to support the Coast Guard and the Auxiliary with this mission.”
If you are an Auxiliarist interested in joining this humanitarian mission, please email to start the process.