Story and photo by Sgt. Nicholas Brown-Bell
1st. Lt. Jacob Savage, 2nd Platoon Leader, 515th Sapper Company, watched his Soldiers navigate the 22-foot tall fencing separating Nogales, Arizona and Mexico.
His expression was a delicate mix of nerves mirroring that of an anxious father watching his child take her first solo steps and that of immense pride because that child traversed the living room into his waiting arms all on her own. For Savage, the mission of his Soldiers was one that was thrust upon them with little notice but one that they ran with, exceeding all expectations.
When the 515th Sapper Co. arrived at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, from Fort Leonard Wood mid-December 2018, they repaired already emplaced concertina wire lining the border fencing. In January 2019, the Outlaws received a new mission: line the fencing on the unexpectedly treacherous terrain of the Arizona border with concertina wire. But they didn’t know how they were going to do it, only that they certainly would.
Company Commander Capt. Mark Williams and 1st Sgt. Michael Green decided to empower their Soldiers to come up with a solution. So, the individual platoons of the 515th created separate plans to accomplish the mission and pitched them to the command team. Williams and Green assigned platoons to different sections of the border based on who fit best where. 2nd Platoon was sent to the most difficult sections of the fence.
On the first day of wire hanging operations, Savage’s Soldiers hung less than 300 meters of the almost 100km of wire they would need to complete. At that rate, the task would take nearly a year. The 515th risked either failure or replacement, neither of which were acceptable to the Outlaws, a company with a rich history stretching back to World War II. Williams and Green looked to 2nd Platoon to set the pace. Green called the platoon his “star,” and a lot was riding on them.
With practice, they worked out their kinks, and two weeks later Savage’s team hung nearly 1.4 km of wire in one day, more than quadrupling the rate at which they had been working. At that rate, they completed their mission by the first week of April, a feat no one expected of them.
“We’ve really had incredible leadership here; the trust they put in us to get out here in some really difficult terrain and conditions and just get the job done is pretty amazing,” Savage told Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Rick Uribe, Deputy Commanding General of Ground Forces for Southwest Border Support Operations, during a visit in January.
Green couldn’t hold back his praise as he led Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Paul McKenna, U.S. Northern Command’s Senior Enlisted Leader, on a tour of the Army National Guard’s Nogales Armory, where the 515th lived for the duration of their mission as the only engineers working the Arizona border.
“We asked these guys what they thought would work best and let them do it,” said Green. “Any success we’ve had is because of our Soldiers that are out there doing the work.”
(Editor’s note: Brown-Bell is with the 24th Theater Public Affairs Support Element at Fort Bliss, Texas.)