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Wisconsin National Guard troops head to border

MADISON -- About 80 members of the Wisconsin National Guard head for the Mexican border Thursday.

They'll be joining "Operation Jumpstart," President Bush's new initiative to curtail illegal immigration.

At a briefing at the Guard headquarters in Madison, Brigadier General Kerry Denson told the volunteers it's not clear yet exactly what their role will be in supporting border patrol operations.

Some members of this new border deployment group have already spent time on the border.

Army Spec. Gwendolyn McKay, 22, Green Bay, was there in January helping to build a border fence near Yuma, Arizona. She's looking forward to heading down there again to gain more experience.

The troops will be on the Arizona/Mexico border for two years.

James Dwiggins, 22, says it's opportunity to do what he sees as one of the Guard's primary missions. Dwiggins says he plans to finish up his college degree at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse over the internet during this border deployment.

After already spending a year in Iraq medic Mitch Nattmiller, Whitewater says he's also happy to be joining a mission that fits his image of what the Guard is meant to be doing. He says a border security mission seems to be appropriate for the National Guard.

The Wisconsin troops will be joining about 2,600 other Guard members from more than a dozen other states.

A Guard official says that number will grow to over 6,000 over the next year and then wind back down as the number of permanent border security troops is increased.