By Amy Sunseri, Staff WriterMarch 11, 2010
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Because of the increasing rate of violent, widespread crime in Mexico, most Soldiers are not allowed to travel to the borders of Mexico.
The Mexico Travel Policy went into effect in December 2008.
"The primary purpose of the policy is we're very close to Mexico; the policy focuses on travel to the border areas of Mexico," said Capt. Eric Coulson, chief, Military Justice, Staff Judge Advocate Office at Fort Huachuca.
The border area of Mexico is defined as any part of Mexico from the United States to 50 miles within the Mexico interior, Coulson explained.
This includes the towns of Agua Prieta, Naco and Nogales.
"Our goal is to keep Soldiers from getting into trouble in those areas," he added.
The Mexico Travel Policy applies to all military personnel assigned, attached or on temporary duty to Fort Huachuca. Family members, Department of the Army civilians, and civilian contractors, although not restricted by the order, are strongly urged not to travel to the affected border towns.
There are provisions in the travel policy for Soldiers who have family in Mexico. Military personnel who wish to travel to Mexico must have a valid leave or pass approved by their chain of command and with the ultimate approval from either the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence or Network Enterprise Technology Command chiefs of staff, or another leader who has been granted authority to recommend approval through written delegation.
"Our goal is to keep them safe. If they are traveling with the pass we'll know when they're going, where they're going and when they're coming back. If something happens to a Soldier in Tucson we can just go get them, but if something happens across the border, it's not so easy to go get them," said Coulson.
The Mexican border is a very high traffic area for drugs, Coulson said.
According to the U.S. Department of State, millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, but violence in the country has increased. The Web site also notes that "drug cartels and associated criminal elements retaliate violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organization."
Coulson explained that Fort Huachuca officials don't want to see Soldiers get caught in the crossfire. Fort Huachuca's chain of command is most concerned about Soldiers driving into Mexico.
The biggest misconception about the policy is that Soldiers can't go on a cruise or to a tourist hot spot in Mexico. "We're not as concerned about tourist spots," said Coulson.
Soldiers looking to go on a cruise in Mexico or fly into a popular tourist destination, such as Cancun or Cabo San Luca, still need a pass, but Coulson says these areas are not a concern such as the border. All military personnel traveling to Mexico, as well as any other country, on pass or leave must take an Anti-Terrorism Force Protection briefing prior to each visit.
The briefings include key information on criminal provisions which include American military members who have recently been arrested, for weapons and ammunition prohibitions.
Soldiers who disregard the travel policy and drive into Mexico could be issued an Article 15 depending on the circumstances.
This could result in the loss of rank, money and gain of extra duty assignments. Before the policy was drafted, Coulson says there were numerous problems with Soldiers getting into incidents in Mexico.
Most of the time, the Soldiers were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. "It was a tremendous hassle for the command staff to get the Soldiers back into the U.S.," says Coulson.
Since the policy went into effect on Fort Huachuca the command staff has had no issues.