TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Air and Marine Operations is one of the branches of Homeland Security. It also happens to be the smallest branch with slightly more than 1,800 personnel.
One of the AMO locations is in southern Arizona at Ft. Huachuca in Sierra Vista. This branch specifically works with aircraft that fly along the southern border.
One of their main assets is the Predator drones. They have three drones with a wingspan of 66 feet and height of more than 12 feet tall. They can fly nearly 22 hours in one flight.
They fly the drones from a small mobile trailer. The pilot, who is also an agent, sits on the left. To his right is an aviation enforcement agent. The two work as a team to get the job done.
The unmanned aircraft is equipped with a camera that looks like a globe. It has the ability to zoom into things from thousands of miles away. There is also an infrared camera, allowing the agents to see in the dark. The camera is controlled by the aviation enforcement agent. while the pilot flies and has constant communications with the FAA.
The communications system on the drone is the best of the best. The drone uses satellite communication equipment to communicate with agents on the ground. Plus the group can talk to other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. They also have the capability for the pilot in Sierra Vista to hand over the controls to a pilot in California or Texas.
The drone’s mission is to monitor the border area. It flies some 30 miles north of the border at a very high altitude. With the aid of the drone’s camera, they can watch people illegally crossing the border. They can spot agents who need help or direct agents to locations of illegal activity.
AMO Sierra Vista says, if they get a call for help from other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies they will be ready. Last month, they received a phone call from the U.S. Marshals Service. Two of their most wanted fugitives, Susan and Blane Barksdale, had escaped a transport van in August and were on the run in Arizona. The AMO team had the task of flying over a large area in Gila County during the search.
The drone came in handy because it was able to search large areas pretty quickly, saving the Marshals office some time. The drone team was able to eliminate certain areas where the Barksdale’s were not hiding, and shortly after that flight, the U.S. Marshals captured and arrested the Barksdales.