Published: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 8:02 PM CDT
Derek Jordan /Wick Communications
Not many people would look at the issues facing the communities along the southern border of the United States - human trafficking, drug smuggling, illegal border crossing - and see a business opportunity. Vietnam veteran turned hired gun Thomas Bleming is not like most people.
"The situation down there is ripe for business," Bleming said Monday.
Speaking from his ranch near Lusk, Wyo., the 64-year-old announced his plans to start an armed security force to protect ranchers and other border-area residents from smugglers and other threats coming across the Mexican border illegally.
"We would be the ranchers' eyes and ears at night," he said. "In all sincerity, we're armed body guards."
Though he has yet to visit southern Arizona, Bleming said he has "kept abreast" of the issues with smuggling operations along the border, and recently placed an advertisement on the popular online classifieds Web site Craigslist in an effort to see if there was much interest in the service he is offering.
Bleming said he received dozens of responses before the ad was pulled, many from individuals looking to join his business, Military Advisory Command International, which he plans to start up in the beginning of next year.
"I've talked with two possible employers," one a farmer near Douglas, the other an owner of a ranch "near the border," he said.
Though the job would consist mostly of patrolling, Bleming did not cross off the possibility of more aggressive tactics.
"As it gets worse, I wouldn't leave out other aspects, like ambushing," he said.
If and when he and his employees are hired, Bleming said their focus would be on those smuggling drugs into the country, and not those coming across the border looking for a better life.
"This armed smuggling and drug trafficking is a lot more serious than someone who wants to come here to get a job at a restaurant or as a ranch hand," he said.
"I have a lot of sympathy in my heart for these people, the Mexican immigrants."
Bleming's experience in the field, and his concern for the underprivileged, stem from his experiences in countries like Burma (now Myanmar), where he said he fought alongside members of the National Liberation Army in their efforts against the Burmese government only two or three years ago.
An Army veteran, Bleming said he also served with the First Aviation Brigade, 53rd Combat Aviation Battalion in Vietnam for a year.
An armed group of individuals along the border would prove to be a powerful deterrent to illegal border crossers, he said.
"I think a lot of this smuggling and illegal activity on our side of the border would dissipate" with a strong show of force, he said.
"I really am surprised that the United States government hasn't reacted even more forcefully" to the issues of smuggling drugs and people across the border, he said, "because what is going on over there is a real threat to this country."
Despite this, Bleming said his decision to come to the border is strictly apolitical.
"I'm not in this to try to sort out immigration laws. Nor am I in this business to impede in any way the job of Border Patrol agents. I'm strictly in this to provide protection," he said.
Law enforcement is best left to the professionals, said U.S. Border Patrol Spokeswoman Agent Colleen Agle.
"We definitely appreciate when concerned citizens contact us when they see suspicious activity," Agle said. "However, we do not support any organization taking matter into their own hands."
She added, "All of our agents go through extensive training, and we deal with illegal border incursions on a daily basis."
Any attempt by an organized group of citizens to take action against those crossing the border illegally would result in agency resources being diverted to monitor such activities, she said.
"That's going to take resources away from our mission of securing the border," she said.