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Minutemen return to the border

Sierra Vista Herald | May 17, 2005

Without public notice, about 64 Minutemen volunteers suddenly reappeared Friday afternoon along state Highway 92, between Miller and Ash canyons.

The familiar sight of retirees in lawn chairs scanning the Huachuca Mountains through binoculars brought honks and thumbs-up gestures from passing motorists until the vigil ended Sunday afternoon.

"I'm fully dedicated to this thing, to save America," explained Freddy Puckett, a retiree from Cochise.

Standing in the shade outside his small RV Sunday morning, Puckett said he spent 28 days along the Naco line during April's Minuteman Project in an attempt to squelch illegal immigration from Mexico.

So when Minuteman Project organizer Chris Simcox asked for volunteers for "Operation May Surprise," Puckett didn't hesitate.

"A lot of the old-timers came back," Puckett said. "Some flew in and rented cars ... We're going to be vigilant."

Puckett, 60, a Vietnam vet, said he knew of one volunteer who came back from Arkansas.


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Their vigilance paid off Saturday night, Puckett, said, when 17 stealthy visitors to the U.S. were nabbed in a wash coming out of Ash Canyon.

Although he carried a sidearm, Puckett said he has had no reason to pull it during his stint near the border. The nocturnal travelers quickly surrendered when lights were shone on them by Minuteman volunteers. The U.S. Border Patrol was summoned and hauled the folks away.

"We basically support the Border Patrol," Puckett said. "We don't make no contact."

As Puckett spoke to a Herald/Review reporter a motorcycle pulled up on the shoulder of the highway. Pulling off his helmet, Chris Lambert asked where the section leader was.

Lambert, 26, had just ridden down from Tucson to do whatever he could to help turn back the tide of illegal border crossers. He said he had heard about the operation on the radio and came for the day "to get the government to do something about this."

Puckett directed Lambert to a communications center a couple miles up the highway, as his radio crackled with transmissions between the highway outposts.

"I feel sorry for these people," Puckett said. "We're saving their lives. I love the Mexican people."

What Puckett doesn't love is illegal immigrants taking jobs away from American citizens or people from other nations sneaking across the line, such as one from Ecuador who was recently captured.

"I feel patriotic," Puckett said.

"Just maybe we'll stop a dirty bomb from al-Qaida ... I feel a sense of responsibility that I can help. I feel better about myself. Would you rather die for a cause or from a disease?"

Puckett feels that the time he spent during April staunched the flow of job seekers and drug runners entering Cochise County.

He acknowledged, however, that the Minuteman project also pushed illegal border crossers into other jurisdictions, such as the Sasabe area of southern Pima County.

Gary Cole, operations manager for the Minuteman Project, stopped by Puckett's outpost after "sweeping the line" to obtain results from Saturday night's observations.

"Once we caught them (the 17 illegal immigrants Saturday night), the coyotes shut down the border," Cole said.

Cole pointed across the highway toward the shrine and chapel of Our Lady of the Sierras, overlooking the canyon, and claimed the area nearby was a gathering point for unwelcome visitors.

From there, they make their way along a wash and through a culvert under the highway. Cole said more such unannounced vigils are planned "at random intervals and random places" to keep pressure on the federal government to protect the border.

"It will not stop," Cole vowed.

Calls to the Border Patrol for comment were not returned by press deadline Sunday afternoon.

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