Search for Texas Soldier Feared Drowned During Rescue Called off for Night

Facing strong currents in the Rio Grande, search teams have called it a night looking for a National Guard soldier who went missing while reportedly trying to rescue migrants in the river.

The Texas Military Department on Friday announced that search and rescue teams had to stop dive operations due to strong currents in the river separating the U.S. and Mexico. The gloomy update is the latest in the search for the soldier who was assigned to an effort to keep migrants from entering the U.S.

"I'm heartbroken to hear of the death of a Texas National Guard soldier," Texas Representative Tony Gonzales said in a tweet. "Our Citizen-Soldiers respond to our toughest challenges including the border crisis. As we've seen with the deaths of migrants & now the tragic loss of a guardsman, this crisis can be deadly for all involved."

Earlier on Friday, the solider was reported missing along the river near Eagle Pass, Texas. Multiple agencies are participating in the search including Texas Department of Public Safety, Parks and Wildlife and the Border Patrol. The Texas Rangers are heading up the investigation into the incident.

Razor Wire on Rio Grande
The Texas Military Department announced Friday evening that search and rescue operations for a missing National Guard soldier were ceased for the night after currents in the Rio Grande hampered their efforts. Here, razor wire lines the area near the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, on November 19, 2021. SERGIO FLORES/Getty Images

The Texas Military Department later said it hopes to resume the search tomorrow and will provide updates as they become available.

"We will continue the search for our Soldier until we have exhausted all possible resources," the department said. "We are in the process of notifying the next of kin regarding the missing Soldier."

The National Guard said earlier Friday that reports of a fatality "are inaccurate."

However, Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber told the San Antonio Express-News that the search for the soldier changed from a rescue to a recovery mission by noon. He told the paper the soldier, 23, dived into the river to help a woman near the Seco Creek where migrants drown as often as twice a week in its deep and muddy waters.

The woman is safe and in Border Patrol custody, he said.

"It's sad. That river looks like it's not dangerous, but it's very dangerous," Schmerber told the Express-News. "That's why they call it the Rio Bravo in Spanish. Bravo means like a bull, like an angry bull."

The National Guard earlier said the missing soldier was assigned to Operation Lone Star, an initiative of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to place troops at the border to deter migrants.

Abbott has said he launched the controversial operation in March 2021 to address what he called a mounting "crisis at our southern border." It is part of similar initiatives from 26 Republican-led states to make up for what they called President Joe Biden's negligence to border security.

Army Times reported in January that National Guard soldiers assigned to Operation Lone Star are experiencing morale crisis from issues over living conditions and pay. One soldier accidentally shot and killed himself and others have attempted or died by suicide, the paper reported.

Earlier this week, an investigation by The Texas Tribune, ProPublica and The Marshall Project found that Texas officials had little to show after spending billions on border security.

Meanwhile, the soldier's death has sparked new calls by Republicans to address border security issues.

Texas Senator John Cornyn reacted to the news of the missing soldier by taking to Twitter to ask, "Why doesn't POTUS deal with the #BidenBorderCrisis #?"

Newsweek reached out to the Texas Rangers for comment.