BROWNSVILLE, RGV – State Rep. René Oliveira says he is “appalled and embarrassed” that National Guard troops are being forced to ask local charities for a hot meal while serving on the border.

“It’s embarrassing that our troops have to stand in a food pantry line,” Oliveira told Action 4 News KGBT-TV. “This is the fault of the state. This should not have happened and there will be consequences.”

Oliveira said it is “heartbreaking” to learn that active duty soldiers being forced to turn to charities to get a meal. “These brave men and women have apparently been sent on a mission without accommodating for their most basic needs. We need to find immediate solutions for these hungry soldiers,” the Brownsville Democrat said, in a news release.

Oliveira said he is willing to use some of his own money to pay for meals for Guard deployed in the Brownsville area as part of Operation Strong Safety. He said he is contacting local restaurants for help and hopes to have more information on this on Friday morning.

State Representative René Oliveira, D-Brownsville. (File photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)
State Representative René Oliveira, D-Brownsville. (File photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

Action 4 News, a news partner of the Rio Grande Guardian, broke the story about hungry Guard troops having to go to the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley for meals on Friday evening. “We were contacted that 50 troops that are in the Valley don’t have any money for food and gas and they need our assistance,” Food Bank RGV Executive Director Terri Drefke told the TV station.

Click here to read the story and watch the video from KGBT-TV.

In his news release, Oliveira explained why the National Guard is not supplying food to its troops. He said the problem stems from the method the Guard uses for feeding troops. Each soldier is expected to buy his or her meals while deployed and then submit receipts to the Guard for reimbursement of those expenses, Oliveira said.

“Soldiers have to pay upfront the cost of meals, rather than the Guard supplying them food or advancing them money to buy meals. It’s shocking, but essentially the Guard is directing these soldiers to temporarily finance their own deployment,” said Oliveira.

Oliveira’s news release cited Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, public affairs officer at Texas Military Forces. It said MacGregor is aware of the border operation and has acknowledged there are no centralized feeding stations for thee troops. “The Guard has contracted with certain hotels to house the troops, so soldiers do not have to pay that cost, but the Guard has not contracted for food,” the news release states.

“These brave men and women have been ordered to South Texas to serve us. Because of the quick deployment, which yanked them from their jobs and families, some troops may not have had the savings to buy restaurant meals for days or weeks before getting reimbursed,” Oliveira said.

“I just don’t see how the Guard can ask the soldiers to interrupt their lives, perhaps put themselves in harm’s way, then not make sure they are fed. If the Guard would pay for meals in the same manner it is paying for hotel rooms, we wouldn’t have this situation.”

In addition to the 400-plus Guard troops deployed to the Valley as part of Operation Strong Safety, Governor Rick Perry has ordered 1,000 additional Guard troops to South Texas. He said they will supplement the work of Border Patrol.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has announced the formation of a select committee to examine the short- and long-term budgetary effects of border support operations. The panel includes border state Reps. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, Sergio Muñoz D-Mission, and Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya. The panel is known as the Select Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Texas Border Support Operations.

Oliveira said that while the committee is charged with examining the cost of the deployment and other actions, he will ask Straus and the chairman of the panel – Rep. Dennis Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton – to examine a reimbursement scheme that has troops visiting charities in order to secure a meal.