“I never thought that we’d be in this paramilitary type of engagement. It's a war on the border," said Captain Stacy Holland with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Holland leads a fleet of 16 state-of-the-art helicopters that make up the aviation assets used by the Texas DPS to fight Mexican drug cartels.
In recent years, the cartels have become bolder and more ruthless.
They cross the border with AK-47s on their backs, wearing military camouflage. They recruit in prisons and schools on the American side. Spotters sit in duck blinds along the Rio Grande and call out the positions of the U.S. Border Patrol.
To combat the cartels, the Texas Department of Public Safety is launching a counterinsurgency. Tactical strike teams send field intelligence they gather to Austin to a joint operation intelligence center, or JOIC in military terminology.
“It certainly is a war in a sense that we’re doing what we can to protect Texans and the rest of the nation from clearly a threat that has emerged over the last several years,” said Former FBI prosecutor Steve McCraw, who runs the undeclared "war."
And now that there is added pressure on the cartels, the drug runners are employing new techniques, known as a splash down. When the heat is on, they attempt to return to Mexico with the drugs, often times in broad daylight. And because the Texas law enforcement’s authority ends at the border -- in this case the river -- they even have time to put on their life jackets.
“The cartels may be ruthless, they may be vicious, they may be cowardly ... but they’re not stupid,” said McCraw. “They’ll adapt their tactics and recently they’ve adapted their tactics to utilize smaller loads, cross with rafts, stolen vehicles on our side.”
President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have recently said the Mexican border is more secure now than it has been in 20 years, but some along this border strongly disagree.
"To suggest the southwest border is secure is ridiculous," said Holland.