By Robert Lucke
Robert Finley, chief of the Havre Border Patrol office, has seen plenty of changes due to the September tragedy.
"There is a great deal more work," Finley said. "We have changed in the office. Our staff used to work from Monday to Friday. Now we work seven days a week and at times 24 hours a day. There is lots of information coming in and going out. We are short-handed so it puts quite a strain on the staff."
Finley said that while there are quite a few pieces of legislation in the mill to add more agents, it will take a lot of time and effort to put new permanent agents in place. Meanwhile, extra agents from the Southwest have been assigned here temporarily to help other federal agencies guard the border crossings.
The Havre office of the Border Patrol is responsible for 454 miles of border, from the North Dakota border to the Continental Divide. It also is in charge of a five-state area of Border Patrol activities, including Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho. Its officers do not staff the border stations. Those stations are run by U.S. Customs and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service employees. The Border Patrol is in charge of everything in between the border crossings. It has stations at St. Marys, Shelby, Sweetgrass, Havre, Malta, Scobey, Plentywood, Billings and Twin Falls, Idaho.
The events of Sept. 11 have made things more difficult than usual for the Havre office.
"The number one problem is the border and that we are understaffed," Finley said. "And given the events of 9/11, it is difficult for us to keep up with the security demands that should be observed during this time."
Finley has been in Havre for four years. And like many agents, he plans to stay right here when he retires.
"Most all of us will stick around here," he said. "It is a nice area and difficult to leave. It takes a long time to get here and most of us who are here are here because we want to be."
Originally from Missouri, Finley has been in the Border Patrol for 23 years. He started out in San Diego and worked many Border Patrol jobs in the Southwest.
Finley said the differences between the two borders are in patrol and organization. Also, here there are no Border Patrol trainees. No one in the Havre office has fewer than 10 years of experience. Most have from 15 to 20 years.
"We've all been around a long time and seen it all and still we love it," Finley said, smiling broadly.
It is much easier for agents working the northern border to assimilate into their communities. That is what happens in Havre.
"Agents here participate in community affairs and in the various church groups and all the things that happen in a community, which naturally we encourage," Finley said.
Finley hunts and helps area ranchers run their cattle on some of his days off.
Since Sept. 11, the terrorist attacks have been close to the surface in the Havre office at all times.
"We have an intelligence office here and a full-time intelligence officer," Finley said. "He is inundated with information coming in and going out from various other agencies."
The employees at the Havre office of the Border Patrol knew something different was going on long before Sept. 11. They just didn't know what.
"We had noticed a significant difference in work load since the first of the year and our operations seemed slightly different since the first of the year as well," Finley said.