A Georgia National Guard soldier assigned to the federalized National Guard mission at the southwestern border was arrested and charged with manslaughter Sunday morning.
Within hours, a ban on alcohol consumption and a new curfew for all Guardsmen on the Title 10 border mission was instated, Army Times has learned.
Spc. Bianca Farmer was driving a GSA rental vehicle with two other soldiers on Interstate 2 in McAllen, Texas, when she lost control of the vehicle and struck a pair of light poles, according to a source familiar with the incident. The source spoke with Army Times on condition of anonymity in order to discuss an ongoing investigation.
First responders quickly arrived on scene and pronounced Spc. Nashyra Whitaker of the Louisiana National Guard deceased. An NCO from the Georgia National Guard suffered non-life threatening injuries, according to the source.
According to jail records available online, the McAllen Police Department arrested the driver, Farmer, and charged her with intoxicated manslaughter with a vehicle, driving while intoxicated and intoxicated assault with a vehicle.
The soldiers were all assigned to Joint Task Force-North, which consists of more than 3,000 troops from the Guard and other components of the military providing detection and monitoring, logistics and transportation support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Eduardo Natividad, JTF-North spokesperson, told Army Times that the command “has no further information to provide” on the crash beyond the Louisiana National Guard’s public acknowledgement of Whitaker’s death, “as there is currently an ongoing investigation.”
The crash was only the most recent in a string of service member deaths among the Guard troops assigned to JTF-North.
Last month, an Alabama National Guard soldier died of COVID-19 while isolating in his hotel room two weeks after a positive test.
And in July, a Louisiana National Guard soldier — who was assigned to the same company as Whitaker, the soldier killed Sunday — died when multiple civilian vehicles struck him while crossing a McAllen street at 3:30 a.m. local time. A source with knowledge of that incident told Army Times that officials believe the soldier was intoxicated.
New alcohol policy and curfew
Within hours of the accident, the commander of the Guard task force on the mission issued a new policy memo completely banning possession and consumption of alcohol for all Guard troops on the Title 10 border mission. Army Times obtained a copy of the memo.
“The current environment, processes, and procedure within the Joint Operations Area of Operation Phoenix Guard are failing to prevent alcohol related misconduct,” said Col. Bradley Leonard, commander of the 110th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and Task Force Phoenix, in the memo. “This destructive behavior has irrevocable and fatal consequences[,] and without my immediate action, puts our [servicemembers] and civilians as well as this mission in dire risk.”
In the memo, Leonard instituted a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for all troops assigned to the task force, save for those on the night shift.
He also ordered that all servicemembers “will not consume or possess any alcohol,” in addition to stricter vehicle accountability measures.
There have also been other alcohol-related incidents, including ones involving sexual assault and sexual harassment, within the task force, said the source with knowledge of the incidents.
A Maine National Guard soldier was charged with kidnapping, two counts of sexual abuse, and one count of aggravated assault after an incident that occurred in Arizona in December.
The policy changes are driven by a need for safety, Leonard explained in the memo.
“These measures will combat this destructive behavior to ensure our [servicemembers] return home alive and safe,” he said.
Natividad, the JTF-North spokesperson, confirmed the new policy and characterized it as “typical of those implemented for service members during deployments.”
“For the safety of service members deployed in support of the Southwest Border mission, policies have been in place since January 2021 that limit alcohol consumption,” he said. “A zero tolerance policy, issued on September 5, 2021, is now in effect.”
Natividad did not respond to questions about why the alcohol policy was not implemented after the July death, which a source said also involved alcohol.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.