REYNOSA, Mexico – Putting country before fear and family, the day-to-day lives of the hundreds of Mexican soldiers deployed in the northeastern border city of Reynosa are marked by frontal assaults against organized crime groups, often resulting in casualties.
Maj. Isaias Lorenzo is in charge of guarding a stash of arms seized from drug cartels, stored at the 8th Military Zone in Reynosa, in the state of Tamaulipas.
The warehouse holds a large assortment of long guns and handguns of various calibers, even including rocket launchers, as well as several barrels filled to the brim with bullets.
A notice at the entrance says the stash is comprised of around 1,000 handguns, 2,000 long guns, 20,000 magazines and 1 million rifle cartridges, that is, about one bullet for every man, woman and child in the Reynosa metropolitan area, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities.
“This is a very difficult area regarding security, but this is my job and it has to be done,” the major, who has served in Reynosa for more than 33 years, told EFE.
Despite being an engine for economic growth because of its assembly plants, Reynosa, located across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas, is notorious for intense turf battles among drug gangs and clashes pitting organized crime groups against federal security forces.
Even though casualties are common on both sides – one soldier was killed and 23 others were wounded in January alone – the troops deployed in this region face their challenging day-to-day existence with stoicism.
Military operations at times lead to the death of a fellow soldier, who is seen by his peers as a hero who “sacrificed his life” for the country, Col. Luis Andres Gutierrez, commander of the 600-strong 19th Motorized Cavalry Regiment, said.
Lt. Col. Carlos Dario Duque has experienced up close the pain and wounds caused by violence in Reynosa, admitting to EFE that “constant vacancies” are created.
If a soldier is wounded in a shootout, combat medics stabilize him and tend to his wounds, and if he is critically injured he is taken to a special hospital.
“We can overcome this stressful and dangerous situation, because we do it with conviction and vocation,” the 28-year army veteran said.