EDINBURG — Hundreds of national guard members sat side by side Wednesday, as they do along the border, with Texas Department of Safety troopers for a meal normally shared with relatives.

More than 200 National Guard and over 200 state troopers are stationed in the Rio Grande Valley as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, according to DPS Lt. Christopher Olivarez.

Many sent to the area on assignment missed Thanksgiving with their families, but on Wednesday, Abbott, DPS Director Steven C. McCraw, Texas Major General Tracy R. Norris, state Rep. Oscar Longoria and others donned gloves and grabbed cooking tongs to serve a Tex-Mex holiday meal at the DPS hangar in Edinburg.

“Would you like chicken, beef or pork?” Abbott asked service members and troopers approaching his station serving iconic Delia’s tamales.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks with Texas National Guard members as he serves tamales Thursday at the South Texas International Airport in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

After making their selection, mostly all who received their tamal headed for their tables, but First Lt. George Kilgore, 29, took a little longer with the governor.

“I just wanted to let him know that I was from Georgia and that I came here,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore served in the Georgia Army National Guard for six years but a recent mission to Texas changed his trajectory.

“My wife was actually a service member of the Georgia Army National Guard, and our unit, our task force, came over here on Operation Guardian Support from 2019 to 2020,” Kilgore said.

He liked the way the Texas Army National Guard conducted itself, he said, and made the decision to transfer to the Lone Star State. Texas had already altered his life in significant ways. 

“We met here,” Kilgore said, referring to his wife. “We met in McAllen. We got married in McAllen.”

Kilgore is one of many not spending the holidays with their families, however.

“I would much rather my soldiers get their holidays than I get my holidays, sometimes,” Kilgore said.

He’s exchanged his day off with another to give them time with their families.

Plates were covered with slices of turkey served by the DPS director, mashed potato and gravy poured out by the major general, green beans, corn, cranberry sauce and jalapeños spooned out by Texas representatives and tamales by the governor.

Laughter and chatter filled the hangar.

Texas National Guardsman Chris Potter takes a photo with Gov. Greg Abbott as he serves tamales to Texas state toppers and members of the Texas National Guard at the South Texas International Airport in Edinburg on Thursday. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“The morale is at an all-time high because we have a lot of support from the governor, we have a lot of support from the Texas legislature as well as our state leadership, especially when it comes to working border operations,” Olivarez said.

Longoria, of House District 35, lingered after all the meals were served.

“The fact that a lot of these individuals aren’t from South Texas so that they sacrifice their time with their families, especially during the holidays to come down here and work operations tells a lot about their character,” Longoria said. “It’s the least we can do to welcome them into the community.”

Operation Lone Star began in March when DPS troopers surged to Starr County. The governor formally introduced the program focusing on human smuggling and interdictions in the Rio Grande Valley on March 9. Thousands of citations, warnings and hundreds of arrests have followed in the months since its inception as the program shifted throughout the southern border counties. 

Abbott mentioned the seizure of drugs, like fentanyl and methamphetamine, and multiple arrests that have been tracked by DPS under Operation Lone Star, but he did not mention when the mission might wrap up.

“You’re always going to have a DPS presence, because we have a lot of rural areas in South Texas,” Rep. Longoria said. “Once you see maybe a little more calmness where there are not so many issues going on the frontera, or on the border, I think at that point you can kind of look to scale back.”

View Monitor photojournalist Joel Martinez’s full photo gallery of the meal distribution below:

Photo Gallery: Thanksgiving meals served to Texas service members and troopers