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Aviation enforcement supports Customs and Border Protection

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TUCSON, Ariz. -

They work for the Office of Air and Marine as highly skilled helicopter pilots and rescue personnel -- many of them with wartime experience.

Just don't call them the Border Patrol -- they don't like that.  They're the Office of Air and Marine, part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service.  And at the Tucson air branch, this Black Hawk helicopter is their office -- where they do a lot more than just patrol the border.

On a blustery day in Tucson, we took off aboard the CPB Office of Air and Marine helicopter -- a Sikorsky Black Hawk.

"We provide a full spectrum of support, from aerial intradiction to search and rescue to logistical support or ongoing operations on the border," said Mickey Hohol, an aviation enforcement officer.

On this day, Hohol was one of several agents taking part in a training exercise at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base -- and all are part of CPB's search, trauma and rescue team.

On the flight plan that day was fast rope insertions from about 30 feet, with four agents quickly exiting the helicopter.

It's the same technique agents used during the actual rescue in the Ft. Huachuca Mountains on August 11, 2012.  Two agents were roped to the side of the mountain to stabilize and walk out a missing hiker.

Agents also fast roped to help a woman stranded on a mountainside near Tucson in December 2012.  Unable to walk, the agents then hooked up a litter to short-haul the woman to safety.

Short hauls are another technique they train for.  Take a look at the video -- an agent hooks himself to a litter, carrying a life-sized dummy.  With a quick thumbs up, the helicopter lifts off and carries both away.

Of course, the air team's primary mission is to support federal agents in the field.

In one rescue, an undocumented immigrant was rescued from a steep face cliff after trying to avoid officers on the ground.  He was later taken into custody.

"Whenever there is an injured undocumented immigrant or injured agent, we usually come on scene to facilitate his rescue and provide critical care and evacuation to a high level of care," said Hohol.

And come summer, these agents will be very busy, helping illegal immigrants left stranded without enough water.

"In the summers, the high temperatures and the lack of water in these deserts.. a lot of the undocumented immigrants fall prey to the elements," said Hohol.

Back to the training session.  These guys are pros and their Black Hawk helicopter isn't bad either.

"What I can say is we are provided with a very capable aircraft," said Hohol.

The O.A.M. is the world's largest aviation and maritime law enforcement organization.  Besides 260 aircraft, including planes, helicopters and drones, it also operates 290 water craft along the nation's coastline and waterways.

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