HARLINGEN — “Can I get on? Can I get on?”
The children at Travis Elementary School leaned close toward the all-terrain vehicle where U.S. Border Patrol Agent R. Rocha carefully placed a helmet over eager faces.
“My head is too big,” said Jason Martinez, 9.
“Is it?” replied Rocha. “Try this one on.”
Border Patrol agents brought their jobs and “assets” to the Travis playground Friday where a pair of horses, a boat and a K-9 unit awaited the children’s eager explorations. Several agents with the Border Patrol Community Liaison Unit spent the morning with the kids, talking about their jobs and how they use their equipment.
“Our goal is to maintain a good relationship with our community and our schools,” said Agent Eli Castellanos. “Our goal is to maintain community awareness of what agents’ duties are.”
The opportunity for new experiences sent a thrill through the kids, who eagerly gravitated to one attraction and then another.
“This is my first time seeing a horse,” remarked Adonis Herrera, 9, as classmates crowded around one horse and then another.
Certainly the horses had seen rough terrain, serving as mounts for agents patrolling harsh country away from traveled roads. However, Friday morning the gentle beasts stood quietly as the children with wide eyes and tender hands became acquainted with them. Kbay, one of the horses, bowed his head as if in humble gratitude as children petted him.
“It’s really nice, actually,” said Kyarah Medrano, 11.
“I get to see all the animals and how they work,” she said. “I think it’s pretty cool. We get to see everything.”
Travis Elementary has had a partnership with the Border Patrol for several years, the only one of its kind in Cameron County, said Principal Beulah Rangel.
“I want my students to be exposed to careers at an early age,” she said as still more children arrived on the playground. They gathered around a patrol boat or the playful animal that was part of the K-9 unit and asked agents a continuous stream of questions.
“I want them to be thinking about what they want to do when they grow up,” Rangel said. “I want them to see the agents as good guys. Yes, they carry guns, they patrol our borders. But they are people just like us and they work hard like we do.”
Agent E. Rocha seemed invigorated by all the youthful clamor and curiosity, that kind of feverish curiosity which can only come from the discovery of things fresh and new.
“I love it when they ask questions,” Rocha said. “We encourage it.”
Agent E. Martinez spoke to the kids about the patrol boat parked on the playground. He used to be part of a unit that uses boats to patrol the Rio Grande, and he was delighted by the students’ enthusiasm.
“They want to get on,” he said. “I’m really excited for the kids. A lot of kids have never experienced being on a boat, never seen a horse. Some have never touched a big animal like that, or ATVs.”
For some, the event offered a chance to explore something new, to discover it for themselves. For others, it was a chance to build on previous experiences.
“I love it, I love it,” said Marie Ruelas, 10, as she ran her hand across Kbay’s nose.
“I love the horses,” she said. “They are adorable.”
She had thought Border Patrol horses would be more rough around the edges, considering their precarious occupations.
But … “They are tough horses but they are just the same as the rest,” she said with pointed eloquence.