A team of soldiers with 610th Engineer Support Company attach a string of concertina wire to the border fence at San Luis, Ariz., on March 14, 2019.

A team of soldiers with 610th Engineer Support Company attach a string of concertina wire to the border fence at San Luis, Ariz., on March 14, 2019. (Ben K. Navratil/U.S. Army)

AUSTIN, Texas — An Army private from California was found dead during the weekend as he served as part of the Defense Department’s mission along the U.S.-Mexico border, the service said Monday.

Pfc. Steven Hodges, 20, of Menifee, which is about 35 miles south of San Bernardino in Southern California, was found dead Saturday, according to a news release from the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Hodges was deployed with the division’s 1st “Tomahawk” Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.

Hodges’ death occurred near Nogales, Ariz., about 65 miles south of Tucson, according to a statement released Monday from U.S. Northern Command, which oversees the mission to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection along the southern border.

The military, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI are investigating circumstances surrounding the death, though foul play is not suspected, according to the NORTHCOM statement. The FBI is investigating because the death occurred on federal land.

“Every soldier in the Tomahawk Battalion is an essential member of our team. The loss of any soldier is deeply felt,” said Lt. Col. Sean Lyons, the battalion commander. “We are grateful for all the young men and women who volunteer to serve our nation. We are humbled at the sacrifices their families continue to make on a daily basis, Steven and his family are in our prayers.”

Hodges enlisted in the Army in 2017 and joined his current unit in February 2018 as a grenadier, according to the division’s news release. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.

About 2,100 active-duty servicemembers are deployed along the southern border with Mexico. The majority of troops work as part of a mobile surveillance mission using Border Patrol equipment to observe and report to agents instances in which migrants cross the border illegally. Other duties include logistical, aviation and food-service support.

The mission began about one year ago with the National Guard and expanded to include active-duty troops in late October. It is expected to end Sept. 30. Twitter: @Rose_Lori

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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