WASHINGTON — An Illinois congressman is getting a firsthand look at the military’s controversial southern border mission after his guard unit was deployed there earlier this week.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a five-term Republican congressman who serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, said Wednesday that he was departing to serve in the ongoing border support mission for the next few weeks.

The lawmaker flies the Air Guard’s RC-26 surveillance plane and recently wrote a commentary for Air Force Times calling for the Guard to reverse its decision to retire the aircraft.

“The congressman is humbled to serve his (Illinois) community here in the people’s House and equally proud to serve as a reconnaissance pilot in the Air National Guard,” his office said in a statement.

“In both of these roles, Congressman Kinzinger fights to make our national security stronger, our border more secure, and our communities safer.”

Kinzinger previously served in the active-duty Air Force and flew missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and South America. His office said he has previously deployed to help with Department of Homeland Security border security efforts.

But this is the first deployment there for the representative since President Donald Trump announced his controversial active-duty military deployment to the border last fall. Since October, that force has at times swelled to more than 5,000 troops, and their mission has been extended until at least September.

That move came six months after defense officials authorized as many as 4,000 National Guard troops to be sent to assist with border security operations. Several state governors have threatened to recall those service members over political fights connected to the president’s immigration policies.

During a CNN interview two weeks ago, Kinzinger said he supported the president’s calls for an expanded wall along the U.S. southern border, but said he thought Trump needed to do a better job negotiating with Democrats to find a compromise on the broader issues.

“I think we need comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “But we have to be realistic and say we shouldn’t and we can’t deport all these people from the United States of America.”

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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