Defending Lake Champlain is not easy. Between illegal contraband, unlawful entries and oblivious tourists, it is not a one-man - or one-agency - job.
Just ask Donald McKnight, commander of the Military Emergency Boat Service based in Latham, a part of the New York State Naval Militia.
The service provides aid to the local Border Patrol on Lake Champlain by intercepting boats crossing the Canadian-U.S. border.
"We have year-round, ongoing exercises," McKnight said. "We wanted to set up a program to inspect 100 percent of the vessels coming into the U.S."
Henry said the sheer numbers involved with patrolling the 295 miles of border in New York call for all the assistance they can get.
"We partner with a lot of different state and local agencies," said Mark Henry, an operations officer with the U.S. Border Patrol based out of Swanton, Vt. "Over the last couple of years, during the summertime, the New York State Naval Militia has been invaluable on Lake Champlain."
"Border Patrol is everybody's business," he added.
According to McKnight, a recent operation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Border Patrol found "at least one or two unlawful entries."
However, McKnight said most of the people going back and forth are tourists boating on Lake Champlain.
"We have had to chase down boats in the past," McKnight added.
McKnight described their operations as a "force multiplier," or an aid to local law enforcement, rather than an actual law authority. The service signals illegal vessels and directs them toward a Customs or Border Patrol station.
"We have become their asset," he said.
This asset is comprised of about 100 people, mostly retired or currently active military service people.
According to McKnight, 95 percent are drilling reservists, and 5 percent are either retired veterans or civilian volunteers. The statewide operations include more than 2,400 volunteers, two-thirds of which are within the New York Metropolitan area. The naval militia has also run operations in Staten Island and another near the nuclear reactors at Indian Point.
According to McKnight, if you are a New York State resident, and if you can pass a rigorous military physical test, you can join the militia. However, people with other useful talents can be utilized.
"We want people to have a military background," McKnight said. "But, there are exceptions, such as people with special skills."
The New York Naval Militia has "made a difference," defending Lake Champlain, according to Henry.
For more information on how to join the New York Naval Militia, contact McKnight at 786-4583.
Michael O'Keefe is an intern with the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.