Posts in Category: Counterdrug

Texas Counterdrug and DEA kickoff Red Ribbon Week in highflying fashion

Story by MSG Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force is continuing to provide substance use awareness and prevention efforts to youth throughout the year, but during the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Red Ribbon Week, they raise the bar, literally.

Counterdrug flew a military LUH-72 Lakota helicopter with DEA agents and a brand new eagle mascot to two Central Texas schools to kickoff Red Ribbon Week to spread substance use awareness and prevention.

“It was an amazing event and it is so important for young students to receive drug free messages,” said Amber Newby a project coordinator for the Blanco Coalition of Awareness, Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use. “The earlier they learn and the more often they hear the message and get the education, the more likely that it will sink in.”

For some schools, relaying a drug free message to younger students can be a struggle, but with partnerships of the DEA, the National Guard Counterdrug Program, the Blanco CoAPT, and Blanco and Bowie Elementary schools, the message was high-impact and well received.

“We loved seeing all of our student's reactions to the helicopter, the unity in all of the forces, and the message of the presentation,” said Blanco Elementary counselor Mindy Lay. “As the school counselor, delivering appropriate and effective messages for Red Ribbon Week can sometimes be a struggle - but this year, I think our campus nailed it!”

Counterdrug even debuted their very own mascot, Enney the Eagle, named in honor of one of the program’s first leaders who worked to create the National Guard’s law enforcement support program more than 30 years ago.

“We thought the eagle mascot was one of the best parts of the Red Ribbon event,” said Selena Dillon, a student at Bowie Elementary School in San Marcos, Texas. “We really loved the eagle, and continued to talk about it afterwards.”

The whole purpose of the event was for DEA to explain how Red Ribbon Week began and highlight substance use awareness with the ultimate goal of prevention, as students get older and possibly subjected to drugs.

“The DEA talks about the history of how Red Ribbon was started,” said Sgt. Dillon, “but the students also learn about the wide variety of dangerous drugs, to include prescription drugs, alcohol and the dangers of underage drinking, and tobacco and vapes.”

The DEA began the Red Ribbon Week initiative to honor a fallen undercover agent, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, when a drug cartel kidnapped, tortured and murdered him in Mexico in 1985.

“The DEA's substance abuse message was powerful and very age appropriate,” said Lay. “It was definitely an experience that many of us will not forget!”

Many students talked about wanting to join the military, so the Red Ribbon message showed how their choices could affect their futures.

“I want to be a Marine Corps pilot, study aerospace engineering at the University of Texas, and go on to be an astronaut,” said Dillon. “The DEA agents talked about how drugs will mess up children career goals.”

Reaching out to students at a young age is critical for developing better habits and teaching better decision making as they grow.

“I think that kids sometimes have a difficult time think ahead about how a bad decision now can have long term bad consequences down the road,” said Sgt. Blake Dillon, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Drug Demand Reduction Outreach operator. “This is where we were able to talk to the students about how important it is to remain drug free if they wish to pursue these careers.”

A key focus for the Texas Military Department is building partnerships between state, local and federal civil authorities to better serve the Texas community.

“This is where our program, DDRO, is able to have one of the biggest impacts, to facilitate and coordinate bring these partnerships together,” said Sgt. Dillon. “I think that the partnership between these organizations will have a lasting impact of drug prevention in the community.”

Being in a small city, word spreads fast and many were talking what they saw and what they heard, even if they were not there.

“The impact of this event was definitely greater than just with those present at Blanco Elementary School,” said Lay. “This surprise event has stirred some good discussions in our community.”

At Bowie Elementary in San Marcos, a special reunion happened when Sgt. Dillon arrived in style with his daughter, a student at the school, ready to greet him with open arms.

“I have been in the military for a while,” said Dillon, “and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have the type of influence that I would to have a helicopter go to my daughter’s school and have her watch me get off the helicopter.

“It has a positive influence on my daughter, which in turn allows her to grow into a leader among her pears and speak out and spread the message that drugs are not okay.”

Texas Counterdrug hosts 3rd Annual Red Ribbon 5k virtually

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force hosted its 3rd Annual Red Ribbon 5k Run/Walk virtually Oct. 23, 2020 throughout the state.

The virtual event allowed task force members and other service members from around Texas to participate even with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down group gatherings.

“Our annual Red Ribbon 5k run/walk is a great event to help spread substance use awareness,” said Lt. Col. Erika Besser, the Texas Counterdrug Task Force Coordinator.

Service members from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to Brownsville, from Houston to El Paso sent in their results to show support of the Red Ribbon campaign.

More than 85 people registered for the event posting their times, whether they ran on a treadmill or outside in pouring rain. The fastest time was by Capt. Timothy Ross logging 18 minutes and 23 seconds.

“Even during the pandemic and even if it has to be virtual,” said Besser, “this shows we are still actively working to do our part to "Protect Texas! Stop Drugs!"

The Red Ribbon campaign is in honor of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena who was tragically kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a cartel in 1985.

Texas Counterdrug supports LifeSteps for International Overdose Awareness Day

By Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

ROUND ROCK, Texas – Soldiers of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force partnered with the LifeSteps Council on Alcohol and Drugs and the Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team to create a video for Overdose Awareness Day Aug. 26 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, Texas.


Normally a live event, during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans changed to a virtual awareness message.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the planning and execution of the event,” said Sgt. David Dillon, a Drug Demand Reduction Civil Operations task force member for the Counterdrug program. “It was decided that the event would be held virtual.”

The fifth annual event helps not only bring awareness but much more to help those in need.

“It’s important to bring awareness of the increasing drug overdose issue, the lives lost, and the families and friends impacted,” said Dillon. “By bringing awareness, it allows for increasing support in science and evidence-based prevention efforts.”

The National Guard Counterdrug Program supports the communities they live and work in.

“We work with LifeSteps,” said Dillon, “a coalition that represents the Williamson County community to plan events and activities based on their needs.

“We released flowers into the lake representing the local lives lost to drug overdose.”

For more information on Overdose Awareness Day and other events, visit www.LifeStepsCouncil.org/events/

Amidst a crisis: At-Risk Youth Receive Second Chance

Story by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force

EAGLE LAKE, Texas – Broken homes. Limited Opportunities. Marginal education. Drugs. Gangs. Violence. For some children, this is everyday life with no way to escape. Their reality is something many only see on the television or in nightmares.

What they may not know, is that there is stability, opportunity and education ready for them at the Texas ChalleNGe Academy located in Eagle Lake. With the support of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force, the 16-18 year old kids get a chance.

“The youth of TCA come to us from a variety of backgrounds with a myriad of challenges,” said David De Mers, Director of the Texas ChalleNGe Academy. “For most, the challenges they face are not self-inflicted, but they are likely to be a significant determining factor in their futures.

“At TCA, we put cadets back in a position of authority in their lives by assisting youth in removing the barriers to their success,” said De Mers. “In effect, TCA is a reboot for youth.”

Since approximately 2001, the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force has supported the Youth Challenge Program with training, mentorship and coaching to help mold the cadets into a more positive lifestyle.

“It is an opportunity to give them a second chance at life and to strengthen them to become a productive adult that is able to serve its country,” said First Sgt. Celsa Reyes, the Counterdrug Drug Demand Reduction Civil Operations non-commissioned officer in charge. “The opportunity to mentor and coach TCA cadets is immensely gratifying, and can only hope we have a positive impact on their lives and future.”

The 2020 summer class has some unique challenges never before seen in the world.

“This class includes almost 40 cadets who are returning to our campus after having the last class cancelled amidst the initial COVID-19 closures across the State,” said De Mers. “Because of the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, we are not able to accept our full capacity of candidates as only 110 were invited compared to our maximum capacity of 192.”

To make sure to stop the spread of COVID-19, many protocols and measures are in place.

“TCA is closely following the guidelines described by the Center for Disease Control and the Texas Military Department,” said De Mers. “All staff and candidates were tested for COVID-19 prior to the start of this class.

“Additionally, all staff and cadets are being monitored for symptoms and temperatures daily. Staff and cadets wear facemasks all day and socially distance except in rare cases. All classrooms, living spaces, and meeting rooms are sanitized immediately after each use.”

TCA and Counterdrug provided additional measures to ensure the safety of staff and students.

“Because of COVID-19 the class size has been reduced to facilitate social distancing, three masks per cadet have been provided as well as hand sanitizer dispensers installed throughout the campus,” said Sgt. Matthew Harrison, a Counterdrug task force member helping mentor students and staff.

Working through tough circumstances is what the military accomplishes daily, and COVID-19 is no different.

“Texas could not afford to have such an essential program be stopped by a pandemic,” said Reyes. “TCA makes an everlasting impact in our community by teaching youth the necessary tools to be successful and productive members in our society while also earning credits to graduate from High School or gain a GED.”

Texas Counterdrug brings something more to the youth program partnership than just the typical Soldier does in uniform.

“Many of our youth self-attest to the casual use of drugs and alcohol in the past,” said De Mers. “Counterdrug assists with messaging to our youth, but the youth see the positive interaction and role modeling from members of our military and are drawn toward a better model of citizenship.

“Additionally, Counterdrug members bring a wide variety of expertise that is valuable to staff who serve at TCA. Many TCA staff are not former military and do not have the experience with a number of our quasi-military standards.”

The 17 1/2-month ChalleNGe program includes a 5 1/2-month residential phase and a 12-month follow-up mentorship phase.

“During the residential component, candidates earn cadet status, attend school, participate in physical exercise, and focus on the 8 core components of the Youth ChalleNGe Academy,” said De Mers.

“They are Academic Excellence, Physical Fitness, Leadership & Followership, Responsible Citizenship, Job Skills, Service to Community, Health & Hygiene, and Life Coping Skills. During the post-residential phase, staff and mentors work with graduates on their next steps in education, career, and life.”

Eagle Lake is the third location for the Texas program as Hurricane Ike forced the program to move from Galveston Island to Sheffield in 2008 before consolidating resources to the Eagle Lake campus in 2020.

Counterdrug has helped the youth and staff at every location.

“Counterdrug supports TCA by providing professional Soldiers and Airmen that can train and mentor both staff and cadets in current standard operating procedures, in Drill and ceremony, physical fitness, leadership, etcetera,” said Harrison.

“With schools closed, unemployment high and most things a young adult likes to do closed, TCA is the best opportunity in these times to further their academic career and consequently their professional career.”

Many youth within the state struggle each day to survive in their environment and the Texas ChalleNGe Academy is working diligently to provide a safe, secure and empowering atmosphere for their cadets.

“We believe that there are youth throughout Texas that need this program, and we believe we can make this a safe location for programming by following the guidance that is available,” said De Mers. “We recognize that there is risk in any program that connects people together, however, the youth who are at greatest risk in our communities deserve the opportunities that this program provides.”

Georgia Guardsmen provide support to Texas Guard and Law Enforcement partners

Story and Photos by SSgt De'Jon Williams, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard

Army and Air National Guard members from various states stationed along the Southwest Texas border work together with their local, state and federal law enforcement partners.

Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)


National Guard members provide support for a variety of tasks on behalf of the U.S. Border Patrol in an effort to allow more agents to protect our nation’s border directly in the field.

One way in which the National Guard assists Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is by surveilling illegal activity along the Rio Grande. Specialized trucks called Mobile Video Surveillance Systems (MVSS) give National Guard Soldiers and Airmen the capability to monitor a vast area of land along the border.

“Our job here is to be on the border in these trucks, observing the river and calling up what we see,” said Cpl. Thomas Leroux, an MVSS truck team commander.” The main objective is to deter any illegal activity between the United States and Mexico.”

MVSS truck commanders, or “TC’s” serve as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the site they are assigned to during a shift. They are also responsible for the maintaining of equipment used during operations.

“A big part of what I do is communicate with Border Patrol,” Leroux said. “I’m primarily responsible for the equipment and the relay of information.”


MVSS truck teams consist of the TC and a driver, who also serves as the equipment operator. Leroux is often partnered with Spc. Joshua Smoak, the driver for their team.


“Mainly my job is to get us from point A to point B without getting us stuck in the mud,” Smoak said. “I get us here, make sure we’re in a position where if anything does happen, we can get out safely and quickly. I also make sure I position the truck where the camera has the best visibility while also keeping it somewhat hidden.”

There are multiple teams of soldiers along the border using these trucks and other similar vehicles. For their team, Leroux and Smoak are using next generation scope trucks with night and day camera capabilities.

“On this truck, the main equipment is the cameras in the back,” Smoak said. “One is a normal camera, and the other is a heat signature camera. We can pull them up separately if we need to. They extend up about 30 feet, which is good to see over all the trees. We also use the laptop inside the truck, which is how we communicate with the cameras.”

Cpl. Thomas Leroux, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System truck commander, studies a computer screen in Rio Grande City, Texas, Dec 21, 2019. Leroux leads one of many two-man Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck teams along the Southwest Texas border. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Cpl. Thomas Leroux, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System truck commander, studies a computer screen in Rio Grande City, Texas, Dec 21, 2019. Leroux leads one of many two-man Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck teams along the Southwest Texas border. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)

These trucks are assigned to each MVSS team at the beginning of their shift at various Border Patrol stations. The teams check out their trucks and begin their shift at the sites where they spend most of their shift.

“Once we get to the site, we do a transfer of authority (TOA),” Leroux said. “We do that with the group we are relieving. We transfer equipment, ammunition and paperwork. I complete the required paperwork and get accountability for the equipment. At the same time, I’ll discuss with the other group what happened on the previous shift.”



Leroux explains that during a TOA, the previous team transfers all the equipment and relays all the information from the prior shift. After this, the previous team is relieved, and the site is now his team’s responsibility.

In the meantime, the driver is also doing his part to participate in the TOA.

Spc. Thomas Leroux writes in his logbook Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. Mobile Video Surveillance System teams keep a log of their findings while on duty. MVSS truck team leaders keep a log of their activities throughout their shift. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Spc. Thomas Leroux writes in his logbook Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. Mobile Video Surveillance System teams keep a log of their findings while on duty. MVSS truck team leaders keep a log of their activities throughout their shift. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)


“When we first get here, my first job is to park the truck in a somewhat concealed position so that scouts on the other side can’t easily detect us,” Smoak said. “While he’s doing the TOA, my job is to get the equipment on the truck up and running.”


Smoak gets his camera and equipment up and running while the previous team continues to operate theirs. This protocol ensures that there is no gap in coverage of the area.

After the TOA is complete, Leroux and Smoak begin their shift monitoring the border.

“Throughout the day I keep the scan and surveillance going,” Smoak said. “Sometime there is action, sometimes there’s not, but it is how it is sometimes. At the end of the day the relief comes in and it’s the same process as before. I ensure continuous reconnaissance the entire time until the next team gets their scan up and going.”

Through technological prowess and Soldiers’ own vigilance, Leroux and Smoak have provided the Border Patrol with intelligence that has led to more than 90 apprehensions, 62 turn backs and a seizure of more than 235 pounds of narcotics since the beginning of the mission. 

Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)
Cpl. Thomas Leroux and Spc. Joshua Smoak, a Task Force-Volunteer Mobile Video Surveillance System Truck team, view a computer screen in their Mobile Video Surveillance System truck Dec. 21, 2019 in Rio Grande City, Texas. The MVS truck cameras are displayed on computer screens inside the truck. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. De’Jon Williams)



Of all the missions he supports, drug interdiction provides Leroux with the greatest fulfillment. Leroux said that participating in drug seizures is particularly rewarding for him because he “can physically see the fruits of [his] labor.” Particularly, Leroux was proud of “the feeling that I was a part of stopping that much of such a dangerous and harmful substance from making it into our country. I feel like we’re literally defending our nation.” Leroux then stated that for him, the mission has some elements which are personal: “I stopped drugs from getting within four blocks of a school, that’s huge! I have children and the idea that they would be in a place that is dangerous or subjected to that kind of environment is terrible. So, the idea that I’m able to prevent that is phenomenal! It’s great, I love it!”

This is the first time Leroux and Smoak have performed a mission like this, but it is one they both find rewarding.


“I had a lot of preconceptions before coming out here,” Smoak said. “There’s schools and kids and all this life right here… I’m just really happy that we’re able to help protect them [and] help secure this area so that they can live a normal, happy life. The safer the border is, the safer they can feel, the safer they can keep living their lives.”

 

Texas Counterdrug supports Red Ribbon events throughout the state

Story by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce

AUSTIN, Texas – Red Ribbon week has grown since its inception in 1988 educating the public about the hazards of drug abuse. This year, the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force stepped up their support to law enforcement agencies and community anti-drug coalitions to bring this message to communities around the state. 

Members of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force support El Paso Drug Enforcement Administration during Take Back Day to receive unused prescriptions. (Courtesy Photo, Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce)
Members of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force support El Paso Drug Enforcement Administration during Take Back Day to receive unused prescriptions. (Courtesy Photo, Texas Joint Counterdrug Taskforce)

Drug free starts with me.

“Red Ribbon is about educating the community on drug awareness and the negative impact drugs have on individuals and society,” said Counterdrug civil operations noncommissioned officer in charge, Master Sgt. Celsa Reyes.

The Counterdrug task force started with teaching Girls Scouts in Liberty Hill, Texas with a rock wall, dunk tank and a helicopter, showcasing the various capabilities of the program.

“It was a challenging experience since it was the first time collaborating with Girl Scouts but a great opportunity to involve us and a great success,” said Reyes.

Over the next few weeks, task force members sponsored a Red Ribbon 5k Run, stood side-by-side with Drug Enforcement Administration agents for prescription drug Take Back Day, and went to 39 schools in 12 cities giving briefings and handing out red wrist bands as a reminder to stay drug free.

“Getting the message to youth across the nation on the danger of using drugs is a very important announcement that can save many lives,” said Master Sgt. Almera Rose, an assistant team leader for the Counterdrug program. “To reach out as many audience as possible, the message must be said repetitively in different ways. One way of doing that is through red ribbon week.”

The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force flew Drug Enforcement Administration special agents in an Army National Guard Luh-72 Lakota helicopter to five Austin-area schools to talk about drug abuse prevention and awareness. (US Army National Guard Photo by Master Sgt. Johnie Smith)
The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force flew Drug Enforcement Administration special agents in an Army National Guard Luh-72 Lakota helicopter to five Austin-area schools to talk about drug abuse prevention and awareness. (US Army National Guard Photo by Master Sgt. Johnie Smith)

A new initiative with the DEA was to fly an Army National Guard LUH-72 Lakota helicopter to various Austin-area schools and giving a short message from a DEA agent about what students needed to watch for as they grow up and are possibly subjected to illicit drugs.

“We hope our Texas communities understand the commitment and passion we, National Guard members, have towards drug prevention and education programs,” said Reyes. “Through the use of our helicopter, this event becomes memorable to our children and assists them in staying drug free.”

Each student body then raised their right hand and repeated a pledge to do well in school and stay drug free.

Even the school mascot in Dripping Springs, Texas made an appearance from the helicopter where children erupted in cheer as Timmy the Tiger stepped out with arms wide.

The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force flew Drug Enforcement Administration special agents in an Army National Guard Luh-72 Lakota helicopter to five Austin-area schools to talk about drug abuse prevention and awareness. (Courtesy Photo, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force)
The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force flew Drug Enforcement Administration special agents in an Army National Guard Luh-72 Lakota helicopter to five Austin-area schools to talk about drug abuse prevention and awareness. (Courtesy Photo, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force)

“It shows that the community cares,” said Senior Master Sgt. Kira Harris, the Counterdrug comptroller noncommissioned officer in charge and Dripping Springs native. “When we stepped off the helicopter, the kids screamed for Timmy the Tiger like he was a rock star.”

Red Ribbon Week is in honor of DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena after his capture, torture and murder at the hands of a Mexican drug cartel in 1985. Task force members were a part of an event in which Mika Camarena, Enrique’s wife, spoke in Dallas, Texas, honoring her husband.

“Carrying on the legacy of “Kiki” Camarena is a constant reminder of how lucrative and dangerous the illegal drug business can be,” said Rose, “and if you get in their way, you will get hurt somehow.”

Before he joined the DEA, Camarena wanted to be part of the solution to take back communities and protect children from the criminals that would harm them for illicit profit.

“Red Ribbon events remind us that people like DEA special agent Enrique Camarena have laid their lives in the fight against drugs,” said Reyes.

Soldier

Texas Counterdrug commemorates 30th Anniversary of law enforcement support

Story by: Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura

Photo By Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura | Col. Miguel Torres and Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Harless cut the Counterdrug's 30th Anniversary cake. Current and former task force members reunited with their law enforcement and community partners to commemorate the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force's 30 years of support to law enforcement agencies, Aug. 7, 2019, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Counterdrug law enforcement partners in attendance included the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, three out of the four Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area directors, two of the three Drug Enforcement Administration field division special agents in charge, the Texas Department Public Safety, the Texas Rangers and the Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Division. The law enforcement partners were presented with a 30th Anniversary certificate of appreciation and a 30th anniversary commemorative Counterdrug coin. As part of the ceremony, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brandon Briggs was awarded as the Counterdrug Bil Enney Task Force Member of the Year and Staff Sgt. Tiffany Carrion was awarded as the Texas Criminal Analyst of the Year. Maj. Gen. Dawn Ferrell, the Texas Military Department Deputy Adjutant General-Air, presided over the ceremony with several other TMD leadership in attendance.
Photo By Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura | Col. Miguel Torres and Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Harless cut the Counterdrug's 30th Anniversary cake. Current and former task force members reunited with their law enforcement and community partners to commemorate the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force's 30 years of support to law enforcement agencies, Aug. 7, 2019, at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Counterdrug law enforcement partners in attendance included the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, three out of the four Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area directors, two of the three Drug Enforcement Administration field division special agents in charge, the Texas Department Public Safety, the Texas Rangers and the Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Division. The law enforcement partners were presented with a 30th Anniversary certificate of appreciation and a 30th anniversary commemorative Counterdrug coin. As part of the ceremony, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brandon Briggs was awarded as the Counterdrug Bil Enney Task Force Member of the Year and Staff Sgt. Tiffany Carrion was awarded as the Texas Criminal Analyst of the Year. Maj. Gen. Dawn Ferrell, the Texas Military Department Deputy Adjutant General-Air, presided over the ceremony with several other TMD leadership in attendance.

AUSTIN, Texas— Current and former task force members reunited with their law enforcement and community partners to commemorate the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force’s 30 years of support to law enforcement agencies, Aug. 7, 2019, at Camp Mabry. 

The National Guard Counterdrug program, was established by congressional legislation in 1989, with a mission to leverage unique military capabilities, national resources, and community focus in the nation's response to drugs and associated security threats. 

“The National Guard Counterdrug Program was one of the most brilliant acts our U.S. Congress established 30 years ago,” Col. Miguel Torres, Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Coordinator said. “This program allows the Citizen-Soldier to support law enforcement agencies down to our communities, making it a solid grass roots initiative.”

With miles of border and numerous bridges and border crossings, Texas is prime real estate for major drug trafficking organizations to operate, but not without a fight from the task force. 

Shortly after President Reagan declared a “War on Drugs”, the Texas National Guard was one of the first states to conduct counter-narcotics support missions with law enforcement.

“Cartels and drugs do not discriminate and show no mercy,” said Torres. “The Counterdrug program adds a layer of support and hope to our communities, our great state of Texas and our national security.”

Counterdrug law enforcement partners in attendance included the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, three out of the four Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area directors, two of the three Drug Enforcement Administration field division special agents in charge, the Texas Department Public Safety, the Texas Rangers and the Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Division. 

The law enforcement partners were presented with a 30th Anniversary certificate of appreciation and a 30th anniversary commemorative Counterdrug coin. 

As part of the ceremony, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brandon Briggs was awarded as the Counterdrug Bil Enney Task Force Member of the Year and Staff Sgt. Tiffany Carrion was awarded as the Texas Criminal Analyst of the Year. 

In addition, Arthur Doty, a DEA senior executive from Washington D.C., was the law enforcement guest speaker. 

“Terrible people do terrible things, but in order to get them into the court room you have to synthesize this,” said Doty pointing to a photo of multiple stacks of case evidence in a presentation. “And don’t forget the electronic version. The only way we are going to do that is with the relationship with the Guard and law enforcement. 

“You take the best and brightest in the National Guard and combine them with our law enforcement analysts and case agents and synthesize that into something a courtroom, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and a jury will understand.”

Leaders from the Massachusetts, New Mexico and Mississippi Counterdrug programs also attended to commemorate the national program’s success. 

“I love the fact this is the 30th anniversary and we are proud of that history,” said Doty. “The relationship between the Guard and our law enforcement has to grow. This is our community, our state, our country and we become all the stronger when we work together. On the behalf of all law enforcement personnel, we thank you for support to us as well.”

Maj. Gen. Dawn Ferrell, the Texas Military Department Deputy Adjutant General – Air, presided over the ceremony with several other TMD leadership in attendance. 

“In my opinion, it is the worst epidemic problems that we have in our country when 70,000 U.S. citizens die from drug-related overdoses in a year,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, the 36th Infantry Division commander. “One thing about the Guard is that we are a community-based organization, at the grass roots---it’s how we were built. 

“It shows we were organized from the very beginning and working with our partners in an intergovernmental agency relationship is how we get after the problem.”

Hamilton, previously presided over the Counterdrug program when he served as the Domestic Operations Task Force Commander.

“The thing to me, as a Division commander, a combat commander, who has troops who serve---the Counterdrug program is not what I think people feared; that it would be a distractor to the readiness of our force,” said Hamilton. 

“It was exactly the opposite. The Soldiers who I have serving the program are physically fit because they have to be because they are on active duty, they are medically ready and because of the way Title 32 was written they have to be able to train with my formation to maintain their readiness and be available for deployment at any time. Counterdrug is a readiness enhancer for our force.”

The 30 years of the program’s history are marked by parks that are built in the place of demolished drug houses, record multi-billion dollar drug seizures, positively impacted at-risk youth, and has enhanced law enforcement agency’s capabilities. 

Hamilton recalled attending Operation Crackdown, where Counterdrug engineers knocked down a home known for illicit drug activity.

“I’ve seen it first hand, a crack house getting knocked down in a neighborhood and hours later watching kids play soccer on an empty lot that was a crack house 24 hours before with people dealing and using drugs,” said Hamilton. “That is getting after what the problem is in communities. That folks, is why we have a Counterdrug program and why it needs to continue to be successful.”

Texas Counterdrug Guardsmen educate Burnet Middle School students at wellness fair

-A student of Burnet Middle School holds a Texas National Guard Counterdrug Task Force t-shirt BURNET, Texas---A student of Burnet Middle School holds a Texas National Guard Counterdrug Task Force t-shirt during Join the Journey’s Safe and Drug Free Wellness Fair in Burnet, Texas, February 7, 2019. Sgt. Irma Flores and Spc. Jacob Raygo of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force supported the event. The Task Force members encouraged students to try on fatal vision goggles and try to catch a ball. The exercise is intended to educate them on the negative effects of drug and alcohol use. The Join the Journey fair began 6 years ago with the goal of addressing drug use in the community. Local law enforcement, coalitions and wellness organizations also attended the event. Counterdrug Task Force members routinely partner and participate in drug use awareness and prevention events to educate their local communities.

Operation Crackdown gives Texas neighborhoods hope for a better tomorrow

Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles

Texas Military Department

 

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Courtesy Photo | Army National Guard Maj. Travis Urbanek, officer in charge of Operation Crackdown, coordinates the demolition of and abandoned home in Robstown, Texas, Aug. 11, 2017. Operation Crackdown, a component of the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force, supports local governments in removing dilapidated structures that are known to shelter the sale and use of illegal drugs. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Yuliana Patterson)

CAMP MABRY, Texas—The paint fades and peels. Shattered glass collects on windowsills. Gigantic holes rot through doors and shingled rooftops. These were homes once—symbols of safety, pride and togetherness. Now they have become portraits of neglect.

When these neglected homes are known to shelter illegal drug activities, Operation Crackdown, a component of the Texas National Guard’s Joint Counterdrug Task Force, helps cities remove them. Demolition of dilapidated structures is one of the unique military capabilities Texas Counterdrug leverages to support law enforcement agencies and local communities in the detection, interdiction, and disruption of drug trafficking.

Abandoned homes threaten the peace of mind of community members, such as Robstown, Texas, residents Mandy Carrion and Romelia Yanez, who recognize the risks they engender for children, for the homeless and for pets.

“Kids, homeless and drug addicts all hang out in there,” Carrion said. “Kids go in there, and the buildings could collapse.”

"A lot of people stay sometimes weeks, months,” Yanez told television station KRIS in August. “And so many homeless in there. And sometimes they die."

Operation Crackdown tore down 32 abandoned structures in Robstown between Aug. 8 and Aug. 17 this year, using funds seized from drug manufacturing or distribution operations.

It removed a hundred such structures from neighborhoods in Robstown, Harlingen and Laredo in 2017, said Maj. Travis Urbanek, the officer in charge. More than 1,500 abandoned structures have been removed over the years.

Community members are pleased to see the structures removed because they create problems that require attention from various local agencies, Urbanek said.

“In addition to the obvious drug problem, removing these structures reduces the burden on public safety, whether it’s the police department, fire department, EMS or animal control,” he said.

Operation Crackdown personnel and city officials work together to line up the demolitions; then, Texas National Guardsmen knock them down.

Spc. Jeremiah M. Thompson, a heavy equipment operator with the 822nd Horizontal Engineering Unit out of Brownwood, said it is gratifying to see that community members appreciate the efforts that guard members put in to minimize illegal activity such as drug use and prostitution.

“You can see the civilians’ faces full of excitement about waking up to a better tomorrow in their neighborhoods,” he said.

Thompson also enjoys showing Texans how the Texas National Guard serves communities.

“Here’s Texas stepping in helping Texans, not just leaving the drug problem in the federal government’s hands,” Thompson said.

Guard units are scheduled to return to Robstown in early 2018 to demolish 30 more buildings, said Urbanek, who projects that Operation Crackdown will eventually remove all 160 structures the city has identified.

“It’s something that we’re going to continue to do because it makes an immediate and visible impact in those communities,” he said.