Story by Master Sgt. Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force
AUSTIN, Texas – During the past two years, life as we had grown accustomed to has drastically changed. From a global pandemic to several calls for National Guard support, the members of the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force have adjusted and thrived.
When the COVID-19 virus shut the country down, law enforcement agencies had to come up with new ways to detect, interdict and disrupt drug trafficking in the state without operations slowing down.
“One of the first things I did was reach out to our law enforcement partners stating that we would continue to be by their side and assist,” said Lt. Col. Erika Besser, the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Coordinator. “Continuity of our support is critical. If they are out there, we are out there.
“Sometimes that meant thinking of new and different ways to maintain our support, like working remotely. My preference will always be working side by side because collaboration and interaction are pivotal to successful partnerships, but we had to balance that with safety concerns.”
Members of the Texas Counterdrug Task Force have come up with new ways to stay relevant and fight the threat as they have for more than 30 years.
During 2021, although there were different challenges, service members still supported law enforcement in seizing more than $350 million in drugs, bulk cash, vehicles and property, as well as nearly 4,200 weapons. The increase from 2020 numbers of $290 million and 3,100 weapons, shows that as the environment adapts, so do the techniques of catching the bad guys.
“The last few years have challenged our normal collaboration process to support law enforcement agencies,” said Maj. Robert Anspaugh, Executive Officer for Texas Counterdrug. “But we are used to working across the entire state and found ways to stay engaged, utilizing new tools and skills harnessed by serving in the military, to continue providing excellent support to our partners.”
Another way of increasing the illicit revenue denial was to bring back a capability that had been used in other ways. The Air National Guard RC-26 fixed-wing aircraft had been supporting other missions in Texas and abroad, but in 2021, RC-26 came back home to Counterdrug.
The RC-26 program, along with the Counterdrug Aviation Element of LUH-72 Lakota helicopters, increased support from 570 flight hours in 2020 to 1,130 flight hours which directly supported law enforcement agencies.
“Having the RC-26 program back on Counterdrug orders has allowed us another aerial platform with similar capabilities but can be used in conjunction with each other or separately,” said Besser. “We have been able to expand our support all over the state, in multiple locations at once.”
The adjustments in tactics and capabilities have led to seizures that significantly impacted drug-trafficking organizations in Texas and Mexico.
In north Texas, Counterdrug analysts supported the Drug Enforcement Administration in taking down a methamphetamine ring helping seize nearly 1,600 pounds at a value of more than $16 million and arresting 13 drug-trafficking organization members. Another case resulted in seizing 1,000 pounds of methamphetamine and another seven arrests.
In west Texas, Counterdrug task force members assisted in a $5 million liquid methamphetamine seizure that linked suspects to a previous seizure in Oklahoma. Link chart analysis in a different case resulted in finding nearly 500 pounds of marijuana and 160 pounds of methamphetamine.
In east Texas, the Texas Counterdrug Ground Reconnaissance Detachment supported DEA for weeks as they conducted area observation to gather critical vehicle confirmations, patterns of life and helped identify suspected narcotics supplier locations resulting in the seizure of cocaine, cannabis, bulk cash and weapons.
“Changes in the operational environment affect how drug-trafficking organizations do business,” said Anspaugh. “Working with our law enforcement partners, we must anticipate these changes to stay a step ahead and continue disrupting the flow of drugs into our state and nation.”
Along with analysis, Texas Counterdrug increased their Drug Demand Reduction Outreach program placing personnel in each of the four High-intensity Drug Trafficking Area prevention initiatives leading to an increase of 40% in events. DDRO handed out 300,000 Red Ribbon bracelets in support of the DEA’s Red Ribbon Week honoring fallen agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena and spoke to 9,000 students across the state.
An enduring mission for the Texas Counterdrug Task Force is supporting two Texas ChalleNGe Academy classes each year. During the acclimation phase, service members mentor at-risk youth to get back on the right track.
Texas Counterdrug has a long history of helping law enforcement fight drug trafficking, manufacturing and distribution, and 2021 wasn’t any different. Now that 2022 is here, the program will continue to endure, coming up with innovative ways to face new challenges.
“We will continue to put effort into influencing at the national level, and into growing and evolving in order to have the most effective impact possible,” said Besser. “We have several initiatives in the works, which will benefit not only Counterdrug programs nationally, but also our law enforcement partners across Texas and other states, namely those facing specific challenges associated with the southern border.”