Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Giles
Texas Military Department
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.