Va. Guard aviation crews aid in drug eradication

Virginia National Guard’s Counterdrug Task Force flew more than 230 hours in support of local, state and federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program in 2015. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Pubilc Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va. – In just a few months, Soldiers and aviation crews working through the Virginia National Guard’s Counterdrug Task Force flew more than 230 hours in support of local, state and federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program, or DCE/SP. The Virginia Guard’s assistance with this program and their partnership with agencies including the DEA, Virginia State Police and local authorities resulted in the location of 104 grow sites, the seizure of 35,012 marijuana plants with a street value totaling more than $105 million.

For more than two decades, the the Counterdrug Task Force has significantly contributed towards achieving National Counterdrug strategic goals. It supports the Department of Defense’s counternarcotics strategy and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy primarily by providing support to local, state and federal law enforcement entities through criminal analyst efforts, aviation assets and support to community based anti-drug coalitions.

The annual operation ran from July through September and had Virginia’s aviators flying in nearly every county in the commonwealth over varied and sometimes challenging terrain. While the air crews assist federal, state and local agencies with drug eradication, they gain valuable experience flying and advance their training requirements.

“All aviators are accomplishing tasks as assigned by their individual aircrew training program task list,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joseph Poppa, a criminal analyst and aviator with the Counterdrug Task Force. “Each aviator must coordinate and accomplish air to ground integration skills, operation the aircraft at low altitudes, high power settings and often at mass gross weight. Add to all this 100 degree temperatures and the mountainous terrain of Southwest Virginia, and the margin for error is very slim.”

Like the National Guard, many local, state and federal agencies conduct initial or annual training during the summer, typically in July. This year, nearly 50 law enforcement officers received training from Counterdrug Task Force personnel in order to conduct the DCE/SP and the Virginia National Guard’s Chesterfield-based Detachment 1, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment fulfilled their two-week annual training requirement during the operation as well, allowing the already-available funds for flight training to additionally assist the commonwealth.

In addition to assisting in locating outdoor grow sites, the program also aided in multiple search warrants for indoor grow operations where 550 plants and 107 pounds of processed marijuana, with a street drug value of nearly $2 million, were seized. Additionally, the operation resulted in 82 arrests and the seizure of 45 illegal weapons, more than $350,000 in currency, property and vehicles.

This summer’s exercise is a continuation of the relationship already established between the Counterdrug Task Force and local, state and federal agencies. Counterdrug Task Force personnel work year-round in support of the Commonwealth, working with those agencies. Including the time flown during the DCE/SP, the Counterdrug Task Force flew 358 hours in support of suppressing narcotics and marijuana in the state.

“Due to our annual program and continued weekly mission support to the counties, state and federal agencies located within Virginia, most of these law enforcement officers know a common face, name and number to call because we have already conducted operations with them,” Poppa explained.