News: Indiana Guard, Grim Reefer eradicates illegal drugs
By Capt. Catalina Carrasco
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana National Guard was part of a multiagency operation lead by the Indiana State Police to suppress and eradicate marijuana in the state, which started Aug. 22 and lasted for seven days.
Operation Grim Reefer was a follow up to Operation Hoosier Thunder, which occurred in 2010. This year, as in the previous operation, the Guard provided personnel, equipment, aircraft, communications and intelligence assets.
“Given the complex nature of the mission and multiple-agency involvement, it takes months to prepare,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Extine, Indiana National Guard Counterdrug Task Force Chief. “The operational planning, training and risk-mitigation measures that go into this type of operation began at the end of last year’s operation and continued through mission completion.”
The search took place around 30 counties making up the southern part of the state. Grim Reefer personnel efforts resulted in the eradication of 7,548 marijuana plants located in 127 plots and two indoor locations. The search resulted in nine arrests with 22 charges. The personnel also located two meth labs and confiscated one weapon.
Grim Reefer personnel were divided into ground and air teams. Each team was comprised of members from the Indiana State Police, U.S. Forest Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, and the Indiana National Guard. Personnel from the Counterdrug Task Force and the 38th Infantry Division represented the Guard.
The air teams flew in either a UH-60 Black Hawk or an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter from the 38th Combat Aviation Brigade and piloted by its soldiers.
Personnel on the aircraft spent hours flying over the area looking for marijuana plants, particularly around the Hoosier National Forest and public lands. Once the plants were identified, the location coordinates were provided to the ground teams. The ground teams then eradicated the illegal growth.
In locations that could not be reached by a ground team, air mobile eradication teams completed the task instead. The air mobile teams either rappelled into the area from a UH-60 Black Hawk, or used the Special Patrol Infiltration and Extraction System.
“It’s a means of extracting up to 14 personnel over short distances,” said Staff Sgt. Brett Keller, a Counterdrug Task Force team leader of SPIES.
“What we found during operations like this is that drug trafficking organizations and local growers alike like to take advantage of remote locations to operate due to the limited chance of detection. This is just a way for us to adapt our tactics to meet that threat, get people on the ground in places where most people wouldn’t be able get to,” said Keller.
In keeping up with the National Guard continuing improvement efforts, this mission also served to test communications capabilities. For that reason the Indiana Guard’s 53rd Civil Support Team joined the operation.
“The most important product and process we were able to glean was a solid assessment of the current communication capabilities of the counter drug team,” said Sgt.1st Class Michael Galloway, CST’s communications chief. “This allowed us to assist them in configuring a more secure and seamless communications package for future missions.
“We briefly exercised a video down link from the aircraft as a concept for any possible future operations support and to better enhance all other all-hazards mission types” said Galloway.
Grim Reefer was considered a successful operation by those who participated in it.
“We accomplished our goal,” said Evan Johnson, one of the ground team’s leaders. “We eradicated a large amount of marijuana in southern Indiana,” he said referring to the more than 7,500 plants that they found.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Lou Perras agreed.
“It has been a very successful operation, very professional operation, and I’m just proud to be a part of it,” Perras said.
Extine said that this type of operation helps strengthen the National Guard relationship with civilian authorities.
“It unites organizations across the state from U.S. Forest Service and Drug Enforcement Administration to local agencies that normally would not be working together; they are now part of one team to accomplish
the mission,” he said.
“By continuously refining the plan and adapting to ‘boots on the ground’ intelligence,” said Extine of the personnel performing the mission. “We will continue to make these types of operations successful year in and year out.”