US Army, September 22, 2017 - JACKSON, Miss. by Staff Sgt Scott Tynes - The Mississippi National Guard played a vital role in what has been called the largest marijuana bust in recent memory by Mississippi state law enforcement officers.
In August, the MSNG Counterdrug Program assisted state agencies in the location and seizure of more than 20,000 marijuana plants with a street value exceeding $23 million in Jefferson Davis County.
"This is hands down the biggest marijuana grow operation we've seen in the state in probably 35-40 years," said Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy.
Acting on a tip August 17, 2017, the MBN requested the MSNG counterdrug team conduct aerial reconnaissance near Polk Oatis Road in Jefferson Davis County. The reconnaissance identified a target area for state agents. On six fields covering 4-6 acres, growers had installed an elaborate setup that included irrigation, living-quarter tents and plant processing areas.
Created by statutory authority in 1971, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics enforces the Mississippi's Uniform Controlled Substances Law. As the state's primary drug enforcement agency, the MBN accomplishes its mission by confiscating drugs and other contraband, and by arresting suspected drug violators for prosecution under applicable state and federal laws.
The MBN partners with the MSNG and other agencies to accomplish missions like this.
The counterdrug program, and specifically the seasonal marijuana eradication effort, is a unique aspect of the National Guard's mission and, according to the National Guard Bureau, a part of the national drug control strategy.
"The mission supported the nationwide and state Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program," said Lt. Col. Gary Crist, MSNG Counterdrug Program coordinator. "The Mississippi National Guard's Counterdrug Program stands ready to provide support to our law enforcement partners and communities to deter illicit narcotics activities in our state."
According to NGB, the program was started with a presidential authorization in 1989, and provides funds from the Department of Defense on a yearly basis to governors. They submit plans specifying the usage of each state's National Guard to support drug interdiction and counterdrug efforts.
"I don't know that we have an average, but there's been a definite increase (in the number of finds)," said Lt. Col. Jody Smith, director of military support for the MSNG.
The Jefferson Davis County eradication is one of many for the counterdrug task force this year, Crist said. The task force includes 25 full-time Guard troops ranging from pilots to program management, which is conducted at the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy at Naval Air Station Meridian. The number of participating Guard members is increased during the marijuana eradication program's key season from March to October.
"Our law enforcement partners have a tough job to do in the fight against illicit narcotics production, trafficking and distribution," said Crist. "We are proud to provide support when requested."
Pilots participating in the program from the MSNG's 185th Aviation Regiment are trained for aerial marijuana identification.
"They have to go through a special course to be able to identify what they're seeing," Crist said. "Additionally, they're honing their skills throughout the year, so the skills they are employing here can help downrange as well."
The MSNG Counterdrug Program employs National Guard Soldiers and Airmen from all major support commands within the MSNG. Its personnel use their unique military skills to support domestic counterdrug operations. This also further prepares them for missions outside the U.S. with their assigned units.
An account in the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger quoted authorities saying people had left the area in a hurry but left behind firearms and cell phones. "Somebody's going to jail," said Dowdy, the state narcotics bureau director.