Ohio National Guard News

Guard aviators help law enforcement weed out
illegal marijuana grow operations

Story and photos by Sgt. Joanna Bradshaw, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

Aviators with the Ohio National Guard partner with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to spot illegal marijuana growing operations from an overhead UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Aug. 6, 2018, in southwestern Ohio. With its towering stalks, corn is a common crop for illegal marijuana growers to hide their plants among, making it difficult to locate except from the sky.

TOP RIGHT: Special Agent Daryl Henderson of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation points out illegal marijuana growing operations from the window of an Ohio National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, Aug. 6, 2018, in southwestern Ohio. More than 250 illegal plants were spotted in two counties over two days of aviation operations.

LOWER LEFT: Chief Warrant Officer 3 Al Troutman, a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot with 1st Battalion, 137th Aviation Regiment, uses paper maps in addition to digital GPS to record locations of illegal marijuana plants spotted Aug. 6, 2018, in southwestern Ohio. Troutman provided the information to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which will utilize it in eradication and prosecution missions.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (08/06/18) — Always Ready, Always There. The motto of the Ohio National Guard can be reassuring to citizens who know that Guard members are prepared and trained to help protect the state and nation from internal threats as well as conflicts throughout the world.

Often the Ohio National Guard will partner with and support civil authorities or fellow state agencies to help keep Ohio’s citizens safe. The strength of these partnerships was illustrated recently when aviators with the Ohio National Guard Counter Drug Task Force assisted the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) in locating 250 illegal marijuana plants over two days in August.

The combined forces took to the skies over Ohio to spot the illegal plants from 500-800 feet off the ground, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dave Corbi, an instructor pilot for 1st Battalion, 137th Aviation Regiment, based out of Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Columbus.

“You have to have some altitude because they’re looking for patterns in the fields,” Corbi said. Being too high or too low risks being unable to see either individual plants or the patterns of plants in the corn fields.

Many illegal growers hide the plants in the middle of corn fields where they can’t be seen from the ground and are unlikely to be stumbled upon on foot. Corn towers over the marijuana plants, concealing them from accidental sightings, unlike the much shorter soybean plants also common in Ohio. This makes it necessary for law enforcement to survey from above and spot the inconsistencies in fields. Square blank spots with evenly spaced, leafy plants are easy to spot but it requires a trained eye to catch the plants growing close to buildings or in shadows.

“It benefits the local communities by taking those drugs off the street,” said Special Agent Daryl Henderson, a native of London, Ohio and technical operator for BCI, who participated in the aerial survey missions. “(Aviation support is) an asset that allows us to do our jobs better.”

The asset provided by the Ohio National Guard is 120 hours of flight time — which also delivers additional flight training opportunities for its pilots that otherwise would not be available to them — in order to assist BCI in its marijuana eradication mission.

“Air support is costly and that’s the biggest chunk of our budget, which is funded by a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) grant,” Henderson said.

BCI uses a majority of those funds performing flyovers with other government agencies in the state, including local police, which they rent per hour of flight time.

According to Henderson, the crew can cover about one county per day.

“It’s a very valuable cooperation.” Henderson said. “It’s essential to this mission.”

Corbi agreed with Henderson: “It’s been a great experience working with these guys; they’re very professional and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Both agencies benefit from the partnership, as do the rural communities of Ohio where illegal drug activity is present. It is another example of how the National Guard works to support and protect the citizens of Ohio, alongside law enforcement agencies and other civil authorities. 

In addition to its aviation support to the eradication mission, in 2017 alone, the Ohio National Guard Counter Drug Task Force was able to support the seizures of 352 pounds of heroin, 131 pounds of fentanyl and more than 20 thousand opiate pills off the streets across Ohio.

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