CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The National Guard has always been about cooperation and support and for the last 30 years has partnered with law enforcement in the war on drugs.
The Wyoming Counterdrug Support Program works with law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal organizations and deter illicit drug use in the state by providing analysts and air reconnaissance.
Last year, Wyoming counterdrug personnel assisted law enforcement agencies in making 706 arrests as a result of drug investigations. Those netted nearly $11 million in drug seizures and more than $311,000 in non-drug seizures.
Many agencies lack the manpower, technology or training to conduct a full-scale battle with drug dealers. However, the Guard, in all 54 states and territories, has proven to be a worthy battle buddy.
"The partnership is fantastic," said Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Director Steve Woodson. "We would have a hard time getting along without them. They are really a force multiplier. If we didn't have them, we would have to try to find people who do what they do, and that would be really difficult. They work like a hand in glove with us. They are all really hard working, excellent people, and we are very happy to have them here."
Wyoming Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Diane Smith coordinates the program for the state. She's been with the congressionally mandated program more than 20 years and has been coordinator, a job normally held by a major, since July 2015.
"It's only because I've been here so long and held every position," she said of being one of only three noncommissioned officers in coordinator positions nationwide.
She has seen a few changes in her time with the counterdrug program. When she started out, the program placed a lot of emphasis on drug education in schools and communities throughout Wyoming.
Eventually, funding cutbacks and a perception by Washington that the education piece didn't fit into a military job description eliminated the Drug Demand Reduction program. Smith said the current model provides the state "its best return on investment."
"We just didn't have enough money to work with coalitions or directly with youth," she said. "We can really help the agencies, as long as there is a drug nexus, with our analysts and equipment."
She now has a staff of eight Guard members, who are on long-term active duty operational support orders. They work, primarily, with the state's DCI—some in field offices around the state, but are available to all of the state's law enforcement agencies.
"They all maintain their drill status and contribute back to their units," Smith said. "Some align their (military occupational specialty) and (Air Force Specialty Code). Some are intel and some are prior law enforcement officers. Our analysts are highly intelligent and highly trained."
To maintain that expertise for Guard members and the law enforcement personnel they assist, the National Guard Bureau operates five counterdrug schools that provide training in drug interdiction and counterdrug activities. These schools trained more than 41,400 law enforcement officers, community-based organization members, and military personnel in fiscal year 2017.
The Guard members are limited to analyzing evidence collected by law enforcement agencies, but once warrants and evidence are secured, the analysts provide a valuable service with the collected data.
"We have technology and skills that we can use to track trends and make connections to other cases, and hopefully that information leads to arrests and seizures and it goes to trial," Smith said. "We do not actively participate in the gathering of evidence. We just analyze the information and hand that data back to law enforcement."
Additionally, Smith said the Guard's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and crews may be called upon to support law enforcement from the air. When President Ronald Reagan started the program, military aircraft was often used to eradicate crops of marijuana.
"We no longer do eradication, but we can fly law enforcement officers to perform reconnaissance and allow them to narrow their scopes to identify where they want to further investigate nefarious activities," Smith said.
According to the National Guard Bureau, in fiscal year 2017, the National Guard counterdrug program employed more than 3,700 personnel who supported law enforcement's efforts to remove more than 3.3 million pounds, or nearly $11.2 billion, in illicit drugs from U.S. communities.