JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ark. – The Natural State is known for its abundant agriculture, but what’s being grown isn’t always legal.
The Arkansas National Guard counter drug program known as ‘The Guardians’ support law enforcement statewide in eradicating drugs, searching from the ground to the sky. According to the Arkansas National Guard, last year about 58,000 illegally grown marijuana plants were eradicated. It led to more than 200 arrests.
On a warm August afternoon, it’s drug eradication day for the Tri-County Drug Task Force. Along with Arkansas Game and Fish, ground crews gear up then undergo a safety briefing and separate into groups.
Their mission: find marijuana.
“We have trained spotters who exactly know what they’re looking for,” Lt. Yohance Brunson says. Brunson serves as the operation commander for the Tri-County Drug Task Force.
On this particular day the search happens from the sky with an Arkansas National Guard Blackhawk.
“Get the aerial view of the ground to see things that the ground assets couldn’t see,” Spc. Stephen Wright says. Wright is a public affairs representative for the Arkansas National Guard.
Once crews are settled in the chopper, it’s time to fly high.
Unfazed by the beauty and diversity of the Arkansas landscape these potters are looking for have more to do with plant color and texture. It’s something an untrained eye struggles to decipher.
“Marijuana has a different color green that you can identify from the sky that you wouldn’t normally pay attention to,” Lt. Brunson says.
Last year, the aerial search turned up empty for the Tri-County Drug Task Force, which represents Jefferson, Arkansas and Lincoln counties.
“We don’t have a lot of outdoor grows like we used to,” Lt. Brunson says.
But the wind shifted in Jefferson county, and from 1000 feet in the sky, something caught an agent’s eye.
“They went and made contact with the suspected plant,” Wright says.
Dropping them off and heading back up, crews watch as the agents walk on to the property and ground crews start to swarm.
Following a white trail, it led to cannabis and incarceration.
“We got several subjects in custody,” Lt. Brunson says.
“We recovered several marijuana plants and also a firearm.”
A successful search and seizure that contributes to the billions of dollars worth of illicit drugs retrieved on these types of missions each year nationwide.
The process is nipping a problem in the bud before it spreads like weeds.