News from the Oklahoma National Guard

NEWS | Feb. 25, 2022

National Guardsmen support civil authorities in large-scale illegal marijuana eradication operation

By Sgt. 1st Class Mereille Merilice-Roberts, 145th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Guardsmen from across the State of Oklahoma came together to support the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics in a massive multi-agency, large-scale operation targeting criminal marijuana growth and trafficking.

At the request of OBN, Governor Kevin Stitt authorized the activation of approximately 150 Guardsmen to assist with eradication, debris removal, logistical support and identification of hazardous materials associated with the seizure of illegal marijuana grow operations.

“The Guard has a unique role in the national defense of the United States, specifically because we have one foot firmly in the war fighting functions,” said Lt. Col. Shane Riley,
director of military support, Oklahoma National Guard. “The other thing we do that is somewhat unique is support to civil authorities. That is to help law enforcement, to help local government agencies and provide state support."

Guardsmen from the 120th Engineer Battalion, 63rd Civil Support Team and the Oklahoma National Guard Counter Drug Program supported OBN with manpower and equipment ranging from a UH-60 Black Hawk and UH-72 Lakota helicopter, to dump trucks and flatbeds used to transport seized marijuana plants.

“Soldiers are chopping down marijuana plants from two-footers to six-foot tall,” said Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Bender, maintenance platoon sergeant with 2120th Engineer Company, 120th Engineer Battalion, 90th Troop Command, Oklahoma Army National Guard. “[They are] getting rid of it, pulling it up, loading it in the back of a dump truck, sending it off to get burned in a debris pile and they are going to bury it at the end.”

Guardsmen worked alongside approximately 300 federal and local law enforcement agents to support the large-scale operation.

"The biggest thing for the Guard is not only to help the State, but to be of assistance to all other local agencies,” Bender said. “We have the manpower. Those other agencies don’t have the manpower [to cleanout] facilities as big as this one.”

Guardsmen removed approximately 100,000 plants and 2,000 pounds of processed marijuana from nine farms. The estimated value of the seizure is $500 million.

“We could not have done this without the Guard’s assistance,” said Mark Woodward, public information officer for OBN. “We were facing a crucial window of time with an approaching ice storm the following day. The support from the Guard helped ensure the mission was completed and everyone was home safe ahead of the storm.”

The complex multi-agency operation required Guardsmen to be called to duty with limited information of their mission.

“It was really important for us to not overshare information,” Riley said. “Operations security is always a concern for us, and it was an overwhelming success in this mission. That just says something about the trust we have with law enforcement agencies.”

Employers of Guardsmen who activated were also given limited details and notice. Guardsmen credited part of the success of the mission to their support.

“Shout-out to all employers across the State,” Bender said. “It’s great on those employers who supported their employees to go on short notice to serve.”
Video by Sgt. Anthony Jones
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