by Tech. Sgt. Sara Robinson
132 Fighter Fighter Wing
6/2/2013 - Camp Dodge, Iowa -- The
Iowa Counterdrug Task Force has provided invaluable support to civilian
authorities since 1994. It started as a small aviation task force that
would do flyovers to find marijuana fields. Since then, Counterdrug has
evolved into a powerhouse of training and educational resources for
military, law enforcement, and other civilian agencies involved in the
fight against drug trafficking and substance abuse.
Senior Master Sgt. Brad Thomas, Counterdrug Task Force NCOIC, has been a
member of the team for 18 years. He has worked in almost every section
that Counterdrug has to offer and has seen his share of change during
the times of seemingly unlimited funding and conversely when every penny
"Back at its inception Counterdrug was truly a year to year program, I
actually cannot remember a time in those early years when we didn't know
whether we would have a job or not come October 1st. While it has
always been a year to year program, we have become accustom to that
hiccup and it anticipated that possibility," explains Senior Master Sgt.
Over the years Counterdrug had its share of ups and downs with funding,
resources, manpower and support. This has made the counterdrug staff
savvy with their money usage. At times Counterdrug has been called the
"Little Engine That Could" on Camp Dodge. However, over the last two
years funding has been cut even more. That hiccup that they had grown
accustomed to every October quickly became holding their breath.
"We are constantly riding the funding roller coaster by the DOD cutting
the funding we are getting but then congress coming in and giving us a
congressional add that bolsters the program," explains Col. Thomas
Staton, Iowa Counterdrug Coordinator and Midwest Counterdrug Training
Originally, Counterdrug was primarily funded through a congressional
line-item. The states congressman could get more funding based on their
support of the program. Iowa was a state that received a lot of
congressional support, so its funding was more than other states.
In 2011, the government did away with congressional line-items across
the board. At that time, counterdrug funding decisions were given back
to the Department of Defense (DOD). Through research, the DOD found the
locations in the nation that needed the most money and awarded funding
accordingly. Money is now being distributed based on data and facts from
each state. Money was funneled to where it was needed most nationwide.
For the state of Iowa this meant a budget cut.
"We took a pretty healthy cut, the Iowa National Guard Counterdrug
program, between FY 12 and FY 13, took a 41 percent reduction in funds.
When you have almost a 50 percent reduction in the monies you got, you
have to change the way you do business. We had some difficult decisions
to make, and as soon as I knew we were going to take those cuts I
developed some courses of action," explains Staton.
Counterdrug leadership had to take a hard look at spending and figure
out what they could do without. Trimming the fat and 'doing more with
less' became the mantra. They had to work smart, share resources, cut
back on purchases and manning and be more creative with spending. It was
time for another huge step in the evolution of Counterdrug.
Counterdrug staff has exceled in this time of financial constraints.
They are drawing from other resources, using technology to its fullest
extent and strategically placing their Soldiers and Airmen in areas that
could do the most good. Thomas sees the change as something that was
not an option in the 90's when counterdrug first started.
"We have better technology now that enables us to be force multipliers
and do the jobs of multiple people in multiple locations. When I started
at Counterdrug as an analyst, much of our work was paper based. Now,
officers have laptops in their cars. We have had to change the way we
teach them at MCTC and the way we interact with them as analysts. We are
much more data based, much more information sharing, much more
productive and responsive also. We are connected nation-wide with other
analyst and other law enforcement agencies to provide critical
information," explains Thomas.
With the budget cuts, Counterdrug is still seeing a huge need for
support. The Counterdrug Task Force is the only way that some agencies
can get the assistance they need to catch the bad guys. Criminal
analysts are just one way the Counterdrug supports local law
enforcement. Master Sgt. Steven Maertens has been with Counterdrug for
15 years and is currently the Senior Criminal Analyst. His time as a
criminal analyst has given him insight on law enforcement's need.
"We have a mission out there; it's not going to go away. We support law
enforcement and their mission, but if we're not out there doing the
Criminal Analyst job, they don't have money for analysts. The FBI's got a
couple, the DEA'S got one. We have to make sure everyone realizes the
relevancy of what the guard has to offer the civilian sector." explains
The Criminal analysts have gone from a staff of 17 down to 10. They have
been moved to areas of the state where they can have a wider span of
influence and have been given the technological tools they need to
pretty much be in several places at once.
"You have basically the cream of the crop that are out there. We even
had to cut down into the bone the last couple times we had budget
crunches. This is the best analyst team I have ever seen at Counterdrug.
From the quality of people we have out there now, I can't imagine
releasing a single one" explains Maertens.
The Midwest Counterdrug Training Center is another popular program
Counterdrug provides. They offer classes at no cost for law enforcement.
The budget cuts have forced them to be more efficient with the courses
that they choose to offer. In many ways the budget cuts have given MCTC
the push that they needed to take a look at the training and the way it
was being offered.
"No longer are two-week or even five-day classes the preferred method.
When we started MCTC, classroom attendance was basically the only way to
learn highway intervention tips and tricks. It was sitting in the class
and watching videos from the instructor.
MCTC instructors provide students with the critical information and they
fill in the blanks because they now have search engines, netbooks and
smart phones. They have visual aids and videos available via the
internet that they in turn can show and train their peers.
As technology around the world changes, so do the requirements for
education. The officers that are getting into law enforcement now are a
technology driven force. Many colleges are moving to online training and
students can do more on their own. People are busy with work and
families and don't have time to commit to an all-day class.
"One option we are looking at is distance learning. It only makes sense
to train law enforcement with this technique. There are some courses
that we offer that are pretty much traditional lecture style courses.
Those are perfect examples of how we can use distance learning for the
same quality of education."
These courses would not be the sit at your computer and flip through
slides. They would be set up as a live video teleconference where you
sit down and log in. There would be real student interaction and would
The world as a whole has more informational resources than officers did
20 years ago. The Counterdrug Taskforce is doing its part to evolve with
the need while also finding a more cost efficient way to offer the same
quality of service.
"Counterdrug is a great team and they are very passionate about what
they do. They provide great support and a great product for the state of
Iowa. As long as we continue to get funding, our doors will stay open.
It may not be in a manner that we've always performed before but we will
provide some sort of support," says Thomas.