Ground Reconnaissance Team (GRT)

Since 1989, the Florida Counterdrug Program has provided counterdrug ground reconnaissance assets at no cost to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the State of Florida. Recently Counterdrug Operational Detachment Alpha (CDODA) changed their name to the Florida Ground Reconnaissance Team (GRT) in order to present a more complete description to our law enforcement partners.

The GRT is comprised of 20 highly trained personnel, forming three six man teams with a two man command and control element. Specializing in rural and urban reconnaissance and observation, the GRT utilizes video and digital photography, remote camera systems, day and night observation devices, and secure communications in order to secure documentation of suspected illicit drug activity for our law enforcement customers. While primarily a ground reconnaissance element, the GRT also specializes in counterdrug underwater dive operations to combat the smuggling of illegal drugs attached to the hulls of ships arriving at any number of Florida’s ports.

During Fiscal Year 2009, the GRT conducted more than 310 man-days on over 20 counterdrug missions for numerous Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) across the State. These missions served the residents of Florida by leading to the arrests of 30 criminals, the seizures of over 1,500 marijuana plants, and over $3.3 million in illicit drug money and assets seized. In one request alone, the GRT provided critical observation on an indoor marijuana grow investigation that lead to the seizure of 14 houses, 17 arrests, 1024 marijuana plants, 69 pounds of processed marijuana, $27,000 in illicit proceeds, nine vehicles, and five firearms. In another request, the GRT was instrumental in locating an underground marijuana grow operation that consisted of three individual 10-ft. x 20-ft. grow rooms and a sophisticated power diversion and distribution control room equipped with a 150 kilowatt diesel generator and a stairwell. This clandestine operation was concealed under a metal barn structure and accessed by a hidden trap door. The site would not have been located without the help of the GRT.

The GRT is an integral tool for law enforcement deployed in the State of Florida’s fight against the illicit drug trade which continues to plague our country.

Aerial Reconnaissance Team (ART)

An RC-26B aircraft from the Florida Air National Guard, 125th Fighter Wing, based out of Jacksonville, Fla. flew a training mission off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 22. The RC-26B is equipped with imaging and communications equipment to assist law enforcement with reconnaissance and tracking of illegal drug traffickers and drug cultivation activity in addition to the ability to provide necessary support during natural disasters and national special security events. Photo by Sgt. Lalita Laksbergs, National Guard Counterdrug Public Affairs.

The Aerial Reconnaissance Team is a counterdrug aviation unit based out of Cecil Field in Jacksonville Florida. The unit, formerly known as the RAID (Reconnaissance and Interdiction Detachment) has been in existence since the early 1990s. Initially ART’s primary mission was marijuana eradication and night time Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) observation of suspected narcotics activity. Over the years the ART has grown to meet ever increasing demands from our counterdrug missions. Maintaining proficiency in these various mission sets has helped Florida Counterdrug build and maintain good working relationships with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard. Operation Southeast Watch (OSEW) is an ongoing operation jointly conducted with multiple agencies simultaneously and supported by the ART. OSEW is conducted primarily in South Florida and the Florida Keys, and is focused on protecting US Borders from drug and human smuggling.

The ART also supports all state and local LEA’s that request assistance. LEAs request ART support through the Florida Counterdrug Headquarters in St. Augustine, Fla. Among the major counties supported are Duval, Orange, Miami-Dade, Washington, Holmes, Santa Rosa, Monroe, Volusia and Broward.

In mid 2008, the unit transitioned to a new aircraft, the UH-72 Lakota. The Lakota is the Army’s version of the Eurocopter EC-145 and was purchased as an “off the shelf” replacement for the Army’s aging fleet of OH-58 Kiowa and UH-1 Huey helicopters. The Florida Counterdrug Program retained two of the original five OH-58s and flies both OH-58 and LUH-72 aircraft in support of CD and Homeland Security missions. The OH-58s are mission equipment packaged (MEP) with FLIR and sophisticated radio equipment that allows them to bridge the gap between civil authorities and the military during mission execution. The LUH-72 is currently scheduled to be MEP equipped and fully mission capable by 2012.

Individuals assigned to ART are selected based on their skill set and past performance. The unit, although small and limited on personnel, must meet all of the duties and responsibilities that are required of any other Army Aviation unit. All of the aviators are graduate level trained as instructor pilots, maintenance test pilots or aviation safety officers. All of the enlisted crewmembers assigned to the ART have been awarded the Master Crewmember Badge for their level of experience, expertise and years of aviation service.

In 2008 over 78,000 marijuana plants were eradicated from indoor grows and over 16,000 plants from outdoor grows.

Throughout Fiscal Year 09, CD Aviation went through a significant transition, not just with the addition of the Lakota, but also with the loss of personnel due to deployment and retirement. Despite the loss of personnel, the organization remained mission focused and proficient. As an example the ART completed a Counterdrug Program Evaluation (CPE) and scored 100 percent in each of their areas. The evaluation team stated that this was the best aviation unit inspection to date. At the conclusion of the CPE, Florida Aviation underwent an Aviation Resource Management Survey (ARMS), in which Counterdrug personnel played a major role. Counterdrug Aviation received very high marks on the ARMS inspection, again stating the aviation unit is the best inspected to date. While preparation for these evaluations was ongoing, ART personnel continued supporting its customer base by remaining operational and executing requested missions to the fullest extent possible. The loss of manpower and inspection schedule lead to limited production, but the program flew 304 accident-free flight hours. During those missions supporting LEAs, 679 marijuana plants, 430 pounds of processed marijuana and assorted methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine and pills were seized. This support lead to 19 arrests, one vehicle confiscated and 21 weapons seized.

In 2009 the Air Reconnaissance Team completed a Counterdrug Program Evaluation (CPE) and scored 100 percent in each of its areas. Throughout Operation Southeast Watch, ART maintained a presence that disrupted normal smuggling operations and caused illegal vessel movements to decline over the entire course of the operation. ART, while maintaining the operational mission load, also supported law enforcement training. Annually, the ART supports the Spotter School hosted by the DEA and any other training events that are requested by federal, state and local LEAs.

While the transition of aircraft is still ongoing, the ART continues to develop customer relationships and mission sets that will adapt to their needs and be an asset to the State of Florida, LEAs, well into the future.