October 18, 2002, 18:45 EDT

Virginia Guard aids in war against drugs

by Capt. Mike Renwick
Virginia Guard Public Affairs Office

BLACKSTONE, Va. - The Virginia RAID (Reconnaissance And Interdiction Detachment) assisted the Virginia State Police, Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and Mecklenberg Sheriff's Office in detecting and destroying 110 marijuana plants worth over $200,000 on Aug. 20.

CWO O’Bannon verifies the intended fly-over targets with members of the RAID ground team. Within 30 minutes of being in the air, CWO O’Bannon radios the awaited for words, “TANGO”, indicating a positive sighting. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Turney, VaARNG Public Affairs Office.)

Flying a specially modified OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, Chief Warrant Officer O'Bannon flew throughout Mecklenberg County looking for fields and clearings that could contain marijuana plants.

Within 30 minutes of taking off on the morning of Aug. 20, O'Bannon radioed members of the ground force that some plants had been spotted in a forest clearing.

Upon arriving, members of the ground force, including Staff Sgt. Marchioli-Acra, found 36 carefully cultivated plants. Marchioli-Acra is a medic, and has been a member of RAID for almost three years.

Marchioli-Acra travels with the ground force and is prepared to treat minor injuries such as cuts, minor heat injuries, and insect bites and can perform first aid for serious injuries until an ambulance arrives.

Deputy Paul Cox, a Mecklenberg Deputy Sheriff, removes a protective fencing used to keep wildlife from eating the immature plants. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mark Turney, VaARNG Public Affairs Office.)

In the spring of each year, various law enforcement agencies throughout the Commonwealth assign "spotters" who undergo specialized training and certification. When RAID aircraft work in the spotter's jurisdiction, they are alerted and told when they will be spotting.

The ground force consists of deputies from the county, members of police departments in the county to be searched, members of the State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Virginia ABC.

As plants are spotted from the air, directions are given to the ground. O'Bannon and the spotter circle overhead until the ground crew arrives to investigate the field for marijuana plants.

If plants are found in the clearings, three fields containing plants were found Aug. 20th, then the ground force cut the plants down, and destroy any equipment that may be found near the plants.

Samples of the plants are collected and sent to the University of Mississippi for analysis and the plants are then destroyed after a judge has signed a destruction order authorizing the police to burn the plants.

The fields containing marijuana on August 20th, were all small clearings in forested areas, not readily accessible by road. In one field the plants were being grown in wire cages to prevent deer from eating the plants.

Soldiers assigned to RAID are active year round, but are only involved in the eradication phase in late summer when plants are large enough to see from the air.

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