Iowa’s Counterdrug Task Force is Excelling in a Time of Financial Adversity

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  • By Tech. Sgt. Sara Robinson
  • 132 Fighter Fighter Wing
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 always counts.
"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. Brad Thomas.

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 Center Commandant.

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 Maertens.
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 be real-time.

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.