By Army National Guard Sgt. Lamine Zarrad
Texas Military Forces
HARLINGEN, Texas (10/4/11) -- Members of the Texas Military Forces participated Aug. 31 in Operation Crackdown, a joint community effort of Guard members and citizens to reclaim neighborhoods from the influences of violence and illegal drugs.
A flotilla of construction machinery, illuminated by the strobe lights of several police cruisers, resembled a Mardi Gras parade rather than a military convoy. However, the adults and children of the Harlingen communities greeted the Soldiers and Airmen of the motorcade like wartime heroes.
The service members and their equipment are part of Operation Crackdown, the Texas Military Force's effort to reclaim neighborhoods from the influences of violence and illegal drugs.
Operation Crackdown employs seized drug funds to rent machinery and equipment for the demolition of houses utilized in drug-affiliated activities, said Army Staff Sgt. Michael Leslie, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the operation.
The sentiment of the Guard members performing this operation was not of people helping people, citizens helping citizens.
"The National Guard is a community organization," said Army Col. Randal E. Davis, the commander of the Texas Military Forces Joint Counterdrug Task Force. "We live in this community. We are here to help."
During Operation Crackdown missions, the Army and Air Force personnel operate jointly with the local authorities and federal agencies in demolishing houses with nexus to illicit activities.
"This project is fantastic," said Tom Whitten, Harlingen's police chief.
Successful community policing relies on continuous cooperation between various local, state and federal agencies, Whitten said.
"The joint effort will especially benefit the children in the communities, as some of the decrepit houses are in near proximity to schools," said Carlos Yerena, Harlingen city manager.
"We are very happy that we came together to help clean up the city," said Lt. Miryam Anderson, an officer with the Harlingen police department. "A lot of entities came together and joined forces to demolish houses that had been somehow linked to the drug and crime activity."
The fifth graders of the James Bowie Elementary, situated directly across the street from a house riddled with gang-affiliated graffiti, showed plenty of enthusiasm about the project.
The children are expecting newly planted trees in place of the decrepit building, said Kiara Trevino, a fifth grader at James Bowie Elementary who formerly resided next-door to the targeted structure.
Prior to demolishing the house, service members with the Drug Demand Reduction program provided anti-drug education to children attending JBE.
Law enforcement agencies consistently reported reduced crime rates in the communities participating in Operation Crackdown, said Air Force Capt. Samantha A. Martinez, the officer in charge of Operation Crackdown.
Counterdrug leadership anticipates maintaining the current annual tempo of approximately four to five, two week long missions every year in addition to expanding the area of the operation to north Texas.
Since inception in 1993, Operation Crackdown has demolished nearly 1200 dilapidated houses in over 40 Texas communities, Davis said.
"We are working side by side with our law enforcement partners and local communities," he said, "to interdict the flow of drugs, remove safe havens for their use, and reduce demand within the State to make our communities safer."