FRENCH LICK, Ind. - The successful eradication of more than 20,500 marijuana plants valuing over $50 million in nine operational days of concentrated, collaborative effort by Indiana State Police, Indiana National Guard Counterdrug Task Force and other state and federal law enforcement agencies stopped illegal drugs from hitting American streets.

Running from Aug. 23 through Sept. 2, the joint effort, dubbed Operation Hoosier Thunder, materialized from law enforcement suspicion of drug trafficking organizations using public lands, including the Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana, to grow and cultivate illegal drugs in Indiana for profit.

"Operation Hoosier Thunder is a multi-agency marijuana eradication effort on Indiana public lands in southern Indiana and the Hoosier National Forrest," said, Sgt. Lou Perras, Indiana State Police. "Our goal is to protect Indiana lands while taking as much marijuana off the streets as possible."

Through the combined efforts of multiple agencies and resource sharing, 35 counties making up the southern portion of Indiana were scoured by aircraft supported by mobile ground teams. Making daily discoveries of marijuana grow operations. The team's efforts lead to 22 arrests, more than 20,500 plants seized and the discovery of multiple camp sites on public land which were associated with illegal marijuana cultivation.

The Indiana Counterdrug Task Force played a major role in the coordination, planning, equipping, training and execution of Operation Hoosier Thunder.

"With their unique capabilities in aircraft and personnel, they bring a lot to the table in helping law enforcement locate and destroy marijuana, thereby taking drugs off the streets," said Perras.

Their expertise and knowledge also provided detailed training to state and federal law enforcement agents ranging from team movement, rappelling, amphibious and air operations, and critical medical training for every member involved in the operation.

The Indiana Counterdrug Task Force also contributed the aviation assets which became a vital addition to the operation.

"The UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter's ability to linger and transport law enforcement teams proved to be a valuable ingredient for overwhelming success," said Perras. "The aircraft allowed teams to quickly spot illegal marijuana grows, insert and investigate, eradicate the illegal plants, extract, and move onto the next site."

In addition to the UH-60 aircraft, the Indiana National Guard's OH-58 Kiowa light utility aircraft were also used to assist in spotting marijuana and transporting eradication teams wherever needed. As part of its mission description, the OH-58 reconnaissance aircraft is well suited and equipped for the fight against drugs.

"Operation Hoosier Thunder confirmed that drug trafficking organizations are in fact using public lands for illegal marijuana growing operations," said Perras. "This confirmation follows a national trend of illegal marijuana grow operations tended and guarded by criminals in state and national public lands. These plots not only destroy our lands as forests are cut down to plant their illegal crop, but also pose a danger to those that might be caught 'trespassing' in the criminals' crop. Often these criminals are armed and could pose a serious threat to someone stumbling into the wrong area."

The future of the Indiana State Police's marijuana eradication program will continue to have the support of the Indiana National Guard Counterdrug Task Force.

"The months of planning with an emphasis on safety of our National Guardsmen and law enforcement agents certainly contributes to the successful execution of this historic operation," said Lt. Col. Terry Mullins, commander of the Indiana Counterdrug Task Force. "Together, with other law enforcement agencies, the Indiana State Police and the Counterdrug Task Force will continue to work to protect the citizens of Indiana and its public lands."