GRANGER, Texas (National Guard Bureau, Nov. 28, 2007) - This month, the corner of Gabriel and Oak streets here became the latest site in a series of abandoned home demolitions performed by the Texas National Guard Counter Drug Task Force.
Over the past 18 years, the task force has built strong relationships with communities throughout Texas, and four times a year, the Joint Forces Texas Law Enforcement Support Counter Drug Task Force rolls out heavy equipment to demolish known crack houses.
The purpose statement of the Texas National Guard Counter Drug Task Force is "to provide Domestic Law Enforcement Homeland Security and Defense Support, under the control of the Governor and the Adjutant General; countering the drug threats to and within the borders of Texas and the United States." Col. Russell Malesky is the task force's coordinator and commander.
A "crackdown" team typically consists of two Army and four Air National Guard personnel trained to demolish abandoned homes in minutes. What is more, the team leaves nothing behind, other than a clean, stripped lot in less than a couple of hours. The record for demolition is held by Master Sgt. Marcus Wilkes, who once tore down a structure in 24 seconds.
"There are documented cases of complaints against these two structures and drugs were found inside," said Granger Police Chief Dave Mace, about the houses demolished Nov. 15. However, the 32-year veteran of the police force noted, "These abandoned homes are destroyed only with the permission of the owners, who in many instances do not live in the area and have no idea the building is being used for illegal activities.
"If we do not have the permission from the owner, the structure has to be seized through legal means before it is demolished," Chief Mace added.
Chief Mace said that this Texas National Guard program takes away the opportunity for kids to do and sell drugs and reduces police workload.
He explained that children, sometimes as young as 12, use abandoned homes to drink alcohol, use marijuana or crack and sell it to others. The tell-tale signs are empty beer cans and drug paraphernalia littering the floors.
The crack downs always attract a lot of attention, and Granger was no exception. A teaching tool as well as a deterrent for students, local teachers brought their charges to observe the takedown of the offending buildings.
The demolition is funded entirely through drug seizures, and the owner is charged only for the debris removal, usually a one-time charge of $600.
"The cost for a typical crack down is $10,000, which includes the rental of equipment, fuel and the cost of lodging the troops during their temporary duty assignment," explained Staff Sgt. Jim Levine, a long-time veteran of the counter drug task force. "It is absolutely free to the city and, more importantly, free to the taxpayer. The company we rent the equipment from gives us a very good rate, and they deliver the tract excavator and wheel loader to whatever city we are working in."
The Texas National Guard uses one of its own MA-16A2 flat-bed trucks to move a rented tract excavator and a wheel loader to the site to carry out the demolition and the cleanup.
"We get to tear down stuff without impunity," said a smiling Sgt. Frank Garcia, a driver who is currently on his fifth demolition. He added that the heaviest bucket of debris removed that he can remember was 22.6 tons.
The team displays the easygoing relationship of people who have worked together for a long time. Each member likes to cite record teardowns, but Staff Sgt. Levine emphasized that when the team jumps into action, the safety aspect of this and any other operation is paramount.
"It is every Soldier and Airman's responsibility to observe safety," he said. "And each team member can stop operations until a safety violation is cleared."
At the end of the week, 13 fewer crack houses existed in Granger. This means a reduced opportunity for children to break into an abandoned home to smoke, drink, sniff glue, or use or sell drugs, which is exactly why Chief Mace likes it.