RICHMOND, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Counterdrug Task Force facilitated a community engagement session focused on educating the public about human trafficking Feb. 28, 2022, in Chesterfield County, Va. The event was hosted by Soldiers with the Drug Demand Reduction Outreach section, and the discussion was led by a representative from Homeland Security Investigations.
Groups from central Virginia law enforcement agencies as well as members of the general public attended the informational session, which focused on defining the different types of human trafficking as well as recognizing potential victims. While CDTF frequently engages the public at various events, this event marked the first time they’ve done so focusing on human trafficking issues.
“Our Drug Demand Reduction Outreach section facilitates or participates in several community engaged events per month,” said Maj. Cari Kelso, commander of the Counterdrug Task Force. “However, this is the first such event that we have facilitated that was focused on human trafficking.”
“What the purpose of the event was to offer training and to give awareness of human trafficking to our law enforcement and community-based organizations, including what it is and who affects, and where it can happen.” said Staff Sgt. Wayne Graves, who led the facilitation of the event. “The motivation behind the event came about when I was attending a coalition board meeting hearing of the difficulty of getting local training on human trafficking.”
Graves reached out to Dede Wallace with Homeland Security Investigations, who was the main presenter at the event. Wallace spoke to the crowd about the differences between types of human trafficking, including sex trafficking and labor trafficking, which can often include victims being used as illegal drug mules. According to Kelso, the Counterdrug Task Force’s mission has expanded in recent years because of the law enforcement community’s focus on trafficking situations.
“Our mission has essentially stayed the same over the years. However, the Department of Defense has recently recognized the nexus between drug trafficking and other forms of illegal trafficking, including human trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering,” explained Kelso. “In light of our expanded authorities, we have adapted by partnering with new agencies and organizations such as the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force.”
In addition to the Drug Demand Reduction Outreach section, the Counterdrug Task Force supports law enforcement agencies with investigative case support and substance abuse prevention support. The team supports various local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that support the Commonwealth’s efforts to counter illegal drug activity as well as other forms of illegal trafficking. Some of the agencies the Task Force supports include Virginia State Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Homeland Security Investigations. Highly sought-after CDTF resources include criminal analysts and a UH-72 Lakota helicopter, both of which are used to directly support criminal investigations.
According to Kelso, the experience and capabilities CDTF is able to leverage to support law enforcement efforts across the state have paid off in spades.
“Last year, the CDTF was able to support law enforcement agencies statewide with the seizure of illegal drugs with an estimated street value in excess of $2.1 billion,” said Kelso. “In terms of drug seizures, this was one of the best years on record for us.”
In addition to the human trafficking awareness event, Graves has also participated in other types of outreach events to support the task force’s law enforcement partners.
“Staff Sgt. Graves has supported several law enforcement agencies and substance abuse prevention coalitions as they engage with residents in areas that are high risk for violent crime and substance abuse,” said Kelso. “In fact, he has participated in community engagement events immediately following high profile violent crimes in the City of Richmond in order to promote substance abuse prevention strategies.”
Graves is on his second tour with Counterdrug, having previously served as a criminal analyst. He rejoined the task force after recently retiring from the Richmond Police Department, and now serves as a civil operations specialist in the DDRO section. His experience in the Virginia law enforcement community has been instrumental to his success in the task force, Kelso said.
“While he has only been in this assignment for about a year, he has been able to make build strong relationships with various organizations and leverage his almost three decades of law enforcement experience,” said Kelso. “We once said that we wanted to meet with a certain law enforcement agency to try to partner with them and SSG Graves said he knew someone there that could get us a meeting. Little did we know, he was friends with the Chief of Police at the agency and called him personally to setup a meeting for us. Staff Sgt. Graves is a tremendous asset to our organization.”