It began with a phone call –

“It always begins with a damn phone call…” the young LT thought morosely to himself.  Any other time he would be drinking in the warmth of the Florida sun, enjoying the beach, such as it was, across the highway from Patrick AFB, but not this time.

Two weeks earlier, about two-thirds of the way through a much anticipated honeymoon in the mountains, the real world came crashing in on the newlyweds in the form of a note from the front desk, neatly tucked into the door of their room.  “Call the SDO – immediately” followed by the duty phone number to the squadron’s ready room.  Thinking it was another prank (he still flushed at the thought of the cryptic “OH NO!” one of his “buds” had surreptitiously painted on the soles of his white uniform shoes; the gasps and muffled laughter from the congregation when he kneeled with his bride-to-be at the altar proved a conversation maker at the reception…), he had called the duty office and connected with one of his roommates from the deployment they had just returned from the previous month.

“Wilbur – oh man, I’m glad you got the message.  Look, Skipper said to get everyone back pronto, we’re deploying in 48 hours…”
“BS Tom” he replied “You may have gotten me with the shoes, but I’m not biting on this one.”
“I’m not kidding” Tom replied in a hurt tone “Look, this isn’t something I’d kid about” (conveniently forgetting the other times he’d cried wolf on deployment…)
Evidently the Skipper was near by and had heard Tom’s fruitless pleas.  He picked up the extension.

“He’s not kidding this time – we’re deploying for a month may be two; can’t tell you where or why on this line, but you need to haul your carcass back here and be ready to go.   We’ll try and make it up to you on the other side when we get back”

The LT knew his Skipper well enough to realize that despite his penchant for enjoying a masterful prank (the shoe idea turned out to be his) he quickly discerned this was the real deal.

“Got it Skipper – I’ll be there” and hung up, trying to figure out how to explain to his bride that he was being recalled from their honeymoon.  As she would learn, it was but one of many, many more to come in the intervening years.

In 1982 the incidence of drug smuggling into the southeastern US was perceptibly on the rise.  The doped out 70’s were turning into the hopped up 80’s – pot importation was up and cocaine in bulk form was making serious inroads, especially in south Florida.  “Entrepreneurs” – if you could call them that, discovered there was serious cash to be had for relatively quick runs in private aircraft, small twins being favored, from the Bahamas into south Florida.  No messing with end distribution, they were just the middle men (and women) flying “product” into the country.  Besides, they reasoned, no one is being forced to use the “product” so who’s the victim?  So-called “mom & pop” enterprises sprung up overnight as a result.

Like the pirates that preceded them centuries ago, these outfits found haven in the many small islands and lax law enforcement of the Bahamas.  From Rum Cay, Andros Island, Nassau and Crooked Cay they launched from roads and dirt strips.  Flying low and minimizing exposure to coastal radars, they flew their profiles at 190-200 knots, usually in a Twin Bonanza, Baron or Aztec or similar craft – the one way flight of 2 hours would terminate at a similar locale in the Everglades.

Customs had their hands full.  The numbers were building and they were on the short end of the stick.  In Washington, ‘Something Had To Be Done’ was the order of the day and DoD was sought as an answer to increasing radar coverage.

“Naturally,”  he glumly thought, “there were only two platforms that could do it – those being either the junior Service’s AWACS or the Navy’s E-2Cs” And of course, just like they got screwed with Iceland, the AWACS weren’t available to play, so Team Navy got the nod and in particular, the Battle ‘E’ Bluetails – again.  To say that the USAF and its AWACS crews weren’t at the top of his Christmas card list would be, well, a severe understatement.

“And so here we are again, waiting on a hot spin/crew switch to go out on another mission that by all rights should be being done by someone else,” he opined loudly and somewhat viciously to no one in particular.

“Aw geez Wilbur – lighten up already…” the Skipper intoned from behind.  “Think of it this way – you could be back in Norfolk, pushing papers or out here chasing bad guys” He accentuated the last with a punch to his shoulder.  He was the CAPC for this flight – the LT was the oncoming CICO.

And try as he might, the LT could not suppress a grin, for he was right.  A post-deployment squadron was noteworthy for the lack of flying and stacks of post-deployment reports that had to be filled out.  His mood was brightening as the sound of an E-2 entering the overhead break (something that really pissed off their Air Force hosts too) washed across the tarmac.  The sun was low on the horizon and the air clear of the usual late afternoon/early evening thunderstorms that plagued this part of the country.

“Yeah, should be a good night for hunting – wonder what we’ll bag tonight…” he thought as he walked out to the waiting Hawkeye with the Skipper.

To be continued…


  1. Ah yes, counter-narcotics ops. S-3’s got to play in that circus as well. The Gamblers did a couple of dets to Gitmo right after returning from a Med deployment in ’89 and again within a month of returning from FID’s last operational deployment in ’91 we were operating out of Key West. As you said, there were less desireable options on the board. 😎

  2. I was on the other end of this deal in 1981-1982….one of four “watch officers” to fire up the TDS at FCTCL to get the data over the CLF Command Center…

    0231: Ring! “Hello?” “CLF Battle Captain here: Time to go to work.” “Yes, sir!”

  3. You were in the wrong there, along with the rest of the US Government. The Constitution has nothing to say about drugs, pro or con. The only constitutional Federal drug law is the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. It was a sneaky end-around, like the National Firearms Act of 1934, I think it was. In both cases, the federal .gov has no authority to forbid anyone from owning anything, be it a machine gun or a dangerous drug, only the power to levy an excise tax when it changes hands for money.

    I do believe that cocaine is bad for you and should never be indulged in except for emergencies, such as policemen kicking your door down in the middle of the night. In that case, snort it up, and give a good account of yourself!

    (I write as one who is getting old and might be in need of some artificial courage in a situation like the one I mentioned above.)

  4. JTG:

    Obviously I do not concur with your assessment nor advice as to the criminality or lack thereof of in the traffiking, posession or use of illegal drugs, especially after witnessing first hand the destructive effects they have on personal lives, careers and families. And don’t start with the “alcohol does more damage…” argument – we can all point to someone we know who has been equally destructive with alcohol; it’s legal, the others aren’t and shouldn’t be.

  5. dc

    I was in the FID BG, back in ’91. Went right back out for CDOPS two weeks after returning. Sucked to leave the loved ones, weeks after a seven month deployment. The two total years I spent doing the CD missions were the most fun one could have in the early 90’s, especially on a “Small Boy”.

  6. Yes, Steeljaw, all of those things are bad for you (including alcohol) and if you do very much of any of them for very long, you’ll make permanent deleterious changes in yer brain.

    That said, the FedGov has no constitutional authority (aside from excise taxes) to interfere with the possession or use of them.

    The attempts to interfere have proven to be a cure that’s worse than the disease.

    The War on (some) Drugs has pretty much destroyed the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Are you quite sure you didn’t violate your Oath by participating in that thing?

  7. Oh, yeah, the Feds can forbid the importation of whatever kind of anything, but I think that’s for the Treasury (Customs) guys to worry about, not the Navy.

  8. Steeljawscribe

    And given that we were not the arresting authority and provided assistance to Customs, I think that the effort was in line with mission areas as authorized under posse comitatus.

    Look, I’d be less than honest if I said at the start and for the duration of the CD effort the thought didn’t cross my mind more than once and the legal parsing is enough to give one a major migraine. The fact of the matter was there were individuals and organizations that were attempting to bring in substantial quantities of illegal substances by violating US airspace and borders. We had the capabilities to assist Customs in in their interdiction – USN (and other DoD assets) did not participate in the endgame – that was all a Customs affair. Our assistance at that point entailed traffic separation to ensure they didn’t fly into each other. Later (as will be seen in subsequent iterations) Customs developed their own (limited) surveillance and long-range intercept capabilities.


  9. Oh, Ok, I ain’t mad at ya personally, or anything, it’s just that I get this feeling these days that more and more things about our country are just, well, broken, and it bothers me a lot.

    If you look at Sayuncle’s blog, you’ll see that the DEA is about to slip a regulation through which will classify iodine, A CHEMICAL EFFING ELEMENT, as a controlled substance. The meth cookers are already using lithium from cell phone batteries in a different process, instead.

    I remember the fun (and the fright) I had when young, making nitrogen tri-iodide. Hell, we even had realistic cap pistols when I was a kid!

    Grump! Grrr! Growl

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