It began with a phone call â€“
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.Â â€œCall the SDO â€“ immediatelyâ€ followed by the duty phone number to the squadronâ€™s ready room.Â Thinking it was another prank (he still flushed at the thought of the cryptic â€œOH NO!â€ one of his â€œbudsâ€ 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 receptionâ€¦), he had called the duty office and connected with one of his roommates from the deployment they had just returned from the previous month.
â€œHeâ€™s not kidding this time â€“ weâ€™re deploying for a month may be two; canâ€™t tell you where or why on this line, but you need to haul your carcass back here and be ready to go.Â Â Weâ€™ll try and make it up to you on the other side when we get backâ€
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.
â€œGot it Skipper â€“ Iâ€™ll be thereâ€ and hung up, trying to figure out how to explain to his bride that he was being recalled from their honeymoon.Â 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.Â The doped out 70â€™s were turning into the hopped up 80â€™s â€“ pot importation was up and cocaine in bulk form was making serious inroads, especially in south Florida.Â â€œEntrepreneursâ€ â€“ 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.Â No messing with end distribution, they were just the middle men (and women) flying â€œproductâ€ into the country.Â Besides, they reasoned, no one is being forced to use the â€œproductâ€ so whoâ€™s the victim?Â So-called â€œmom & popâ€ 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.Â From Rum Cay, Andros Island, Nassau and Crooked Cay they launched from roads and dirt strips.Â 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 â€“ the one way flight of 2 hours would terminate at a similar locale in the Everglades.
Customs had their hands full.Â The numbers were building and they were on the short end of the stick.Â In Washington, â€˜Something Had To Be Doneâ€™ was the order of the day and DoD was sought as an answer to increasing radar coverage.
â€œNaturally,â€Â he glumly thought, â€œthere were only two platforms that could do it â€“ those being either the junior Serviceâ€™s AWACS or the Navyâ€™s E-2Csâ€ And of course, just like they got screwed with Iceland, the AWACS werenâ€™t available to play, so Team Navy got the nod and in particular, the Battle â€˜Eâ€™ Bluetails â€“ again.Â To say that the USAF and its AWACS crews werenâ€™t at the top of his Christmas card list would be, well, a severe understatement.
â€œAnd 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,â€ he opined loudly and somewhat viciously to no one in particular.
â€œAw geez Wilbur â€“ lighten up alreadyâ€¦â€ the Skipper intoned from behind.Â â€œThink of it this way â€“ you could be back in Norfolk, pushing papers or out here chasing bad guysâ€ He accentuated the last with a punch to his shoulder.Â He was the CAPC for this flight â€“ the LT was the oncoming CICO.
And try as he might, the LT could not suppress a grin, for he was right.Â A post-deployment squadron was noteworthy for the lack of flying and stacks of post-deployment reports that had to be filled out.Â 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.Â 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.
â€œYeah, should be a good night for hunting â€“ wonder what weâ€™ll bag tonightâ€¦â€ he thought as he walked out to the waiting Hawkeye with the Skipper.
Article Series - Reflections: Smuggler's Blues
- Reflections: Smugglerâ€™s Blues (I)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (II)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (III)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (IV) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (V) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VI) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VII) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (VIII)-Convergence
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (IX)-Conclusion