My Part in the War On Drugs

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

While serving on a the USS Morrison of the coast of Central America searching for drug smugglers the crew takes part in a very large cocaine bust.

MY PART IN THE WAR ON DRUGS

1989 – 1991 was spent on the USS Samuel Eliot Morrison FFG 13 home ported out of Charleston South Carolina. The Morrison was a reserve training ship with a full time crew of about 75 sailors. One weekend a month we would have anywhere from 20 to 40 reservists come on board for underway training. We also had a group of 40 reservists assigned to the ship who would spend two weeks with us fulfilling their requirements every 6 months.

The Morrison was pretty good duty, good living conditions, great port visits and the best Captain I ever saluted! Commander Parrish was the most laid back Skipper in the Navy but sharp and earned great respect from the whole crew. As soon as we could get out to sea he would authorize tropical uniforms which meant shorts, t-shirts and tennis shoes! St. Thomas, St. Croix, Barbados, Bermuda were some of our frequent stops. When the last line was tied and secured several of us would be the first off the ship with our golf clubs accompanying Captain Parrish. It was good times but we also earned our pay.

One of our primary functions was assignment to drug operations near Central America. On two occasions we sailed through the Panama Canal and patrolled off the coast looking for smugglers. We would always have a Coast Guard attachment of 6 to 10 who would handle all the legalities of stopping a boat in open waters. Panama City was our home port while in this area. The city was a little unsettling being that it wasn’t long after the invasion of Panama and the over throw and arrest of Manuel Noriega. We were told to only go out in town in groups and stay out of red light districts. When taking a cab always set in the back seat so no one could set behind you. We found out that most of the locals were glad to see Noriega gone and there was very little animosity towards us. A few days in port with a little golf, casinos and other things that sailors do in ports then back out on patrol.

We would patrol mostly outside the shipping lanes looking for anything that looked suspicious. Most of the drug smugglers use smaller boats 50 to 100 feet. Usually disguised as commercial fishing vessels or smaller cargo haulers. We would sail close enough to get the ships name of the stern and radio it in. If they were on a watch list we would hail the master and send a boarding party over. Every time we would wind up with nothing! On several occasions we would call in a contact and be told “hands off” DEA undercover agent on board. I remember thinking that has to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world!

This went on for weeks with no busts and then the day came when a Coast Guard helicopter reported that they had flown over a small boat and observed some suspicious activity. When they made a second pass and hovered near them they saw someone on board toss a square package off the stern. The package floated so they ordered the vessel to cease making way, shut off their engines. We were just a few miles away and made haste arriving at the location within minutes dispatching a boarding party over and bingo! They found four 50 pound blocks of pure cocaine stashed below deck. That plus the retrieved block that had been thrown into the water made it a pretty good bust! Apparently these guys didn’t know that cocaine floats!

We took the crew into custody and transported them to the Morrison’s helicopter deck then stationed guards. Lines were connected to the boat and we began to slowly tow it back to Panama. The whole crew was pretty jovial in the fact that after all the long hours at this we were finally returning with a bounty. Two hundred and fifty pounds of pure cocaine! We joked that we had just confiscated about 15 minutes of the daily supply for Los Angeles!

Towing the trawler behind us meant slow going, about 10 knots at the most. Apparently this slow trip back to Panama gave the Captain of the towed vessel time to consider his predicament. After a little over an hour of the journey he told one of the guards that he wanted to talk to whoever was in charge. The Captain of the ship is always in charge but this was a Coast Guard operation so the senior officer was summoned to the hello deck.

I wasn’t there for the conversation but the report was that the man said he wanted to make a deal. The question was asked what he had to deal with and the reply was.

“You think you have a good haul, you not seen nothing”!

The tow was stopped and a crew was sent to the boat. They started ripping out the bulk heads and false decks. When it was all over the 5 blocks of cocaine multiplied to over 80 with the total haul adding up to over 2 tons all in 50 pound blocks!

The Master of the smuggling boat knew we would find it eventually so he figured if he made it easier for us maybe it would go lighter on him. I don’t know what deal was made but when we finally got to port in Panama City there were DEA agents everywhere and heavily armed! The crew was dismissed with the exception of the assigned duty crew and told to go to town and say nothing of what had transpired.

The Samuel Eliot Morrison is now part of the Turkish Navy. I’m retired and someday when one of my Grand kids asks me what I did during the War on Drugs I can answer with.

“I deprived the City of Los Angeles of at least a couple of days’ worth of Cocaine”!


Submitted: October 12, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Billy Coy Sample. All rights reserved.

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