c130Once upon a starry, I sat straddling a winged steed, thinking; “Life can’t get any better than this.” Those stars piercing the night were the same ones that my loved ones saw back home. But there were no city lights. I stared at the big arrow in the Orion constellation, fancying it pointed to what we called “Back in the world” – the good ole U.S. of A. I didn’t know how to figure out if it really did.

The F-4 Phantom jet fighter plane fit under like a horse, as I installed an electronic box in a compartment just behind the cockpit. I wouldn’t want to be on the business of one of those suckers, with shark teeth painted on the snout and a .78 caliber Gatling gun sticking out.

The blue van belonging to the Communication & Navigation (Comm/Nav) shop pulled up just as I’d finished buttoning up the compartment. All troops on the flight line wore short sleeved camouflaged jungle fatigues. The driver was one of my long haired hippie friends. They had shoulder length hair wax in place under their fatigue caps.

“Where do you need to go, Kent?”

“Um,” I looked at my next work order. “Tail number 141.”

We drove down the flight line between rows of F-4’s, past the stealthy new F-111 fighter bombers and stopped amongst a dozen C-130 Hercules’. The C-130 is the work horse of military airlift, designed to ferry troops and supplies to third world countries with short, rough runways, like the one where I was stationed in Korat Thailand.

“Welcome to the party, Kent,” someone said as I climbed the corrugated metal stairs.

And then he handed me the end of an extension cord, for my head set. I plugged in and went to work in the electronics bay, with an aircraft radio tuned to the base rock and roll station. I was on board with the Com/Nav hippie crew. One stood watch from way up on top of the Hercules, while a doobie rolled in toilet paper made its way to me. It really couldn’t get any better.

There was just one little problem. I was hooked on heroin. I can’t even blame it on being in the Viet Nam war; I had a habit, years before I volunteered for the Air Force, at sixteen. Detroit was overflowing with heroin in the early seventies; coincident with the buildup of troops in Southeast Asia.

Leroy Payne came home on leave from the Marine Corp. He was user/dealers’ best friend, because he brought home stash of pure Thai heroin, from Viet Nam, in his duffle bag.

Now back to the C-130 Hercules; a freight car with wings. Shaped like a heavily armored giant dolphin, with four big turbo-prop engines, it looked far too heavy to fly. The outer hull was thickened for battle. To make up for the extra weight, they were designed without an inner hull. The metal stringers and longerons that make up the inner lattice structure are exposed, creating hundreds of coveys covered only by tarp-like padding; making the C-130 a drug smuggler’s dream ship.

Sure, the security police performed routine searches before the C-130’s left any of the six U.S. Air Force bases in Thailand. But Thailand is home to the Golden Triangle, where vast opium poppy fields produced more heroin than any place on the planet during the Viet Nam war. And Thai marijuana was super potent. Using scent dogs they could fill a trashcan with marijuana and heroin, and not put a dent in a thousand hiding places. Maybe if they ripped out all of the inner tarp, but that would impact the flight schedules by days, while they stitched it back together.

In a theater offering pure heroin for practically free, the promise of thousands of percent in profit made drug smuggling hard for many to resist. Dozens of people had access to the C-130’s. All a smuggler needed was someone with access on the other end to retrieve the hidden packages, many of which were wrapped scent tight to avoid the dogs.

Now fast forward to the Afghan war, where, guess what? The Golden Crescent poppy fields produced most of the world’s heroin at the time. C-130’s flew in and out of Afghanistan from 2001 to 2013. Is it just a coincidence that cheap heroin flooded suburban America at the same time?

I’ve had an insider’s perspective to both American heroin epidemics. I was part of the user population during the Viet Nam war. And I was on the frontlines of the sober recovery community that a whole new generation of heroin addicts. After the Viet Nam war ended, the price of street heroin skyrocketed, forcing users into prisons, cemeteries, or recovery. Wow, just in time for the Contra cocaine that flooded the U.S. during the mid 80’s. Did we have C-130’s in South America? Yep. We had two U.S. air bases in Colombia. Hmmm.

Heroin decimated Detroit in the 60’s and 70’s, with drug wars, murders, and indeterminate (i.e. 3 to 15) prison sentences. Crack cocaine decimated Los Angeles in the 80’s, with gang wars, financial ruin, and a war on drugs that handed out 25 year sentences.

I only met one white heroin addict during my 16 years of heroin addiction (1969 to 1985). That; and the crack epidemic of the 80’s was a Black thing. No sympathy, no leniency, long prison sentences.

I didn’t meet a White heroin addict until 2005, when, at 25 years sober, I moved to the suburbs. I actually said it to the first young man that came looking for recovery. Since then I’ve tried to steer dozens to recovery. And they’re mostly kids. I met one young lady who was only 15. They come to recovery through a revolving door. They come in, stay a few weeks and disappear. They tell me that the heroin is cheap, and pure enough to smoke. I only saw that in Thailand.

After the close of the Afghan war, Colombia moved to the forefront as the new leader in heroin production. And get this; in 2006, the U.S. negotiated the opening of five new military bases in Colombia. It would seem that U.S. military presence and increased drug production in narcotic crop producing nations are highly correlated. The C-130’s are the first planes in and that last planes out.

Is it coincidental that we’ve had military presence in drug producing nations since the mid 60’s? Now that the narcotics problem has jumped the tracks into the young White suburban population, America is taking a kinder gentler approach. There is a growing sympathy for addicts. There is a change in perspective, from criminal to medical. I feel sorry for anyone hooked on heroin. There’s no quitting; it just hurts too bad. There are no days off. And people will do almost anything to stay ‘fixed’.

How heroin moved to the suburbs is a matter of conjecture. A lot of the kids I met started with narcotic pain killers taken from their parents’ medicine cabinets. One could ask how the Black community is relatively unaffected. Could it be that doctors are more apt to prescribe narcotics to upper middle class Whites? Or, could it be that a different demographic has access to the C-130’s.

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Copyright 2016 Tales From The Mike Side