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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Seeing Old Friends in New Orleans





This past weekend, my wife and I were attending the annual conference of the Association of Former Federal Narcotic Agents (AFFNA), a reunion of DEA retirees in New Orleans. After 20 years of retirement, it was the first time I had attended this conference. (It should not have taken me so long.) It was an opportunity for me to see old friends from my posts of duty in Thailand, Italy, and Pittsburgh as well  as agents from  many different offices with whom I had worked over the years. In addition, we also saw many of their spouses, with whom we had formed friendships over the years. For my wife, it was also a great experience seeing the wives she had known over the course of my tours of duty.

Speaking at our conference were the New Orleans chief of police, sheriff of Jefferson Parish, as well as the special agent in charge of the DEA New Orleans field office. Peter Bensinger, one of the early administrators of DEA, also attended and spoke at the banquet. In addition, a Marine Corps color guard was there to help us open our conference. It was much appreciated.

Another highlight was the presentation of the "AFFNA Agent of the Year" award, and this year's honoree (from New York) was present to receive the award. He is an impressive man and gave a touching speech paying tribute to the agents who had preceded him in DEA. One of our members was also honored for having served in Afghanistan and Iraq -after his DEA retirement. During Operation Enduring Freedom, he was wounded by an explosion and received the Defense of Freedom Medal. Needless to say, we are very proud of him. (I do not have permission to use the names of the above two men, so I am leaving them out.)

One of the themes prevalent during the official speeches was AFFNA's concern over the issue of marijuana legalization. Bensinger, who has been active in drug issues since his retirement, also spoke out against it. He also paid tribute to former administrator Michele Leonhart, who was recently forced into retirement over her opposition to legalization and the recent Colombia sex scandal involving a few DEA agents, an incident that occurred before she became administrator. Bensinger mentioned that as administrator, he had presented her with her credentials when she graduated from DEA basic agent training in 1980.

For me, it was not only a chance to talk over old times with people I had not seen in ages, but it also reminded me of why I am so proud to have served with DEA.

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