W.Va. chief recalls fallen comrades

May 12, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town Police Chief Mike Aldridge wears a black ribbon around his badge the same as do other police officers during National Police Week.

To him, it does not symbolize honoring faceless police officers he never met who were killed in the line of duty.

He thinks of five Drug Enforcement Administration agents under his command who were killed in the war on drugs in South America when he was a high-ranking DEA official.


On Thursday he plans to attend a ceremony at a wall dedicated to slain police officers in Washington, D.C.

The agents were flying in a twin-engine, turbo-prop plane in August 1994 as part of "Operation Snowcap," Aldridge said. The agents had volunteered for the hazardous duty in South America, he said.

Aldridge was the chief of operations for the DEA's interdiction program in South America at the time.

Their plane crashed while they were flying in a narrow, jungle valley, surrounded by steep mountains, he said.

They were on a surveillance mission, looking for clandestine drug labs and landing strips, he said.

"Operation Snowcap" led to the seizure of more than 224,000 pounds of cocaine, the destruction of 72 clandestine drug labs, and the seizure of more than $70 million in property throughout South America from 1987 to 1994, Aldridge said.

But the price included the five lives, he said. Another agent died in a U.S. State Department plane crash. Two agents were wounded in firefights.

The agents, among scores who served in South America, had undergone U.S. Army Ranger training to prepare them for their duty in the jungles.

"Other than aircraft crashes my people didn't get killed," Aldridge said.

Aldridge flew down from Washington to accompany the bodies being returned back to the U.S.

"That was a long, somber trip," he said.

He attended four of the five funerals and he spoke to all of the families, he said.

The funerals ranged from a full commander's funeral in New York City for Special Agent Frank Fernandez complete with bagpipes and a parade through the streets, to a small affair for family and friends for Meredith Thompson, a young woman who had appeared in a DEA recruitment video.

As Aldridge spoke of his time spent with the agents' families, his voice grew quiet as he sat in his Charles Town Police office.

"They all felt a great loss, but they all felt very strongly that their children were doing something heroic, brave, for their country," Aldridge said. "This was a special, voluntary group of agents."

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