Scott Durst has spent the past 30 years fighting drugs in Maine, locking up users, dealers and distributors as part of his job keeping the streets safe in his adopted state.

Now, he’s taking that fight to one of the most dangerous and desolate places on Earth, going after some of the worst drugs at their source: Afghanistan.

Durst, a longtime agent with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency who served as a soldier in Bosnia and Iraq, is leaving Thursday on a mission as a contractor training Afghanistan’s drug agents how to infiltrate and take down narcotics operations.

“It’s something I feel I’ve been training and working for the past 30 years,” he said. “That will be kind of cool to focus on the supply-end things, rather than the demand.”

Durst will work for Virginia-based Engility’s law enforcement training program, assigned to a military base and working alongside U.S. soldiers and drug agents from Great Britain and Australia.

He’s not free to discuss all of the details and said he doesn’t yet know what the day-to-day operations will be like.

Durst’s career is intensifying at an age when many officers are relaxing into retirement. He’s 58, but few people would know it. He works out regularly and brings the same enthusiasm to his job that he did when he joined the Portland Police Department in the early 1980s, said his longtime friend Joseph Loughlin, who joined at the same time.

“The guy is still like he’s in his 30s and 40s,” said Loughlin, who rose through the ranks to assistant chief while Durst stayed in the field, often working undercover. “He’s an incredibly fit individual and always seeking challenges, but he’s also a dedicated professional, to his country and the city or whatever organization he’s in.”

Durst started his law enforcement career with the state police in Ohio and moved to Maine in 1979. He worked for a private investigator, going undercover in a paper mill where employees were stealing and selling paper.

Durst was attached to the 94th Military Police company as a reservist and was part of a peacekeeper mission in Bosnia. He carried out humanitarian missions like securing therapeutic equipment for a school for special-needs children in Lukavac.

His was among the earliest units sent to Iraq. The unit attracted attention for having its tour extended twice because commanders lacked enough experienced replacement fighters.

Durst spent most of his Maine career with the MDEA, but his position was eliminated as funding cuts squeezed the drug task force. He spent the past five months working as an investigator for the Maine Department of Corrections.

Durst’s son served in Afghanistan with the Army’s 126th Infantry. He returned home with a piece of shrapnel in his leg and a Purple Heart on his record.

Durst will be in Afghanistan as the U.S. and its allies reduce their combat forces and shift security responsibilities to the Afghan army. The country is as dangerous as ever, with Afghan police firing on NATO troops and the country’s law enforcement effort targeted by opponents of the government.

“It just means you have to, obviously, be that much more proactive when it comes to who you trust,” said Durst, who will not be on front-line patrols like a soldier but will probably accompany officers and soldiers on interdiction missions.

“My idea is, you don’t trust anybody except for your team. You have to essentially be on constant vigil and watch each other, prepare for what may come up.”

Durst said he doubts one man can make a significant dent in the drug trade that sends tons of opium from Afghanistan to be converted to heroin for use in Europe and America.

But he feels he can help.

“There’s no illusions,” he said. “Maybe (I could) help one or two officers who are in it for the right reasons.”

Durst’s experience as a soldier and a civilian drug agent made him a good fit for a job mentoring and training the Afghan equivalent of Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

They will learn about eradication strategies, setting up undercover drug buys and helping to bring solid cases with strong evidence to prosecutors.

He’ll spend a year there, with an option for a second year.

Durst insists he’s not someone who needs the rush of combat or its equivalent to give life meaning.

“I think anybody who knows me knows it’s not about adrenaline,” he said. “It’s about opportunity and the adventure, experiencing different things — and pushing the envelope a little bit. It’s more about the experience than the adrenaline high.”

There also are more personal benefits. The pay is much better than he made as an officer in Maine, though he won’t say how much. And, to a guy who shows no signs of slowing down, it will look good on the resume.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]