Random tests help deter drug use

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
Military members and civilians at Robins who think they can do drugs and get away with it need to think again.

Amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana are only a few of the drugs the base's Drug Demand Reduction Program randomly tests military and civilians for.

On any given day, a Department of Defense mandated computer software program could pick a military or civilian member to provide a urine sample for the random testing procedure. Those selected are notified through their organization or unit's military or civilian trusted agent and must report to Bldg. 207 for the test.

Military members' tests are sent to Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, for analysis, while civilians' tests are sent to Quest Diagnostics in Pennsylvania.

Vera Seales, Drug Demand Reduction Program manager in the 78th Medical Group's Behavioral Health Flight since 1997, said all active-duty military members are subject to the random testing, while 1,500 civilians in drug testing designated positions are subjected to such testing.

Ms. Seales said as of April 30, 2,869 military members and 1,045 civilians were tested for drug use. Out of those tests, 12 military members and 10 civilians tested positive for drug use.

Slater Thorpe, assistant manager of the program, said drug use carries a high price tag. He said when a military member tests positive for drug use, "we inform the unit commander, the Air Force OSI (Office of Special Investigation), security forces and the Alcohol Drug and Treatment Office," he said. "Commanders take over the discipline process from there. When a civilian tests positive, we inform the Employee Relations Office and they have their own procedure. Usually, an individual is terminated at that point."

Mr. Thorpe said with the Air Force's zero tolerance of drug use, military members can expect to face separation by court-martial or some other form of administrative action and civilians most likely will lose their jobs.

Robins takes drug testing a step further by using squadron and gate sweeps to deter people from drug use.

"Squadron sweeps are conducted to ensure the health and welfare of the squadron and make sure they're militarily ready and fit," Ms. Seales said. "Usually, if a commander wants to check out his squadron or make sure that everyone is fit for duty, they can request a squadron sweep."

So far in fiscal 2007, Robins has had three squadron sweeps.

The 116th Air Control Wing's 330th Combat Training Squadron underwent a squadron sweep in fall 2006 and again in February 2007.

Lt. Col. Patrick Taylor, commander of the 330th CTS, said the sweeps are an effective tool to keep his Airmen accountable.

"Basically, for me as a commander, it's a way that if I suspect the presence of drug use, or notice individuals exhibiting bizarre or unlawful behavior, the (Uniform Code of Military Justice) gives me the authority to test to ensure effective unit discipline," he said.

Colonel Taylor said the sweeps are an effective tool for deterring drug use among the ranks. And for those who choose to take drugs, the colonel said there is no tolerance.

"Usually, it falls under the administrative channel for military discipline," he said. "I coordinate closely with the 78th Staff Judge Advocate Office for disciplinary Article 15 issues, and depending on their rank, determine what recourse I have. In almost all cases, I try to discharge them if they are illegal drug offenders."

Colonel Taylor said there are other avenues of punishment he can take as a commander.

"For an administrative discharge, we can prefer Article 15 punishment and then recommend discharge after that," he said. "That discharge gets approval through the wing commander. If I offer an Article 15 punishment to an individual, they can turn it down and opt for a court-martial instead."

The colonel said the matter then goes before a judge or a court of officers, depending on their plea and then punishment is determined on the person's offense.

Colonel Taylor said squadron sweeps are an effective tool for commanders to use.

"I think it's a great deterrent," he said. "It puts discipline and standards at the forefront for me and it keeps the unit on its toes. It also reinforces the fact we're held to higher standards than the general populace and the importance of following Air Force core values, Air Force Instructions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice in accomplishing our mission is reinforced."

A gate sweep, which is determined by the base commander during a period of time on any given day, is a measure for random drug testing of active-duty military members who come through Robins' gates.

Ms. Seales said Robins is continuing its effort to educate commanders and those at the base about the drug testing measures in an effort to further deter drug use.