BROOKS CITY - BASE, Texas – Finding a single drug abuser among thousands of servicemembers can compare to a shell game, but the National Guard is placing all odds in its favor.
The National Guard is striving to keep its Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen drug free through an increase in drug tests and the integration of new prevention programs.
Current Defense Department policy dictates that each service component test 100 percent of their end-strength, and increased funding since 2003 has helped the Guard's counterdrug experts toward their 100 percent drug testing goal.
“We want to test everyone, every year, in addition to random testing to keep testing fair,” said Army Col. Ronald Shippee, director, Defense Department Drug Testing and Program Policy.
Shippee said he receives a Quarterly Illicit Drug Positive Rate Report compiled from six laboratories that test for the Defense Department.
Three years ago, the National Guard tested 50 percent and 40 percent of its Soldiers and Airmen. It now tests about 70 percent of non-deployed units. In comparison, the Army tests about 200 percent and the Air Force tests about 100 percent of servicemembers, said Shippee.
“It’s a challenge to test the National Guard [more] because they only drill two days a month, and there’s a lot to pack into a drill weekend,” said Shippee. “Deployments also affect testing; although, once on active duty, Guardmembers are tested frequently.”
Shippee's report identifies the military's highest at-risk population as enlisted men, ages 18 to 25.
To reduce drug positives, the Guard implements a program of smart testing, post testing and education. Smart testing includes decentralized testing; more frequent and random testing; testing on different days; testing at different times during drill; testing fulltime Guardmembers during their work weeks; and testing their own counterdrug personnel throughout the year.
“The National Guard administers drug tests to deter use, bring awareness, maintain unit readiness and reduce drug positives,” said Army Master Sgt. Ervin Steinly, eastern regional program manager.
Guardmembers coordinate closely with the other service components and their state-of-the-art detection laboratories.
Effective in early 2008, all Guard drug test specimens are analyzed here at the Headquarters, Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory. The high-tech Texas facility is one of six drug abuse detection laboratories used by the Defense Department.
“We shifted all Guard specimens here to help balance the workload among the six laboratories,” said Shippee.
The 54-person staff at Brooks also maintains testing for the Air Force, Army and Air Force Reserve, which totals 700,000 specimens annually or about 55,000 per month. In all, the laboratories test 4.5 million specimens a year. According to its unit commander, drug testing at Brooks serves a three-pronged mission:
“We deter and detect illicit use of controlled and illegal drugs by military personnel through random urinalysis testing; we report test results and prepare documentation for courts-martial; and we develop new methods for drug testing,” explained Air Force Lt. Col. Kabrena Rodda, commander.
The Guard's Substance Abuse Prevention Program is just one component of its larger counterdrug program, which supports community-based-organizations and law enforcement agencies in their fight against illicit drug use.
In early 2007, the National Guard initiated its Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach Program (PT&O). It built strong partnerships with other organizations, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.
The PT&O Program is now implemented in 35 states.
“Resources from the PT&O Program can help prevent and minimize post traumatic stress and its related issues,” said Steinly.
The Guard's counterdrug experts said they hope to help Guardmembers in their communities who are at risk for, or are combating, substance abuse and mental health issues. They target the reintegration of those who return from deployments and transition back as traditional Guardmembers.
“Drug abuse continues to threaten the health of the American people and the safety of our communities,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Dwight Hall, chief, Substance Abuse Prevention Program, National Guard Bureau. “We lead by example as we protect and serve our nation.”