Thursday, May 12, 2005

Drugs in the Military in Iraq

I've seen variations on this question appear different places on the internet several times over the past 2 years, but I've never seen a response.

Recreational and hard drug use exists everywhere in the world. In the United States, young people - military age people - are using crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy at an ever increasing rate. Crystal methamphetamine abuse is particularly problematic with young people in rural America - a demographic from which the military draws a disproportionate number of its recruits.

I have written about my own drug use. When I was in college in California, a high school friend was in the Navy and stationed nearby in Vallejo. He was a crystal methamphetamine user as were many of his Navy friends that I met. Once he was assigned to a ship and moved to Norfolk, Virginia, he and his fellow sailors' methamphetamine use continued, even when they were away on ships for months at a time. Methamphetamine use amongst young servicemen struck me as fairly normal at the time. I realize that my perception doesn't mean that this was necessarily so.

We have 140,000 troops in Iraq, 40% of whom are from the National Guard and Reserves. Thousands of tons of supplies are flown in daily from military bases around the world and those supplies are disseminated throughout Iraq. Drugs like crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy are relatively easy to manufacture, are popular, are profitable and don't take up a great deal of space (as opposed to bales of marijuana, for example). Methamphetamine, at least, is also addictive.

What sort of drug use exists within the military in Iraq? What is coming in? How is it getting in? Who is using it? What is it being used for? Is it a problem? How does the military deal with it?

Dadmanly responds:

I am in a position whereby I would need to enforce the Army's zero tolerance policy towards drugs (and here, alcohol as well). We have had no such incidents in the 200+ soldiers in our unit. We had a couple of incidents prior to mobilization, but none since. I would argue that once on active duty, our checks and safeguards (and potential punishments) are a pretty effective deterrent. There's pretty good evidence that the few positives we had could have been intentional attempts to get out of deployment.

I may be naive to think it would be pretty difficult to get anything in here. The security threat is high, thereby screening procedures include canine units, open container searches, and other techology based procedures.

Given what my soldiers have seen as the consequences for drug use, I think they would be pretty reluctant to get caught. (And anyone who knew or found out would talk about it, and eventually someone not your friend would find out.

But our parent unti is quite large, and I have no doubt that some enterprising souls could and perhaps have found a way. But I will say I have heard of no cases, nor is it discussed. What is discussed, at every opportunity, is Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response (SAPR) training, which I taught to my soldiers during mobilization training, and we've gone through another round here in Iraq.

This is in response to publicized problems with unreported or underreported assaults within the military. That's how the military responds to identified problems, they identify action items (which often have a training and retraining component) and conduct training. If drugs was even on the radar screen, we'd be going to mandatory training classes. And its just not happening.

Not in response to chronic problems, but as a standard feature of active duty live fior more than a decade or two (I remember having these in the 80's), the Army conducts regular, unit level random unrinalysis. Programs are designed to be implemented randomly, without notice, throughout the year in such a way that the soldiers never now if their turn is due until right before they are screened.

And neither we nor our parent unit to my knowledge have had anyone piss hot. Not here. Not now. Maybe its because it could really get you killed here.

LiberalAvenger response:

Very informative answer, Dadmanly. Thank you!


At 2:21 PM, Blogger Synova said...

Operation Golden Flow.


True, random drug tests might let some lucky sod slip through just because his number never comes up, but that's a pretty risky thing.

I knew people who drank, and drank a lot. And I heard rumors of people who smoked weed. No doubt some do more. But while the military will send you to classes for drinking to much, if you fail the golden flow you are simply out. Kiss your career good-bye.

If I knew the guy with the gun standing next to me was high? Well, there's a point at which self-preservation and loyalty clash.

But if a person is going to do drugs, they are probably doing to do them before the age of 18 and the military will not take you if you aren't clean. Any contact with law enforcement and they won't take you. Any DUI or related incident and they won't take you.

I think that some people think that GI's lurking in opium dens is a romantic image and if they find out that our guys don't live up to that they are disappointed.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Sisyphus said...

Pentagon Steps Up Drug Tests Overseas

The survey also found that cigarette smoking and heavy drinking were on the rise in the military. Use of illicit drugs is holding steady, however, far below the rate for civilians.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...


Thanks, folks.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...

Are they really conducting regular urine tests of men and women deployed in Iraq?

I would have expected that while the war is on, those sorts of things might be left behind back in the states.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger dadmanly said...


Actually, I might think the contrary. With live ammo and very strict rules of engagement (ROE), our soldiers need to react in a split second with potentially devasting public relations impact. They have to be right, and they have to do it quick. Drugs wouild make that much more difficult.

I can't speak for all units, but the ones I'm with here are doing something on the order of 10% of soldiers per month, and you won't know until the last minute if it will be you.

(This was done every year or so stateside, and 100% were tested as part of mobilizatrion.)

Synova is 100% correct.

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