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Base programs catch drug use, offer help

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- When security forces searched the staff sergeant, they found a three-inch glass pipe and a glass cylinder containing white, clear rocks like glass shards in her left utility uniform pants pocket.

Not even a year earlier, the staff sergeant was in good health and had solid performance reports and a promising career ahead of her. She was happy to receive orders to Vandenberg, 30 miles from her hometown of Guadalupe, Calif. Being home and near family could have been ideal for her.

But what should’ve been a blessing became a curse when she fell in with the wrong crowd. She traded her health and ultimately her career for methamphetamines.

The staff sergeant tested positive for methamphetamines during a random drug test. Addicted to the powerful drug, she continued to use even after she was notified she'd tested positive.

“The risk of losing everything, even my life, did not even enter into my head,” she said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the primary drug threat in California today is methamphetamine, or meth, and it's affecting life on the Central Coast.

The punishment for a military member who is associated with meth is severe. When military members use, have, sell or make the drug, they violate Article 112a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The maximum punishment includes a dishonorable discharge, five years confinement, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and total forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
In spite of the consequences, the availability and highly addictive properties of meth continue to threaten Air Force personnel.

In the past two years, three cases of meth use by military members at Vandenberg were either detected initially, or subsequently confirmed, by the base urinalysis drug-testing program. The program uses a sound collection process so the results may be applied during legal proceedings together with additional evidence provided by Office of Special Investigation criminal investigators.

“If it’s in the system, it’s easily recognized,” said Raymond Vasquez, Drug Demand Reduction Program manager. “Among dozens of types of drugs, every sample we collect is tested for meth.”
The program uses Department of Defense standardized software that randomly selects 65 percent of the active-duty Airmen on base to provide samples.

In addition to random testing, 100 percent of high-risk category people are tested. High-risk people are younger Airmen, those in the lower rank tiers, such as lieutenants and airmen basic through senior airmen.

Random drug tests can be assigned through the orderly room, but could also be conducted through unit and dormitory sweeps.

“They could be tested anytime, anywhere on base,” Mr. Vasquez said. “People come up to me to complain, ‘Hey you just tested me last week.’ To me, that’s good. They know they could be tested at any time.”

Base life skills centers provide education, group counseling and therapy. It's available for those who have a diagnosis of meth use and are in a situation where they can talk about it.

“This is a disease, without a doubt,” Mr. Vasquez said.

The program informs people of the disease concept, relapse prevention and understanding of 12-step programs.

“An individual would come in through life skills, and get direction where to go,” Mr. Vasquez said. “We offer transitional services because they’re most likely getting separated and they'll require further treatment outside the Air Force.”

The program is designed for military personnel. Non-military people can receive referrals to off-base programs.

“There are treatment programs available to everyone,” Mr. Vasquez said.

“The trend of people making an incredibly poor decision is not limited to active duty,” Colonel Kramer said. “Evidence from investigations shows this scourge has included nearly all categories of the Vandenberg community, including civilians and dependents.”

The Unified School District Drug Advisory board is a community tool that informs people how to recognize drug abuse trends in the local area.

“What’s happening out there effects us here,” Mr. Vasquez said. “We need to see what’s going on out there and bring info back to base.

“My job calls on me to provide education to the whole population,” he continued, “through the use of our (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment) trailer, a multimedia experience with reading material, videos and hand outs.”

Even one-time use and possession of drugs is not tolerated in the military regardless of rank.