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Guard's counterdrug warriors endeavor to test one and all

A lab specialist at the military drug testing facility at Brooks City-Base, Texas, points out samples prepared for analysis with a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer. The laboratory's high-tech equipment can find and identify all drugs present. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Hackley)

A lab specialist at the military drug testing facility at Brooks City-Base, Texas, points out samples prepared for analysis with a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer. The laboratory's high-tech equipment can find and identify all drugs present. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Hackley)

BROOKS CITY-BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- Finding a single drug abuser among thousands of servicemembers can compare to a shell game, but National Guard officials are placing all odds in their favor.
 
Officials are striving to keep the Guard's Citizen-Airmen and -Soldiers 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 the 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, the director of the Defense Department drug testing and program policy office. 

Colonel Shippee said he receives a quarterly Illicit Drug Positive Rate Report compiled from six laboratories that test for the Defense Department. 

Three years ago, officials tested 50 percent and 40 percent of the Guard's Soldiers and Airmen. They now test 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, Colonel Shippee said. 

"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," Colonel Shippee said. "Deployments also affect testing; although, once on active duty, Guardmembers are tested frequently." 

Colonel Shippee's report identifies the military's highest at-risk population as enlisted men, ages 18 to 25. 

To reduce drug positives, Guard officials implement 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 at the Air Force drug testing laboratory here. 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," Colonel Shippee said. 

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 laboratory staff tests 4.5 million specimens a year. According to the lab's 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," said Lt. Col. Kabrena Rodda, the lab's unit 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, National Guard officials initiated their Prevention, Treatment, and Outreach program.  PT&O specialists 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," Sergeant Steinly said. 

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 Lt. Col. Dwight Hall, chief of the National Guard Bureau's  substance abuse prevention program. "We lead by example as we protect and serve our nation." 

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