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May 16, 2007 - San Antonio Express-News (TX)

OpEd: Drug Test Kits A Sad Commentary On Slipping Standard

By Ken Allard

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Even if you don't live in San Antonio, you might have been outraged when a local television story made national news. U.S. Army recruiters from our area -- senior noncommissioned officers wearing battle dress uniforms -- were caught on videotape offering disposable, no-fault, drug-testing kits to prospective Army recruits.

Investigative reporter Brian Collister of WOAI developed the story that TV news outlets around the country will surely replay as the latest indication that, even here in Military City, USA, the volunteer Army has fallen on hard times.

The undercover video was startling because the prospective recruits were high school kids just like those you see down at the River Walk or cruising La Cantera.

But this is what those wholesome-looking kids were told by Army recruiters: When you leave here today, take this kit with you and follow the instructions to see if you're clean. If you are, then we can put you in for the regular enlistment physical (with its daunting battery of blood and other tests specifically designed to detect drug abuse).

But if not, then you may have to wait 30, 60 or even 90 days to be sure you're really clean. So come back in here anytime and just pick up another prescreening kit. After all, they're free, no records are kept, and is this a great country or what?

Because Americans often trivialize tragedy as an instinctive first response, our beleaguered Army may soon become the target of late night comics. One can only anticipate Jay Leno's next opening line: "Breaking news, folks! Army recruiters have come up with a whole new meaning for the 'take-home test.'"

Or from David Letterman: "See where today's Army is demonstrating what it really means to study hard to pass your urine test?"

Or possibly from the acerbic Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show": "Did you hear the Army's newest recruiting slogan? This war's so bad, you gotta be on drugs to enlist!"

Far worse than the jokes are the larger societal questions when drug abuse among young people can be taken for granted. Any military establishment reflects the basic qualities of the society it comes from -- good or bad. If that larger society has problems with drug abuse, child abuse and declining test scores, then its offspring will inevitably share these same characteristics and affect every institution -- including the military.

The presence of drugs in our schools and among our young people apparently has become so commonplace that some people simply shrug off the headlines and wonder what all the fuss is about. If you're on amphetamines, marijuana or cocaine, no sweat, just get cleaned up and then enlist, right?


For one thing, drug abuse of any kind is inevitably fatal for an army at war, particularly when counterinsurgency recognizes neither front lines nor supposedly secure rear areas. And when that army is as short-handed and overstretched as the one defending us today, it is simply inconceivable to tolerate the enlistment of any prospective recruit even suspected of having a drug problem.

It is also inconceivable that the Pentagon has forgotten the costs over two decades of ridding that post-Vietnam Army of the scourge of drugs. Our motto back then: Not in my unit, not in my command, not in my Army!

Given their two-week warning of Collister's story, the Army's wooly response seems nothing short of inexplicable. Thus far: "Investigations" are ongoing, sergeants are being blamed for misrepresenting policies, and, who knows, an ethics panel may even be convened. All sheer nonsense because the inescapable fact is that recruiters are simply being forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel to make their numbers.

The larger reality is that the volunteer force is quickly running out of steam, failing to attract sufficient numbers of Other People's Kids to replace soldiers run far beyond the red line and any conceivable call of duty. It is far simpler and much less trouble to slip the standards while strenuously proclaiming that nothing is wrong.

No matter the outcome in Iraq, it will take a generation to repair the damage done to our Army.

And our steadily declining social values? Stay tuned!

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