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Air Force downs one of its own fighter pilots

This is a note I got over the weekend from an F-15 pilot I know: The first core value required of military officer’s is integrity. Integrity is also necessary with the procedures and regulations military members bide by. Not all military procedures and/or regulations are perfect. When a situation produces an outcome where integrity is ...

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This is a note I got over the weekend from an F-15 pilot I know:

The first core value required of military officer’s is integrity. Integrity is also necessary with the procedures and regulations military members bide by. Not all military procedures and/or regulations are perfect. When a situation produces an outcome where integrity is suspect, it is an officer’s duty to restore integrity. However the prevailing culture in the military is not conducive to this type of challenge. The result is often a negative impact on the military’s mission and harm to its members.

Real Life Example: To help meet pilot manning shortfalls, the Air Force launched a Limited Period Rated Recall Program (LPRRP) in early 2009. The program is designed to fill pilot staff and/or unmanned drone positions with volunteer retired and reserve officers. Applicants are required to complete a “commissioning” physical although many have valid physicals in the AF Reserve or have just recently retired from active duty.

In March 2009, a 20-year AF Reserve Major with a distinguished service record including 45 combat missions over Iraq/Kosovo as an F-15 pilot, applied for the LPRRP and submitted himself for a physical at Hill AFB. During the physical, the Major was given a urine test for drug use. Air Force regulations don’t require “positive chain of custody” procedures for drug testing during routine physicals and the sample was unsupervised, uncontrolled, and left unattended for long periods of time. To the shock of the Major, the test result was “marginal” but the physical was marked “disqualified.” The Major’s attempt to provide medical information which may have triggered the unfavorable result went unanswered.

In June 2009, to the surprise of the Major, the LPRRP offered the Major an assignment to fill a non-flying desk position. However the issue of the “disqualified” physical needed resolved. With the authorization of the LPRRP and a Flight Surgeon at Hill AFB, the Major repeated the commissioning physical. A second urine test was conducted which came back favorable.

In July 2009, a Commander at Hill AFB ordered his staff to suspend processing the second physical because regulations prohibited it from being used to replace the previous disqualified physical.

After several discussions between the Commander and the AETC/SG (Surgeon General) the Major was allowed to submit a hair sample to an independent laboratory with intentions of the result being used to submit a package to AFMOA, asking for approval of the physical.

In September 2009, AFMOA rejected the request even with the favorable result on the second urine test and favorable result on the hair test. A hair test is considered more accurate and covers a longer time span of possible drug abuse, than a urine test. AFMOA did not provide any reason(s) for their denial.

The Major lost the opportunity to fill the active duty assignment, which now has to be filled by an active duty pilot, taking him/her out of the cock-pit and further exasperating the Air Force’s pilot manning shortfall.

The Major repeatedly stated to his Commander(s) that he has never used illegal substances of any kind in his life. The Major has been given numerous “no-notice” drug tests in association with his civilian career and has never had an unfavorable outcome.

Airline/FAA drug tests strictly adhere to “positive-chain-of-custody” procedures. Air Force drug abuse testing procedures strictly adhere to “positive-chain-of-custody” procedures. However, the Air Force does not require “chain-of-custody” procedures during routine physicals which clearly results in questionable integrity with all outcomes.

A examinee could easily smuggle a clean urine sample into a routine physical and place it in the container and/or switch his/her container with the urine in another container in the collection tray. The test is 100% unsupervised, uncontrolled, and has no “chain-of-custody.”

The 20-year Major was recently selected for a very competitive promotion to Lieutenant Colonel while at the same time, he is being denied the opportunity to fill a non-flying desk job on active duty.

Where has integrity been lost? Why are situations like these ignored by military Command authorities who have the power to restore integrity and rectify an obvious injustice but instead, stand silent?

Anyone got a good explanation of why the Air Force is acting this way, besides the fact that is capable of being as mindless as any other bureaucracy? 

Flickr/Lietmotiv

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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