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Drugs and Air Force core values don't mix

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not a fan of what some of us Department of Defense members lovingly call "Operation Golden Flow." I dislike the disruption to my already busy day, the two hours wasted if I can't pee "on command," the indignity of having someone watch me fill that tiny little cup and feeling my integrity is being questioned. In terms of most disliked necessities, I rate urinalysis slightly worse than going through airport security. Even though this is the part of military life I dislike the most, it is one of things we do that is most important to mission success. Drug use damages the most critical weapons system in the DoD's arsenal: The individual Airman. The drug abuse first attacks the Airman's core values and, from there the repercussions of drug abuse echo throughout the squadron and wing, putting national defense at risk.

I can speak on this topic because I have had the misfortune of watching a family member deal with drug use and addiction for the last 25 years. Though he's not in the military, the effects of his addiction are far-reaching. He's been to rehab numerous times, lost his driver's license at least three times, been treated for tuberculosis, overdosed once (the resulting damage caused a heart attack at age 36), and spent a month in federal prison for growing marijuana. Despite these apparent wake-up calls, he's continued to use. The latest self-induced misery is that he will spend the next 120 days in jail to complete his sentence for robbery. These transgressions have damaged his reputation, character, reliability. So, when I say drugs and our core values don't mix, I know what I am talking about.

Integrity First: Drug users quickly lose their integrity. It starts with the lies. They lie to their friends, families, co-workers, and leaders. They no longer hold themselves accountable for their actions. They cannot admit there is a problem. It is always someone else's issue: "They're just overreacting." The saddest part is the person they lie to the most is themselves by saying, "I don't have a problem; I can handle it."

Service before Self: Getting the next fix drives everything they do. Their motto is "Drug before Self." Rules and regulations fall by the wayside. They shed the discipline we rely on daily and cannot practice self-control. Their need for that drug of choice overcomes all else. And before they know it, they have sacrificed everything of value including their self-respect.

Excellence in All We Do: Looking at pictures of my family member as a kid makes me sad. All I see is wasted potential. As a kid, he was smart, charming, and popular. As an adult, he is still smart and charming. When he does have a job, he is a good worker and well-liked by his employers. Despite knowing all of this, I have no gift for identifying drug users on sight. There is no profile. They are not always the poor performers. In some cases, they may be top performers. While they may be a mess all weekend, they show up on Monday dressed and pressed. They may be well-liked and charming. These traits allow them to maintain their habit. However, they can't maintain themselves. Eventually it all catches up to them. Work suffers as personal problems mount up. Attention to detail is lost as the mind decays from the chemical soup. Once the downward spiral begins, stopping gets harder and harder. National security is at risk.

To the drug users who kept reading to this last paragraph, I say stop and seek help now. Even if you never get caught during a random urinalysis, the drug will finally catch you. You only get one life; make it a good one. For the rest of you, next time you get called in for a drug test, do what I do, bring a water bottle and something fun to read. No matter how inconvenient, it is an essential part of ensuring drug use stays out of the military, and our Nation remains secure.