Twenty-one Iowa National Guard troops who tested positive for drug use on the eve of their deployment were sent overseas anyway, despite the Army’s “zero tolerance” policy. Now the Army must decide how to deal with them when they return.
Officials at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, which serves as a multistate jumping-off point for Reserve and Guard troops, said about 13 soldiers from other states who tested positive for drugs were also sent to Iraq.
Fort McCoy officials said some of the soldiers apparently used the drugs with the intention of getting caught and sent home.
“On a certain level, it would be perverse to throw people out because of their misconduct, when other people who did not engage in that misconduct are having to put their lives on the line,” said Eugene Fidell, a military law expert with the National Institute of Military Justice. Others who tested positive were deemed by medical officials to be infrequent users who posed no risk to themselves or their fellow soldiers in the field.
“A positive on their drug test is not going to keep them here, unless there’s a dependency issue,” said Linda Fournier, a Fort McCoy spokeswoman. “These units have to have so many people to go overseas.”
Spokesmen for the Army and the Department of Defense told The Des Moines Register this week that they were unaware of the problem.
The prospect of punishing troops who return after months of military service has attorneys at Army bases pacing the hallways. Under current policy, soldiers with three or more years of service often are discharged for positive drug tests. Younger soldiers sometimes opt for rehabilitation at the discretion of their commanders.
“The official policy is, you don’t have a whole lot of latitude,” said Mark O’Hara, a 31-year Coast Guard veteran and spokesman for the Judge Advocates Association in Washington, D.C.
“Maybe it’s going to be tough if the guy comes back a hero,” O’Hara said.
Seven of the 21 Iowa soldiers were from Fort McCoy, which also serves as a jumping-off point for troops from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Idaho and other states. In all, the base sent about 20 soldiers to Iraq who tested positive in pre-deployment drug tests.