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Second chances prove rare in today's military

by Phillip O'Connor Modified: October 13, 2012 at 12:46 am •  Published: October 14, 2012
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But commanders now are less willing to look the other way at such misconduct. For example, in 2010, 40 percent of soldiers who sought outpatient treatment for drugs or alcohol at Fort Sill's post counseling center had failed more than one drug test.

“That has stopped,” Khalifeh said. “The commanders are getting rid of soldiers now. This came from the general saying we're going to be more proactive in taking care of soldiers. But those who can't be helped? We're here to build a better, ready Army, not to maintain soldiers incapable of rehabilitating.”

Of the 6,110 drug tests administered by the Oklahoma National Guard in the last year, 97 soldiers failed, some more than once, primarily for marijuana. Air National Guard figures were not available for this story.

Guardsmen who test positive for marijuana are counseled by a commander and, depending on their rank, can seek an evaluation and treatment. A decision on whether they can remain in the guard rests with the commander. Over the last seven years, an average of 50 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers a year have been dismissed for drug use.

“If a soldier doesn't want to get help for a drug issue, he's going to be kicked out of the service,” said guard spokesman Lt. Col. Max Moss. “But if the soldier has made a mistake and the regulation permits his retention and he's willing to get help, then that soldier is likely to be retained.”

According to the 2012 Army study, such high-risk behaviors erode discipline and have a direct impact on the readiness of the force. Last year alone, criminal activity and high-risk behavior reduced the deployability of more than 18,000 soldiers, or 2.6 percent of the Army. Those figures do not include serious misdemeanors such as drunken driving or being absent without leave, which would further have affected troop readiness.

Good order, discipline

At this month's court martial, Fuentes acknowledged a friend mailed 10 doses of LSD to him in July, and that he'd shared it with two other airmen in the base dorms and while at a club and a concert in Dallas, where he also used the drugs Ecstasy and methylone.

The fuel truck driver with the 97th Logistic Readiness Squadron told the judge he was disgusted with himself and had brought discredit on the Air Force and his family.

“This is his first mistake,'' said Fuentes' father, who traveled from Los Angeles for the trial. “He's been that kid that everyone loves. I know he's going to be heartbroken if he doesn't finish.”

His lawyer noted that character letters from fellow service members and others described Fuentes as a hard worker dedicated to his job. He said his client had taken responsibility for his actions, cooperated with investigators and agreed to testify in next month's scheduled courts martial of the other two airmen.

“He's not worried about confinement,'' said the defense counsel, Capt. Christopher R. Lanks. “He's worried about making things right.”

The Air Force prosecutor, Capt. Eric G. Hergenroeder, argued against leniency. He pointed to Fuentes' “brazen and cavalier attitude,” the seriousness of the drugs involved and his continuous course of criminal conduct in introducing drugs to Altus airmen who otherwise wouldn't have had access to them. He accused the airman of “poisoning the dorms at Altus.”

“No one was going to stop him and nothing was going to get in his way,” Hergenroeder said.

“He reaches out for LSD, buys it, gets it to Altus, distributes it. This is a series of conscious, calibrated decisions.”

“He needs to be an example here, too,” Hergenroeder said. “It's about good order and discipline.”

The judge's ruling still must be approved by the base commander, Col. Anthony Krawietz, who could lessen the sentence. A decision is expected by the end of the month.

by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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