Drug Scandal Grips Air Force Academy
Drug Scandal Grips Air Force Academy
Mar. 22, 2002
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) _ The U.S. Air Force Academy has stepped up drug testing and is putting more classroom emphasis on ethics amid the biggest drug scandal in the school's 47-year history.
Thirty-eight cadets out of 4,300 have been implicated in the scandal that began in December 2000.
In addition, six cadets have been charged or convicted of crimes such as larceny and sodomy, including the former president of the class of 2003, who is accused of stealing $9,000 from a class activity fund.
Academy officials have no simple explanation for the rash of crime, which has extended into this month with the arrest of a student on charges of raping a female cadet.
``We rely on the American people to send us their best. Every now and then we don't get the right people,'' said Col. Mark Hyatt, director of the Academy Center for Character Development, a department at the school that concentrates on everything from dinner-party manners to battlefield ethics.
The drug scandal _ involving mainly the use of Ecstasy and marijuana _ is the biggest problem for the academy since 105 cadets accused of cheating resigned in 1965. In the past 10 years, there had been only one other drug case at the academy, spokesman Lt. Col. Perry Nouis said, adding that officials believe the problem is now under control.
Because of the scandal, the academy has made it clear that an admission of even one puff on a marijuana cigarette will result in expulsion and possibly imprisonment, Hyatt said.
``We have to do things right or people die. When I come out of Baghdad and I am out of the fuel, I am trusting that tanker pilot will be there,'' Hyatt said. ``Because of what happened, we are not going to look the other way.''
Also, academy officials increased random drug tests in which cadets are summoned to the clinic and told to urinate into a cup. The academy is also considering state-of-the-art DNA testing of hair follicles, which scientists say can detect some drugs up to 90 days after their use.
In addition, the academy is working ethics lessons into courses across the curriculum _ even in chemistry class.
Of the 38 cadets implicated, eight were court-martialed and seven of those went to prison; one of them got 3 1/2 years at Leavenworth. Twenty-one others have left the academy; some of those are being forced to repay the government for their tuition, while others must serve in the Air Force in the enlisted ranks and not as officers.
Nine others received punishments ranging from loss of privileges to fines.
The investigation began after a cadet tested positive for drug use. The academy said all of the drug use occurred off-campus at parties. One cadet was accused of drug dealing; the rest were accused of using drugs or knowing about such use but keeping silent.
``Initially, a lot of people were shocked. Then people got angry. Then because of the trust issue they felt a little bit betrayed,'' cadet Theron Mink, who heads the cadet honor committee, which metes out punishment for honor code violations that fall short of a crime.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., has had three courts-martial in the past decade. A cadet was charged in a drug case last year and two were accused of stealing more than $40,000 in cadet store merchandise in 2000.
In 1996, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., went through problems like the Air Force Academy's: Five midshipmen were court-martialed and jailed on drug charges, and 15 others were expelled. Other midshipmen and graduates were accused in civilian courts that year of sexual offenses, breaking into a house and running a stolen-car ring.
But since then, only one midshipman has been court-martialed. That was for an ATM card theft.
``Starting about 10 years ago, character development, honor, dignity, respect and general civility has been a steady drumbeat throughout everything we do here,'' said Cmdr. Bill Spann, Naval Academy spokesman. ``We'd like to think it's working.''
Retired Lt. Gen. A.P. Clark, a former Air Force Academy superintendent, said crime is worse at traditional universities. Noting that he graduated from West Point, he said: ``We didn't have these problems then and society didn't, either.''
``The kids that are coming out of these public high schools don't know what honor is,'' he said. ``They have quite an adjustment to make when they come to an academy that has such high standards of integrity and ethics.''
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