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Hill leading the way in Air Force crack down on spice

By Andrew Adams | Posted - Mar. 11, 2011 at 6:07 p.m.



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OGDEN - Hill Air Force Base leaders are taking some of the credit, as the Air Force implements random testing to crack down on spice use among airmen.

The testing has been underway since Feb. 22, following dozens of courts martials at bases across the country, and dozens more non-judicial punishments.

"This is not a substance we want our airmen to use," said Col. Patrick Higby, commander of Hill Air Force Base and the 75th Air Base Wing.

Spice is the synthetic drug used to create a marijuana-like high. It was outlawed in Utah during the 2011 legislative session. Though the testing is a recent development, Spice has been on the Air Force radar for much longer. Disciplinary actions began before officials started taking statistics Air Force-wide last June. Airmen found using or in possession of spice have been subject to prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"Out of the 5,000 or 6,000 active duty airmen stationed at Hill Air Force Base, 99 percent of them are great Americans that are gung-ho about getting the job done and taking the fight to the enemy," Higby said. "It's that minute one percent that causes the problems that we try to deal with - and we're really doing it on behalf of the airmen."

From June through December 2010, 177 airmen received some form of non-judicial punishment; 83 more were court-martialed.

At Hill Air Force base, the stats started last April. In 2010, 13 airmen were discharged; 12 of those were also punished. So far in 2011, there have been two cases where Airmen were disciplined. No Airmen at Hill have been court martialed.

"We're dealing with high-value weapons, we're dealing with other human beings - other airmen who are relying on you to do your job properly" Higby said. "It doesn't just put that team member at risk - it puts all the other team members at risk."

Higby said his base was at the forefront of the issue. As problems grew in Utah, he would receive calls from counterparts at other bases looking for information on spice and what to do about their similar challenges.

"We really began to inform the rest of the Air Force that we had an issue here and, ultimately, I believe that's how we came upon adding this to our portfolio for drug testing," Higby said.

The Air Force has also been taking up an awareness campaign, to ensure airmen know the consequences and risks of possessing and using synthetic cannabinoids. Next week, Hill Air Force Base is hosting a community drug roundtable.

"It's another opportunity where we're engaging with the local community, law enforcement, hospitals, helping agencies," Higby said.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

Andrew Adams

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