When Lt. Col. Dave Wilson took command of a battalion of the 4th Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, the unit had just returned to Texas from 14 months traveling some of Iraq’s most dangerous roads as part of a logistics mission.
What he found, he said, was a unit far more damaged than the single death it had suffered in its two deployments to Iraq.
Nearly 70 soldiers in his 1,163-member battalion had tested positive for drugs: methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Others were abusing prescription drugs. Troops were passing around a tape of a female lieutenant having sex with five soldiers from the unit. Seven soldiers in the brigade died from drug overdoses and traffic accidents when they returned to Fort Bliss, near El Paso, after their first deployment.
“The inmates were running the prison,” Wilson said.
What Wilson had to deal with, however, was hardly an isolated instance.
With the U.S. drawdown in Iraq, the Army is finally confronting an epidemic of drug abuse and criminal behavior that many commanders acknowledge has been made worse because they’d largely ignored it during nearly a decade of wars on two fronts.
The Army concedes that it faces a mammoth problem.
A 350-page report issued in July after a 15-month investigation into the Army’s rising suicide rate found that levels of illegal drug use and criminal activity have reached record highs, while the number of disciplinary actions and forced discharges were at record lows.