Sunday, October 21, 2001

Sgt. Sherman Asato, seated at right, a member of the
411th Engineer Battalion's Maui detachment, has a
soldier verify his personal data to ensure accountability
of his specimen during urinalysis testing.ø

Isle drug program
best in Army

Positive tests have declined since
the Pacific Reserve's drug
abuse program began

At Your Service
For Your Benefit

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Pacific Army Reserve has taken its alcohol and drug abuse program "from the ashes of an almost nonexistent program" and within three years made it a showcase for the entire Army, active and reserve.

On Tuesday, Joanne Shimasaki, drug program manager for the Army Reserve's 9th Regional Support Command at Fort Shafter, and Brig. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, 9th RSC commander, will accept the 11th annual secretary of defense Military Services Community Drug Awareness Award for creating the best alcohol and drug abuse prevention program in the Army.

One of Shimasaki's challenges is that the 3,000 citizen soldiers belonging to the Army Reserve here and in the Pacific, which is part of her jurisdiction, put on their camouflage battle dress fatigues only 38 days a year. Those are the only times these soldiers can be tested for alcohol and illegal drugs, including the now-popular rave substance ecstasy.

"It's hard to get the word out," said Shimasaki, who assumed her job with the Army Reserve here in July 1999. "Active installations usually have a majority of their soldiers and families living in military housing or civilian housing very near the installation."

She credits the success of the program to leaders in the 9th Regional Support Command, whose soldiers are found in units in Guam, Alaska, Japan, American Samoa, Saipan and Hawaii.

"The program is successful because of the commanders, from the top of the chain of command down, and the unit prevention leaders," she said. "This community-wide effort sends a clear message to the 9th RSC that substance abuse is not tolerated."

Like other military branches, the Army has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs, but the emphasis placed by Lee and company commanders on the drug-testing program made it clear to the soldiers that the Pacific Army Reserve was serious.

Shimasaki said company commanders are doing the urinalysis tests several times a year. Soldiers are picked randomly for the tests.

However, Bill Castro, U.S. Army Pacific Alcohol and Drug Program manager, said that even if a soldier is missed during the random-testing cycle, he or she will still be tested at least once a year.

The test results bore out the success of the Army Reserve's program -- the number of positive results significantly decreased after the program's first six months, Castro said.

The drug urinalysis positive rate for the Pacific Army Reserve last year was 0.7 per cent, less than half the rate of the entire Army Reserve, which was 2 percent, Castro said.

That means for every 1,000 soldiers tested in the Pacific Reserve, only seven tested positive for illegal substances, Castro said. That is a drop from the previous year, where for every 1,000 soldiers tested, 11 tested positive for drugs.

Between Oct. 1, 1999, and Sept. 30, 2000, the Army Reserve in Hawaii tested 2,298 soldiers. The tests of 26 of those soldiers turned up positive for illegal substance. But a year later, between Oct. 1, 2000, and Sept. 30, 2001, urinalysis tests were given to 2,132 soldiers and only 15 had positive results.

Castro believes soldiers are getting the message.

"It's definitely a deterrent," said Castro, who will be joining Shimasaki and Lee in receiving the award Tuesday at the Army's Center for Substance Abuse Program in Alexandria, Va. "You get in trouble, you'll lose your job."

Any soldier who has three or more years of service or holds the rank of sergeant or higher is immediately released from the Army Reserve if he or she flunks the drug test.

For younger enlisted soldiers in their first enlistment under three years or under the rank of specialist, Shimasaki said they are given two choices: leave or seek rehabilitation.

"However, they are still subject to the random testing," she added. "And if they test positive, they are immediately separated. They are given only one chance."

Shimasaki said if a soldier seeks help before any testing occurs, he or she will be referred to counseling and sent to Schofield Barracks medical clinic for assessment.

"If space is available, the soldier will be treated at Schofield," she said.

If the Schofield clinic cannot accommodate the soldier, Shimasaki said she tries to find them other programs in the private sector. Army Reservists, under military regulations, are responsible for all rehabilitation costs, Castro said.

Shimasaki said it helps if the soldier has medical insurance because that can be used to find a local treatment facility.

There are other low-cost or free private treatment programs that a soldier can use.

Maj. Stephen Zarbo, operations officer for the head of the Army Reserve, said Shimasaki's efforts to find rehabilitation programs for reservists is unique. "This is the first in the Army Reserve and, to my knowledge, is unheard of in the entire Army. The 9th RSC is currently the only United States Army reserve command that tracks and monitors the progress of soldiers in rehabilitation."

A total of 37 soldiers were referred for assistance over the past two years.

"The message we are trying to get out to the soldiers is that if you have a problem, let us know," Castro said. "If you want help, we can help you. If you hide it, you will get caught."

In addition, Shimasaki, with the help of her boss, Brig. Gen. Lee, was able to get funds for five breathalyzers. Any soldier registering .05 is considered "drunk on duty." In comparison, the state's standard for drunken driving is .08.

Soldiers flunking a breathalyzer must submit to blood tests and then are referred to counseling. Some 77 percent of the soldiers in the 9th RSC were tested this year.

In praising the Pacific Army Reserve's drug and alcohol abuse control program, Lt. Gen. E.P. Smith, commander of the U.S. Army Pacific, noted that Shimasaki developed it "from the ashes of an almost non-existent program to merit emulation by all commands."

Smith added, "Command involvement at all levels reinforced by a highly motivated and dedicated program manager with her staff of unit prevention leaders hallmarks the success of the program."

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