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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — An airman first class assigned to the 31st Security Forces Squadron pleaded guilty to marijuana charges and was sentenced to nine months in prison in a special court-martial that ended Friday.

The military judge, Maj. Jennifer Cline, sentenced Jerel E. Mitchell to a reduction in rank to E-1 and a bad-conduct discharge.

Mitchell is one of more than a dozen airmen based at Aviano to face punishment for illegal drug use in recent months.

Most of them have been security forces members who faced summary courts-martial, in which airmen generally receive lighter punishments.

Mitchell, who admitted to using, possessing, introducing and distributing marijuana at Aviano and elsewhere, was tried in a special court-martial because he entered into a pre-trial agreement under which he agreed to a guilty plea in return for a lighter sentence.

The deal saved the government money and time, prosecutors said in court.

In a stipulation of fact that he signed, Mitchell said he and another airman purchased marijuana three times while visiting Ljubljana, Slovenia.

He also agreed to purchase the illegal drug for other airmen and kept a small supply in his dorm room on base.

He told Cline that he used the drug at various times with nine other airmen — mostly friends in the security forces — on base, in Slovenia or in another airman’s home off base.

He admitted to smoking half a joint with another airman while the two were on duty, sitting in a Humvee while pulling security near a sensitive area of the base.

According to the stipulation, which Cline read out loud in court, Mitchell was caught in May when members of the local Office of Special Investigations chapter searched his room on base.

According to testimony, agents found about 18 grams of marijuana in various forms in three plastic bags.

Mitchell told Cline he knew that using marijuana was against regulations, but he was stressed after serving a deployment to Iraq and Kuwait.

He admitted to using the drug about 40 times from October 2006 until his room was searched in May. He subsequently failed a urine test.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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