RAF ALCONBURY, England — Although Senior Airman Heather Brewster was found guilty Friday of drug abuse, falsifying documents and dereliction of duty as a “trusted agent” and “collector” for the Air Force’s drug testing program, she was offered a second chance at a military career.

After sentencing her to five months of confinement, a reduction in rank to E-3 and a bad-conduct discharge, Col. Gordon Hammock, the military judge, ruled Brewster should be eligible for the Air Force’s return-to-duty program because of her exemplary five-year record of service.

He also said that while she pleaded not guilty, her written confession and cooperation during the court-martial were noteworthy.

Brewster, who opted for a judge-only trial, did not take the stand during the four-day proceedings and did not comment afterward. However, during the sentencing phase, she tearfully told the judge: “I see a struggle ahead, but with my family and faith I am prepared for it … the Air Force and what it’s done for me was and is the proudest and most fulfilling part of my life …. To say I’m sorry does not begin to fill the hole I dug for myself.”

The descent started in June when Brewster, a former laboratory technician with the 423rd Medical Group at RAF Upwood, returned from a voluntary sixth-month deployment to Kuwait and was randomly selected for a drug test.

The clinic where Brewster worked is a regional drug-testing site for area bases where samples are collected, packaged and shipped for testing at the Air Force’s primary drug testing lab in San Antonio. With knowledge of the program and access to locked cabinets where specimens and paperwork are stored, she tried to dodge her own drug test.

But the plan backfired and the decision — prompted by a night out a few days earlier when she ingested what she thought was Ecstasy, according to her written statement — resulted in more serious charges than failing a drug test alone would have warranted.

“Many times it is the cover-up that overshadows the crime,” prosecutor Capt. James Gentry said.

Brewster tried to prevent her sample from being tested by creating a discrepancy in the associated paperwork and the urine bottle label. However, not only was the specimen tested and found positive for morphine and oxycodone, but the discrepancy ignited an investigation that ultimately ended with her confession.

After submitting her urine under standard testing circumstances with a collector and observer present, Brewster was left alone in the Upwood lab while her supervisor went to lunch. During that time she poured her specimen into a new bottle, shredded a form that was supposed to accompany the specimen and created a new form and label, according to her written statement.

The defense argued that the drug test should have been declared invalid because it had been compromised by Brewster’s action. It also claimed she was not guilty of dereliction of duty because she was not acting as a specimen collector or observer in this case under Air Force testing guidelines.

Though she signed her supervisor’s name and the initials of the observer on the paperwork, Brewster was not charged with forgery. The charge is typically only applicable in cases where forgery was committed for financial gain, according to pretrial discussions between attorneys.

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