AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Difficult times for the 31st Security Forces Squadron came to an end last week when the last of 15 airmen accused of drug crimes was found guilty in a special court-martial.

Airman 1st Class Latrice Payne was sentenced to four months in prison Friday for using marijuana on and off duty. She was one of three airmen to be tried in special courts-martial since an investigation uncovered illegal drug use by airmen in the squadron in May. Another had a general court-martial, five others faced summary courts-martial and six more received Article 15 punishments.

The investigation was largely conducted by the local Office of Special Investigations after it received a tip, and most of the resulting charges involved marijuana use.

Col. David Slade, commander of the 31st Mission Support Group, said there was sufficient evidence for all of those who faced courts-martial to be found guilty. And, though some are still serving their sentences at the military’s confinement facility in Mannheim, Germany, all 15 will eventually be kicked out of the Air Force. They’ve also lost all benefits they would have received if they had honorably completed their military careers.

“Illegal drug use will not be tolerated in the military,” Slade said.

And that includes use by those normally charged with the enforcing laws, he said.

“It is especially important for security forces to have good order and discipline,” Slade said. “Guys with weapons have to know right from wrong.

“Did it make for some difficult times for the security forces squadron? Yes,” he said.

But the Air Force quickly sent replacements to Aviano while the airmen were under investigation, Slade said, and their absences didn’t severely impact any deployments. No evidence was introduced during the courts-martial of base security being compromised.

Asked if he was concerned that so many members of a particular unit had run afoul of the law, Slade said he thought that it was likely that the crimes were committed because the airmen all knew each other and worked together.

“They were in the same flight, they had the same shifts and they socialized with each other,” he said. “I’d be more concerned if (the drug use) was all over the place. Then we’d know we really had a problem.”

Slade said he believed the crimes were instigated by two airmen who purchased the drugs and “were able to get the others to walk off the plank with them.”

To ensure that all of the base’s airmen aren’t breaking the law, Slade said, the base continues to conduct random drug testing. Lt. Col. David Lynch, the squadron commander, ordered everyone in the unit to be tested in February and the results just came back: no positive tests. Lynch is currently in the States and was unavailable for comment.

Slade said he believes the punishments handed out will serve as a deterrent for those on base, but acknowledges that Aviano hasn’t seen its last instance of illegal drug use.

“I’d be lying to you if I said it would never happen again,” he said. “We’ll have another positive drug test. That doesn’t mean we won’t be trying to do all we can to prevent that.”

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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 40 years.

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