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Posted by billgerat on 12-20-2002 10:19 PM:

The War - On Drugs

(From ABC News)

Need for Speed
Did Amphetamines Play a Role
in Afghanistan Friendly Fire Incident?

Dec. 20 — Preliminary court-martial proceedings begin next month against two U.S. fighter pilots involved in a tragic incident over Afghanistan that cost four lives and exposed a little-known fact about the way America fights its long-distance air wars.

Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach are facing up to 64 years in prison for a friendly fire incident over Kandahar, Afghanistan, on April 17 that killed four Canadian soldiers and wounded eight others.
When the two were sent on their mission over Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force gave them $30 million F-16 fighter jets, laser-guided precision munitions, state-of-the-art technology, and something that came as a complete surprise — amphetamines.

Amphetamines, a prescription drug, are known on the street as uppers or speed. Yet, a 20/20 investigation has found, the amphetamines, the speed pills, are now standard issue to U.S. Air Force combat pilots, to help them stay awake on long combat sorties.

The two pilots from Illinois are part of the 183rd fighter wing of the Illinois Air National Guard. Schmidt, trained as a top gun fighter pilot, was sent to Afghanistan in March. Umbach was called up at the same time, leaving behind his family and a full-time job as a United Airlines pilot.

Schmidt and Umbach and their families both viewed their military service with pride. "Being military, we have always lived in the flight pattern. And when we'd see the jets go over it was always a great, wholesome feeling of pride," said Schmidt's wife, Lisa.

Umbach said he felt an obligation to serve. "It's sort of a patriotic thing. I feel like it's something that I should do," he said.

But what happened in the skies over Kandahar on the night of April 17, would change Schmidt and Umbach's lives forever and would bring about their facing a court martial.

'Go Pills'

The Air Force calls the amphetamines it distributes to pilots "go pills." They were quietly reintroduced after being banned in 1992 by the then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak. "In my opinion, if you think you have to take a pill to face something that's tough, you're in the wrong business," McPeak said.

There were reports during the Gulf War of American pilots becoming psychologically addicted to the "go pills" and their use now seriously concerns many leading drug addiction experts.

Dr. Robert DuPont, a former White House drug czar and one of the country's leading drug addiction authorities, says he was stunned to learn about the Air Force's use of amphetamines. "This is speed. This is where we got the phrase, speed kills," he said.

DuPont, who contends the "go pills" can be highly addictive, said, "It's a frightening concept to me from my experience in dealing with amphetamines to have this be a routine activity."

One Air Force pilot told us, "We all carry them as a bit of insurance."

Controllers in an AWACS plane overhead told Schmidt to hold his fire, but, convinced he and Umbach were under attack, Schmidt opened fire.

"Bombs away. Cranking left. Lasers on. Shack," Schmidt said on the tape.

But DuPont's characterization of heavy amphetamine use suggests the "go pill" policy may be playing with fire. He said, "People who get strung out on amphetamines are, are usually crazy. They're paranoid, they stop eating. … Their judgment is impaired and they do very bad things. … They are among the sickest of all drug addicts."

Unfit to Fly Without Pills?

Yet not only is the Air Force making the amphetamines widely available to combat pilots, it also has informed them they could be considered unfit to fly certain missions if they don't voluntarily take the amphetamines.

"A combat sortie that's seven or eight or nine hours is very challenging. You have highs and lows," said Gen. Daniel Leaf, a two star general and former combat pilot, who has been assigned to defend the use of the "go pills." He says the pills are only prescribed in small, controlled doses.

"The American public should be very concerned if we were not providing every opportunity to counter the demonstratedly fatal potential impact of fatigue," Leaf said.

But amphetamines, no matter the dose, are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to combat fatigue, and are listed by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule Two narcotic, in the same category as cocaine.

Leaf said the amphetamines are not used for recreation. He described them as a "medical tool."

"Our medical community has carefully evaluated their use, deemed it appropriate. I agree. I believe they're effective. I believe they're well-administered," he said.

But that's not what Schmidt and Umbach said they found when they arrived at their post in Kuwait. According to their defense lawyers, the two pilots were told by superiors they could be found unfit to fly the mission unless they took the pills.

Dave Beck, Umbach's civilian attorney, said, "They will be marked, they will be known. Their careers will basically be over."

Beck said, "What's happened in this case is that blame has been fixed at the lowest level, the pilots.

Capt. Matt Skobel, Umbach's military lawyer, said pilots need the pills in order to complete their difficult missions. "These missions were at the limit of the pilots' physical and mental endurance. And these pills were required to allow them to do it," Skobel said.

Pilots simply sign up on a clipboard for six "go pills" at a time and are told to use them as needed. But Umbach says he knew from his civilian job that such pills were strictly banned for commercial airline pilots.

But use them he did, along with his wingman Maj. Schmidt, on their April 17 night mission over Afghanistan, about an hour before tragedy would strike, according to Schmidt's defense lawyer Charles Gittins.

"An hour after he took the pills … he would have been feeling the maximum serum level in his blood," Gittins said.

It was then, under the full influence of the amphetamine pills, that the two pilots spotted weapons fire near the Kandahar air base, as can be heard on the cockpit tapes obtained by 20/20.

"I've got some men on a road with a piece of artillery firing at us. I'm rolling in self defense," Schmidt can be heard saying on the tape.

‘Friendly Fire’

It was only after Schmidt dropped the bomb that he was told it was not the enemy. What Schmidt hit was a squad of Canadian soldiers, killing four of them, wounding eight. What the military calls friendly fire.

The pilots had not been told the Canadians would be conducting a night live-fire training exercise in the area, even though the Canadians had properly informed the U.S. military.

"They were great soldiers that in a split second got wiped out for no reason," said Canadian Sgt. Lorne Ford, who lost his right eye and suffered a severe injury to his left leg in the incident.

A joint Canadian-American investigation put the blame on the two U.S. pilots for essentially being too quick to open fire under the rules of engagement they were supposed to follow, behavior that experts say is typical of someone on speed or amphetamines.

DuPont said the pills might have prompted the pilots to "a quick conclusion that is wrong. Where if you had a little more reflection, you have come to another conclusion." He said he wouldn't rule out that the "go pills" may have been a factor in the deadly incident.

But the Air Force has ruled out the "go pills" Schmidt and Umbach took as being responsible in any way.

And the two men, now back home in Illinois, face four counts of manslaughter and dereliction of duty, the most serious charges ever brought in a friendly fire case.

"Obviously you feel very betrayed. … It's one of the most devastating things I think anyone could go through," said Schmidt's wife, Lisa.

As for the "go pills" — the speed — the Air Force says there's no reason for any change in policy, that they are essential for combat pilots now being sent to war over Afghanistan and Iraq.

"These men are patriots, these men were sent to fight a war and they're put in a situation where it's either take these pills or you don't fly," Skobel said.

For a pilot, Skobel said, "It's not a choice at all."


"Republicans: the party that brought us 'Just Say No.' First as a drug policy, then as their entire platform." -Stephen Colbert -

Posted by SocialParasite on 12-21-2002 08:07 AM:

And yet I can't use 'em.

Now, if they aren't good enough for me to fight fatigue then why should they be given any more special treatment?

I've been on a caffeine bender before, and that wasn't fun. Left me very fuzzy headed and unable to concentrate or think. Amphetamines are even worse.



Posted by billgerat on 12-21-2002 11:49 AM: Guide for flight surgeons upon usage of "go/no-go pills." (5mg Dexedrine, 5-10 mg Ambien or 15 mg Restoril).

(The pdf wouldn't open up properly for me, maybe it will for you.)


"Republicans: the party that brought us 'Just Say No.' First as a drug policy, then as their entire platform." -Stephen Colbert -

Posted by billgerat on 12-21-2002 11:56 AM:

Further links on the subject of military use of speed:

Sustaining helicopter pilot performance with Dexedrine during periods of sleep deprivation by Caldwell JA, Caldwell JL, Crowley JS, Jones HD U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, Fort Rucker, AL 36362-0577, USA. Aviat Space Environ Med 1995 Oct; 66(10):930-7

Stimulant Use in Extended Flight Operations


"Republicans: the party that brought us 'Just Say No.' First as a drug policy, then as their entire platform." -Stephen Colbert -

Posted by euphorbia on 12-21-2002 02:07 PM:

I thought this was common knowledge.

I understand the need wholly, and I would say need.
I do think drugs should be legal, however trying to compare me having a dandy time to a war time situation and demanding hours placed on people trying to stay alive as the same thing would be a bit self involved and stupid..


taste the fucking rainbow & dont touch my junk.

Posted by Mugtoe on 12-21-2002 06:19 PM:

They made a mistake. They obviously did not purposely fire on people they knew to be allies. Perhaps being wired added to the confusion, perhaps not. As horrible as the accident was, I have an uncomfortable feelin about hangin these two out to dry over it. Perhaps whoever neglected to properly identify the Canadians to the pilots should also be culpable for their own negligence as well. If the Canadians had mistakenly killed some American soldiers, I would find it a tragic mistake and hope that we were doing everything in our power to minimize the chance of it happening again, but I wouldn't be lookin for someone's head. It's just the kind of tragic thing that happens from time to time, and I think we're beatin the hell outta these guys for somethin that probably already tore em up without the added legal trouble. Ground them, by all means, but jail?


Originally posted by Smug Git
The brotherhood of melon loving will save us all, I am sure of it.

Posted by Smug Git on 12-21-2002 06:28 PM:

If it was negligent, then the military is tough on its members. It ought to expect high standards of professionalism from its members, too; if it was somehow an 'accident', ie, in an expert opinion it was not the fault of the pilots then they should get off (and that is what a court-martial should be trying to ascertain).

My concern (similar to part of mugtoe's concern) is that there might be a case to answer further down the line that is being hidden by these two.

As far as the drugs thing goes, it would be a matter for expert medical opinion again; it certainly does make the 'War on Drugs' look a bit silly, though ('drugs are bad for you, unless they are government drugs')('this is canadians' - cut to picture of mounties playfully snowballing each other on a background of pines and mooses. Cut to carnage - 'this is canadians when american pilots are on drugs').


I want to live and I want to love
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of

Posted by SocialParasite on 12-21-2002 07:42 PM:


I understand the need wholly, and I would say need.

A need for our boys to get hopped up on speed? Right. If I can stay up nearly 24 hours and have minimal affect I would think that these people who are supposed to be the best of our best can do the same. Without pills.

Posted by Peter_Torque on 12-21-2002 07:53 PM:

Their only recourse is to drum them out and make them become radio talk-show hosts.


Posted by horizon on 12-21-2002 10:03 PM:

I see an ABC movie of the week starring Tom Cruise as Maj. Harry Schmidt and Pinnelope Cruise as his high stung wife that goes nuts after what happened.


He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife.
--Douglas Adams

Posted by euphorbia on 12-21-2002 11:57 PM:

Originally posted by SocialParasite

A need for our boys to get hopped up on speed? Right. If I can stay up nearly 24 hours and have minimal affect I would think that these people who are supposed to be the best of our best can do the same. Without pills.

And what would you say is the most difficult task you confront in any given 24-hour period? Or the most important?
Dare I ask?

Not all speed is the same, I’ve taken many kinds.
Amphetamines can have a very calm alert affect...hopped up isn’t an accurate way to describe it since coffee had a more "hopped up" affect than they did for me. Shaking and "touched" with a coffee would be more dangerous imo...and the doctors and research that went into this probably agree since its what they use.
Pilots becoming addicted are the only real problem I see.
I’m glad its something they offer them, and I also agree that drugs should be legal though a recreational high as opposed to a constructive high is a little less important.

Warriors in history have also practiced this (taking drugs in war time) and chewing coco leaves during your work day in some places is common and an every day thing like coffee pots at the office. Drugs are part of humanity, its unfortunate they are outlawed here in this country but it will take changing popular opinion to change that. There are trends and they are growing.

Posted by Whitey Bulger on 12-22-2002 03:02 AM:


When I was a young US Marine stationed in Okinawa, I would illegally buy amphetamines (I think they were benzedrine) from a black sailor at the Naval Dispensary.

I could go out drinking all night long (bars outside US bases in Okinawa NEVER close, like in those old steel mill towns) and after a couple of pills - voila - be able to run in platoon formation at 5:00 AM and be fully functional.

Of course, those little pills have pretty bad downside, also.

Armies around the world have used amphetamines throughout the 20th century, beginning in World War One. Kept sentries alert in the trenches, you know.

Whitey Bulger

Posted by horizon on 12-22-2002 03:49 AM:



He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife.
--Douglas Adams

Posted by buddha's penis on 12-22-2002 04:15 AM:

while i agree that drugs are aok, and i might go so far as to say that they should be used more often as tools in mainstream society, for the US government to condone the use of chemicals in that way is completely fucking ridiculous.

having been up all night thanks to illegal stimulants and working under the influence the next day a few times myself, it would be equally ridiculous for me to decry the use of "go pills" by anyone. of course, that also depends on the individual.
as for the military's view on things, it could be seen as "a step in the right direction" but i strongly doubt that these people are so soft on civilian drug use. i could be wrong.
and i wouldn't be too hard on the american pilots either. they should be discharged, and they probably showed that they weren't able to handle the responsibility inherent in handling crazy bombs and whatnot, but i don't think they're much more than negligent. not murderers, certainly.


Posted by Mugtoe on 12-22-2002 05:01 AM:

There is a disconcerting notion underlying a lot of criticism I see in the media about soldiers lately. It's close enough to this topic that I figured it'd fit here. But it was really prompted by film I saw of American pilots taking out people on the ground in Afghanistan. The folks who posted it were horrified at the vid. I was impressed with the technology, and with the precision of their brutality, but I don't understand the horror. And I think some of that is expressed in the extreme reaction to this understandably tragic mishap with the Canadians. And it amounts to this: What do people think soldiers do, anyway? They are trained killers who had better be about as murderous as they can be under the right conditions. Saying that in no way discounts the terrible nature of the Canadian incident. But I think we, as a people, have lost all sense of proportion when it comes to war. That might be a blessing in some ways, but only if we never had to fight again. Then I would chime in when they call for making ploughshares; and let's let our swords go into makin the last batch of em. By God, I'd wanna bump if I were flyin nine hours and then gettin shot at. I'd want somethin, in any case. However, the adrenalin itself in my case might be enough. But why do people act so surprised and horrified that our trained killers are treated differently than our high school kids? WTF is up with that anyway? Where did I miss the part where we are supposed to have a humane army nowadays, and who approved that? The press? God, I hope not. I want the most murderously brutal soldiers on earth if I can help it. I want GI's who can't wait to eat al Quaeda babies for breakfast if I can get em on my side. Where do people get the idea that our soldiers should have some sort of sensitivity training or something? Fuckin get real. I'll grant the validity of any argument against war itself, but for the sake of argument, let's say we have one goin on at the moment and we're in it. Who do you want fightin for you? Stuart Smalley?

Posted by Smug Git on 12-22-2002 10:24 AM:

I think that getting upset watching your soldiers killing the enemy (so I would exclude unlucky civilians from that list) is about as stupid as crying when your own soldiers get killed. The only stupider thing would be getting upset about one and not the other.


I want to live and I want to love
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of

Posted by Smug Git on 12-22-2002 10:28 AM:

'Why is the government happy for its soldiers to take these things and not civilians?' is, of course, the real issue in this thread (and has been picked out already).

As far as whether pilots should take it or not, that is something that medical opinion would settle. But what would happen to a US long-haul commercial pilot caught with speed in his blood? It would be strange if they said that his flying ability was greatly impaired when air force pilots are flying harder to fly planes with the stuff.


I want to live and I want to love
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of

Posted by BlueOx on 12-22-2002 04:35 PM:

Instant reactions are a fighter combat mindstate, not a commercial pilot mindstate. Jet Fighters are competing with the fastest of modern technology and the smallest reaction times required during a small period of time except for pro-racecar drivers. Being on dex when facing multiple enemy fighter jets (The conditions these guys expect to run into when flying combat patrol) is a certain aid instepping up reaction times, increasing blood pressure due to vascular tension from the drug also increses G tolerance significantly. This allows pilots greater ability to maneuver. I think it's silly to see pilots returning fire when in a combat zone as an accident. They were fired on by ground artillery in an area they were told to patrol. The mistake lies in whatever bonhead didn't forward the news that friendlys would be firing in that area, period. Everything else is a smoke screen.

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