Gulf-War Lessons for the Drug War


April 03, 1991|By MELVIN A. STEINBERG

ANNAPOLIS. — Annapolis.-- The lessons learned from the Gulf War can help us achieve greater results in our continuing efforts to reduce substance abuse. Although there are many lessons to be learned, I think two are particularly relevant.

* Command and Control. No one would dispute the judgment that placed all our armed services -- Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard -- under one field authority. Not only U.S. forces but those of the entire coalition were under Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's command and control.

By contrast, there are now something like 56 separate federal departments, agencies, bureaus or services that have some drug-control responsibility, and each one operates more or less independently, -- outside any true command-and-control structure. This is akin to fielding a symphony orchestra but neglecting to provide it with a conductor. Or, worse yet, providing it with separate conductors for each grouping of instruments. In either case, the result is poor resource utilization and very bad music.

If, as a nation, we are serious about substance-abuse control, we must insist that our federal government be properly structured to direct federal, state and local government and private-sector resources so as to use effectively the drug-control resources and capabilities of each. I would like to see the Office of National Drug Control Policy make this a priority.

* A Drug Free Military. Not too many years ago the U.S. armed services learned, often through tragic events, that substance abuse by military personnel was incompatible with the responsibility to provide for the safety and security of the nation. To maintain its integrity, the military initiated drug-testing programs designed to identify and prevent drug abusers from entering the services. It established similar procedures to identify abusers already in the services. As a result of these initiatives, today's military is virtually drug-free.

The enormous effort to assure a dedicated, unimpaired work force was clearly justified by performance in the Persian Gulf. High-technology weapons and systems and sophisticaled support functions require personnel who are intelligent, alert, reliable and committed. There is no place in today's armed services for the chemically dependent.

Our service men and women now have the respect of the entire nation. They serve as role models for our youth. I hope that the secretary of defense, Richard Cheney, and each of our service secretaries, will be careful to remind all Americans that the outstanding performance of our Gulf War personnel was predicated on their being drug-free.

Clearly, benefits can accrue from adapting Gulf War lessons to the control of substance abuse. Wars, however, are of limited duration; controlling substance abuse must never be thought of in such a context. It is more like weeding a garden than fighting a war. If we continue to weed it we can control the problem, but when weeding is curtailed the weeds discreetly sprout up again and inundate the garden. Substance-abuse control requires a continuous commitment.

It would be a shame if this country, after having performed so well on the battlefield, failed to apply those lessons learned vTC abroad to its domestic problems.

Lieutenant Governor Steinberg is chairman of the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission.

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