Military Training Instructor Master Sgt. Michael Walsh monitors the Basic Cadet Training assault course at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Jacks Valley in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 12, 2022. U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley.
The Air Force has long told recruits they should join to "Aim High." Now they can join even if they have been high.
A pilot program launched late last month will allow recruits disqualified for having tested positive for THC — a psychoactive compound found in marijuana — to retest three months later. Recruits usually face a urinalysis test for THC and other banned substances late in the recruiting process, often at a final Military Entrance Processing Station, or MEPS.
The program brings the Air Force in line with similar second-chance programs in the Army and Navy as all three services face recruiting struggles.
An Air Force spokesperson told Coffee or Die Magazine that while recruiters are now reaching out to previously barred applicants, few candidates are eligible. Chrissy Cuttita, an Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs representative, said that very few candidates have actually washed out due to urinalysis tests that find THC.
US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., issues the Oath of Enlistment to 68 delayed enlistment program applicants in front of the Veteran’s Day parade review stand, Nov. 11, 2021, in New York City. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Conroy.
“It's usually no issue with applicants at all,” Tech. Sgt. Kelvin Stovall, of the 364th Recruiting Squadron, said. “They understand that they're joining the Air Force and they know that marijuana is something that's not tolerated while you're in the Air Force.”
Stovall has been an Air Force recruiter for the past two years and is based out of an office in Vacaville, California. He said most recruits headed into the Air Force know they’ll face a urinalysis test at MEPS.
But, he said, with cannabis products becoming mainstream across the US, it’s understandable someone may have a THC-infused meal or beverage and not realize it.
“A small mistake doesn't necessarily end your Air Force endeavors,” Stovall said.
Lieutenant General Steven Kwast, Commander and President, Air University, prepares to swear in enlisted recruits from the Montgomery area Military Entrance Processing Station and cadets from Officer Training School during the Montgomery Biscuits' annual Military Appreciation Night for River Region residents who are serving or have served in the armed forces, April 25, 2015 at Montgomery, Alabama. US Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox.
Master Sgt. Brandon Reid is a flight chief for the 313th Recruiting Squadron and covers New York City’s boroughs of upper Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.
Reid said that with “dabs” — a waxlike concentrated THC paste — and other products containing high concentrations of THC being widely available, they’ve found that THC can show up on a urinalysis for 90 days, longer than the 30 days that THC remains after smoking marijuana.
“If they happen to have tested positive even though it was, let's say, up to 90 days ago, then that applicant didn’t just lose out completely based on simply bad timing,” Reid said. “[They still have] an opportunity to take advantage of what the Air Force can offer.”
The THC urinalysis second-chance program is the latest attempt to attract potential recruits. The Air Force managed to meet its 2022 enlisted accessions goal of shipping 26,151 non-prior-service airmen. However, the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard did not meet final numbers.
Master Sgt. Brandon Reid has been recognized as one of the US Air Force's top recruiters in 2021. US Air Force photo. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.
The pilot program follows another waiver policy for certain hand tattoos. According to a press release, the Air Force’s previous tattoo policy led to the loss of 1,000 or more recruits each year to other services that had different standards.
“We're trying to open the aperture a little bit and understand where we can make some headway given that society has changed a little bit, but at the same time making sure that those Air Force standards stay at that level that we need them to,” Reid said.
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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