US airmen bought, distributed and used the hallucinogen LSD and other mind-altering illegal drugs as part of a ring that operated undetected for months on a highly secure military base, according to air force records.
One airman said he felt paranoia, another marvelled at the vibrant colours and a third admitted: “I absolutely just loved altering my mind.”
“Although this sounds like something from a movie, it isn’t,” said Captain Charles Grimsley, the lead prosecutor of one of several courts martial.
A slip-up on social media by one airman enabled investigators to crack the drug ring at FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming in March 2016.
Fourteen airmen were disciplined, of whom six were convicted in courts martial of LSD use or distribution or both.
None of the airmen was accused of using drugs on duty but it is another blow to the reputation of the US air force’s nuclear missile corps, which has struggled at times with misbehaviour, mismanagement and low morale.
Although seen by some as a backwater of the US military, the missile force has returned to the spotlight as President Donald Trump has called for strengthening US nuclear firepower and exchanged threats last year with North Korea.
The administration’s nuclear strategy calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending in coming decades.
The accused service members were from the 90th Missile Wing, which operates one-third of the 400 Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles that stand “on alert” 24/7 in underground silos scattered across the northern Great Plains.
The Associated Press obtained transcripts of seven courts martial proceedings and related documents through Freedom of Information Act requests over the past two years.
They provide vivid descriptions of LSD trips.
“I’m dying!” one airman is quoted as exclaiming, followed by “When is this going to end?” during a “bad trip” on LSD in February 2016 at a state park about 32 kilometres (20 miles) from FE Warren.
A portion of that episode was video-recorded by one member of the group; a transcript of the audio was included in court records.
“I felt paranoia, panic,” for hours after taking LSD, Airman 1st Class Tommy N Ashworth said under oath at his court martial.
He confessed to using LSD three times while off duty.
The first time, in the summer of 2015, shook him up.
“I didn’t know if I was going to die that night or not,” he said as a witness at another airman’s drug trial.
Others said they enjoyed the drug.