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Shepperd: 'Go-pills' common for pilots


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Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

TUCSON, Arizona (CNN) -- A lawyer for one of the two U.S. pilots who accidentally released a bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers in southern Afghanistan in April says the Air Force pressured the pilots to take amphetamines.

The lawyer says the "go pills" may have impaired their judgment during the mission.

CNN anchor Miles O'Brien discussed the allegation with CNN military analyst retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd:

O'BRIEN: How common are these so-called go pills?

SHEPPERD: Very common. It makes great headlines but there's no mystery about this. This is something that's gone on for years. I've taken them myself on very long missions. You have pills that help you manage your rest cycle. The idea is to stay rested, especially when you're on high-stress missions.

Manage your sleep with sleeping pills, if necessary, and also make sure you stay awake with go-pills, if necessary. This has gone on for a long time. There's been a lot of research behind this. And this issue is part of a lawyer seeking to basically provide the best defense he can for his clients who face the possibility of very serious charges.

O'BRIEN: All right, but from a layman's perspective, General, the thought of somebody at the hands of a supersonic war machine who is so fatigued that he has to take a pill ... to stay alert is a bit disquieting. Should we be concerned at all?

SHEPPERD: No, I don't think you should be concerned at all. Basically, you should be concerned that people are put in these situations in combat by situations beyond their control. But worse than that is a person that is asleep at the controls. Basically these fighter missions that these people are going on from the Gulf to Afghanistan, eight, nine, 10 hours alone in a cockpit. You have to stay hydrated.

You have to manage your eating cycle. You have to manage your sleep cycle. And you want those people awake. You can take one of these things 30 minutes before you think you really need it and be wide awake at those times. And again it's not unusual. I've done it myself.

O'BRIEN: All right, General Shepperd, let's read a quick statement or an excerpt of a statement from the Air Force. And I want to get you to comment on this. "The authorization for their use" -- referring to these so-called go-pills, Dexedrine -- "is time and or mission-specific. When authorized, they are only used with the air crew members' informed consent after appropriate ground testing for adverse effects, and their use is completely voluntary at the discretion of the air crew member," and they also add the standard dose is about 10 milligrams.

The allegation of the attorney is that these pills are essentially forced on to the pilots. If they don't take the pills, they don't get the mission.

SHEPPERD: I don't know what the current rules and situation are, but the time I was on active duty, and the times that I took these pills, it was voluntary. We were pre-tested. It was explained what they were good for, what the cautions were. They're prescription medicines. You had the advice of a flight surgeon available to you at all times. And nobody was ever forced to take them. I can see people being heavily encouraged to take these in times of great stress or on long missions rather than go to sleep, but nobody ever forced us to take them.

O'BRIEN: All right, and the final point here, it does seem odd to some of us, once again, nonmilitary types, to have a live-fire exercise under way in such close proximity to actual combat missions.

SHEPPERD: Yes, that is reportedly part of the defense of the pilots by the lawyer, saying that these pilots were not aware of the live-fire exercise underneath them, had not been informed by the chain of command.

Again, what's happening is charges have been proffered. Anyone can proffer charges after an investigation.

Now, a Title 32 investigation is taking place to see if these people should be subjected to a court-martial, where they would meet a jury of their peers, people that have been in combat, people that have flown, even some people perhaps that have taken these pills. It's a very fair justice system, Miles, lots of steps to go before these people ... meet their ultimate fate in the justice system.

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