Feb. 6, 2004 | One of the persistent riddles surrounding President Bush's disappearance from the Texas Air National Guard during 1972 and 1973 is the question of why he walked away. Bush was a fully trained pilot who had undergone a rigorous two-year flight training program that cost the Pentagon nearly $1 million. And he has told reporters how important it was to follow in his father's footsteps and to become a fighter pilot. Yet in April 1972, George W. Bush climbed out of a military cockpit for the last time. He still had two more years to serve, but Bush's own discharge papers suggest he may have walked away from the Guard for good.

It is, of course, possible that Bush had simply had enough of the Guard and, with the war in Vietnam beginning to wind down, decided that he would rather do other things. In 1972 he asked to be transferred to an Alabama unit so he could work on a Senate campaign for a friend of his father's. But some skeptics have speculated that Bush might have dropped out to avoid being tested for drugs. Which is where Air Force Regulation 160-23, also known as the Medical Service Drug Abuse Testing Program, comes in. The new drug-testing effort was officially launched by the Air Force on April 21, 1972, following a Jan. 11, 1972, directive issued by the Department of Defense. That initiative, in response to increased drug use among soldiers in Vietnam, instructed the military branches to "establish the requirement for a systematic drug abuse testing program of all military personnel on active duty, effective 1 July 1972."

It's true that in 1972 Bush was not on "active" duty: His Texas Guard unit was never mobilized. But according to Maj. Jeff Washburn, the chief of the National Guard's substance abuse program, a random drug-testing program was born out of that regulation and administered to guardsmen such as Bush. The random tests were unrelated to the scheduled annual physical exams, such as the one that Bush failed to take in 1972, a failure that resulted in his grounding.

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