FORT BRAGG, N.C. (WTVD) -- They're the ones we trust to protect our freedom, but right now, top brass on Fort Bragg are concerned with protecting their own against drugs.
It's the home of the XVIII Airborne Corps with about 60,000 service members work on the installation; many come and go, along with civilians, and coming with them in recent months are illegal drugs.
"The biggest drug is marijuana, that's the most common drug, but we've also seen cocaine and to a lesser degree we've seen other drugs such as fentanyl," said MAJ Travis Hallman, an action officer from the Provost Marshal Office, part of Fort Bragg's counter-drug initiative.
Hallman compiles data into a weekly brief presented to the deputy commanding general and in August that brief started turning heads.
"Over the past fiscal year we've observed an over 100 percent increase in drug-related crime on the installation," Hallman said.
The drug problem, which Hallman said waned during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown, has doubled over the last year amid loosening restrictions, exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
Service members and civilians have been caught at entry gates to Ft. Bragg with narcotics or drug-related items in their vehicles while some service members have been caught trying to distribute drugs on post, Hallman said.
"They wanna make extra money or they just want it for the thrill or maybe a combination of both," he said. "They'll work with civilian dealers on the outside of the installation, they'll get a large quantity, bring it on post and then they'll distribute it to their friends or sell it."
One mother of a Fort Bragg soldier who did not want to be identified contacted ABC11 after hearing of the spike in drug use from her son and other parents.
"I want to see how these drugs are getting on base," she said. "How is cocaine laced with fentanyl getting on base? And why is it not being dealt with?"
"If it's out there we're gonna find it," said Hallman who noted that in September, Fort Bragg ramped up its drug prevention operation.
"What we want the community to know is that a very small percentage of our force is choosing to do the wrong thing," he said.
In addition to ongoing random drug screening -- a monthly urine analysis of 10 percent of each unit -- Hallman said there has been an increased law enforcement presence with military working dogs now checking all gates at random intervals.
Sgt. Aaron McQuery trains the dogs to detect narcotics by scent, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, known as Ecstasy.
"We will get called to a gate or to a barracks building and we will search with the dogs, finding narcotics," said McQuery.
Once caught, Hallman said consequences can vary depending on the offense: additional duty, pay taken away, rank reduced or even separation from service, meaning a soldier could get kicked out of the Army.
However, each soldier is not only an investment in national security, they're a person in need of help.
"There's usually some other reason behind why they do it," said Hallman, who added rehabilitation is always on the table.
Services are available through the Army Substance Abuse Program, or ASAP, where soldiers who are struggling with addiction can get the help they need.