June 25, 2014 — -- On March 11, 2012, Army infantry 1st Lt. Thomas Roberts typed up and signed a moral declaration that would not only end the Special Forces career of Maj. Jim Gant, but also would expose an open secret of U.S. special operations: the use of powerful pain medications, sleeping pills and alcohol to cope with life in harm’s way and to do the job.
That job, by America's most elite forces, is "direct action" -- combat missions that take the fight to the enemy, often including capturing or killing enemy combatants or commanders.
"I want to be here to conduct operations that benefit the people and destroy terrorism, but when immoral and illegal activities and actions are asked of me or [sic] ever going on with my knowledge then there is no reason for me to be here," wrote Roberts.
The Class of 2010 West Pointer, whose platoon was attached to a Green Beret operation Gant commanded, wrote that, "on multiple occasions I have suspected Maj. Gant of being intoxicated and under the influence of pain medications." Roberts added that while he once allegedly smelled alcohol on Gant's breath, he had never actually witnessed the alleged substance abuse.
Within days of Roberts filing the sworn statement to his company commander, Gant's camp in the village of Chowkay in Kunar province -- only miles from the porous border with Pakistan and under constant Taliban attack that month -- was subjected to an armed "health and welfare" search ordered by Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force commander Col. William Linn. Empty bottles for alcohol were discovered in Gant’s bunk.
He faced court martial for "dereliction of duty" but eventually accepted a severe general officer memorandum of reprimand, reduction in rank to captain, loss of his Special Forces tab and forced retirement in 2012 in a case that the Army kept hidden until his wife, former Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson, published her book about Gant, “American Spartan,” in March. The reprimand cited Gant for allowing Tyson to live in his combat outpost for almost a year, as well as his painkiller and alcohol use in violation of General Order No. 1, the military code that lists prohibited activities for servicemen.
Though Gant admitted to the offenses, he and Tyson told ABC News they believe Gant’s critics in the military were using any excuse they could to force him out. Gant's Special Forces brethren had done what local Taliban commanders had only dreamt of -- they took him out of the fight and out of Afghanistan.
But Special Forces and other special operations veterans told ABC News unequivocally that Gant was hardly an exception.
"Pills and booze -- every A-camp," one combat-decorated, ten-deployment Special Forces soldier told ABC News, referring to the bases run by Operational Detachment-Alpha teams.
"They can get out of hand for sure. Most SF [Special Forces] dudes can still work but there are always the few that lose control and can't even function," agreed another Special Forces soldier with a dozen combat deployments, mostly in Afghanistan. "It is what it is: warriors dealing with s*** the public doesn't want to hear about or try to understand."