Story by MSG Michael Leslie, Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force
AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force is continuing to provide substance use awareness and prevention efforts to youth throughout the year, but during the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Red Ribbon Week, they raise the bar, literally.
Counterdrug flew a military LUH-72 Lakota helicopter with DEA agents and a brand new eagle mascot to two Central Texas schools to kickoff Red Ribbon Week to spread substance use awareness and prevention.
“It was an amazing event and it is so important for young students to receive drug free messages,” said Amber Newby a project coordinator for the Blanco Coalition of Awareness, Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use. “The earlier they learn and the more often they hear the message and get the education, the more likely that it will sink in.”
For some schools, relaying a drug free message to younger students can be a struggle, but with partnerships of the DEA, the National Guard Counterdrug Program, the Blanco CoAPT, and Blanco and Bowie Elementary schools, the message was high-impact and well received.
“We loved seeing all of our student's reactions to the helicopter, the unity in all of the forces, and the message of the presentation,” said Blanco Elementary counselor Mindy Lay. “As the school counselor, delivering appropriate and effective messages for Red Ribbon Week can sometimes be a struggle - but this year, I think our campus nailed it!”
Counterdrug even debuted their very own mascot, Enney the Eagle, named in honor of one of the program’s first leaders who worked to create the National Guard’s law enforcement support program more than 30 years ago.
“We thought the eagle mascot was one of the best parts of the Red Ribbon event,” said Selena Dillon, a student at Bowie Elementary School in San Marcos, Texas. “We really loved the eagle, and continued to talk about it afterwards.”
The whole purpose of the event was for DEA to explain how Red Ribbon Week began and highlight substance use awareness with the ultimate goal of prevention, as students get older and possibly subjected to drugs.
“The DEA talks about the history of how Red Ribbon was started,” said Sgt. Dillon, “but the students also learn about the wide variety of dangerous drugs, to include prescription drugs, alcohol and the dangers of underage drinking, and tobacco and vapes.”
The DEA began the Red Ribbon Week initiative to honor a fallen undercover agent, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, when a drug cartel kidnapped, tortured and murdered him in Mexico in 1985.
“The DEA's substance abuse message was powerful and very age appropriate,” said Lay. “It was definitely an experience that many of us will not forget!”
Many students talked about wanting to join the military, so the Red Ribbon message showed how their choices could affect their futures.
“I want to be a Marine Corps pilot, study aerospace engineering at the University of Texas, and go on to be an astronaut,” said Dillon. “The DEA agents talked about how drugs will mess up children career goals.”
Reaching out to students at a young age is critical for developing better habits and teaching better decision making as they grow.
“I think that kids sometimes have a difficult time think ahead about how a bad decision now can have long term bad consequences down the road,” said Sgt. Blake Dillon, a Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force Drug Demand Reduction Outreach operator. “This is where we were able to talk to the students about how important it is to remain drug free if they wish to pursue these careers.”
A key focus for the Texas Military Department is building partnerships between state, local and federal civil authorities to better serve the Texas community.
“This is where our program, DDRO, is able to have one of the biggest impacts, to facilitate and coordinate bring these partnerships together,” said Sgt. Dillon. “I think that the partnership between these organizations will have a lasting impact of drug prevention in the community.”
Being in a small city, word spreads fast and many were talking what they saw and what they heard, even if they were not there.
“The impact of this event was definitely greater than just with those present at Blanco Elementary School,” said Lay. “This surprise event has stirred some good discussions in our community.”
At Bowie Elementary in San Marcos, a special reunion happened when Sgt. Dillon arrived in style with his daughter, a student at the school, ready to greet him with open arms.
“I have been in the military for a while,” said Dillon, “and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have the type of influence that I would to have a helicopter go to my daughter’s school and have her watch me get off the helicopter.
“It has a positive influence on my daughter, which in turn allows her to grow into a leader among her pears and speak out and spread the message that drugs are not okay.”