Colorado's Joint Counterdrug Task Force teaches kids to never EVER do drugs
By Capt. Kinder Blacke, 140th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 31, 2014
BUCKLEY AFB, Colo. -- Not only did over 43,000 kids receive a critical message about staying drug-free from local service members in 2014, they also witnessed a UH-60 Blackhawk land in their schoolyard during Red Ribbon Week, a program to help keep kids off of drugs.
The Colorado Joint Counterdrug Task Force, out of Buckley Air Force Base, flew Blackhawk helicopters to 96 schools in the spring and fall to help reinforce the importance of staying healthy and drug-free, a program that has been operating since 1998.
The CO-JCDTF, which is comprised of 18 Army and Air National Guardsmen, has a mission to provide ongoing support to local Law Enforcement Agencies and other community based organizations in order to reduce the effects of drug trafficking and abuse, and make our communities safer for current and future generations of Coloradans.
Army Lieutenant Col. Robert Soper, commander of the CO-JCDTF and battalion commander and helicopter pilot with the Colorado Army National Guard, has been flying to schools for Red Ribbon Week since 2010.
"Red Ribbon is one of the best community outreach programs we do in the National Guard," Soper said. "I think with the marijuana legalization in Colorado, getting the message out to our youth has never been more important."
Airman First Class William Jamal Booker, Jr., counterdrug communications support, agreed. "It's important to reach out to these kids at a young age while they're still impressionable," he said. "The fact that we get to do that in a military role helps us because kids generally look up to military men and women."
During a typical school visit, the students are assembled in the schoolyard when the helicopter pilot calls in on a radio held by one of the Counterdrug Task Force members on the ground. The students help direct the helicopter to their school by waving and cheering, while one student grants the pilot authorization to land.
Once safely on the ground, a member of the Drug Enforcement Administration and a CO-JCDTF member talk to the students about staying healthy and drug-free. Holding up a pair of handcuffs, the DEA agent, Albert Villasuso tells the children "this is the one piece of jewelry you really don't want to wear."
The CO-JCDTF member echoes that message and reminds the children that they can do any job, but not if they are on drugs. "Drugs close the door to all the cool things you can do--like fly helicopters," Soper explained.
By flying the helicopter into the schoolyard, the kids see first-hand an example of something really cool that can only be possible if they are drug-free, Booker explained, and helps make the important connection between their career aspirations and saying 'no' to drugs.
In addition to talking about the ill-effects of drugs, the service members teach the children to look out for their "battle buddies" or "wingmen" and all together, take the drug free pledge: "I promise to never ever, EVER ever, do drugs; and I promise if someone ever offers me drugs, I'll say 'No!' I'll say 'Heck no!'"
While many of the kids enjoyed the humor of the presentation, the message seemed to get through. "The opportunity to interact with the kids is priceless," said Soper. "Our uniformed Soldiers and Airmen are so well-respected in the community and the kids really do listen to the message."
Booker agreed and said the best part of Red Ribbon Week is the interaction with the children. "Being able to have fun with them while also relaying a positive message is great," he said. "It's rewarding to know that I may have had a positive impact on one of their lives or even made them laugh for the hour or so we were there."
Based on multiple years of experience and loads of fan mail the team has received, the Task Force's Red Ribbon Week mission has proven to be worth the time and effort. "The schools that we have visited more than once give us great feedback on the impact we have had," Soper said. "We obviously don't reach all the kids, but I think we have a significant impact on many of them."