Red Ribbon Week: Events build awareness on, off post

Volunteers with the USO and Army Substance Abuse Program serve pizza, breadsticks and hotdogs to Soldiers and their Families during a free Red Ribbon Week luncheon at the Fort Carson Exchange, Oct. 24.

Story and photo by Spc. Nathan Thome

4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

Fort Carson hosted its annual campaign to raise awareness on the dangers of drugs and alcohol during Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 22-26, by holding a variety of events on post and in the Colorado Springs community.

Activities included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, luncheons at the USO and Exchange, and a two-day Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation racquetball tournament.

According to the National Family Partnership, the first nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign was held in 1988, in honor of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent killed in Mexico in 1985.

Camarena worked his way through college, served in the Marines, became a police officer, and shortly after that decided to join the DEA, telling his mother, “I’m only one person, but I want to make a difference.”

Camarena was sent to work undercover in Mexico to investigate a drug cartel believed to include officers in the Mexican army, police and the government. On Feb. 7, 1985, five men appeared at Camarena’s side as he was leaving his office and shoved him into a car.

One month later, his body was found; he had been tortured to death.

In honor of Camarena’s memory and his battle against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors wore red satin badges, and parents who were sick of the destruction by alcohol and other drugs, formed coalitions that adopted the symbol of Camarena’s memory, the red ribbon.

The tradition of wearing red ribbons is still carried on today. School officials across the nation promote Red Ribbon Week by giving their students a red ribbon to wear throughout the week, along with a daily theme for resisting drugs.

Pinello Elementary School in Colorado Springs hosted Fort Carson’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, kicking off the first day of Red Ribbon Week.

“It’s a great honor to be here to share in this special and important event with our Front Range neighbors, especially here in District 3,” said Chris DeGaray, executive officer, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Carson. “For over 20 years, we have celebrated Red Ribbon Week.

“Students, we ask that you take this opportunity as part of your community, your school and as an individual, to commit to drug prevention and make a personal commitment to live drug-free lives,” DeGaray said to a room full of students.

The ceremony was unique in the fact that it marked the first time Fort Carson held the ceremony off post.

“We wanted to get the community involved in our ceremony, so when Pinello (Elementary School) was recommended, we coordinated with the school, and they were eager to have us,” said Anthony McCollin, prevention coordinator, Fort Carson Army Substance Abuse Program.

Students and school staff gathered in the gymnasium for the start of the ceremony.

Various community members joined Maj. Shawn Gee, chaplain, Department of Ministry and Pastoral Care, Medical Department Activity, Evans Army Community Hospital, and DeGaray, in talking with the children about the dangers of drugs and how they can rise above them.

“What we wanted to do was raise awareness for drug prevention, and I think that the children understood the message we were trying to push,” said McCollin.

The children screamed and jumped with excitement when mascots McGruff the Crime Dog and Daren the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Lion entered the room, reinforcing the drug prevention message.

James McGhee, Pinello Elementary School principal, said he believes the ceremony heightened the students’ awareness about staying drug free.

The ceremony concluded with three winners of the “What does it mean to be drug free?” essay contest holding a red ribbon, while McGhee and DeGaray cut it.

Before leaving, the entire gymnasium of students sang their “Drug Free Me” song.

“It was an honor for Fort Carson to choose Pinello to host their ribbon cutting ceremony,” said McGhee. “The district is constantly trying to reach out to the community and maintain that school-community connection, so (Fort) Carson choosing us to host their ceremony for the first time off post is an honor.”

During the second day of Red Ribbon Week, Fort Carson held a luncheon at the USO and invited Stacey Cook, Miss Mile High, to talk to Soldiers.

“I specialize in drug addiction and prevention, so I talked to (ASAP) about coming down here and speaking to the Soldiers,” said Cook.

This is the first time Cook has done anything related to Red Ribbon Week on Fort Carson. She said she participated in red ribbon events at schools, such as helicopter fly-ins, but never on post.

“The two most important things to me are communication and education,” said Cook.

She said it is important that Soldiers communicate with their fellow Soldiers and Families about emotions, because it’s is key in preventing the types of feelings that lead to using drugs. Soldiers also need to know about the types of substances people abuse, what they do to their body and how they can affect them in the long run, she said.

Cook sat down with Soldiers, having one-on-one chats about their lives, the military and ways to avoid drug dependency.

On the third day of Red Ribbon Week, ASAP and USO volunteers invited Soldiers and their Families to a free lunch of pizza and hot dogs at the Exchange. Members from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo were also in attendance, bringing in animals and reptiles for Soldiers and Family members to see.

DFMWR held a Racquetball Tournament Oct. 24-25 at the Iron Horse Physical Fitness Center.

“The whole point of Red Ribbon Week is to raise awareness, but more importantly, it brings people together,” said Edgardo Menjivar, prevention coordinator, ASAP. “These events are meant to show people the support network that they have, so they know that they are not alone.”

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