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Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2008 –
The Defense Department recognized military agencies for their outstanding anti-drug programs at a Pentagon ceremony today.
Hosted by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, this year’s event is the department’s 18th observance of Red Ribbon Week, an annual campaign that runs through Oct. 31.
Red Ribbon Week advocates youth drug abstinence. It was established in 1988 in honor of fallen U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Enrique “Kiki” S. Camerena, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by drug traffickers in Mexico in 1985.
Combating drugs is important for the Department of Defense and for the nation, England said.
“Abuse of drugs and alcohol and tobacco ruins people’s lives,” England said, noting that adolescents and young people in particular are highly susceptible to using drugs.
Through random testing and anti-substance abuse education campaigns the Defense Department has achieved great success against drugs during the past 25 to 30 years, England said.
In 1980, he said, nearly 30 percent of servicemembers used drugs, and today the percentage of drug users in the military has dropped below 1 percent.
This year’s Secretary of Defense Community Drug Awareness Award recipients are:
Since 2001, DoD also has presented the Fulcrum Shield Award for Excellence in Youth Anti-Drug Programs to military-affiliated youth organizations. This year’s winner is the Douglas County Young Marines, Douglas County, Colo.
Established in 1958, the Young Marines is a nonprofit youth organization that teaches young people from ages 8 to 18 how to gain self-confidence and be responsible. The Young Marines is the U.S. Marine Corps’ official community youth program, as well as the focus of its youth drug demand reduction efforts.
Healthy, drug-free troops and young civilian citizens “win the nation’s battles” and prevent societal decay, England said.
Yet, “just because we’ve made great progress doesn’t mean that we can rest on this” war against drugs, England said. “The Red Ribbon campaign is critical to our success.”
The event also featured Geneva Camarena, the the widow of fallen Drug Enforcement Administration special agent who was the inspiration for Red Ribbon Week, as one of the guest speakers. She praised her late husband’s work, noting that the former Marine gave his life to safeguard young people against drug traffickers.
Geneva Camerena now heads the Enrique Camarena Educational Foundation, which is pledged to eradicate drug abuse among the nation’s youth and to honor fallen and injured heroes in the fight against illegal drugs.
“We must take care of our children,” she said.
John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, noted that the nation’s drug-enforcement agencies have had a long partnership with the Defense Department. Youth drug use in the United States has declined nearly 25 percent over the past six years, Walters said.
Walters also highlighted the recent decline in opium production in Afghanistan, noting this event represents the liberation of Afghans and others from a poisonous substance. Heroin is made from opium-producing poppy seeds that are grown by some farmers in Afghanistan. The war against drugs, Walters said, also is a battle against false information being spread by those who profit from the drug trade.
Walters also praised the Defense Department as a model employer that has a zero-tolerance attitude regarding drug use.
Another guest, Michele M. Leonhart, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said DoD’s efforts are “making a difference” during the war on drugs. A number of key Afghan and Colombian drug kingpins, she said, are being extradited to the United States for trial on drug-trafficking charges.
Drugs are a menace that threatens America’s youth, Leonhart said. Young people shouldn’t experiment with drugs, she said, because drug use negatively affects their still-developing brains.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Arthur T. Dean, chairman and chief executive officer of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, also said a few words at the Pentagon awards ceremony. CADCA is a nonprofit group that works with local communities and the federal government to promote anti-drug awareness among the nation’s youth.
“Coming back to the Pentagon and being a part of this special Red Ribbon event is truly an honor,” Dean said, noting his organization encourages young people to live drug-free lifestyles.
“Zero-tolerance in young people, as it relates to illegal drugs, is the standard,” Dean said.