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Lt. Col. Michael A. Todd, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division commander, hands a certificate to Grafenwöhr Elementary School sixth-grader Keven Wehrer at a DARE graduation on Monday.

Lt. Col. Michael A. Todd, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division commander, hands a certificate to Grafenwöhr Elementary School sixth-grader Keven Wehrer at a DARE graduation on Monday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Willie Nelson might be able to smoke marijuana and succeed, but the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse for many people are devastating, according to 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division commander Lt. Col. Michael A. Todd.

Todd, the keynote speaker at a Drug Abuse Resistance Education graduation ceremony Monday for 42 Grafenwöhr Elementary School sixth-graders, was responding to a question about Nelson, whose pro-marijuana views were featured on a radio show broadcast by the Armed Forces Network.

Todd told the children that drugs and alcohol had a negative impact on the lives of several people he knew.

“My wrestling coach’s wife was killed by a drunk driver and he was left to look after two little kids,” he said.

The DARE program, which began in 1983, was not available to Todd and his friends when he went to school, he said. Many learned about drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse through the school of hard knocks, ruined lives, rehabilitation clinics or the criminal justice system.

DARE gave kids the facts about the problem so they could make informed decisions when they were offered drugs, tobacco or alcohol, Todd said.

“The program focuses on providing you with the facts and the consequences so you understand what these substances can do to your body — physically and emotionally,” he said.

Children often feel such a strong desire to fit in that they throw logic out the door, Todd warned.

“It is all about being cool. We are social beings. We want to have friends. You will be tempted to do things that you know to be wrong,” he said.

One of the DARE graduates, Katie Cooper, 11, said the course taught her how to say no.

“Marijuana is illegal in the U.S. and it can be addictive. Tobacco is illegal to sell to anyone under 18 and causes lung cancer. Alcohol is illegal to sell to anyone under 21 and it can have a bad effect on the body,” she said, adding that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.

Another DARE graduate, Kaley Harless, also 11, said she learned that smoking causes breathing problems and heart disease, marijuana also can cause breathing problems and alcohol can slow down your brain and damage every organ in the body.

“You don’t have one choice. You can always say no. Ask yourself: Is this what my parents would want me to do?” she said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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