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Sixth graders at Sollars Elementary School wore anti-drug pins to school Monday as part of National Red Ribbon Week, a Defense-Department sponsored campaign to stamp out illegal drug, alcohol and tobacco use. From left: Brian Carter, Matt Hurley, Francesca Costa, Maylin Hernandez, Jennifer Glover, Matt Bernal and Jade Mercado.
Sixth graders at Sollars Elementary School wore anti-drug pins to school Monday as part of National Red Ribbon Week, a Defense-Department sponsored campaign to stamp out illegal drug, alcohol and tobacco use. From left: Brian Carter, Matt Hurley, Francesca Costa, Maylin Hernandez, Jennifer Glover, Matt Bernal and Jade Mercado. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The pins, bracelets, writing contests, skits and yes, red ribbons, are only temporary, but the hope is their message is strong enough to help kids say “no” to a drug dealer or even to a pot-smoking friend at a party.

This week, students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade at this northern Japan base are celebrating National Red Ribbon Week as part of an annual Defense Department-sponsored campaign to stamp out illegal drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

“We know that if they go back to the States, they are going to be tempted; even here, anybody who is underage, a cigarette, alcohol, it’s illegal,” said Morris Poston, a Sollars Elementary School guidance counselor. “It could happen any time. We’re trying to give them different ways to say ‘no,’ [a] means to resist.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Red Ribbon Week. In 1985, Special Agent Enrique S. “Kiki” Camarena of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was kidnapped in Guadalajara, Mexico, and killed by drug traffickers, according to a DOD statement. Shortly after Camarena’s death, citizens from his hometown of Calexico, Calif., began to wear red ribbons to remember him and to commemorate his sacrifice. The DOD has recognized Red Ribbon Week since 1990.

Across mainland Japan, U.S. bases have a variety of activities planned to mark the anti-drug effort — targeting their message at both kids and adults. At Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Marine Corps Community Services is handing out red ribbons to be put on cars and information to Marines at the gates, hosting a breakfast for campaign volunteers and offering sobriety breath tests outside Club Iwakuni on Friday and Saturday night, said Sgt. Elizabeth Lopez, the provost marshal office’s noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of police community resource section.

“We’ll ask them if they feel intoxicated. I think some people might be shocked on what level they actually are,” Lopez said.

At Misawa, Red Ribbon Week is a collaborative effort between the schools and the base’s Drug Demand Reduction Program. DDRP manager Sherril Light handed out about 1,600 pledge cards for students to sign.

“It’s a promise that they’ll stay free of illegal drugs for life, and alcohol and tobacco until they are at least of legal age to purchase (those),” Light said. “By that time, they can make an informed decision.”

Light met last week with Sollars and Cummings Elementary School students to talk about peer pressure, the effects of illegal drug use on the body and how to say “no” to drugs.

In a role-playing skit last week, Sollars’ sixth-graders acted out creative ways to rebuke a drug dealer peddling marijuana on the playground.

“You can say: ‘It’s time for me to go. My mom would kill me if I took that stuff. I’m too smart to start, too cool to be a fool,’” said sixth-grader Matt Hurley.

“You can ignore him, just walk away,” added classmate Matt Bernal.

“The message is there’s a lot of different ways to say ‘no,’” Poston said. “They have to be coming up with ideas now on how they’re going to respond when that time comes.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Greg Tyler contributed to this story.

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