Juggling red balloons symbolized life’s many challenges during graduation for a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program held recently at Wilson Barracks in Landstuhl.
Fifth-graders helped Lt. Col. Lars Zetterstrom, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, juggle several red balloons. A blue balloon was tossed in, representing drugs and alcohol, to show the difficulty of keeping life’s balloons aloft with an added impairment.
Spontaneously, Zetterstrom tapped the blue balloon to the floor and popped it with his desert-colored combat boot.
“I saw that it represented something bad,” Zetterstrom said. “Stomping it out was the right thing to do.”
Lessons like that are what the D.A.R.E. program is about. Since 1983, D.A.R.E. has taught millions of students worldwide about the effects of alcohol and drugs. Each April, “National D.A.R.E. Day” is commemorated in the U.S. by a presidential proclamation, community events and activities. This year, it was commemorated on April 9.
In the KMC’s four elementary schools, students completed 10 lessons over several weeks, working from D.A.R.E. planners. Weekly lessons often included acting out skits on peer pressure and watching videos about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Landstuhl’s graduating class was the first for Army Sgt. Raymond Engstrom, a garrison military police officer, who instructed the students.
The thought of facing children in classrooms each week was daunting at first. Yet, Engstrom knew the importance of D.A.R.E. discussions and began enjoying the classes.
“You learn to have fun with it,” he said. “They’re just young people. I always refrain from calling them kids or students. I’d say ‘people about your age.’”
Over the past few months, Engstrom has developed significantly, said his supervisor, Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Rouse, the provost marshal operations sergeant.
“He’s ran with it,” Rouse said. “Now he’s very interactive with the kids, parents and school staff. And I think he enjoys it significantly.”
During the graduation, held at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Heaton Auditorium, Zetterstrom said he was proud to see an Army noncommissioned officer leading the D.A.R.E. program
“We’re Americans living overseas. We want our children to have the best education possible,” Zetterstrom said. “Learning is not always about academics; it’s about life skills and that’s what D.A.R.E. does.”