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DoD Anti-Drug Official Salutes Youth Outreach Effort

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2003 – DoD's top anti-drug official today praised the efforts of Race Against Drugs, a civilian initiative that partners with professional stock car drivers and other racers to keep young people drug-free.

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Eleven-year-old motocross rider Eric Saunders, left, accompanied by Race Against Drugs founder Ron Steger at the Oct. 28 Red Ribbon Week Pentagon ceremony, says racing his dirt bike "is fun." Saunders said he's associated with Race Against Drugs because "I don't want kids doing drugs." Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

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"Drugs pose an enormous threat to our national security," Thomas W. O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low- intensity conflict, noted at a Pentagon ceremony.

O'Connell saluted the contributions of the national anti-drug outreach initiative targeted to American youth. The Pentagon event was part of DoD's Oct. 27-29 Red Ribbon Week activities.

U.S. service members and DoD civilians are fighting against worldwide threats, including drugs, "to keep our homeland secure," O'Connell explained.

"We have mobilized against the drug threat and we will continue the fight," he vowed.

DoD counternarcotics' funds support many internal anti-drug programs, O'Connell explained. The department, he added, also works with civilian efforts such as Race Against Drugs, founded in 1989 by Ron Steger, who attended the Pentagon event.

Race Against Drugs promotes "the message of staying drug-free to the people in our communities," O'Connell pointed out, as part of nationwide efforts to reduce the demand for illegal drugs.

By joining forces with civilian anti-drug initiatives, DoD accomplishes "more in the fight against drugs," he said, noting DoD is "thankful for all of the achievements these programs have made."

Steger presented O'Connell with a racing jacket during the ceremony. Explaining that the multi-colored leather jacket was too expensive a gift for a public servant to keep, O'Connell said he'd engage someone to raffle it off, with the proceeds to go "towards the work against drugs."

Steger gestured at several NASCAR race vehicles, a motocross bike even a racing boat arrayed onsite, and remarked that youth anti-drug programs make a difference.

Racing is an exciting sport that's a great venue to market the fight against drugs, he noted. He said racers "can only be high on adrenaline" and "cannot use any substance of any kind" that impairs their ability.

There are "a lot of similarities between our military services and the way they (racers) conduct their behavior," Steger pointed out. Professional racecar drivers, like military members, he said, are expected to be drug-free.

NASCAR racing truck driver Bill Lester, one of several racers at the ceremony, said his red Dodge truck could hit 195 mph at tracks like Daytona. At such speeds, he emphasized, "You have to be clear minded and focused."

Motocross rider and young role model Eric Saunders, 11, said racing his dirt bike "is fun." Saunders maintained he's associated with Race Against Drugs because, "I don't want kids doing drugs."

Race Against Drugs, Steger noted, also employs videos, posters, and comic and coloring books, to get young people interested in racing, instead of drugs.

And "we've got an enormous group of volunteers across the country that make Race Against Drugs effective in their communities," Steger concluded.

Red Ribbon Week originated as a tribute to Special Agent Enrique "Kiki" S. Carmarena of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug traffickers in Guadalajara, Mexico, killed Carmarena in 1985.

Afterward, people in Carmarena's hometown of Calexico, Calif., wore red ribbons to honor his sacrifice. DoD began its participation in Red Ribbon Week in 1990.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA Young Marine color guard stands at attention during a Red Ribbon Week ceremony held Oct. 28 in the Pentagon courtyard. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThomas W. O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, left, addresses a Pentagon audience Oct. 28 during a Red Ribbon Week ceremony. To O'Connell's right are Ron Steger, founder of Race Against Drugs, and Bill Lester, a NASCAR truck racer. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore  
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