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CONG Red Ribbon Week school visits continue to impact

By Air National Guard Capt. Kinder Blacke | Colorado National Guard | Nov. 20, 2015

Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado —

11/20/2015 - BUCKLEY AFB, Colo. -- The Colorado National Guard Counterdrug Task Force was at it again this fall, visiting 47 schools with a UH-60 Blackhawk to inspire kids all around Colorado to be drug free.


Every year since 1998, the Colorado Joint Counterdrug Task Force, based out of Buckley Air Force Base, has conducted these school visits in the spring and fall in an effort to educate students about healthy lifestyle choices and motivate them to stay drug free. (For more details,Read this


The program has been, and continues to be a huge success.

According to the kids, the experience was "awesome, fantastic, and epic," said Ms. Katie Manzanares, a teacher at Cimarron Middle School, Parker, Colo.

Members of the Colorado National Guard and the Drug Enforcement Administration talk to the kids about the dangers of drugs and the importance of being drug free in order to achieve big goals, such as being a member of the military or even a pilot, prior to letting the children walk around the helicopter for a closer look.

The students loved seeing the helicopter land and getting to look at it up close, said Manzanares. "It was an awesome experience for our kids!" Hopefully the anti-drug message will stick in the students' memories as strongly as the helicopter landing in their school yard did, she said.

Sgt. Sam Groff, civil operations non-commissioned officer, CO-JCTF, has been flying these Red Ribbon Week missions for over five years and based on his experience, he knows the impact is undeniable.

"I know the message is getting through," Groff said. "I run into children at every school who remember our previous visits to their school in past years and love what we do."

In fact, Groff and one of the other CO-JCDTF members, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marc Kudlac, a pilot with the team, remember helicopters visiting their school as children and aspiring to be drug free and join the military.

"I didn't know what I wanted to be until a helicopter landed at my school," said Kudlac. "I learned then that I needed to stay the course... stay away from drugs and the things I knew were wrong and I could live my dream."

Kudlac did exactly that and is now one of the pilots flying Blackhawks into school yards full of cheering kids, as he once dreamt of doing. Groff is right there with him as a Blackhawk crew chief.

"If that isn't a quantifiable impact, then I am unsure what is!" Groff said.

Not only are the helicopter visits a highlight of the school year, they undoubtedly help achieve part of the counterdrug team's mission, to reduce and prevent the use of drugs in Colorado. Educating the young and upcoming generations has proven to be an effective method to do so, said Groff, "and the best part is being able to light up the lives of so many children."