CAMP ZAMA, Japan – While growing up in Long Island, New York, Benigno Nunez repeatedly witnessed the deadly consequences of drugs and excessive alcohol use.
Nunez, now a staff sergeant assigned to the 88th Military Police Battalion, shared his story with Zama Middle High School students Thursday during a Red Ribbon Week assembly.
His father’s alcohol use, he began to tell the students, led to his parents being divorced and eventually his father’s death from cirrhosis of the liver. Nunez’s friends also lost loved ones, including his friend’s older brother who collapsed and died in Nunez’s front yard after the brother was stabbed by a drug dealer.
Years later, Nunez said, another friend of his turned to alcohol after he and his girlfriend ended their relationship.
“He decided that drinking was the way out to relieve his pain," Nunez said, adding his friend was then arrested twice for driving while intoxicated. “Unfortunately, he thought his life was done and he decided to take his own life, because of that."
While deeply personal to share with an audience, Nunez, who serves as a military police investigator and desk sergeant, said he hoped the real-life tragedies would help prevent students from enduring similar painful experiences.
“Even though they didn't happen to me, it affects people,” he said of the incidents. “You guys have your [whole] life ahead you. Don't let drugs and alcohol get the better of you, because the damage is immeasurable."
Led by students in the National Junior Honor Society, the school’s Red Ribbon Week also had festivities each day to celebrate being drug free. Some of them allowed students to dress in costumes, mismatched socks, pajamas, hats and the color red to help get them into the spirit of the week.
During Thursday’s assembly in the school auditorium, students conducted performances and videos of public service announcements were shown to deter alcohol and drug use.
Nunez also spoke to the students along with Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan.
“Red Ribbon Week is an ideal way for people and communities to come together and take a stand against drugs,” Tomlinson said. “It is a time to show your personal commitment to a drug-free lifestyle.”
Celebrated every year, Red Ribbon Week is the nation's largest and longest-running drug-use prevention campaign that has reached millions of people around the world, according to the National Family Partnership.
The campaign began in 1985 following the murder of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was tortured and killed by drug traffickers in Mexico earlier that year. The death sparked outrage among parents and youth across the country who began to wear red ribbons to raise awareness of the destruction caused by drugs in America, according to the NFP.
“This year’s theme for Red Ribbon Week is ‘celebrate life ... live drug free,’” Tomlinson said. “By celebrating life and living drug free, you are taking care of the most important person in your life and that’s you.”