FORT JACKSON, S.C. - Army Reserve Soldiers, civilians and family members stood shoulder-to-shoulder to form a unified alliance against drugs on Oct. 22 to help kick off a week-long Red Ribbon Week awareness celebration.

Led by Maj. Yolanda Ellerbee, the "Wildcats" of the 81st Regional Support Command signed a letter of proclamation to declaring a drug-free life during a ceremony at the command headquarters building here.

Ellerbee said it's important that she stands first to sign the proclamation to show that the "Wildcat" family stands firm against drugs.

"It is important for me to personally sign the Red Ribbon Week Proclamation because it is for our Soldiers, civilians and family members to know that drugs and drug abuse are negative issues affecting quality of life and we must work together to help save lives."

Red Ribbon Week began after the kidnapping, torture and brutal murder of EniriquAfA "Kiki" Camarena, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Mexico in 1985. Shortly afterwards, the Camarena's hometown of Calexico, Calif., donned red ribbons in his honor. The red ribbon became their symbol for prevention in order to reduce the demand of illegal drugs.

In 1988, the first National Red Ribbon Week was proclaimed by the U.S. Congress and chaired by Nancy Reagan.
Today, the Red Ribbon celebrations like the 81st Regional Support Command's activities bring millions of people together to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and to encourage prevention, early intervention, and treatment services, said Niecole G. Ducksworth, the 81st RSC's Alcohol and Drug Control Officer.

It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States, she added.

"Our end goal is to raise awareness of drug use and the problems related to drugs facing our community here in the Fort Jackson area," she said. "Our program is founded on encouraging our Soldiers, civilians and family members to promote drug-free lifestyles."

From a 5-kilometer walk around Fort Jackson's Semme's Lake to other dynamic activities held throughout the week, Ducksworth said she developed interactive activities that would truly show the impact of the use of drugs and alcohol while attempting seemingly easy tasks.

Sgt. 1st Class AuJour Washington, a human resource NCO within the command, uses Army values and morals and applies those same principles to his personal life.

Together with his wife Wanda, they practice a positive family model and use open communication to ensure they have the pulse of their 11 and 16 year old boys.

This open communication provides several benefits. In addition to finding out what is happening in the daily lives of their young men, the Washingtons often stress where the road of drugs leads and how living a drug-free life will reap benefits ten-fold as their children build their own families later in life.

"Whenever news, sports or even personal stories occur that are drug related, I take the opportunity to use it as a teaching tool and converse with them not only to ensure they get the desired message, but to check on what's going on in their lives," he said.

As NCOs lead from the front at work, Washington takes that same approach at home and refuses to allow drugs, alcohol or smoking into his own personal life.

"Not only would a life of drug use most certainly hinder me from reaching my potential and accomplishing all that God has planned for me here on Earth, it would cause me to be a hypocrite if I were to try and teach my children otherwise," he said. "In my opinion, there is nothing worse than a hypocrite."

Ducksworth said when people to choose drugs and alcohol in their lives, it really has an impact on not only themselves but on others around them.

"We read in the news where people die because someone was impaired behind the wheel," she said. "At some point we need to ask ourselves, when enough is enough'"

This "enough" was decided early in raising her family for Christa Burns, the Family Programs director for the 81st RSC.

"I think there are many, many life examples parents can share with their children to explain to them why we want to raise them to say 'no' to drugs and alcohol," Burns said. "I believe, as a parent, I must lead by example when it comes to raising my children and now my grandchildren."

As a grandmother, Burns has simple advice for young families trying to make the right choices in a difficult situation - communication with children.

"As parents, it is our responsibility to communicate with our kids about the tough subjects with regard to life -- drugs, alcohol, sex, dating violence, and suicide to name a few," she said. "We surely do not know all the answers, but we do have a responsibility to address the tough subjects and hopefully advise our children to select the correct path--not the wrong path--when it comes to drugs and alcohol."

Ducksworth agreed with Burns, and said the education begins with a simple conversation with a child at home.

"If we promote a safe, drug-free life in our homes, we can provide deterrence and increase public awareness that we stand a better chance with eliminating drug usage," Ducksworth said.

As the week's events come to a close, Ellerbee hopes the "Wildcat" team makes the commitment to live a drug-free life.

"We also need to pay tribute to those who have lost in the fight against drugs, and remember that together we can all make a difference," she said.