By Lt. Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York Army National Guard December 29, 2011
SCOTIA, N.Y. -- More than 100 communities across New York State welcomed Soldiers and Airmen of the New York National Guard in 2011, not to hear about their overseas wartime experiences, but to share life skills with students and keep them drug-free.
Part of the nation's War on Drugs is fought in classrooms by Soldiers and Airmen of the New York National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force. The Guardsmen and women support drug prevention coalitions, other state organizations and local agencies to reduce the abuse and illegal use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
The force has 25 certified Drug Demand Reduction Soldiers and Airmen who supervise the Guard's Stay on Track curriculum, a key part of the prevention program. In 2011, the task force reached more than 8,000 middle school students (grades 6, 7 and 8) in 100 different schools.
"We do basically anything that would get the kids off the street," said Lt. Col. Richard Sloma, commander of the Counterdrug Task Force, based in Scotia, N.Y.
"Our Soldiers and Airmen are providing activities that help community organizations engage kids," he said. "We provide a number of alternate activities (to drug use). We have several of those programs."
Students in the program participate in interactive activities with the National Guard mentors and learn about the negative consequences of substance abuse.
The Stay on Track program offers an innovative, fun, and comprehensive approach to substance abuse prevention. The research-based curriculum is designed for classroom implementation by teachers. Special emphasis is given to tobacco, club drugs, hallucinogens, alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana, and inhalants.
Each level of training also provides four modules to reinforce the benefits of living a drug-free life, from health education, decision making and setting goals, peer communications and interpersonal skills, and influences of the media.
"This unique program provides a mechanism under which National Guard military experience can be employed to assist civilian law enforcement agencies to fight the corrosive effect of illegal drugs in American society," said Gen. Craig R. McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, during his May 2010 senate testimony for the 2011 National Guard Budget.
"Our National Guard counter-drug program fills a very vital need," McKinley said.
The National Guard Counterdrug Task Force partners with other state and federal entities, including the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, New York State Police, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and a variety of Community Based Organizations across the state.
"We are trying to work in coalitions," Sloma said.
By working in partnership towards a common goal, the National Guard Counterdrug Task Force sponsored drug-free activities and programs to expand their reach to more than 23,000 children this past year.
"We try to go to events where there are multiple exposures to us," Sloma said. "The kids show up once a week for a summer program, or we work with the Police Athletic League, Boys and Girls Clubs, Four H, you name it."
Overall, the program covers 12 education sessions, normally spread over 12 weeks, Sloma said, depending on the schedule of the school partnering with the Guard.
"We send in one Guardsman, one Soldier or Airmen and they'll go to the school, show up in uniform and help run the program," Sloma said.
The Stay on Track program, which cost approx. 1.1 million dollars in the 2011 fiscal year, is expected to visit more than 60 schools again in 2012.
"I believe in it," said Command Sgt. Maj. Roland Wells, the senior noncommissioned officer with the program for 13 years. "I have seen firsthand students that have matured and I have seen them succeed outside of the school environment."
The National Guard utilizes their unique resources as a community-based military force to assist local and state law enforcement to reduce the supply of drugs in America and help youth make a commitment to be drug-free.
Guardsmen support both the reduction in supply through their assistance to interdiction efforts as well as implementing a Drug Demand Reduction program through awareness and prevention tactics in communities throughout the state.
More information about the New York National Guard can be found at www.dmna.ny.gov and the Counterdrug Task Force at www.counterdrug.com. The Stay on Track program public website is at www.ncprs.org/sotNGP