LANDSTUHL, Germany -- Juggling red balloons symbolized life's many challenges during graduation for a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program held recently at Wilson Barracks.

Fifth graders were helping Lt. Col. Lars Zetterstrom, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, juggle several red balloons. A blue balloon was tossed in, representing drugs and alcohol, to show the difficulty of keeping life's balloons aloft with an added impairment.

Spontaneously, Zetterstrom tapped the blue balloon to the floor and popped it with his desert-colored combat boot.

"I saw that it represented something bad," Zetterstrom said. "Stomping it out was the right thing to do,"

Lessons like that are what the DARE program is about. Since 1983, DARE has taught millions of students worldwide about the effects of alcohol and drugs. Each April, "National DARE Day" is commemorated in the United States by a presidential proclamation, community events and activities.

In Kaiserslautern Military Community's fours elementary schools, students complete 10 lessons over several weeks, working from DARE planners. Weekly lessons often include acting out skits on peer pressure and watching videos about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Landstuhl's graduating class was the first for Army Sgt. Raymond Engstrom, 29, of Cottage Grove, Minn., a garrison military police officer. The thought of facing children in classrooms each week was daunting at first. Yet, Engstrom knew the importance of DARE discussions and began enjoying the classes.

"You learn to have fun with it," Engstrom said. "They're just young people. I always refrain from calling them kids or students. I'd say "people about your age."

Over the past few months, Engstrom has developed significantly, said his supervisor, Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Rouse, the provost marshal operations sergeant.

"He's ran with it," Rouse said. "Now he's very interactive with the kids, parents and school staff. And I think he enjoys it significantly."

During the graduation, held at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's Heaton Auditorium, Zetterstrom said he was proud to see Army noncommissioned offer leading the DARE program

"We're American living overseas. We want our children to have the best education possible," Zetterstrom said. "Learning is not always about academics, it's about life skills and that's what DARE does."