FORT RUCKER, Ala. (December 13, 2012) -- Families and friends gathered at the Fort Rucker Elementary School gymnasium Dec. 7 to see more than 70 fifth grade students graduate from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

The students went through a 10-week program in which they learned about adversity, drug facts, responsible-decision making, avoiding peer pressure, bullying and helping others, according to Lt Col. Madeline Bondy, Directorate of Public Safety and provost marshal.

"I'm honored to speak to the students who are graduating here this morning from the DARE program," she said. "We are incredibly proud of your accomplishments and very excited that you are a part of our community."

After the program, the children had to take a the DARE pledge, which is essentially a promise to themselves that that they will say no to drugs and alcohol, and lead a healthy and happy life, according to Keith Aamodt, FRES DARE officer.

"I told the [students] that it wasn't mandatory to sign it and to only sign it if they mean it," he said. "I can say today that every student signed [the pledge] and handed it over to me."

During the ceremony, each student was given a certificate of graduation and special recognition was given to essay contest winners. Winners include: Gabrielle Franklin, Celeb Sallila and Dustin Martin, for class winners who received a Darren the Lion; Caleb Roberts, overall runner-up, who received a Darren the Lion and an E-reader; and Caterina Martineau, overall winner, who received a Darren the Lion, an E-reader and a DARE basketball.

Aamodt worked with the students over the course of the 10-week program to teach them about the hazards of drugs and alcohol, as well as bullying and how to deal with similar situations.

He said working with the students makes him feel that he can make a difference in the community and lives of the children.

"First, I decided I wanted to become a police officer because I wanted to make a difference," said Aamodt. "I remember staying up one night and thinking to myself, 'How do I truly make a difference in my community?' And then I thought back to when I was a kid in school and our DARE program.

"I remembered how much I looked up to [my DARE officer] -- he truly made a difference in my life," he continued. "I set out to also be a DARE officer and make that difference."

Vicki Gilmer, FRES principal, expressed her appreciation to Aamodt as the assembly of students presented a gift to the DARE officer.

"We had a great DARE officer this year [in officer Aamodt], and the children have really enjoyed the program," said Gilmer. "Working with children is a very unique talent, and when you walk into a room with fifth graders, it's a different atmosphere. Investigator Aamodt walked in and was immediately part of the FRES Family.

"He absorbed being in the room with the fifth graders and he enjoyed their time, their humor and everything else that comes with being a fifth grader," she said. "We are so very thankful that he was our DARE officer this year."

Gilmer wasn't the only one who expressed her gratitude for the DARE officer. The students also showed their appreciation and presented Aamodt with a gift.

"Thank you for all that you've done," said Rheygan Mantle, fifth grade student, to Aamodt. "I just want to say that you're awesome, and I think everyone here can agree that you're amazing, and no words can describe how much fun we've had."

After the ceremony, students were allowed to meet with their parents to share the memory and lessons learned from the program, and Staff Sgt. Daniel Brown, B Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Airborne Infantry and parent of a graduate, had nothing but nice things to say about the program.

"I feel like this is a great thing because my daughter, Danielle, enjoyed it and talks about it all the time -- it definitely made an impression on her," he said. "It's great that the school has a program like DARE because it's drug awareness and children are like sponges, so anything we can do to help them as far as drug and alcohol awareness is always a good thing."