Educating Florida’s youth about values, leadership and drug and alcohol abuse

Written by  //  May 15, 2012  //  Feature Stories, News

Florida National Guard Civil Operations Program visits kids in the Keys

By Capt. Jeanette Kingsley, Civil Operations Program Manager

A Soldier from the Florida National Guard Counterdrug Civil Operations Program speaks to students at a middle school in Monroe County about leadership and life skills.

KEY LARGO, Fl (May 15, 2012) – While most people think of the Florida Keys as a beautiful and warm place to vacation, the Florida National Guard Counterdrug-Civil Operations Program, formerly known as Drug Demand Reduction, was hard at work recently educating the Monroe County middle school youth on leadership, decision making, communication, teamwork, self confidence and planning for a positive future.

The Civil Operations Program has conducted the Monroe County Youth Leader Blitz for the past four years. From May 8-11, 2012, 25 Guardsmen supported the mission to reach 1,900 middle school students at six different schools throughout the Florida Keys. This year, the Alabama and Puerto Rico Counterdrug programs provided additional Soldiers to the operation, allowing the Florida Counterdrug Program to successfully achieve their mission.

Soldiers from the Florida National Guard Counterdrug Civil Operations Program help kids climb a rock wall during the Monroe County Youth Leader Blitz, May 8-11, 2012.

The curriculum used to teach the activity-based education is called Youth Leader. It involves teaching the students the seven Army Values (Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage) in several outdoor activity settings to reinforce the learning experience.

“This is a wonderful program that teaches our students leadership, respect and responsibility,” said Michelle Wieland, a 6th grade teacher at Key Largo Middle School. “We get the largest attendance during the school year when the kids know that the National Guard is coming out to teach them life lessons.”

The middle school teachers and school administrators all commented on how the messages of the leadership and life skills delivered by the Guardsmen in uniform have a much greater impact on the students than the other civilian awareness programs.

Located just east of Miami-Dade County, Monroe County has similar illicit drug use issues. However, the alcohol use amongst the youth is notably higher than the state average. The relaxed atmosphere in the Florida Keys can cause some youth to grow up with positive attitudes toward the tolerance and acceptance of alcohol use.

“It is very important that we continue this partnership with the Monroe County School board and the local anti-drug coalition to change this false perception and influence their youth to live a healthy lifestyle and make positive life-long decisions,” said Capt. Jeanette Kingsley, the Civil Operations Program Manager. “Children need positive role models in their lives and my Soldiers are able to provide that with the programs we offer the schools. The goal is to teach them leadership and life skills, along with the dangers of drugs and destructive obstacles in life in a fun and physically challenging way. The students seem to have a lot of respect towards the military and I am happy that we can use our experience to encourage these kids to make smart life decisions.”

The Civil Operations Program (COP) mission is to provide a strong response to substance abuse in the communities in Florida by supporting anti-drug coalitions and providing evidence, adventure and experiential based education to the youth. The COP is a part of the Florida Guard’s Counterdrug program, established to provide a variety of military support for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations in their fight against illicit drugs. To learn more about this and other Florida National Guard Counterdrug programs, please visit the Counterdrug website at .