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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Defense Department kicked off its "Red Ribbon Week" observance on Oct. 24, highlighting efforts to fight the scourge of drugs by awarding the annual Secretary of Defense Community Drug Awareness Awards.

The Pentagon ceremony highlighted the best counter-drug programs in each service and defense agency.

Locally, Fort Meade schools handed out red ribbons to students in honor of Red Ribbon week. Installation Commander Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy also released a declaration, calling on "all personnel; military and civilian, to demonstrate their commitment to drug free, healthy lifestyles, by wearing or displaying a red ribbon."

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric S. Edelman said the country owes the people who run the programs a tremendous debt of gratitude for working to ensure "that our Department of Defense and our services stay drug free and at the highest state of readiness in this time of war."

Thomas W. O'Connell, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, hosted the event. He said the program was created 15 years ago to "promote excellence in our Department of Defense anti-drug organization, and to encourage volunteer efforts by service members. These awards recognize best demand-reduction programs in each service, the National Guard and the defense agencies."

But the Defense Department efforts do not stop at base installation property lines. "Drug abuse has no boundaries, and DoD educational efforts extend into the communities in which they live and become part of the force to stop one of our biggest national threats - the threat of illegal drugs," O'Connell said.

Edelman presented the Community Drug Awareness Award to: Army Substance Abuse Program, Fort Stewart, Ga.; Campaign Drug Free, U.S. Navy; Camp Pendleton Drug Demand Reduction Program, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Drug Demand Reduction Program, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.; New York National Guard's "Brainstorm" Program; and Defense Logistics Agency's Defense Depot Susquehanna, Pa.

Edelman also presented DoD's Fulcrum Shield award to the Laurel Bay Youth Center at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C. The award began five years ago to recognize youth organizations affiliated with the military that have made recognizable strides in spreading the anti-drug message throughout their communities. The youth organized a teen dance and food drive in honor of Red Ribbon Week. The youth spoke in schools against drugs and encouraged peers and younger children to participate in the DEFY - Drug Education for Youth - program.

The Army Substance Abuse Program, Fort Stewart, Ga., received the award for its program to combat drug use in a division returning from Iraq and undergoing profound reorganization.

The Camp Pendleton Drug Demand Reduction Program presented drug use prevention classes to more than 12,000 service members. The program directors at Camp Pendleton also conducted classes at a local elementary school and taught courses to hundreds of new substance abuse prevention officers were trained.

The Navy's Campaign Drug Free received the award for efforts to educate more than 18,000 children to the dangers drugs pose. The campaign also set up a toll-free phone number so units can get the latest information and set up anti-drug presentations.

The Air Force Academy's drug demand reduction effort included all military installations in the Colorado Springs area. The effort included 24-hour testing and drug abuse referral programs. The group also began an effort to combat drunk driving and created a program for service members or family members who needed a ride home.

The New York National Guard's "Brainstorm" Program received the award for its unique way of reaching out to children. The brainstorm program showed schoolchildren what drugs do to their brain and highlighted the fact that just one use of drugs can cause addiction.

Finally, the Defense Logistics Agency's Defense Depot Susquehanna, Pa. Received the award for its creation of a robust inspection program that cut drunk or drugged driving and bolstered the urinalysis program.

Editor's note: Staff writer Shannon Baylis Sarino contributed to this story.

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