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1998 DEFY Camp at White Beach

By: FC3 Paul Noel

Date Posted: 1998-07-24

Twelve-year-old Jessica Schmiedeke struggled as she counted out her 20th and last sit up during the President's Challenge exercise that tested her agility, balance and coordination. It was two more sit ups than she was able to complete at the beginning of the week-long Drug Education For Youth camp, sponsored by Commander, Fleet Activities, Okinawa, that ended on Friday, June 26.

"The aerobics helped me the best," Jessica said of the week's activities. "It was hard, but it was fun."

The challenge was just one part of the DEFY residential camp here in which 41 children of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines learned to build on their character, leadership and confidence to engage in positive, healthy lifestyles as drug-free citizens. The students graduated from the camp Friday during a ceremony at Camp Shields Navy base to complete the first phase of the DEFY program.

The pre-teenagers ranged in ages from 9 to 12 years old. They were part of the fist DEFY camp to include people from all military services, said Chief Master at Arms David Richardson, who is the DEFY program coordinator at Kadena Air Base.

DEFY began in 1993 as part of the Secretary of the Navy's Drug Demand Reduction Task Force that works to fulfill the reduction goals of the President's National Drug Control Strategy.

Richardson said 16 adult mentors volunteered to spend the week at the camp providing guidance and instruction. Mentors also come from a diverse group of enlisted and commissioned personnel from the Navy and Air Force, and civilian dependants.

All military services were represented because of the uniqueness of the Kadena Air Base, Richardson added.

"My idea behind that was we have such a diverse number of services where we work, I thought we should bring them all together for a common cause," he said.

The children learned about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and gang involvement through classes, discussion groups and activities designed to build their knowledge and challenge them physically.

"The program teaches each individual how to build self esteem and to help them conquer any road blocks they will face in life," Richardson said.

Movies of other children telling personal stories of drug addiction help the young participants understand the dangers of drugs from someone their own age.

Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton said keeping the children of military personnel in a drug-free atmosphere also helps servicemen and women stay focused on their job.

"In order for that to happen, we have to have strong kids, that make strong families, for a ready Naval fleet," the Secretary said.

The classroom lessons advanced from the functions of the brain to how drugs effect those functions. Jessica said she learned that the brain is like a super computer that will crash when drugs are added to the system.

She said attending classes in the program made her realize that someone on drugs would not be able to complete the physical activities.

"The toughest thing we had was the President's Challenge," Jessica said. "We did pull-ups, sit-ups and had a one-mile run. I don't think people on drugs would be able to do that because they would have a lack of energy and a lack of strength."

Jessica came to Okinawa in March with her parents, Martha and Marine Corps Master Sgt. John Schmiedeke. Jessica said the DEFY camp helped her to make new friends, and she is looking forward to seeing them again during the second phase of the program.

Air Force Airman First Class Matt Weiner, who volunteered as an instructor at the DEFY camp, said the job was much different than his regular duty at the Kadena's 18th Security Force Squadron.

"You don't get that contact with kids like you do here," Weiner said. "I feel this is more community policing than standing at the gate and waiving at people."

Team Leader mess specialist second class Richard Atienza said caring for the 41 children at the camp was much more strenuous than his regular job of managing the Combined Bachelors Quarters at Kadena.

"Keeping up with the kids is tough," he said. "I'm always on my feet because you always have to keep an eye on them."

This is the second year that Atienza has volunteered for the DEFY program. He said he stayed involved with DEFY because he feels he is making a difference with youth.

"They're able to think decisions through," he said. "DEFY helps them to know they need to stay away from things that will hurt them."

Richardson said the adult team leaders will continue as mentors in phase II, which will run in conjunction with the upcoming school year.

"The team leaders have already established a bond with the kids and gained their trust," he said. "We want to keep that relationship through phase II."

During phase II, two team leaders will meet with each youth to discuss progress in school and help with any personal problems. They will also make referrals to other agencies or programs when needed, Richardson said.

Mentors often provide an impartial prospective for the youth and their parents to consider. "Parents are often grateful for the different insight," Richardson said.

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