Red Ribbon Week: Have the power to be Drug Free

29 Oct 2004 | Lance Cpl. Heidi E. Loredo

It was because of a Marine who chose to make a difference that the entire nation celebrates Red Ribbon Week.For the last 17 years, schools across the United States have recognized Red Ribbon Week in honor of Drug Enforcement Agent and Marine veteran, Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. Camarena grew up in a dirt-floor house with hopes and dreams of making a difference. He worked his way through college, served in the Marines and became a police officer. When he decided to join the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, his mother tried to talk him out it. "I can't not do this," he told her. "I'm only one person, but I want to make a difference." The DEA sent Camarena to work undercover in Mexico to investigate a major drug cartel believed to include officers in the Mexican army, police and government. On Feb. 7, 1985, in Guadalajara, Mexico, the 37-year-old Camarena left his office to meet his wife for lunch. Five men appeared at the agent's side and shoved him in a car. One month later, Camarena's body was found in a shallow grave. He had been tortured to death. Shortly after his death, in honor of Camarena's memory and his battle against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors from his hometown in Calexico, Calif., began to wear red satin badges to remember him and to commemorate his sacrifice. The red symbolizes that sacrifice and encourages others to commit to a drug free life.“The latest statistics we have state that 93 percent of the Marine Corps is drug-free,” said David Roman, Substance Abuse Counselor. “From June 2003 to June 2004 the Combat Center had 93 service members fail their drug tests, which is pretty good compared to other places. However the percentages have gone higher.”Roman believes the rising percentage is because of lack of prevention.“I’m a strong believer in prevention,” said Roman. “If you get the abuser and you educate them before they make that move we can save a lot of them.”Another reason for the rise in drug abuse is the amount of money Marines have in their bank accounts upon their return from deployments.“Some of the guys have been to Iraq, and they don’t want to go back,” said Roman. “They think if they smoke a little they’ll get kicked out, and it doesn’t work like that. We don’t have drug addicts; we have people that do drugs methodically and immaturely. After Vietnam a lot of people were doing drugs. Then again after Vietnam we didn’t have drug tests. We didn’t start testing until the late 70s.” Roman added, “We are based basically on the methamphetamine capital of the world because of the heat. The heat helps the drug’s potency. ‘Meth’ is not a big problem on base but marijuana is. However ‘meth’ has the potential to become a real problem because the Marines come back from Iraq with all this extra money. You have to remember these guys go to war. They’ve been traumatized. They come back to Twentynine Palms. It’s not Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. I’ve even seen Marines use Nyquil cough syrup to get drunk. You’d be surprised what Marines would do to get loaded.”The prevention briefs sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services have helped out, said Roman. Since the initial briefs began he has seen several Marines and Sailors voluntarily ask for help with their substance abuse problem.“Red Ribbon Week reminds the command and base what it is we’re fighting for-- to have an alcohol-and drug-free environment,” said Roman. “It brings to light that drug problems still exist, and we need to fight harder. Everybody does. It’s just not a problem with lower rank or higher rank. Prevention will work.”Information on illegal drug use prevention can be obtained from the Substance Abuse Counseling Center in Building 1453, or by calling 830-6376. For additional information via the Internet, go to the National Family Partnership Web site, the National Clearinghouse for Drug and Alcohol Information Web site, or the Red Ribbon Works Web site at
Headquarters Marine Corps