California Red Ribbon Flyover   printer  

Students from Warm Springs Middle School spell out the message of the day, "Just Say No", on their football field recently during the 2006 annual Red Ribbon Flyover, the joint effort of several community agencies in Murrieta, CA designed to keep kids away from substance abuse. Photo by CW2 Marc Yablonka.

By Chief Warrant Officer Marc Yablonka
Courtesy of California National Guard

2/13/07, Murrieta, CA "You see the shimmering on the water?" Chief Warrant Officer Mirko Duvnjak, commander of B-Company, 640th Aviation Support Battalion, asked 1LT Matthew Frieberg, B-Co., 1st of the 140th Air Assault Battalion, as he banked their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter above Huntington Harbor, Calif. "When I was in Iraq," said the commander, "I always thought of that (the sea). It's really beautiful."

Today, Chief Duvnjak is flying not in Iraq, but the Murrieta Valley. He is part of a Red Ribbon Flyover. The Red Ribbon Flyover the mission is the brainchild of Eric Lahti, former Major, Deputy Commander of Rear Operations of the 40th Infantry Division. MAJ Lahti began the flyovers in 2002, in partnership with the Murrieta Valley, CA Unified School District and his volunteer non-profit organization, the Murrieta Anti-Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Abuse Coalition (MADATAC).

Coordinated with the city, local police department, school district, the Youth Accountability Board of the Riverside County Probation Dept., Mulligan's Family Fun Center, and Friday Night Live, the flyover consists of a Blackhawk circling over 12 schools in the Murrieta district after students had gathered on the football fields of each and spelled out anti-drug messages which could be seen from the air.

Pride is an emotion that runs through the staffs of all the organizations involved. "We work together to create a uniform environment with an anti-drug message," said MAJ Lahti over lunch at the French Valley Airport Caf after the flight.

The program is tailored not so much for the kids who avoid substance abuse, but for those who might have run afoul of the law and committed misdemeanor crimes in the past. The youth MAJ Lahti and MADATAC are most concerned about are those under 18 with minor drug offenses and convictions for crimes like shoplifting.

"Instead of waiting for a kid to mess up, the schools in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District identify potential problem kids and contacts," MAJ Lahti said.
The agencies then work together to keep the kids from getting into trouble again, he added.

For their part, the crew of the Blackhawk was equally enthusiastic about the mission.
"The best part was seeing, the excitement of the kids when we flew over their school," 1LT Frieberg said. "If participating in a program like this helps someone say no to drugs, as well as puts smiles on the kids' faces, then I feel this mission is a tremendous success," the 1LT added.

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Copyright 2007 GX: The Guard Experience magazine,

2/13/2007, 12:33 PM