May 14, 2007

Inspiration to stay off drugs came from the sky

Minnesota National Guard Counterdrug Program visits area

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

“Helicopters are way cooler than airplanes,” said Minnesota National Guardsman B.J. Voute as he stood in front of a UH-60A Blackhawk helicopter after landing the bird before the eyes of area school kids Tuesday.

Winsted and Lester Prairie school children enrolled in the Drug Abuse Resistance and Education (DARE) program were the lucky recipients of a unique visit from members of the Minnesota National Guard Counterdrug Program.

The helicopter made its first appearance in Winsted where it landed at Denis M. Campbell field, and after talking with DARE students from both Holy Trinity and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, the chopper took off and headed for a DARE student gathering in Lester Prairie.

“It only took us 25 minutes to get here (Winsted) from St. Paul – and we weren’t even hurrying – we were just be-bopping along,” Voute told wide-eyed students.

“The cool thing is – there’s no speed limits up there. I can look at him (points at Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich) and make faces at him and he can’t do anything about it,” Voute joked.

“If we’re cruising along up there and see something on the ground that we want a closer look at, we just back up and check it out. You can’t do that in a plane,” Voute said.

“Each and every one of you can learn how to fly this helicopter,” Voute told the students, to which excited gasps were heard from the group.

“But if you don’t finish school and if you do drugs, it would be pretty hard wouldn’t it?” Voute said.

Going to school to get an education and keeping their brains in shape was stressed to the kids.

“What will destroy your brain?” Voute asked the students.

“Drugs – drugs kill brain cells. If I did drugs and killed brain cells – can I get a Band-Aid to fix it?” Voute asked the students.

“Negative,” Voute said. “That thing is gone, game over,” he said.

A physics lesson about how helicopters fly was incorporated into the talk, as well as different mechanics of the helicopter.

After Voute’s inspirational and very expressive speech to the students, it was their turn to ask questions.

It was learned that Voute’s cohort Bob Vetscher hit a goose once, which, “took the whole tail rotor off – it (the helicopter) started spinning around, but it did land safely,” Voute said.

The helicopter holds 172 gallons of fuel on each side of the chopper.

When asked by a student if Voute needed to shave his head for the Army, Voute replied, “We need to have a neat and fit appearance. They (the Army) don’t want us to look like a bunch of hippies.”

Each year, both the Lester Prairie and Winsted DARE program invites the Minnesota National Guard Counterdrug Program to speak to the students.

The Lester Prairie DARE program is instructed by Lester Prairie Police Chief Bob Carlson and the Winsted program by Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich.

The day is planned so that the guard can make at least three stops in the area to maximize efficiency and increase chances of a visit, according to Henrich.

“We’re lucky to have them (National Guard) because often times they get called out to duty and have to reschedule,” Henrich said.

Just as lectures about poor decision making sink in more coming from a cop than a teacher, which is a strong point about the DARE program, so does supplemental, anti-drug information coming from military personnel, according to Carlson.

“When you have well-respected military professionals arrive in a multimillion dollar helicopter and tell them (the students) that I (national guardsman) got where I’m at because I didn’t use drugs, it has more of an impact,” Carlson said.

That impact was apparent on the faces of the students as they intently listened to the guardsmen.

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