IMPERIAL — Ben Hulse Elementary School ended Red Ribbon Week Friday with a bang – with an Imperial County Sheriff’s patrol boat, police cars with sirens wailing and lights flashing, a helicopter landing on the playground, and a tough K-9 named Jambo that loved attacking the Marshmallow Man.
The foundation of Red Ribbon Week began after the kidnapping, torture and brutal murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. Agent Camarena had been working undercover in Guadalajara, Mexico for over four years. His efforts led to a tip that resulted in the discovery of a multimillion-dollar narcotics manufacturing operation in Chihuahua, Mexico.
In Agent Camarena’s hometown of Calexico, the public outpouring of support turned in to an organized community response in which citizens donned red ribbons. They became a voice for prevention in order to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and illegal use of legal drugs in America.
The following year, the California State PTA adopted the Red Ribbon Campaign. Then, in 1988, Red Ribbon Week was recognized nationally with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan serving as the Honorary Chairs.
Friday’s slogan at Ben Hulse, “Say Boo to Drugs,” incorporated Halloween dress-up day for students and teachers. As the playground turned into a law enforcement dreamscape, students climbed all over the patrol boat, talked through the police car’s loud speaker, turned sirens off and on, and questioned helicopter pilots about their jobs as teachers memorialized the fun with photos of the students interacting with officers.
Second grade teacher, Marta Rael-Loera, calmly lined her children up in front of the helicopter, including positioning the pilots and crew behind the students for the perfect picture.
“This is great for the kids. They get to interact with the police on a fun and friendly basis,” explained Rael-Loera. “The students need to know the police are their friends and are here to keep them safe. Most of their knowledge of police is when a classmate comes into the room and tells his friends that ‘the police took daddy away last night.’ This sets up a better image. Plus, it all reinforces them not to get involved with drugs.”
The highlight of the event was Jambo, the fierce K-9, who did not like bad guys, especially Marshmallow Man. The children sat around the perimeter of the basketball floor as Officer Gil Caldera Jr. and Jambo took center stage. Jambo showed off his drug detecting skills, always finding a hidden jar of drugs. Caldera explained all police dogs are trained with German commands. He spent three months in Sacramento training with Jambo and learning to speak “his language.” As Caldera barked orders in German, Jambo instantaneously obeyed.
Caldera explained to the students that Jambo had such an excellent sense of smell, he could already smell Marshmallow Man. On cue, out came an officer dressed in protective padding from foot to neck, nicknamed Marshmallow Man.
On command, Jambo stayed seated, but his eyes fiercely tracked the circling officer. With a harsh, guttural sound from Caldera, Jambo clamped onto the man’s padded arm in a single leap.
“Jambo will not release until given the command,” Caldera said to the captivated students. “Jambo will pass out before releasing.”
After several demonstrations of Jambo’s ability to attack the padded officer, Caldera announced to the students that their principal would don the jacket and let the K-9 attack her. An audible gasp was heard from the disbelieving children. True to the officer’s word, Principal Traci Gibbs entered the ring and put on the padded jacket.
Jambo delivered obediently in front of the pupils, treating their principal as a threat to his handler, and latched on with force onto the principal until given the release signal seconds later.
“I felt the pressure from the bite,” said Traci Gibbs, “but I didn’t feel sharpness, only pressure. I am happy to have done this as this shows the children law enforcement is here to protect us and to serve us. They are our friends.”
Gibbs is starting her second year as principal at Ben Hulse, but she is no stranger to the school with 27 years teaching experience before stepping into administration.
“This is the first year for the helicopter landing at our school, and for the K-9 demonstration. Both have been big hits and help us get the message to the kids that drugs are bad,” she said.