On a warm June morning in southeastern Montana, a small flotilla of trout fishing boats floated down the Bighorn River. The boats carried 10 police officers, two school children and their mothers, employees of 5.11 Tactical, and a handful of fishing guides.
The officers were D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) instructors from around the United States, the kids were their students, and they were fishing that sunny Saturday because of a new program that 5.11 has launched to reward D.A.R.E. officers and reinforce positive values in their students.
To coincide with the pending launch of 5.11's new ultra-capacitor powered flashlight The Light for Life, the company has established The Light for Life Foundation. For each light sold, 5.11 will donate a portion of the profits to the Foundation.
The mission of the Foundation is to: "promote the health and well-being of deserving children and families by providing outstanding outdoor recreational activities, educational opportunities, scholarships, and other beneficial programs in conjunction with law enforcement organizations with the same mission."
The motto of the program is "Show Them the Way." 5.11 Tactical CEO Dan Costa explains that the program's goal is to help show "kids how to be better people. That's what adults should do for youth is show them the way."
Costa says that the concept of "Show Them the Way" immediately made him think of D.A.R.E.. "I thought, what better group to work with than D.A.R.E.?" he says. "They are constantly out there in our marketplace, and they are people in law enforcement who are trying to show kids the right way. So we contacted D.A.R.E., and they loved the idea."
As part of the program, avid fisherman Costa decided to hold a contest to send D.A.R.E. students and D.A.R.E. officers to 5.11's trout fishing lodge in Montana. Working with retired California State Parks Chief of Police Bill Berry, Costa created the Montana Adventure contest.
Through D.A.R.E., an e-mail message was sent to the officers explaining the rules of the contest. They were asked to write essays nominating deserving kids to participate in the program. "The officers were asked which of their kids needed a little something extra, a little special boost that we could help provide," Costa says.
The essays were judged by the staff of 5.11, and the winners were selected by Costa.
Winners received an all-expenses-paid trip to Montana, a tour of the nearby Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (site of Custer's Last Stand) guided by Custer expert Berry, and a day-long guided trout fishing experience. Food was prepared by Costa (a former restaurant owner and chef) and the 5.11 staff.
For some of the kids, the Montana experience was their first time outside of the city. For most it was a first experience with boating and fishing.
Officer Steve Millar of the Streamwood (Ill.) Police Department accompanied his student Katherine Ackley and her mother Lisa on the Montana Adventure. He was thrilled with the quality of the event and its effect on the students. "This was great," he says. "I had no idea that it would be this nice."
Millar, who has been a D.A.R.E. officer for 13 years, is very close with many of his students. "Most of my kids I've been teaching since kindergarten," he says.
Katherine Ackley is one of Millar's star D.A.R.E. students. The soon to be sixth grader is sunny, intelligent, and well mannered, and she is very enthusiastic about her visit to Montana. "They told us what the activities would be, but I had no idea how much fun I would have here," she says.
Costa says the Montana Adventure is just the beginning of 5.11's work on behalf of D.A.R.E. "We're going to reach out to the business community nationwide for The Light for Life campaign," he says. "We're going to carry the D.A.R.E. flag with us and ask for support from all types of industry to help support D.A.R.E."
According to Costa, the D.A.R.E. program is at a critical stage because of the economic crisis and the budget crisis. "The D.A.R.E. program could be faced with setbacks, and this is not a good time to have setbacks in this program. They are starting to make traction in their goal."
Speaking at a dinner for the D.A.R.E. officers and some of their students in Montana, Costa said that the sale and abuse of illegal drugs is one of the most critical issues facing the nation. He likened the fight against drugs from the law enforcement side to battling a dragon.
"We had dinner a few months ago with the DEA," Costa says. "They're trying to stop the source and D.A.R.E. is trying to dry up the market. If D.A.R.E. could succeed in teaching kids not to buy drugs, then the DEA would have fewer targets and more success."
As for The Light for Life Montana Adventure, Costa believes it is already affecting the lives of the kids who participated.
"I got a letter back from an eight-year-old boy that's written in broken handwriting. He said that he and his dad got to spend time together in a way they have never been able to do. And I received another letter from another boy who wrote: 'I am now officially a fisherman.' Think about that for a minute. A kid who is a fisherman and who wants to be an outdoorsman will start going completely the opposite way from drugs. It was so rewarding to know that we could reach these kids at this age and show them the way," Costa says.
5.11 plans to continue the Montana Adventure contest next year. For more information, go to www.lightforlifefoundation.org.