On an early August afternoon, 20 kids of various ages and backgrounds showed up at the Close Quarters Defense tactical training center in Vienna, Maryland to learn how to become “heroes” by making the right decisions when faced with life’s tough choices.
They were met with open arms and high energy by the CQD Foundation Hero Program mentors, who would lead them on a journey of self-discovery.
Children and adolescents have a challenging enough time navigating through their early years, but for some, the rites of passage are fraught with additional, often hazardous obstacles. Easy access to drugs and alcohol, poverty, family dysfunction, bullying, and detrimental peer pressure can obstruct paths to a healthy life.
Nationally, statistics show upwardly trending depression and suicide rates among adolescents, more than doubling between 2007 and 2016 according to the Center for Disease Control. Drug use and availability continue to wreak havoc. On the mid-Eastern Shore alone, Hospital Emergency Rooms have reported over a dozen (survived) drug overdoses in June, underscoring the ongoing substance abuse crisis. One in five students nationwide has reported some type of bullying in school or through social media.
Maryland counties have made progress to address many of these issues. In Talbot County, prevention and education organizations like Talbot Mentors, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Eastern Shore, Talbot Partnership, Talbot Goes Purple and others have proved that community involvement holds one of the keys to ensuring at-risk kids can succeed and become vibrant, productive members of society.
This is exactly what Duane Dieter, a lifelong resident of Talbot County, envisioned when he launched the CQD Foundation “Hero Program.”
For three decades, Dieter’s Hero Program has served as a dynamic mentorship program designed to encourage the development of positive opportunities, good decision-making, and character for at-risk children.
Recognizing an opportunity to impact the lives of local at-risk children and to promote positive relationships within the community, Dieter began the mentoring program as a result of his personal experience as an officer in the DEA Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in 1988. It was there he witnessed firsthand the tragedies resulting from drug use among at-risk children in underserved communities and the impact it had on their families and the community overall.
“It’s not just people involved with drugs, but the ramifications of how it affects the entire community—the families, inter-relationships, work ethics—and minimizes a person’s motivation to succeed and find their purpose,” Dieter says.
Dieter was quick to notice how dealers were glamorized and emulated by some in the community and realized that law enforcement alone could not impact the deeper strata of the drug culture and its intense peer pressure.
One night, following the arrest of a local drug kingpin, Dieter was tasked with driving the seized car to the police station. He was shocked by the reception he received in the neighborhood—onlookers mistook him for the drug dealer and began yelling praise like he was a rock star.
“I was stunned. I stopped the car and watched as people waved and chanted the dealer’s name.”
Dieter understood the dangerous allure of the drug dealer lifestyle and sought to create a positive alternative.
“There are many professions that are interesting and purposeful that our youth may not be aware of or haven’t had a chance to meet in positive circumstance —police officers, emergency responders and paramedics, helicopter pilots, doctors and nurses, and others,” he says.
From the beginning, Dieter sought career professionals from all fields who were passionate about their work and who were willing to share stories of their journey; the challenges; the failures and successes; the effort and resiliency it took to get there, and what made them happy. Most importantly, he wanted role models who could counter the lure and consequences of the drug dealing lifestyle by offering students a pathway to a life with an energized sense of purpose and commitment to helping others.
“The Hero Program is a way to foster positive interactions between all members of the community and provide an exciting role model for children to emulate. We integrate the kids with ‘everyday heroes,’ persons who, day in and day out, consistently uphold their character and ethics to guide our youth and work positively in their community,” Dieter says.
By interacting with these ‘everyday heroes,’ —first responders, business and civic leaders, teachers, religious leaders, or any individual who can have a positive impact on a youth’s life— kids are provided guidance, mentorship and an exciting alternative to any less-than-exemplary role models they may encounter.
More than 20 years since its founding, the CQD Foundation Hero Program continues to thrive, each year finding, vetting, and training mentors to work one-on-one and in groups to instill kids with the courage and dedication to rise above life’s challenges.
The program is a tiered training process. Mentors are selected and trained by CQD professionals and then integrated into the youth program to serve as a positive role model and work with the children to cultivate self-esteem and character development, as well as the tools to make the best decisions under stress in the critical moment.
“We want to cultivate a genuine relationship between the mentor and student, so the kids can grow into becoming heroes in their own right and overcome the stressful situations and obstacles they may face.”
With the same leadership and character-building components Dieter uses to instruct military special operators and police, students in the Hero Program are provided with hands-on skills to be aware and avoid danger, techniques for mitigating and de-escalating conflict, anti-bullying skills, and the development of life-long moral courage to stand up for what is right. Through realistic training scenarios, they experience this unique validation process, which safely recreates the challenges they may encounter.
“They are able to experience the pressures they may face in their daily lives so that they know how it feels and are able to respond appropriately in real-life situations. These stressors prepare them to respond with focused action and the skills to step away from the power of peer pressure to do the wrong thing. This, then, empowers the youth to move past negative incidents, as well as have belief in themselves,” Dieter says.
An adolescent can then draw from the Hero training to emulate his or her mentors, develop self-confidence, a sense of purpose and cultivate what makes them happy, as well as learn to encourage others and stand up for those who need help or support.
At the recent Hero Program event, 20 children completed the afternoon course at the CQD tactical training center in Vienna, Maryland. Groups of students paired with assigned mentors to work their way through the labyrinth of rooms at the center, each room posing a different situation. Confidence was tested in each encounter. In one, a student watched as a girl was trying to be cajoled into visiting a stranger’s house to play video games. The student was prepped to hold his place and call out a warning. In others, an aggressive man threateningly approached a student. All of these were designed so students could experience and overcome the adrenalized stress of the moment.
Each student, with the guidance of their mentors, overcame reticence and fear, asserting themselves with the courage to stand up for themselves and others. They practiced hard in each scenario, and the changes in their sense of self-confidence and demeanor were quick and dramatic.
More than 40 mentors, including role-players and instructors, volunteered to participate in the Hero event. Volunteers from MSP, NRP, DSP, Talbot and Caroline County EMS, as well as a civilian helicopter pilot, showcased their individual jobs and talked with groups outside the facility. CQD training for each mentor was provided by the Foundation.
Rob DePartee, a former Army combat helicopter pilot and current MSP helicopter pilot, talked enthusiastically with each group of students about his job.
“It’s important that kids see there are options out there. I grew up poor and people didn’t think I could do anything. I know how that feels. I don’t want them to take the easy path.” DePartee says.
MSP Sniper Trainer John Arnold also sees the immense value of working with kids early on.
“I’d like to see them learn how worthwhile it is to help each other. This program gives them something to look forward to, to be actively engaged in good projects,” he says.
Graduating from the first class with a certificate, students also left with a workbook to keep note of their progress to become a hero in their own right. In several weeks, they will meet once again with their mentors to evaluate how their news skills played out in their day-to-day lives.
Later, students will return to the CQD facility for their second tier of instruction and additional scenarios set up to challenge their new skills.
“Our aim is to instill confidence, build self-reliance and leadership skills to offer at-risk kids the tools to cultivate their sense of value and to stand up for what is right and what they believe in,” Dieter says.
Dieter’s commitment to the Hero Program and his mission to help “those preyed upon by criminal elements” goes even farther back than his work with the drug task force. As a boy attending church camp one summer, he and another preacher’s kid witnessed a violent sexual assault on a young girl. Through his intervention and alerting the church elders, the assault was stopped, but the desire to help those in need lingered. The event helped to formulate the credo for his Close Quarters Defense (CQD) training system.
Photographs of children from Afghanistan and around the world look out from the walls of the CQD facility, reminding anyone who passes of the Hero Program mission, and the message is clear:
“I found throughout my travels that even in the harshest of environments, people and families are all the same. They simply want to enjoy life and raise their families. We all face negative influences, ridicule, and acts that make it difficult to succeed. Our youth, more than ever, face incredible and difficult challenges. The Hero program helps them to recognize that they are all heroes when they face these struggles, stay positive and do their very best,” Dieter says.
By the end of that day, 20 new heroes went home with a new sense of what they could achieve, even in the face of adversity.
For further information about the CQD Hero Program, please contact (410) 376-3600 or email@example.com.
Lead photograph: The CQD Heroes Program introduces kids to positive role models in their own communities. Here, they make friends with NRP’s search and rescue dog “Beacon,” and NRP Officer Devin Corcoran.