Giffords interacts with students
Dave Perry/The Explorer, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords met with Canyon Del Oro's Academic Decathlon team, seated, and other Amphitheater district students, standing, during a Friday event at CDO. Giffords came to the school to honor the academic decathlon squad, which took fourth nationally in Memphis, Tenn., last month.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was on the Canyon Del Oro High School campus Friday, congratulating the school's national fourth-place Academic Decathlon team, and speaking with students on an array of issues.

The District 8 Democrat read praise for the CDO squad and coach Chris Yetman into the Congressional Record, and handed copies of those remarks to team members in a small Friday assembly.

She credited the team for its finish among American schools "that are much better funded" than those in Arizona.

One student asked about the halt of a pilot program allowing trucks from Mexico into the United States, and whether the interruption constituted a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Giffords countered that the federal government wants to make sure trucks from Mexico meet safety and emissions standards before they are allowed to cross the border on a larger scale.

"We are trying to improve our relationship with them so NAFTA works well for both countries," said Giffords.

"I'm OK with free trade, absolutely." But the U.S. must be sure the field is level, with adherence by other nations to environmental and labor requirements, she said.

Giffords was asked when American troops might be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan's going to be a loooong road," she said.

Giffords drew distinctions between Afghanistan and Iraq, noting the remote mountains and relative lack of governmental structure in Afghanistan.

"I fully supported going into Afghanistan," Giffords said, because evidence was clear that the country was a harbor for terrorists linked to the attacks of Sept. 11. "We took our eyes off the ball, in my opinion, when we went into Iraq."

Giffords believes a military operation in Afghanistan is "the right road to go down, eventually."

Giffords talked about "a transformation of our energy system," repeating her theme about the solar energy opportunity in Arizona, and saying "70 percent of our energy comes from foreign countries. That's nuts." In fact, during January, the U.S. imported 67.4 percent of its oil for consumption, according to the Department of Energy.

Giffords is on a Congressional panel studying space debris. "You're probably not losing sleep, as I am, over space debris," the Democrat said. Yet there are 300,000 such items circling the planet, and they do threaten satellites important to communication, she said.

CDO academic decathlon team takes fourth in nation

Canyon Del Oro's Academic Decathlon team finished third in its national division, and fourth overall, at the U.S. Academic Decathlon finals in Memphis late last month.

Members of the team are Melinda Fraser, Benjamin Ferell, Taylor Cleland, Marie Clymer, Jennifer Wendel, Ellie Strasser, Dylan Ousley, Rush Moore and Jordan Kurker-Mraz.

Among all competitors, Ferell and Cleland earned the fourth- and fifth-highest scores. Kurker-Mraz received $3,500 in scholarships, and Ferell $1,000 in awards.

Ferell had the team's top score. He received a gold medal in math, and bronze medals in art, "10 event" and literature.

Kurker-Mraz earned gold medals in art and essay, silvers in social science and super quiz, and bronze in "10 event."

Cleland captured silver in social science, and bronzes in art and math.

Wendel picked up a gold in interview. Moore gained the silver in social science. Fraser received a silver medal in art.

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