VALDOSTA -- Described by her peers as a former anti-government / activist / hippie, Tatyana Nienow has found true peace as a Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet.
" ... In middle school I developed an exaggeratedly cynical attitude towards the government, the military and our nation in general," said Nienow, a Valdosta High School senior. "The Pledge of Allegiance was a waste of time, 'military intelligence' was an oxymoron and the government a corrupt and inefficient mess."
Nienow said her pessimistic outlook came from books she was reading at the time, such as Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," the media, and the world in general. The only people in her life who offered an opposing viewpoint were her parents, James and Karen Nienow. However, like most middle school aged kids, Nienow said, she really did not care what her parents thought at the time.
"I took what I heard and parroted it back in a condensed form," she said.
Toward the end of her eighth-grade year, Nienow said something happened that would end up changing the way she viewed the entire world.
"Cadets from (Valdosta High School's) NJROTC held a demonstration introducing and explaining their program before we signed up for our high school classes," Nienow said. "When it began, I had no intentions of signing up for the program and expected the demonstration to be completely dull. I was wrong."
When the demonstration was over, Nienow was determined to sign up for the program, just not for the reasons most students do.
"I wanted to be on their armed exhibition and flip rifles," Nienow said. "It looked exciting."
Four years later, Nienow still enjoys flipping those rifles.
"It's hard and I have to work at it, but I am glad I got to find out what it is really like," she said. "For some, it comes naturally."
However, Nienow got more out of the NJROTC than simply learning the basics of drill.
"(The) NJROTC showed me an entirely different perspective from what I was accustomed to," Nienow added. "I learned to believe in the principals of the government, though in practice it might occasionally fall short of the ideal. I understand the position our leaders are in and why they make certain choices, even if I don't always agree with them."
Nienow continued, "For the first time in my life, the flag became much more than a piece of cloth. I recognize it now as a symbol of all America stands for and represents and understand why it should be treated with respect."
Although Nienow is sure her views about the government and the military would have become a little less extreme with maturity, she doubts she would have ever become patriotic without the NJROTC.
"I was able to reverse my opinion of our nation," Nienow said. "Imagine what it must do for those who already have pride and respect for America."
Nienow wrote an essay titled "Patriotism and the NJROTC Cadet," describing her transformation, for the annual Joseph C. Gilliam Academic Achievement Award, which is given to NJROTC cadets for outstanding academic achievement.
To be eligible for the award, each student must be a graduating senior who will have completed at least two years of NJROTC by the end of the current school year. The student must also be a member of the National Honor Society, be in a college preparatory curriculum track, and have earned the Academic Award Ribbon from their unit.
Lt. Commander Steve Hemmelgarn said Nienow won the school-based competition. She later defeated 62 other school winners and will join the other nine area winners from across the United States at the national competition.
The Joseph C. Gilliam Academic Award winner will be announced in the spring.
Winners are determined by the student's position in their NJROTC unit, overall high school grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, naval science GPA, high school class standing, and other noteworthy accomplishments, in addition to submitting an essay.
To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.
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