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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Veterans of Foreign Wars and its Ladies Auxiliary are sponsoring two student essay contests with prizes totaling more than $60,000 in U.S. savings bonds and $143,500 in scholarships.

The 2003-04 “Voice of Democracy” contest is for students in grades nine through 12.

This year’s theme: “My Commitment to America’s Future.”

To enter, students must record a theme-related essay on an audio tape.

The recording should be three to five minutes long and submitted by Nov. 1. A typewritten copy also must be included.

Organizers say students are encouraged to record their essays on professional equipment, if available.

Students will be judged on their interpretation of the theme, and a maximum of 100 points will be awarded as follows: delivery (20), originality (40) and content (40).

Local winners will advance to a national competition, organizers said.

The national winner receives a $25,000 scholarship, and second-place, a $16,000 scholarship.

Every national winner will receive a minimum $1,000 scholarship, with a total of $143,500 to be awarded.

All scholarships are paid directly to the recipient’s American university, college or vocational school, organizers said. The funds may be used for tuition, books, computers, laboratory fees and other items relating specifically to formal education.

Select winners also will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington on March 6-10. During the trip, they’ll participate in tours and other activities, visit theaters and have a chance to meet President Bush or Vice President Cheney.

Students in seventh and eighth grades are eligible to compete in a second VFW contest, “The Patriot’s Pen.” This year’s theme is “My Dream for America.”

In that competition, contestants write an essay no less than 300 words or more than 400 words and complete an entry form.

Points are assigned as follows: addresses theme (20), clarity of ideas (30), and theme development (50) for a maximum possible 100 points.

Students must submit their entries to a sponsoring VFW post’s “Patriot’s Pen” chairman by Nov. 1.

Essays will be judged by local VFWs, and one winner from each district advances.

The national winner will receive a $10,000 U.S. savings bond and a trip to the VFW Community Service Conference in Washington in March.

More than $60,000 in U.S. savings bonds will go to 24 national winners. Other prizes will be awarded in local competitions.

To enter either contest, a student must be enrolled in a public, private or parochial high school or home-study program in the United States, its territories and possessions.

Also eligible are students enrolled in an overseas school as a dependent of U.S. military or U.S. civilian personnel. Foreign-exchange students and adults older than 19 are ineligible.

For details or contact information on the nearest sponsoring VFW Post, visit www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=mbr.leveld&did=196 or www.vfwkc.org/post_location/state.asp.

There are five VFW posts on mainland Japan: Yokosuka Post 1054, Tokyo Post 9450, Yokohama Post 9467, Yokota Post 9555, and Camp Zama Post 9612.

Tokyo Post 9450 is sponsoring students at Edgren High School, Misawa Air Base, in northern Japan, as well as those at six international schools on the Kanto Plain.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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