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Tatiana Downey, Lakenheath High School JROTC cadet, and Airman Chad Nordrum, 48th Communications Squadron, lay wreathes as part of a POW/MIA remembrance ceremony in September. Downey's JROTC unit recently earned the 2007-2008 Air Force distinguished unit award with merit for their work in the local communities, such as this ceremony.
Tatiana Downey, Lakenheath High School JROTC cadet, and Airman Chad Nordrum, 48th Communications Squadron, lay wreathes as part of a POW/MIA remembrance ceremony in September. Downey's JROTC unit recently earned the 2007-2008 Air Force distinguished unit award with merit for their work in the local communities, such as this ceremony. (Erika Brooke / USAF)
Tatiana Downey, Lakenheath High School JROTC cadet, and Airman Chad Nordrum, 48th Communications Squadron, lay wreathes as part of a POW/MIA remembrance ceremony in September. Downey's JROTC unit recently earned the 2007-2008 Air Force distinguished unit award with merit for their work in the local communities, such as this ceremony.
Tatiana Downey, Lakenheath High School JROTC cadet, and Airman Chad Nordrum, 48th Communications Squadron, lay wreathes as part of a POW/MIA remembrance ceremony in September. Downey's JROTC unit recently earned the 2007-2008 Air Force distinguished unit award with merit for their work in the local communities, such as this ceremony. (Erika Brooke / USAF)
Members of Lakenheath High School's JROTC unit march in a homecoming parade last year.
Members of Lakenheath High School's JROTC unit march in a homecoming parade last year. (Photo courtesy of Lakenheath H.S. JROTC)

RAF LAKENHEATH, England — This school year has been eventful for Lakenheath High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC unit.

For Tatiana Downey, a senior cadet, the group’s contributions to the 60th Anniversary Air Force Ball held here stood out among the unit’s activities.

Her twin sister, Brianna, also a senior cadet, called the POW/MIA remembrance ceremony the most “thoughtful” project that the unit participated in.

And senior Nate Allison considered the unit’s third-place overall showing in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe drill competition its biggest accomplishment.

Those events — along with several others that included more than 1,000 hours of community service and an “exceeds standards” rating on a recent inspection — helped rank the 74-student unit above others. Many, many others.

On Friday, the unit received word that it had earned the 2007-08 Air Force distinguished unit award with merit, given to only 82 AFJROTC units out of 879 at American high schools across the United States, Europe, the Pacific and Puerto Rico.

The JROTC unit at RAF Alconbury is the only other unit in DODDS-Europe to receive the Air Force distinguished unit award with merit, according Oscar Davis, a retired chief master sergeant who helps oversee RAF Lakenheath’s JROTC unit.

“I’m glad that we finally got recognized for all of our hard work and dedication,” Brianna Downey said Friday.

Mark Fry, a retired Air Force colonel who oversees Lakenheath’s JROTC program, estimates that it has been at least 10 years since a unit here received the prestigious award.

“The inspector was really impressed with our cadets,” Fry said. “The way they looked, the way they acted.

“He was really big on ownership — the cadets running the program. He could see that that was happening here.”

With the award season wrapped up, cadets will now focus on preparing the next generation.

“We’re bringing in eighth-graders and teaching them customs and courtesies and drills,” said senior Steven Elliott. “We’ll be prepping the kids for next year so they can go on to bigger and better things.”

Elliott and Allison are both four-year cadets at Lakenheath. Allison said he’s seen the students, including himself, progress during his tenure.

“I’ve been able to see improvements from everybody throughout the corps,” he said.

He hopes the things he has learned at the unit will be useful in life after high school.

“It gives you a lot of leadership abilities,” Allison said of the JROTC program. “In the real world, you’re going to need them.”

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