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Posted: March 29, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Local JROTC cadets of the year honored

Jennifer T. Long/

At attention: Area JROTC cadets of the year, including Deanna Steer of Social Circle High School and Waylon Thomas of Newton High School, were honored by the Scottish Rite Association in a ceremony Thursday and given scholarships.

The East Side Scottish Rite Association honored JROTC cadets of the year from seven area high schools Thursday night and gave them scholarships at the Golden Fleece Masonic Lodge on the Covington square.

Deanna Caitlin Steers, a senior at Social Circle High School, received the association’s Valley of Atlanta Chapter second place scholarship of $150 for the essay she wrote. Junior Waylon Thomas was honored for being the cadet of the year at Newton High School.

"We’re proud of our community, of our cadets, of our instructors and all of our honored guests," said Ben Polston, ESSRA president, who presented students with their scholarship checks.

Steers said she joined the JROTC at Social Circle High when a friend who had joined told her about using a "command voice."

"It was interesting to me to be able to express yourself assertively and get your point across," Steers said.

Steers plans to attend Cornell University in the fall and study biomedical engineering.

Like Steers, Thomas’ friends encouraged him to join the JROTC. Thomas decided to join because he enjoyed shooting and wanted to become a member of the rifle team.

At the Marine Corps JROTC National Championship last year Thomas placed 26th individually in shooting. In competition, JROTC riflemen shoot 10 shots in three positions for a total of 300 points. Thomas averages 282.

"With my family’s military background, it really tickled them when I joined," Thomas said.

His great-grandfather served in World War I, had an uncle who was stationed on the U.S.S. Arizona and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and has two cousins in the Navy.

Thomas hopes to attend a technical school after graduating to study diesel mechanics. He said he would recommend incoming freshman look into the JROTC program at Newton.

"It’s good fellowship," Thomas said. "You can make lots of friends."

JROTC commanders (instructors) select students to be honored as cadets of the year and accompanied them to the ceremony Thursday.

"You have vivid memories of who your instructors were – they stay with you," Polston said of his days as a cadet.

Thomas was accompanied by his instructor Lt. Col. Rick Stanford, who built the program at Newton several years ago. Newton’s JROTC program has 110 students participating. Steers was accompanied by her instructor Major Mark Robinson, who started the program at Social Circle in 2007.

"It’s a very new program there," Robinson said, "and we’re dong great things with the kids."

SGIG Leonard Buffington and Georgia Tech Marine Corp ROTC Commander Lt. Ronald Peterson presented cadets with a letter of commendation from Secretary of State Karen Handel as well as a Georgia flag that flew over the state capitol.

Roger Wise Jr., ambassador for the Yaarab Shriners of North Georgia, Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Grand Masonic Lodge of Georgia, presented cadets with a letter of commendation from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Lt. General David Poythress attended the ceremony and gave the cadets their Scottish Rite awards and spoke to the assembled crowd. Lt. Col Bernard Blackwell (Ret.) assisted Poythress in handing out the awards.

"I’m pleased to tell you I began my military career right wear you are," Poythress said to the cadets. "I put my uniform on when I was 15 and didn’t take it off for a long time."

He said the military and ROTC programs in Georgia and across the country offer exceptional scholarships and benefits to students who agree to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.

"You will never regret your decision," Poythress said of a decision to enlist.

He said all soldiers are heroes because they possess a desire to preserve safety and uphold American values.

"Our way of life is based on trust – our life is based on confidence," Poythress said. "That’s what defines us as Americans."

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