Tamia Jackson thought she was heading into another ordinary day at school, but things didn’t go as planned Tuesday morning.

Instead, she was surprised with a congressional recognition for winning the 2019 Army JROTC Essay Contest. The Shortridge High School sophomore and JROTC cadet is the first-ever winner from Indiana and one of seven first-place winners from different brigades nationwide.

The prize? A $200 gift card and an all-expenses-paid, one-week trip to the JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) in Washington, D.C., in June.

JROTC cadets from 1,600 programs nationwide competed in the essay contest.

“I’m excited! I’m ready to go to D.C.,” said Tamia, during the recognition presentation, held April 9 at Shortridge.

Tamia’s deeply personal essay focused on duty, honor and country and what that means to her through family, community and globally. She also touched on her role as caretaker of her mother, who has suffered from health issues since Tamia was about 10 years old, and the duty and honor she feels being in that position.

Winning the essay contest is a dream come true.

“I’ve always wanted to be involved in JROTC. I’ve always wanted to be involved in the Army, and my mom knows that,” said Tamia. “Since I was little, my mom has  always encouraged me to go and do what I want. She made me come (to Shortridge) because she knew they had JROTC and because of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, so that I could thrive.”

Here is Tamia’s winning essay:

“This I Know: Duty, Honor and Country”

    The words, Duty, Honor, Country mean a lot to most citizens in the United States for many reasons. American citizens rely on the military to protect them from harm, fight for their safety and for their freedom. The military serves a very important purpose to the country: it represents the loyalty and dedication to the nation’s safety. Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) cadets who are interested in joining the military have to have the same loyalty and dedication to the nation’s well-being as those currently serving in the military and those who have served. Cadets interested in going into the military must learn to bring credit to their country and to those who have lost their lives to protect it. Cadets must also bring credit to their families and to those who have trained them to become well-mannered, disciplined American soldiers. 

       Duty is committing to what you do, working hard to excel, and persevering no matter what obstacles you may face. It takes hard training to be physically fit and prepared to fight and protect your country. Duty is being eager to learn all the skills you need to move forward with your responsibility as a JROTC cadet and potentially a member of the United States Armed Forces. It is always giving 110% of your mind and body and also being devoted and proud to be different, to be unique. You should take pride in your work and be proud to put on your uniform. Your uniform shows the hard work and dedication you have put in to learning to serve your country. I have a lot of duties and responsibilities even as a teenager; I work and go to school. I have to be sure to make all school deadlines on papers and projects while maintaining a good grade point average. I have to make all of my work meetings on time with the mindset that on time is late, so be early! I have to work hard to keep my job because there is always someone who wants it. Therefore, I always do my absolute best. I have also been responsible for helping my mother with her recovering from thyroid cancer and her ongoing condition, Multiple Sclerosis. I make sure she takes her medication, I give her shots, and I help her read and sign important paperwork that she cannot see. My mother has been sick since I was about ten years old and I have always felt the obligation to help my mother by any means necessary.

    I feel that honor is the act of having great respect for an obligation, agreement, or responsibility. Those who have served in the military have a lot of respect for their country. American citizens have a lot of respect for those who fight or who have fought for their country as well. By being disciplined and motivated, American soldiers bring honor to the veterans who have served and soldiers who have lost their lives to protect our country. Even if no one is watching, as a soldier, you should have the integrity to do the right thing no matter what. For example, in combat you never leave a man behind; you should risk your life to save one of your own even if nobody else will. For me, when my mother was sick, I helped a lot like a good soldier. I pushed her in wheelchairs through small cramped hospitals to her frequent doctors’ appointments and always made sure she ate and had what she needed. I could not leave her behind.

      Many communities make up this country, and the country’s ideas for laws come from “we the people.” Many people do not believe that just one person makes a difference to their country, but they do. If that one person speaks up they could potentially open many doors to those that feel the same way as them. Everyone can make a difference in their community if they work for it. Forming your community ultimately forms your country. Motivated and dedicated citizens working to better their community lead the formation of their communities so that they can come together as hard working dedicated people looking to better their country. You have to start as one person. You have to start in small communities. To better my community and my country, I have worked with TeenWorks for about a year and a half. TeenWorks offers a six-week summer employment and college readiness program. One of their goals is to help teens grow as individuals, teens who may be interested in taking part in shaping the future and being outstanding citizens. Also, this summer I worked cleaning up the Monon Trail in downtown Indianapolis by picking up trash, which is a small thing that helps show that you care about how your community and country is represented. When I leave the house I do my best to represent my mother by showing the discipline that I was raised with. I am kind to others and help people with things they may need because that is what communities do to efficiently grow and flourish.

    Serving your country is about making many sacrifices and tough decisions. I have made many sacrifices. I have shared my story and I am not looking for sympathy or pity. I think it is important to be humble, as a soldier who does not give up or look for others to make it easy on them. A good soldier endures and remains resilient through all of life’s toughest battles. The words Duty, Honor, and Country mean a lot to my everyday life, which is apparent in the stories I have just shared.