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Ellsworth native is Air Force Cadet of the Year

ELLSWORTH -- Although she has traded in the North Country for the Deep South -- albeit temporarily -- Janelle (Jenniges) Palatas has done her hometown of Ellsworth proud.

The Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) cadet was recently selected from a field of more than 15,000 individuals as the U.S. Air Force Cadet of the Year. At the same time, the ROTC unit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln -- of which she was a member -- earned the Right of Line award. The honor recognizes the best Air Force ROTC detachment in the nation.

Palatas, now stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., was surprised with her individual honor and thrilled to see her entire unit recognized.

"I am very proud to receive the award, but I know that it wasn't just me alone that won it," she said via e-mail to the Daily Globe on Thursday. "I attended the best detachment in the nation and worked alongside some of the best people I have ever known. I was also mentored and supported by an outstanding cadre at UNL.

"It is great to know that we as cadets are running a program that is turning out the best officers in the nation -- that our hard work to improve our training programs has been successful," she added.

Palatas applied to the Air Force ROTC program while a senior at Ellsworth High School in the fall of 2000. By the time she graduated the following spring, she'd earned a full scholarship to UNL and a spot in the university's ROTC program.

Throughout her college career, Palatas was heavily involved in the ROTC program. She was a physical fitness officer, in which she organized and led physical training for the entire wing of about 100 cadets, and also served as Operations Group Commander.

"I came up with a plan for how we were going to accomplish the training and each week I had to organize a two-hour 'leadership lab' during which each class covered training requirements," said Palatas. She also took part in the Civil Air Patrol and the Arnold Air Society while a student at UNL.

Since her graduation in December from the meteorology-climatology program at UNL, Palatas has begun her Air and Space Basic Course at Maxwell Air Force Base. In March, she will go on to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., for technical training in Air Force meteorology and weather systems.

She will begin her first assignment, as part of the 21st Operational Weather Squadron, at Germany's Sembach Air Base sometime in June.

Palatas said the ROTC has been a life-changing experience for her.

"The Air Force is a way of life, and joining ROTC brought me into that new world," she said. "Not only did it give me goals to aspire to, but it also gave me friends for life."

Palatas is the daughter of Ted and Vicki Jenniges of Ellsworth.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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