Four former Crook County High School NJROTC students are graduating from college this year and will soon begin military service

When Russ Robison first got word that a former CCHS NJROTC student was graduating from college and commissioning as a military officer, he was pleased to hear it.

As the high school program’s senior naval science instructor, he knew it was a big deal that warranted special attention.

Then he heard that another former student was wrapping up their collegiate career. Two graduations was a rare treat, he thought. Then came news of a third, and later a fourth. He could hardly believe it. Four in one year!

“They were each in our NJROTC unit here at CCHS and were all important leaders of their high school class her at Crook County High School, as well as being star athletes,” Robison gushed. “Master Chief (Donnie) Jackson and I can’t be prouder of them as are all the teachers here who helped them succeede academically.”

Upon graduating from high school, Kirsti Kelso accepted a full, four-year US Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship to Point Loma Nazerene University in San Diego. She graduated on May 7 and commissioned as a Navy ensign on May 20.

“It is exciting,” she said of her graduation. “It is pretty surreal, to be honest. I don’t feel like all of the hard work and long hours are really over yet.”

She is moving to Pensacola, Fla., where she will be stationed for three years, working as a nurse at the naval hospital.

“I have a whole new chapter of my life starting and that is exciting,” she said. “It is also really cool to be sharing that with classmates who are across the country. I am excited for them too.”

Kelso is not the only graduate to leave Prineville and ultimately wind up in Pensacola. Taylor Walker, who accepted a full, four-year Navy ROTC scholarship to the University of Idaho, graduated on May 14 after earning a Bachelors Degree in geology and comissioned as a Navy ensign. Her first tour as a naval officer will be attending navy pilot flight training in Pensacola.

“It still hasn’t quite hit me yet that now I am an officer in the Navy, just because there was a lot of hard work that went into it,” she remarked. “It is slowly hitting me.”

Walker will drive down to Pensacola in September, she said, where she looks forward to getting reacquainted with Kelso.

“We came from such a small area,” she said. “It’s pretty crazy how we are going to the same place.”

Joining them in Florida is Devon Shinkle, who will also attend navy pilot flight training. Having started his secondary education at the New Mexico Military Academy, he was appointed to the U.S. Merchant Academy, Kings Point, N.Y.

Unlike his high school classmates, he has not yet wrapped up his collegiate career, with graduation coming in mid-June. Once finished, he'll leave school with a bachelors segree in logistics and intermodal transportation and comission as a U.S. Marine Corps Second Lieutenant.

“It has been an awe-inspiring experience going through this place,” he said. “To be from Prineville and spend over a year at sea and graduate from a service academy, it is kind of hard to put into words.”

Words come more easily, perhaps, when he lists some of the experiences his time in the academy. In addition to his year at sea, he has been on four continents and visited 12 different countries.

Now, he is eager to get started on his flight training. “It’s what I have wanted to do ever since I was a kid,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, Lucas Emmerson-Smith awaits his own U.S. Air Force flight training at Laughlin Air Force Base, in Texas. Having been appointed to the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, he graduated two weeks ago, with a bachelors degree in economics. He will now commission as an Air Force second lieutenant in a June 1 ceremony.

“I got to do a lot of cool stuff being a cadet,” he said of time at the academy. “I got to fly the P-38. I got five incentive rides at Sheppard Air Force Base, in Texas. I got a lot of leadership experience. I was squadron commander for the survival program at our school.”

Going forward, Emmerson-Smith is ready to begin his career flying for the Air Force.

“I have always wanted to be a pilot,” he said.

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