Tualatin High student sworn into Army by astronaut 250 miles above the Earth
Raising her right hand in the Tualatin High School library Wednesday morning, senior Natalie Unis got a chance few will ever experience when it comes to joining the U.S. military – she was sworn in by a NASA astronaut aboard the International Space Station.
In a first-of-its-kind event, Unis was one of 1,000 young people in the country to take her military oath of enlistment (in this case for the U.S. Army) administered by U.S. Army astronaut Col. Andrew Morgan as he orbited 250 miles above the Earth, traveling at a speed of 17,000 mph.
The ceremony was broadcasted live from the Space Center Houston in Houston, Texas, to students at 250 locations throughout the nation.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, an Army Airborne Ranger and medical corps officer, Morgan emphasized the importance his military experience.
"Before I took this nine-month journey to space as an astronaut, I was a soldier first," he said. "I made the decision when I was 18 to raise my right hand just as you're about to. I am still a soldier, just serving in space on the ultimate 'high ground.'"
By the time he's finished his nine-month mission aboard the space station, he and the crew will have conducted more than 200 scientific experiments, engaged in several space walks, he said.
After pointing out he was a soldier through and through, Morgan jokingly opened his NASA flight suit to reveal a black U.S. Army T-shirt.
A short time later, Unis, 17, stood before the large screen displaying Morgan's image and took her oath with those in attendance applauding afterwards.
Staff Sgt. Jose Rocha, of the U.S. Army Recruiting Center in Canby, said Unis was one of only six students selected from the West Coast for the oath-from-space honor, noting that thousands had applied.
"You made history," he told her following the swearing in.
"They only let us pick one school and one student that's (why we chose Natalie)," Rocha told those who had gathered. "She's gone above and beyond anything we've asked of her. She always gives it a 110%, so we don't want to take away from that."
Unis said Staff Sgt. Jessica Jenner, who also works at the Canby recruiting office, first approached her about joining the Army.
"So I went down toward the end of August and she told me of all these different opportunities and I was, 'Wow, this sounds like such a cool thing' and I went home and I talked to my parents about it and then I got even more information and they came down and then ultimately in November, I decided to join the Reserve," she said.
Unis said she was surprised when she heard she was selected for the oath-in-space honor, initially replying, "Oh, I didn't do anything but thank you."
A member of the Tualatin High Dance Team in her freshmen and sophomore years, Unis said she has wanted to be a nurse since she was in middle school. Initially afraid of the responsibility of being entrusted with people's lives, she later realized "I really am up to that task and I'm ready to take that on."
After the swearing-in, Unis said she was happy to participate in the unprecedented event, impressed by Morgan's experience in the U.S. Army and as an astronaut.
"He seemed like a really neat guy and just being able to have him swear me in was such an honor because he's done so much and he's been so influential and he's gotten to a place that I only hope to be in," she said.
(Before signing off, Morgan hammed it up a little more, letting miniature flags of the various U.S. military branches float in zero-gravity before doing a back flip.)
A Tualatin resident for five years, Unis has been attending Tualatin schools since she was in the fifth grade and plans to attend Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego, Calif., with a scholarship to study nursing.
A member of Tualatin High School Key Club and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Unis spent her junior year in Austria, part of a Rotary Club exchange program.
Both of her parents teach in the Tigard-Tualatin School District.
Matt Unis teaches Freshmen Focus and is an associated student body advisor at Tualatin High School; Rose Unis teaches sixth grade at Hazelbrook Middle School.
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