There are about 880 AFJROTC units worldwide; under Nielsen’s instruction, the Lebanon High unit received the “Community Service with Excellence Award” the past two years. The award means the unit has done enough community service to be considered the top 5 percent of all Junior ROTC units in the Air Force worldwide.
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“Her first battle with cancer was five years ago,” Marlow said. “She went through remission twice so the juniors and seniors that I have, they’ve been through this entire journey with her. It’s a heartbreaking story, but the inspiration that she’s leaving with the kids is just all-inspiring. It’s unbelievable what the kids think of her.”
During Nielsen’s Air Force career, she served as a medic for 23 years and flew on aeromedical evacuation missions and deployed in support of numerous operations, including Desert Storm. Nielsen received numerous awards and decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak-leaf clusters, the Aerial Achievement Medal with one oak-leaf cluster and Combat Readiness Medal with one oak-leaf cluster.
Ray Girard, honor quarter commander for the Honor Flight Welcome Home program, said those who knew Nielsen will never forget her constant and enthusiastic support of Honor Flight.
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“She was totally dedicated to leadership of her cadets and motivating them,” Girard said. “You could tell by the way they interacted with her, how responsive they were. I guess I should call her a super patriot. It’s that kind of attitude. There was no doubt that she was going to continue the march until she dropped.”
Nielsen is survived by her husband, Scott; two sons, Blake and Logan Nielsen; a brother, Paul Zalac; her parents; grandmother, Marva Simpson; and other family.