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Nelson reaps rewards of JROTC program

November 11, 2018
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Hartsville JROTC's 1st Sgt. James Nelson takes a picture with (from left to right) Major Atwood, Lt.Col Patrick Gibson and Sfc Michael McKenney at a recent conclave.

HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Retired Army First Sgt. James Nelson has been enjoying watching his Junior ROTC Cadets have their “ah-ha” moment.

Nelson is cut from the military cloth and was not expecting to be in the teaching arena when he enlisted.

“I’m doing this because I took JROTC,” he said. “It had impact on me. I was seeing things in a different way. We teach them teamwork.”

Nelson is a combat veteran from Grenada in 1983 and Desert Storm in 1991. His degree from Fayetteville State University in North Carolina is in criminal justice.

Nelson has two messages for today’s youth.

“The first message is to work hard to achieve your goals,” he said. “There is practical information. Mainly, be better citizens, exercising those rights as a citizen, vote and help community. It’s not about them, it’s about everybody.”

Nelson emphasizes being visible in the community with student-led service projects that range from presenting the nation’s colors at events to helping Hartsville residents with whatever comes along.

“We do community service projects,” Nelson said. “Most of them (students) respond positively. The biggest reward is to see the response they get from the person’s project.

“It is a Veterans Day program and you get to see the expression on the faces of the veterans,” They (the students) are enjoying what they are doing for the community.”

Nelson, 57, has been working with students for 16 years.

Nelson recognizes the reward factor.

“(It’s) knowing that I made a difference,” he said. “Being around young people makes you feel younger. It makes you feel good when they come back. I have some (former students) who are officers, or nurses and I get a call about their family news.”

Nelson was born July 25, 1963, in Hartsville and graduated in 1981. He is married to Kimberly Nelson, and they have two sons, James and Nicholas, and two granddaughters, Kemoni and Jersey.

After graduating from high school he joined the U.S. Army and started basic training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, in June of 1981. His duty stations during his time of service were Ft. Bragg, North Carolina; Camp Essayon, Korea; Camp Humphreys, Korea; and Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia.

His awards awards/merits include Basic Airborne Badge, Basic Army Recruiter Badge, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, South West Asia Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal and the Good Conduct Ribbon.

He started teaching JROTC as the Army instructor at Sonovista Alternative School in 2003, was the Army instructor at Dillon High from 2004 to 2008, Army Instructor at Darlington High from 2008 to 2011 and Senior Army instructor in 2011-12, and has been Army instructor at Hartsville since 2012.

He is involved in community and civic activities as a member of the local VFW and American Legion organizations.

His inspiration quote is “Always tell the truth, it’s easy to remember.”

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