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Lincoln schools looking for a few good students to join Air Force Junior ROTC

The Pesina brothers are something of a tradition in Northeast’s Air Force Junior ROTC program.

The twins, Jose and Juan, are sophomores, Sergio is a freshman, and all three are following the lead of their older brother and sister as members of Lincoln’s only Junior ROTC program.

They’re there because their grandpa served in the military, and their mom wanted to give them a taste of what that might be like.

“Our mother wanted us to do this,” said Jose. “And we just kind of like it.”

J.P Wilson also comes from a military family and wanted to follow in those footsteps, so the Southwest junior makes his way across town every morning for classes and -- especially -- the drill team that competes in color guard and rifle drills.

“I get to spin (rifles), I get to meet kids I wouldn’t otherwise meet,” he said.

And on Monday morning -- while most Northeast students began to gather outside the school waiting for their first class at 8 a.m. -- the Pesina brothers, Wilson and 72 other students marched in the west gym.

Most were in uniform -- shined shoes, ironed shirts under crisp navy jackets -- to welcome R. Wayne Barron, the Region 7 director here from Alabama to inspect the program.

As part of the routine inspection -- the second one for the program -- Barron evaluated the support from the school and district, the instructors and the cadets.

He was also looking at numbers.

Because of Northeast's size, the program is expected to have at least 100 students.

Since it began in 2009, Northeast’s program has averaged between 60 and 80 students, a fact that’s kept the program on probation.

“This is a concern to us. There are other schools across the nation willing to meet the viability standard,” Barron said. “We need to do everything in our power to bring in more cadets.”

Lt. Col. Terence Plumb, who has led Northeast’s program since 2014, is on board.

“We believe strongly in the program and want it to succeed,” he said.

The Northeast program -- which is open to students across the district -- is one of five Air Force Junior ROTC programs in the state and among 896 worldwide. Other military branches have Junior ROTC programs as well. The biggest -- and oldest -- is the Army’s which has 1,500 to 2,000 programs.

Only about 5 percent of the Air Force programs are under the recommended number of participants, though when Plumb took over the program three years ago he assumed the enrollment numbers were inevitable because it's not near a base.

Then he got a visit from the regional director, who told him he’d headed a program and had overcome similar challenges -- and offered some tips to increase enrollment.

Plumb and his cadets jumped in. They gave a presentation to the school board in September and put fliers in the packet of information that goes out to incoming freshmen. They adopted one of the trails, their name now on a sign announcing cadets will keep the trail clean.

They’ve reached out to middle schoolers, hosting an aviation and space program after school at two Northeast Lincoln schools. The cadets have gotten into chess -- then got themselves invited to the middle school chess clubs, where they can hand out T-shirts and talk up their program while figuring how to protect their king. 

Plumb thinks their efforts are making a difference.

The program ended last year with 64 cadets. This year they have 76 and in January enrollment will rise to 82. Of their current members, eight come from parochial schools and nine from public high schools other than Northeast.

Despite being under 100 cadets, Plumb said it’s a strong program, which is supported by both the school and district. It’s also the only one in Lincoln.

“We think we are in a good position,” he said. “We’ve always felt good about the quality. It’s just the numbers.”

The program is not a military recruiting tool, it's a way to build citizenship, Plumb said, by focusing on leadership skills, discipline and contributing to the community. 

Students attend academic-based classes; a physical fitness program, learn to march and have weekly uniform inspections. They also have a drill team and a host of field trips and other activities. 

There's an annual military ball; the group raises the school flag each morning; and last week they organized a school assembly honoring veterans.

“In a really good ROTC program, the cadets are running it,” Barron said. 

Plumb said the program is a place to belong beyond sports or band. He and Master Sgt. Trent Woodruff mentor students, getting to know them and helping them with their post-high school plans.

“We use the tools of the military to help them be successful,” he said.

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Rural areas at risk as water levels drop in Ogallala Aquifer
Rural areas at risk as water levels drop in massive aquifer

DENVER — The draining of the Ogallala Aquifer is drying up streams, causing fish to disappear and threatening the livelihood of farmers who rely on it for their crops.

Water levels in the aquifer — which underlies portions of eight states, including Nebraska — have been dropping for decades as irrigators pump water faster than rainfall can recharge it.

An analysis of federal data found the Ogallala Aquifer shrank twice as fast over the past six years compared with the previous 60. The information was first reported by The Denver Post.

The drawdown has become so severe that streams are drying at a rate of 6 miles per year and some highly resilient fish are disappearing. In rural areas, farmers and ranchers worry they will no longer have enough water for their livestock and crops as the aquifer is depleted.

The aquifer lost 10.7 million acre-feet of storage between 2013 and 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a June report.

"Now I never know, from one minute to the next, when I turn on a faucet or hydrant, whether there will be water or not," said Lois Scott, 75, who lives west of Cope, Colorado, north of the frequently bone-dry bed of the Arikaree River.

A 40-foot well her grandfather dug by hand in 1914 gave water until recently, she said, lamenting the loss of lawns where children once frolicked and green pastures for cows. Scott's now considering a move to Brush, Colorado, and leaving her family's historic homestead farm.

"This will truly become the Great American Desert," she said.

Also known as the High Plains Aquifer, the Ogallala underlies 175,000 square miles, including parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. The region produces about $35 billion in crops annually.

Farmers and ranchers have been tapping into the aquifer since the 1930s to boost production and help them get by in times of drought.

However, overpumping has dried up 358 miles of surface rivers and streams across a 200-square-mile area covering eastern Colorado, western Kansas and Nebraska, according to researchers from Colorado State University and Kansas State University.

If farmers keep pumping water at the current pace, another 177 miles of rivers and streams will be lost before 2060, the researchers determined.

"We have almost completely changed the species of fish that can survive in those streams, compared with what was there historically. This is really a catastrophic change," said Kansas State University conservation biologist Keith Gido, one of the authors of a report on the aquifer published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If all pumping stopped immediately, it would still take hundreds of years for rain-fed streams and rivers to recharge the aquifer, Gido said.

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

LINCOLN, NEB. - 11/13/2017 - A line forms at the entrance of the Hall of Justice to go through the security checkpoint Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, around 2 p.m. KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star

TedKirk / TED KIRK, Journal Star 

Nebraska forward Jack McVeigh (10) gets an easy two as North Texas guard Roosevelt Smart (3) can only watch in first-half action at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.

Half of US adults have high blood pressure in new guidelines

ANAHEIM, Calif. — New guidelines lower the threshold for high blood pressure, adding 30 million Americans to those who have the condition, which now plagues nearly half of U.S. adults.

High pressure, which for decades has been a top reading of at least 140 or a bottom one of 90, drops to 130 over 80 in advice announced Monday by a dozen medical groups.

The change means an additional 14 percent of U.S. adults have the problem, but only 2 percent of these newly added people need medication right away; the rest should try healthier lifestyles, which get much stronger emphasis in the new advice. Poor diets, lack of exercise and other bad habits cause 90 percent of high blood pressure.

"I have no doubt there will be controversy. I'm sure there will be people saying 'We have a hard enough time getting to 140,'" said Dr. Paul Whelton, a Tulane University physician who led the guidelines panel.

But the risk for heart disease, stroke and other problems drops as blood pressure improves, and the new advice "is more honest" about how many people have a problem, he said.

Currently, only half of Americans with high blood pressure have it under control.

The upper threshold for high blood pressure has been 140 since 1993, but a major study two years ago found heart risks were much lower in people who aimed for 120. Canada and Australia lowered their cutoff to that; Europe is still at 140 but is due to revise its guidance next year.

The guidelines were announced Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Anaheim.

What the changes mean

The guidelines set new categories and get rid of "prehypertension":

* Normal: Under 120 over 80

* Elevated: Top number 120-129 and bottom less than 80

* Stage 1: Top of 130-139 or bottom of 80-89

* Stage 2: Top at least 140 or bottom at least 90

That means 46 percent of U.S. adults have high pressure (stages 1 or 2) versus 32 percent under the old levels.

How common it is will roughly triple in men under 45, to 30 percent, and double in women of that age, to 19 percent.

For people over 65, the guidelines undo a controversial tweak made three years ago to relax standards and not start medicines unless the top number was over 150. Now, everyone that old should be treated if the top number is over 130 unless they're too frail or have conditions that make it unwise.

"The evidence with this is so solid, so convincing, that it's hard to argue with the targets," said Dr. Jackson Wright, a guidelines panel member from University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Older people "have a 35-to-50-fold higher risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke compared to younger people."

But the Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Steven Nissen said he's worried.

"Some more vulnerable patients who get treated very aggressively may have trouble with falls" because too-low pressure can make them faint, he said.

Who needs treatment

Certain groups, such as those with diabetes, should be treated if their top number is over 130, the guidelines say. For the rest, whether to start medication will no longer be based just on the blood pressure numbers. The decision also should consider the overall risk of having a heart problem or stroke in the next 10 years, including factors such as age, gender and cholesterol, using a simple formula to estimate those odds.

Those without a high risk will be advised to improve their lifestyles — lose weight, eat healthy, exercise more, limit alcohol, avoid smoking.

"It's not just throwing meds at something," said one primary care doctor who praised the new approach, the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Robert Stroebel. If people continue bad habits, "They can kind of eat and blow through the medicines," he said.

The guidelines warn about some popular approaches, though. There's not enough proof that consuming garlic, dark chocolate, tea or coffee helps, or that yoga, meditation or other behavior therapies lower blood pressure long-term, they say.

The government no longer writes heart guidelines, leaving it to medical groups. Unlike previous guideline panels, none on this one have recent financial ties to industry, although some on a panel that reviewed and commented on them do.

The guidelines were published in two journals — Hypertension and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

How and when to check it

Blood pressure should be checked at least once a year by a health professional, and diagnosing high pressure requires two or three readings on at least two occasions.

The common way uses a cuff on the upper arm to temporarily block the flow of blood in an artery in the arm and gradually release it while listening with a stethoscope and counting sounds the blood makes as it flows through the artery. But that is prone to error, and many places now use automated devices.

The guidelines don't pick a method, but recommend measuring pressure in the upper arm; devices that work on fingers or are worn on wrists "aren't ready for prime time," Whelton said.

Home monitoring also is recommended; devices cost as little as $40 to $60.

What about kids?

Unlike adults, numbers for normal pressure in children vary with age, height and gender. Kids should be checked at least once a year for high pressure, say guidelines announced in August by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

After age 13, the levels defining high pressure are the same as for adults, said a member of the pediatrics panel, Dr. Elaine Urbina of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"When you turn 18 years and one minute, you shouldn't suddenly have a new definition," she said.