SALT LAKE CITY — As a young girl, Civil Air Patrol Cadet Col. Rose Carlisi said she never liked the thought of being in the military, wearing a uniform or having to put up her hair.
That quickly changed, Carlisi said, as she began to love the program that would build her into the polished leader she is now.
The graduating senior stood at the front of the Gold Room at the state Capitol on Wednesday to receive the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award, the highest award in the Civil Air Patrol.
Carlisi, 18, of Layton, was honored by Gov. Gary Herbert as the first Utah cadet in more than four years to receive the award.
Thanks to dedicated cadets like Carlisi, Herbert said, "our future is in fact bright."
The Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award, which recognizes leadership and academic achievement, has been awarded to 2,037 cadets nationwide since 1964.
Carlisi is the seventh Utah woman and 24th cadet in the state to receive the award.
Carlisi has followed in the footsteps of her parents, who have been volunteering for about 10 years with the Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit organization for the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force devoted to aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.
During her remarks Wednesday, Carlisi described her 8-year-old self as a "frazzle-haired" girl who attended Civil Air Patrol meetings with her parents and two older siblings "kicking and screaming."
"But I began to love the program. I began to admire what it built, the people it made, the people that were in it, and realized what I could become with the program," she said.
As a founding student at Utah Military Academy in Riverdale, Carlisi and her color guard team won nationals in 2013, which she said taught her valuable teamwork and leadership skills.
Carlisi said the biggest supporter aiding her to receive the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award has been her mother, who spent countless hours driving alongside her during her daily 4-mile runs and proofreading papers for her application.
Of the demanding process, Alison Carlisi said her daughter has always "jumped in" and done most of the work herself.
To receive the award, Rose Carlisi was required to pass a comprehensive leadership and aerospace education written exam, a character exam to test moral reasoning, and a physical fitness test.
When she did not get her desired score on the ACT the first time, Rose Carlisi took the ACT and SAT a total of nine times, her mother said. And as a part of physical fitness training, she even taught herself how to do a pullup.
Alison Carlisi said it has been a lifetime of work for her daughter.
"She was a rascally, pestery little kid, and she grew up into a very polished, exceptional young woman. I'm very proud of her," she said.
Rose Carlisi will attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs beginning this summer, with plans to study astronomical engineering and Russian. Her goal is to work for the National Reconnaissance Office, conducting intelligence-related activities for U.S. national security.