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Girls Scouts get literal with aviation badge

When I flew up 52 years ago, it was just a routine transition from Brownies to Girl Scouts. All I had to do was be there.

Not with today's Girl Scouts. To qualify for the "flying up" experience, Brownies must partner with a troop of Junior Girl Scouts to fulfill a badge requirement. Last week I experienced this transition with Brownie Troop 1279 and Girl Scout Troop 1798 from Grayson, Dacula, Dyer and Mulberry Elementary Schools, who were mentored by Julia Nikolich, a Cadet from Creekland Middle School.

In what appeared to be a literal interpretation of "flying up," the girls chose to earn their aviation badge at the flight school at Briscoe Field.

Pilot - and mother of three, grandmother of five - Nikki Marten started them out with an aviation chart, explaining all the lines, circles and colors on the map. She explained how some colloquial expressions like "living on the edge" and "pushing the envelope" were rooted in aviation.

She also gave them a brief history of her own life as a pilot, noting that she didn't take her first flying lesson until she was 32 years old, but now boasts the title of Airline Transport Pilot, the highest rank a pilot can attain after private and commercial status.

"If someone had told me when I was 32 that I'd someday fly, teach and be examining jet planes, I'd have told them they were out of their mind, but you never know where life will lead you," she said.

The girls seemed to have the same idea. Though most had no desire to earn a living as a pilot, they were here to learn all they could.

"A pilot's license would be useful to have. You never know," said Julia Nikolich.

Her mother and scout leader, Katheryn Nikolich, filled me in what modern day Girl Scouting is all about.

"It's no longer just doing crafts and going camping once a year. It's about instilling leadership skills. Each girl picks a badge and leads her troop through all the requirements. We've earned badges in fields like oceanography and engineering," she said. "We don't just sell cookies. When we take a trip, we figure out our budget and determine how many boxes we have to sell to meet it. We call it 'cookies count.'"

For the grand finale, we actually flew around the airport. Even though I wasn't working on a badge, Nikki invited me to be her co-pilot. After we lifted off, she put my hand on one of the controls and told me to push it all the way in. "There, you just put the gas to full throttle," she said.

That just shows you really never know where life will lead you. Fifty-two years ago, I could never have imagined that the Girl Scout experience of "flying up" might ever really mean "flying up."

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.