For Westerville teen Ashley Brewster, there was only one possible topic for her Voice of Democracy contest entry: her grandfather, a Marine who fought at Iwo Jima.

For Westerville teen Ashley Brewster, there was only one possible topic for her Voice of Democracy contest entry: her grandfather, a Marine who fought at Iwo Jima.

"I've always wanted to talk to him, because he passed away before I was born and history is my favorite subject," said Brewster, 16. "That was the first idea that popped into my head -- he's my idea of a veteran."

Brewster's audio essay about her grandfather, Delmar Rambo, earned the 11th-grade home-schooler first place at the Ohio Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) District 11 Voice of Democracy competition on Dec. 14.

Brewster represented Westerville VFW Post 7883 at the district level after taking first-place honors in the post's local competition in November.

Post 7883 senior vice commander Alan Briggs said students in the competition are judged on a number of criteria.

"This year's theme was 'Service and Sacrifice by America's Veterans Benefit Today's Youth By ...', and they were to finish that sentence," Briggs said. "The students' delivery is a third of the judging, content of the essay another third, and originality the final third."

Briggs said that while the final winner of the competition does receive a $30,000 scholarship, the broader purpose of the Voice of Democracy competition is to help students recognize the importance of history and its connection to them.

Having made her way to the top of the district competition, Brewster will now go on to state competition at the Ohio VFW Mid-Winter Conference Jan. 24 in Cleveland. There, she will be among 11 district winners from across the state to recite her essay. That day's winner will proceed to the national competition.

Brewster said while there is a lot of pressure involved, she hasn't been worrying about the contest too much.

"There's really not much you can do to prepare. Everyone will read their speech, but I've been told the decision has already been made, and we'll just find out that night," she said. "The other night, my (debate team) coach took some notes on my speech and gave some tips for delivery, and I'm going to memorize it so I can make better eye contact."

No matter where Brewster stands after the state competition, winning at the district level was still a very satisfying achievement, she said.

"When they called the final three (at the awards banquet) and someone came over to make sure that I was there, I didn't think anything of it, but I looked over and my mom was smiling really big," she said. "They called my name and said I was first place, and the next half-hour was really a blur.

"It was definitely the biggest and best award I've won so far."

Brewster's audio essay can be heard on the Web at the VFW's home page, www.westervillevfw.org.