ANSBACH, Germany -- "How do veterans help the youth of today'"

That was the theme of the 2008-2009 Veterans of Foreign Wars' Voice of Democracy, a scholarship contest for high school students in grades nine to 12 that provides more than $3 million in scholarships annually.

And scholarship money is just what Luis Figueroa, a sophomore at the Ansbach Middle/High School, was after when he took pen to paper and composed his one-page essay that won first place in all of Europe for the Department of Defense Education System.

"It was easy scholarship money -- college is really expensive," said Figueroa.

He said his father's service to his country and U.S. history influenced his essay.

"I made many references to my dad and what he did, and the history of America -- how it prospered, how veterans helped and how major wars made us an independent nation," said Figueroa.

He will now move on to compete for the VFW's grand prize of $30,000.

"I won $1,000 for the regional Europe competition and if I win the national level -- in Washington, D.C., April 4 -- then VFW will add to that $29,000," said Figueroa.

The first-place winner, who competes with all the first-place VFW department winners, receives a $30,000 scholarship that is paid directly to the recipient's American university, college, or vocational or technical school, according to the VFW website.

But Figueroa said that the money is not the only reason to write well.

"Writing helps us communicate," said Figueroa. "It expresses ideas, and writing is one of the best ways to express ideas-it is all about imagination, expanding vocabulary, and focusing on and expressing details."

It makes for a happy mom, too.

"I am very proud of him," said his mother, Elsie. "I know that whatever he wants to do he can do it. He is a good writer and is a very bright student."

She said that she urges him to submit for any competitions that can help him win scholarship money for college.

"It all helps," she said. "He is the older one of three and we have to save for all of them."

Figueroa will compete against 53 other winning entrants when he attends the national competition in Washington. He will then tour Pennsylvania with the VFW and then return to school in Ansbach for two weeks until the family changes duty stations this summer to Fort Stewart, Ga.

With two more years of high school, Figueroa said he has time enough to ponder where he wants to attend college.

"This is fairly cool--that I can succeed in many things. This is the first time I have entered and won a writing competition," he said.

Created in 1947, the Voice of Democracy scholarship program is an audio-essay contest for high school students in grades nine to 12 that annually provides more than $3 million in scholarships.