HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Every Monday evening, a small group of area teenagers arrives at the Hannibal Regional Airport. They're dressed in airman uniforms, and they're ready to learn, discuss and demonstrate aviation, aerospace, leadership and much more. Each movement they make during the night is crisp, and each time they talk, they speak authoritatively.
The youth -- and the adult volunteers who attend meetings, too -- are members of the Civil Air Patrol. The group provides members with an opportunity to make a difference in their community and serve their country.
The Civil Air Patrol, founded in 1941, is a congressionally charted, federally supported nonprofit that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. Ten percent of Air Force Academy cadets get their start in the Civil Air Patrol, the organization says on its website.
Currently, there are about 56,000 Civil Air Patrol members in 1,500 communities. The next nearest Civil Air Patrol squadron to Hannibal's North East Missouri Composite Squadron is about an hour and a half away in any direction.
Youth ages 12 through 18 can join as cadets, and adult volunteers, fingerprinted and screened by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, chaperone activities. Cadets and volunteers often join because they have an interest in flying planes, leadership training, aerospace, tests of physical endurance and strength, outdoor activities, model rocketry and/or serving their country.
"What this program really teaches is core values and helps solidify moral values," said Stefanie Combs, an adult volunteer who helps supervise the Hannibal program. "Some might go into the Air Force, and this program provides them with a background of the Air Force they might not get otherwise. We also deal with community outreach and safety."
Cadets learn how to fly planes, and Civil Air Patrol members carry out emergency service missions, such as search and rescues, when needed. Cadets advance rank in the organization by competing tests on aerospace, leadership, physical strength and endurance and drills.
When the cadets meet once per week, they often are wearing military-style uniforms.
Warrick Cobb, 15, of Hannibal, envisions being a Navy SEAL as an adult, but that dream isn't the first reason he joined the Civil Air Patrol.
"I originally joined because I wanted to clear my name in the community. I want to show people I'm better than who I was in the past," he said.
Cobb has been in the program for a year and a half now and has advanced rank to master sergeant.
"This program teaches you a lot about discipline and respect," he explained. "It's also cool to be a teen and know authentic military drills. Not a lot my age do."
Both Cobb and Jed Ferguson, 16, of Monroe City, Mo., cite learning about flying, the military and aerospace as reasons why they enjoy the program.
"This motivates me for my future career in the Air Force," Ferguson, a staff sergeant, said. "I also really like learning drills, customs and courtesies."
He's been in the Civil Air Patrol for two years, and it helps him connect with peers who share interests similar to his.
"This program is a great way to show youth what they are capable of," Combs said. "And who knows, if an emergency does happen, we might be the first ones on the scene. That's something we train for here."
Cobb and Ferguson are the two most senior ranking cadets in the Hannibal program, and they've seen a lot of cadets come and go.
"This is an enjoyable thing to do," Cobb explained. "Even if people leave the program, nobody has disliked our meetings. You learn so much here, and that's what makes this fun."
The Hannibal Civil Air Patrol accepts new members at any time during the year. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or joining can visit GoCivilAirPatrol.com.