Eighteen teen-agers and four adults from Glen Burnie will fly to New Orleans next month to claim their title as the top Civil Air Patrol squadron in the nation.
"They're going to have to tie me down because I'm so excited," said cadet 2nd Lt. Bruce Knipper, 16. "I can't believe that we're actually going to New Orleans as the No. 1 squadron out of 1,800 others."
The 37-member squadron won the F. Ward Reilly Award for National Squadron of Distinction for dedication, teamwork and increasing its membership size.
In three years, the squadron has more than quadrupled its size from eight to 37 cadets.
"We've always been pretty motivated, but with only a few of us, we started getting pretty burned out because we knew what we were doing, but we didn't have the manpower to do all of our missions," said cadet Lt. Albert Lowe, 15.
Eight cadets, determined to keep their squadron alive, went to about 30 middle schools to recruit new members. Renee Bullock recruited her father, Richard Bullock, a retired major from the Army Military Intelligence Branch. Major Bullock became the squadron commander one year later.
"Things really turned around for us when we started recruiting," Albert said. "We had our ups and downs, but when I look back at them and see what responsibility and respect for others that I've gotten out of this program and how much the squad's done, I realize it's all worth it."
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is a nonprofit civilian auxiliary of the Air Force. The three primary functions are emergency services, including search-and-rescue and disaster relief; a cadet program for youths ages 13 to 18; and an aerospace education program.
The Glen Burnie group will be flown by Air Force pilots from Andrews Air Force Base to a military base near New Orleans. They will attend the Civil Air Patrol's annual meeting Aug. 10-14, which offers workshops for cadets and senior members on rescue techniques and aerospace education.
The Anne Arundel squadron is renowned among squadrons throughout the country for its fast reaction times, endurance and success in search-and-rescue missions. Nine cadets were rewarded in 1993 for their leadership and skill in search-and-rescue operations.
"We're not GI Joes who go out and fool around," said cadet Sgt. Clinton Green, 16.
The squadron members also participate in community service projects. During the holidays, they provide food, clothing and toys for poor families.
"When you get a group of youngsters between the ages of 12 and 21 together to give up their vacation time, it's a definite sign of leadership and dedication," said CAP Lt. Col. John Henderson.
Most cadets say the senior members, especially their commander, have provided "model leadership" for them to follow.
Major Bullock said, "They are the talent; I'm just the conductor."
The squadron's weekly meetings and activities often are organized and run by cadets. Major Bullock said that he believes in allowing the cadets to earn respect by giving each one the responsibility of a task.
"At 13 years old, most teens have established their values and have a pretty good idea of where they want to get in life," Major Bullock said. "They just need someone to show them how to get there. That's where me and my staff come in. It's very rewarding when you see one young person whose life is turned around because they've earned respect for themselves and their peers."
Seven adults, ranging in age from 21 to 48, volunteer time to help oversee the cadet program and learn search-and-rescue techniques and aerospace technology.
The squadron was selected as the Maryland Wing Squadron of the Year for 1993, then received the award for Middle East Region Squadron of Distinction in June at the Middle East region conference in Richmond, Va.
"Some of us hate each other and some of us are best friends, but we all come together as a family," said cadet Sgt. Mary Knipper, 18.
The cadets have sold pizzas, entertainment books and washed cars over the past two months to pay the $170 registration fees for the conference. They are also seeking donations from local businesses and civic groups to pay for the cadets' trips.
"We've put a lot of work into our program by working as a team and it's paid off," said Sgt. Jason Duke, 13. "Any work to get money for the trip is well worth it because this is going to be the best time of our lives."