Col. Mary Feik, a World War II aviation legend, made her first flight into Maxwell Air Force Base last week to meet and greet -- or hug, rather -- young cadets at the Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters as they started Cadet Officer School.
Feik, 90, who is a proud supporter and member of CAP, answered students' questions and shared her experiences as a pilot and mechanic. She also handed out the Mary Feik Achievement promotion ribbon to cadets.
"To be with them is my dream. I'm in Civil Air Patrol for two things: aerospace education and cadet programs. Since WWII when I was 18, I've been a mentor to students all my life," Feik said.
During World War II, Feik taught aircraft maintenance for the U.S. Army Air Corps and became the first woman engineer to work in research and development in the Air Technical Service Command's Engineering Division at Wright Field, Ohio.
Feik began overhauling engines in her father's auto shop as a teen and learned to fly with the Army Air Corps. As soon as she learned about CAP, she wanted to join. Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, and a nonprofit organization with 60,000 members nationwide.
A member of the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame, among other honors, Feik has flown more than 6,000 hours as a B-29 flight engineer, pilot and engineering observer, as well as a pilot in fighter, attack, bomber, cargo and training aircraft.
Last week, 123 cadets from 35 states and Puerto Rico arrived at Maxwell Air Force Base to participate in the 10-day, college-level course and to learn from Feik and others.
Only the top 15 percent of CAP cadets are accepted to attend the Cadet Officer School, where they are provided academic curriculum and instruction by Air Force and CAP officers.
Cadet Katrina Hunkapiller said she was honored to meet CAP legend Feik.
"I can say for myself and others that we have been very excited, and we always talk about Ms. Feik. It's an honor to be able to have her here," Hunkapiller said.
Hunkapiller plans to take what she has learned back to her cadet squadron at the 117th Air National Guard Composite Squadron in Birmingham.
The Cadet Officer School includes lectures, seminar discussions and hands-on training in order to develop leadership, character and discipline. Cadets also will participate in Project X, a physical training course that cultivates strategic-thinking and teamwork, said Lt. Col. Rajesh Kothari, the school's director.
Kothari hopes the cadets leave with a larger array of leadership, communication, mission planning and time management skills that will help them in their lives and careers.
"We hope they leave with a much larger tool kit that they can take home and share with other cadets in their work with Civil Air Patrol, in their youth groups, in the programs that they're participating in college or as they take that into their adult lives and become a military officer, a CEO or a volunteer," Kothari said.
The cadets will graduate Thursday.