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Civil Air Patrol members from Willmar, Minn., traveling to Hutchinson after local squadron deactivates

WILLMAR -- After facing deactivation in November 2010, the Willmar Civil Air Patrol squadron had a choice to make: either find a new squadron or stop serving.

Nearly eight months later, Willmar volunteers, like Ruth Hoffman, chose to continue their service and make the drive to Hutchinson at least once a week.

"It was too bad," said Hoffman, former commander of the Willmar squadron. "We would have liked to have the unit in Willmar since it was close, handy and covered our area."

The Civil Air Patrol, formed during World War II, is an auxiliary unit of the United States Air Force. Formed to help defend the American coastline, the patrol has developed into a unit that performs emergency services, aerospace education and cadet programs. The Willmar Civil Air Patrol was activated in 1993, Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the Willmar Civil Air Patrol had fewer than 10 members in 2010, prompting the deactivation which ended a program that developed leadership among 12- to 18-year-olds and community-wide services.

"The cadets are not able to experience some of the stuff that we offered," she said.

The Civil Air Patrol cadet program focused on developing young men and women by giving them opportunities like radio communication, presenting as part of a color guard, logistical matters and customs and courtesies. Hoffman said.

"It's to train young people and give them a chance to have some different opportunities," she said.

Now, with the hour-long car ride, Hoffman said the opportunities are not as great for the Willmar area teenagers or the senior members.

Since their move to the Hutchinson Civil Air Patrol squadron, Hoffman said four Willmar members joined the ranks of "a nice unit, very active with more members."

Hutchinson Commander Capt. Karl Heisel said he was happy to welcome the Willmar Civil Air Patrol members, which helped bump up the Hutchinson squadron to 55 total members.

"It's too bad they had to be shut down," Heisel said. "But I am glad to have them down here."