(MCT) — BLOOMINGTON — As the U.S. representative for the 16th District, Adam Kinzinger is often asked to speak to groups both in Washington, D.C., and Illinois. Few of those speaking events, though, bring Kinzinger as close to his roots as he was Sunday afternoon, speaking at the McLean County Composite Squadron’s Civil Air Patrol annual banquet.
“It’s neat because usually when I speak, I know about the group, but so many times, I’m not deeply involved,” he said. “With a group like the Civil Air Patrol, I joined when I was 12 years old and I started learning about leadership at a young age. You see how it has put me on the path to where I am today and I see all of the great examples of it and I am proud to be here. It’s almost like coming home to an extent.”
Kinzinger was raised in Bloomington and graduated from Normal Community West High School and Illinois State University. For six years, he was a cadet of the squadron.
“These are great kids and what is neat is that so many of them are just now getting involved in the program and they can see that really, the sky is the limit for them,” he said.
New recruit Lauren Veal, 14, of Bloomington has only been in the program a month, but understands what Kinzinger is talking about.
“I have really enjoyed meeting new people and already I am starting to learn about leadership and what it takes to be successful,” she said.
Airman Andrew Rivera, 17, of Hudson, was not aware that Kinzinger was a former cadet, in the same club.
“I think that is impressive and this is a program about leadership and you can see what it can lead to,” he said.
After school, Kinzinger joined the U.S. Air Force and was commissioned a second lieutenant in November 2003 and later awarded his pilot wings. He was initially a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot and flew missions in South America, Guam, Iraq and Afghanistan. He later switched to flying the RC-26 spy plane and was stationed in Iraq twice.
“In an era when you see kids addicted to video games or their phones, it’s great to see so many young people get involved in a group like this, and helping people,” Kinzinger said. “This group doesn’t just necessarily lead to careers in the military, but the purpose is to lead them to thinking about things bigger than themselves such as the community and helping others.”
A total of 17 cadets were promoted during Sunday’s ceremony.
“I’m very proud of this program and very proud of the young people who are involved with it and taking part in making their community better,” he said. “I know it helped lead me in the right direction.”