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Hilo Civil Air Patrol cadet flyin’ high after national award

  • Retired Lt. Col. Doug Adams promotes Cadet Marrack on Wednesday at the promotion ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the Civil Air Patrol)
  • Cadet Sam Marrack speaks to family, friends and fellow cadets at a promotion ceremony Wednesday which included promotions of several junior cadets, a Color Guard procession and the presentation of the Spaatz Award to Marrack. (Photo courtesy of the Civil Air Patrol)
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Civil Air Patrol Cadet Col. Sam Marrack, 17, is the first female in Hawaii to receive the General Carl A. Spaatz Award, which is awarded to an average of just five cadets per 1,000 nationally.

A Hilo teenager has earned the Civil Air Patrol’s highest cadet honor.

Sam Marrack, a 17-year-old Hilo High School junior, is the first female in Hawaii to receive the General Carl A. Spaatz Award, which is given to an average of just five cadets per 1,000 nationally.

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Marrack was presented with the award during a ceremony Wednesday, in which she also was promoted to the cadet rank of colonel.

“It hasn’t really settled in yet,” Marrack said before the ceremony began. “It doesn’t feel real because this has been a goal of mine since I first joined. … And (being the first female) is incredible. That’s an extra plus, of course.”

The Spaatz Award was established in 1964. It’s named after Gen. Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, who was the first chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force.

To qualify, youth must spend an average of five years progressing through 16 levels of achievement within the cadet program. They also must pass a four-part exam testing their physical fitness, moral reasoning, leadership knowledge and aerospace education.

Nearly 2,000 youths have received the Spaatz Award since its inception. Marrack is the 15th cadet in Hawaii to achieve the award.

“I was very happy,” said her father, Keith Marrack, deputy commander for cadets, reflecting on his daughter’s achievement. “We did a lot of work helping her study and I learned a lot, too … it’s very challenging.”

Marrack joined the cadet program at age 12, the first year youth are eligible. She said she initially wanted to forge a career traveling for a living, so her father recommended researching how to become a pilot.

“We looked into different pilot schools and that sort of thing, and we came across Civil Air Patrol,” Marrack said. “I decided I wanted to check it out, but I was 11 years old back then … So I literally joined on my 12th birthday because I was so excited about this program.”

In time, Marrack said she gravitated away from flying and more toward “leadership aspects of the (cadet) program.” She now has a cadet commander statewide leadership position and said she hopes to be a role model for other female cadets.

There are 40 youth cadets in the Hilo-based Lyman Field Composite Squadron, of which just nine are female. Statewide, there are 329 cadets who also are mostly male.

“When we have new cadets or new prospects, if they are female I get extremely excited,” Marrack said. “Of course, I love it when males join, too, but when females come in, it’s incredible.”

Marrack maintains a 4.4 grade-point average at Hilo High and is a member of the National Honor Society. She’s also enrolled in three Advanced Placement courses and is a member of Hilo High’s cross-country team.

After high school, she is considering applying to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and is interested in a career in gene therapy.

Being a cadet “has pushed me a lot,” Marrack said.

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“Before, I was super shy and sheltered, and I didn’t really want to talk to people I didn’t know,” she said. “I was the one who would hide behind my parents when they’d introduce me to someone new. This (program) makes you so mature at a very young age, and you learn discipline and self-worth and so many other things. You grow so much, and you become a totally different person.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.