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squadron leader Jill Checketts, of Wanaka, is proud of the cadets under her command.

‘‘I just love being part of their journey to adulthood.
‘‘We are seeing the best of the youth in our community.’’

She celebrated 20 years as unit commander and 25 years as a volunteer for the 50 (Alexandra) Squadron Air Training Corps last week after her son Shane joined in 1995 and she offered to be a parent help.

He later left, but she carried on, and last week was given a bunch of flowers to mark the anniversary.

‘‘I used to help at camps, and then sat on the committee.
‘‘They talked me into becoming an officer and I have never regretted it.’’

She rose from pilot officer to become the first female flight lieutenant, and then to unit commander for the past 20 years, all voluntary ranks.

‘‘I was the first squadron leader the unit ever had.
‘‘I don’t think any officer has been here as long as I have.’’

There are 13 cadets in the unit this year. They can enter the squadron from age 13 and leave at 18 or 19 with some coming from Wanaka and Queenstown to attend the weekly Thursday night meetings at the Clyde hall.

She drives from Wanaka every week after she finishes work as a receptionist for Century Day Spa.

‘‘I am so proud of what they [the cadets] achieve — their confidence, their motivation.
‘‘I believe in the organisation.
‘‘It is a team effort and we get great support from the community, especially from the Central Otago Flying Club.’’

The Alexandra unit usually hosts combined camps with other groups from Invercargill, Gore and Dunedin and they also run winter camps to learn bushcraft and survival skills.

However, Covid-19 restrictions meant no camps were held this year.

She has chosen to extend her term as unit commander for another three years.

‘‘I want to keep going with the cadets until I no longer enjoy it. ‘‘There are a few more years left in me.’’

Chairwoman of the corps’ parent committee Tina Lake said Mrs Checketts was a truly amazing lady.

‘‘It has been an absolute privilege to work alongside her. ‘‘She has made the squadron what it is.’’