2016-09-23 / Community
Cadets march ahead toward bright futures
Civil Air Patrol is official U.S. Air Force Auxiliary
The historic airplanes would glide down the tarmac before their pilots veered them into an open field of grass.
Then the teen and other volunteers would direct the pilots to their respective exhibition spots, helping them navigate through rows of orange cones.
Charles said pilots would snake their planes from side to side to see him because the nose of these warbirds tilt skyward, making it tough for them to see the ground through the windshield.
“It was very windy and pretty loud,” the 17-year-old said. “To be that close to the pilot was a really interesting experience. It was my first time being (on the ground) so close to a plane that big.”
Charles is the cadet commander for Squadron 61 of the Civil Air Patrol cadet program, which provided the training that made his experience at the Wisconsin air show possible.
The Civil Air Patrol is the official U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. The nonprofit organization, which has male and female members of all ages, has three primary missions: providing aerospace education, offering cadet programs and providing emergency services.
It is divided into regions, which are divided into wings with groups containing various squadrons.
Squadron 61 is one of several squadrons in a group that encompasses
Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Although it is technically the Camarillo squadron, many of its 75 seniors and cadets hail from other cities.
Senior members of the Civil Air Patrol are typically 21 and older. All are volunteers.
Although cadets have the option to become senior members at age 18, most wait until they are 21 to make the switch.
Senior members of Squadron 61 spend many hours each year in the air, searching for small downed aircrafts.
Other times, they might be directed to fly along the coast to monitor the size and location of a tsunami.
They also take aerial photographs for a variety of reasons. Law enforcement agencies sometimes tap squadron members to snap images of land thought to be used for illegal marijuana farms.
Created for educational purposes, the cadet program is open to members ages 12 to 21. It includes leadership training, aerospace education, physical fitness and character development.
Cadets meet every Tuesday evening at the Camarillo Airport and participate in weekend activities about once a month. They often go on trips, walk in parades and assist at events like the Wings Over Camarillo Air Show.
Samuel Huestis is a senior member of the Civil Air Patrol and the deputy commander of the cadet program.
The Ventura resident said the program, which follows the U.S. Air Force’s rank structure, is extremely worthwhile for teens and young adults who want to become strong leaders.
Cadets advance through the ranks, learning valuable lessons along the way. As they move up, they shoulder more responsibility.
“I have seen what this program does for cadets, whether or not they have an interest in aviation,” Huestis said. “They start out as basics and then, through a process of leadership training, aerospace education, physical fitness training and character development forums, they earn their advancements.”
Huestis said he and other adults take a back seat during meetings.
“It’s my job to make sure they are carrying out the program within the parameters laid out for them,” the deputy commander said. “Their cadet commanders are the ones who give them direction.”
Aside from being a great educational opportunity, the program is also a lot of fun, Huestis said.
Cadets go on orientation flights in both powered and glider aircrafts, during which they follow a syllabus.
“They love it,” Huestis said. “It’s a very big part of what we do.”
Every year, some cadets go to a weeklong program called Encampment at the Army National Guard facility in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s like boot camp, but modified for youth,” Huestis said. “They have to march around, they have to learn to come to attention— all the stuff you have to do in boot camp.”
About a third of the cadets go on to careers in the military or in law enforcement.
1st Lt. Zachary Stark served as the cadet commander for Squadron 61 from 2009 to 2010.
The Westlake High School grad went on to attend the Virginia Military Institute.
Stark, 24, is now serving his country as an infantry officer stationed out of Fort Drum in New York.
He returned home from a deployment in Iraq in May.
Stark said being in the Civil Air Patrol as a teen was a “phenomenal experience” that helped him get where he is today.
“The Civil Air Patrol provided me with a fundamental understanding of leadership and how to communicate effectively,” he said. “It taught me how to push myself beyond what my own limitations were and it enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of being part of something bigger than myself.
“That absolutely laid the foundation for success and future leadership opportunities.”
Jack Ruhland, an aerospace education noncommissioned officer in the cadet program, hopes to also serve his country.
Jack said he wants to eventually join the U.S. Air Force or Marine Corps.
The Newbury Park High School senior, who is also interested in getting his pilot’s license, said his favorite part of Encampment this summer was helping fly a Cessna 182.
Along with an instructor and another cadet, Jack flew the plane from the base to the San Luis Obispo Airport and back again.
At one point, the 17-year-old said, the instructor gave him “full rein” of the plane while closely watching his every move.
“It was a great way to learn how to safely operate a plane,” he said. “There’s stuff you can do that you can’t in any other mode of transportation. It’s a whole different perspective on the world when you’re up the air.”
Jack, who helps teach other cadets about aerospace, said the cadet program is a “great team environment” where he has become a better leader and formed lasting friendships.
“It’s really helped me grow as a person,” the Camarillo resident said. “I have a better understanding of the need for perseverance and motivation in accomplishing any goal.”
So does Charles.
The teen, who joined the program on his 12th birthday, called it the U.S. Air Force’s “best-kept secret.”
“I wanted the leadership experience,” he said. “That’s the reason I joined the program and that’s the reason I have stayed in the program.”
For information on Squadron 61 and the Civil Air Patrol cadet program, call (805) 813-2539 or visit www.sq61.cawgcap.org.