- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

EDMOND, Okla. (AP) - Standing at attention with their eyes focused on nothing but what’s in front of them, the nearly three dozen young cadets of the Edmond Composite Squadron await inspection.

Some are outfitted in Air Force blues with their garrison caps cocked at the perfect angle. A senior cadet, herself a teenager, makes her way through the assembled.

“How are you doing,” the senior asks each cadet.

“Outstanding, ma’am!,” is the standard answer. The more enthusiastic, the better.

Most pass muster, but one requires a lapel adjustment. With a quick straightening, all is right again on the gym floor at First Presbyterian Church.

In the back of the room, two new 12-year-old recruits dressed in plain white T-shirts and jeans stand and watch, their expressions ranging from, “What am I doing here,” to “This has the potential to be really cool if I can survive the inspection.”

The cadets are part of the Civil Air Patrol, an official U.S. Air Force civilian auxiliary with three key missions: search and rescue, disaster relief and aerospace education for America’s youth, The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/25CSPC3 ) reported.

The cadet program, part of that third mission, offers young people a taste of what Air Force life might be like.

Back in Edmond, after the inspection, the cadets head upstairs to a briefing. There, squadron commander, Brandon Welch, 38, asks everyone how they’re doing.

“Outstanding sir!,” the cadets roar.

What follows is a litany of announcements. There’s an aircrew ground school in August that draws attention from many of the mostly male cadets.

There’s talk of the annual encampment at Camp Gruber near Muskogee, a weeklong deep dive into the world of Civil Air Patrol, with activities ranging from marching to learning more about airplanes in an environment that is reminiscent of the Air Force.

The origins of the Civil Air Patrol go back to 1936, but it really took off during World War II. Today, there are 1,400 squadrons scattered across all 50 states. In addition to helping with search and rescue missions by both air and ground, the program also helps with disaster relief, such as performing damage assessments after catastrophic events, including the 2013 Moore tornado and at ground zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York.

Kids can volunteer for the cadet program as young as 12, but they can’t fly planes until they’re 18. But that doesn’t mean they can’t ride in them. Most Civil Air Patrol cadets get an orientation flight in their first 90 days. It’s aimed at piquing their interest and giving them a taste of what they can achieve if they stick with it.

“They get their hands on the controls of an airplane, and for a lot of them, it makes an impression,” Wing Commander Dale Newell, 78, said. “We don’t do anything crazy up there, but it’s a fun introduction for them.”

It’s an introduction that hooked 1st Sgt. Castle Robinson, 20, who has been in Civil Air Patrol since he was 15. He’s currently pursuing his pilot’s license. With a handshake that could crush bricks and an all-business attitude, he says the program has been a good fit for him. He’s the oldest cadet, but sticks around because he enjoys the regimen.

“There’s not one specific thing I like about it,” Robinson said. “I like the structure. I like the discipline. I liked the simple fact that I would see cadets when I was in high school and they weren’t the kids going out partying every weekend.”

Robinson bought into the program and the discipline early. At his first encampment he laid in his bunk wide-awake after lights out needing to go to the bathroom. He didn’t know what to do.

“I sat there with this moral dilemma,” he said as a grin creeps across his face. “Should I ask the flight sergeant if I can get up to go and possibly get the entire squadron in trouble, or should I tough it out until morning.”

Robinson found out nature sometimes does indeed call.

“I ended up waking him up and he was like ‘Just go to the bathroom.’ “

Jarod Murphey, 17, heard about Civil Air Patrol from a cousin. He’s been in five years. He likes the idea of helping out the community, while also helping himself to a better future. Murphey isn’t military bound, but he says he hopes to use the patrol as a bridge into a long-term career in law enforcement.

Murphey volunteered when Civil Air Patrol assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency in cataloging damage to structures caused by the 2013 Moore tornado. “That was a lot of work,” he said. “The destruction was just unbelievable.”

For Murphey, Civil Air Patrol has been a worthy endeavor. He’s home-schooled, and the program provides a chance to interact with other kids his age on a regular basis and to contribute something to his state and country.

“You have to put as much into it as what you’re going to get out of it,” he said. “I completely focus on this as my extracurricular activity.”

Cadet Lt. Jacquelyn Harsha is just 15 but might be the most veteran of all the cadets - at least unofficially. Her mom is involved in Civil Air Patrol, and Jacquelyn can recall attending meetings when she was very young. Officially she’s been in the program for three years.

One thing clear upon first glance is that most of the Edmond cadets are boys. But there are at least a half dozen girls, most of whom Harsha introduced to the program. She considers commanding a unit of 19 girls at a summer encampment her crowning Civil Air Patrol moment.

“When I first joined, there weren’t any other girls, but I brought some of my friends,” she said. “There are plenty of girls in CAP, but it’s not for everyone.”

It’s part of Welch’s job to keep the new recruits coming. The Oklahoma City resident works in the information technology department at Love’s Travel Stops and has been involved in Civil Air Patrol for 20 years. He grew up in the same squadron. He doesn’t fly and didn’t serve in the military, but he likes the idea of staying involved in something that nurtured him.

“Our biggest challenge is keeping the activities interesting,” Welch said. “There is a lot of competition for time when you are that age. We go up and down. We have our spikes and our low spots, but right now we’re in a growth spurt as a squadron.”

So who is the prototypical cadet? It’s hard to say.

“The majority of answers I’ve heard are they are looking for the discipline and a fun way to learn about aerospace,” Newell said. “Whatever issues they have when they’re 12 or 13 begin to fade away. They begin to get focused. There are still a lot of kids in this country that like this sort of thing.”

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com


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