Lieutenant Colonel Charles Harter of the Civil Air Patrol is looking to add a youth or “cadet” wing to the area program.
This will give interested youth, ages 12-18, an opportunity to learn about flight, leadership and military service.
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is an auxiliary wing of the U.S. Air Force that performs services for the federal government and for state and local communities. Its primary missions are emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education. In Missouri, the Civil Air Patrol has more than 1,000 members, with the cadet program made up of 423 members as of last year.
Harter commands seven squadrons in eastern Missouri that go “from Hannibal down to Malden.” On a recent visit to his Cape Girardeau cadet squadron, he noticed two members driving from Bismarck and Farmington every week.
“I kept that in the back of my mind to start a cadet program here,” he said. “There’s like a big a gap we’re trying to close.”
He visited several schools in the region and decided that it was time to start a program. Cadets usually meet every week for two hours, one monthly Saturday event and one week-long encampment in the summer.
Many of the students who join the cadet program are interested in joining the Air Force, and sometimes into the aeronautics field. The CAP website says that 72 percent are interested in military service and 66 percent are interested in aviation careers.
In many cases, the cadets learn how to fly.
“Once they’ve gained their first rank,” he said, “they’re able to start five [orientation rides].”
This is where they’re in the seat next to the pilot, observing and being instructed in the operation of a vehicle. With permission of the pilot, they can join other orientation rides in the back seat.
A new addition to the Missouri wing of CAP are gliders, which don’t rely on engines to fly.
“Some look at it as a step to the regular military,” he said. “If they go halfway through the cadet program, and get a ‘Mitchell Award,’ they can start out as an E-3 [Airman First Class] out of basic training.”
He said a cadet he knew tested out of basic training just after two weeks.
The cadet program offers a competitive scholarship for a pilot’s license, and a background in aviation. Many cadets Harter knew have gone to college or gone on to join the senior program of CAP, as well.
The economic and social benefits in rallying cadets also play a part in the efforts to recruit them.
“There’s a pilot shortage going on,” he said, “so we’re trying to build up cadets, and anything with aviation to remedy the pilot shortage.”
This shortage also extends to commercial pilots.
He wants more adults to join CAP so they can have a more robust emergency services crew.
“We are starting to take pictures on the ground and implement drones for picture.”
Examples would be surveying rivers and levees.
“We’re supposedly bringing drones in for the ground teams, because planes can’t get photos any closer than 1,000 agl [feet above ground level],” he said, “so we’ll send a drone to a hot spot where it’s needed.”
More recently they are training for damage assessment in the New Madrid seismic zone. In the case of an earthquake, surveys would be taken of signs and bridges, and air crews would take photographs of roads.
There are also other things to do like ground teams and emergency locating transmitters, which are on every aircraft. If they crash, they send a signal for responders to locate.
“This is an opportunity for a lot of cadets,” he said. “This gives them an idea of what a military operation is like. Some just love it, and some just don’t. Better to find out now, then join and get stuck in it.”