Cadets put 'CAP' on visit to 364th Training Squadron

Cadet Aaron Stafford from the Civil Air Patrol Rio del Fierro Composite Squadron Tx-430 exits the cockpit of an F-15 Eagle March 30 as CAP Maj. Russ Melvin waits for the next guest to look at the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force Photo).

Cadet Aaron Stafford from the Civil Air Patrol Rio del Fierro Composite Squadron Tx-430 exits the cockpit of an F-15 Eagle March 30 as CAP Maj. Russ Melvin waits for the next guest to look at the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force Photo).

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Members of the Civil Air Patrol Rio del Fierro Composite Squadron Tx-430 gained valuable insight March 30 during a tour of the 364th Training Squadron here. 

A dozen cadets listened as CAP Deputy Commander and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Payne told them about the F-15 Eagle in hangar 1010 before they eagerly took turns climbing into the cockpit. Tech. Sgt. Neal Dion, an instructor at the 364th, also told the cadets about a C-130 Hercules used to train Airmen. 

Joseph Stafford, a 16-year-old cadet master sergeant with CAP, said he decided to join the organization after he saw the Air Force's demonstration team The Thunderbirds perform at an air show here. 

"I talked with an officer standing near the jet and realized the CAP program would give me opportunities to learn leadership skills and military values that I would otherwise not have until I after graduated high school," he said. "I want to serve my country now, and I want to be a fighter pilot someday." 

CAP Commander Maj. Larry Gunnell said he believes the Tx-430 cadets gained a real sense of belonging due to the presence of the active duty Air Force officers and enlisted members during the tour. 

CAP cadets follow a demanding training schedule that includes independent study, group physical training and drill, field training and frequent testing. Topics of study include aerospace history and technology, military history, leadership and health and fitness. 

Other training events include one-week encampments, air show traffic and crowd control, glider and powered flight encampments and cadet orientation flights. 

Valued for its humanitarian contributions, CAP is also important to military recruitment. Sergeant Payne, a member of the Air Force for more than 11 years, is a former CAP cadet who enlisted into the Air Force and credits his success as an NCO to his CAP training. 

He said CAP changed him from someone who "got into a lot of trouble as a kid" to one who learned leadership qualities and a desire to serve in the Air Force. 

"The training not only allowed me to see the value in setting goals and serving something bigger than myself - my country - but the tests prepared me for the multiple-choice style testing for promotions in the Air Force," he said. "I chose to enlist in the Air Force, but many CAP cadets will choose to go to the Air Force or Navy Academy and become officers someday." 

For some, like 13-year-old Cadet Airman Robert Young, the decision to serve has come early. The son of an air traffic controller in Korea, Cadet Young said he wants to fly large aircraft for the Air Force. 

He said "the CAP is a great program for anyone interested in aerospace or leadership training." 

Tx-430 meets weekly at Sheppard and the 30 members make up one of 17 CAP squadrons in Group 2 of the 3,000 member-strong Texas CAP Wing. 

Group 2 includes the area from Childress to Texarkana and the Red River to Granbury, an area about the size of Indiana. CAP is an official all-volunteer auxiliary of the Air Force and carries out missions in partnership with local and federal incident and disaster response agencies. 

Senior CAP members fly low-level route survey missions for Sheppard, and recently CAP members participated in search and rescue missions following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in fire watch missions during the winter fires here in Texoma.
Squadron Tx-430 has plenty of room for more cadets. Youth between the ages of 12 and 18 can join the Cadet Program and adults can apply to the program as leaders, mentors or officers according to talent and qualifications. 

Persons interested in volunteering as a CAP leader or officer, or Youth who are ready to meet the CAP cadet challenge, send at e-mail to Larry Gunnell at eyedoc7006@aol.com or Tech. Sgt. Payne at 676-1928. For more information about the CAP cadet program go to http://www.cap.gov/cadets or http://www.cap.gov/visitors/quick_info/for_parents.cfm