The Cleveland Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol has been training both youth and adults to serve their community on needs like search-and-rescue efforts.
The Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force that began in the late 1930s, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, when civilian pilots volunteered to patrol the coastlines at a time when the world was at war.
In 1946, President Harry Truman designated the group as a nonprofit organization, and its affiliation with the Air Force became final after Congress passed Public Law 557 in 1948.
Since then, youth as young as 12 and adults up into their 60s and beyond have been volunteering their time to learn about the aerospace industry and assist during emergencies both from the air and on the ground.
“There are probably as many reasons to be here as there are cadets,” Squadron Commander Mark Landrum said.
The local squadron is designated a composite one because it consists of two groups — cadets that range in age from 12 to 21 and seniors who range in age from 18 to however old a person is when they decide the organization may no longer be a good fit for them.
Senior Commander Linda Quiett said some local senior members are in their 60s.
Each week, the group meets for a meeting in which they learn about topics like aviation or character education topics like ethical issues faced during certain situations. Sometimes, they also participate in things like physical drills as part of an emphasis on fitness.
During a recent meeting, the cadets were wearing their “dress blues,” uniforms inspired by the ones some members of the military wear on special occasions, because one of their own was to be promoted to another rank.
Other weeks, they might be in more relaxed uniforms taking part in activities like physical training drills outdoors.
However, Landrum stressed the Civil Air Patrol is about more than just walking in formation and working to earn different ranks.
“This is oriented around leadership,” Landrum said. “It’s not all marching and drilling.”
He explained that cadets and senior members participate in the activities that interest them, and they have opportunities to gain real experience in areas like flying a plane or helping someone who has been involved in a plane crash.
If they take part in training and become qualified, members can assist local emergency personnel during emergencies that require search and rescue.
All members can take part in supervised orientation flights, where they can learn about what goes into a powered or nonpowered glider plane. Some such flights take off from the Cleveland Regional Jetport.
Those who already have or earn their pilot’s licenses can fly Civil Air Patrol planes.
While, say, a 12-year-old might not be allowed to go on a certain rescue mission if it is expected there could be a fatality or be responsible for a plane, he said even the youngest members have opportunities to take part in activities with their squadron.
Landrum said the flexible age requirements are part of what makes the organization unique.
Throughout it all, Civil Air Patrol members have the opportunity to earn recognitions and move up through the ranks the way someone might in the military.
Cadet Commander Breanna Melton, a 15-year-old who has worked her way up to second lieutenant, joined on her 12th birthday, excited for the opportunity after seeing how her father had been involved in Civil Air Patrol.
Melton said the organization has taught her valuable leadership skills and has helped her narrow down her career choices.
While it may be subject to change, she said her current aspiration is to become a pediatric nurse. She has so far been able to learn skills like CPR and first aid, and she hopes get the opportunity to help people as part of a rescue mission, if the need arises.
As a busy Cleveland High School student, Melton admitted it can be a challenge to balance activities like Civil Air Patrol with one’s studies and other activities, she described it as a “very positive” one.
“It’s definitely a program that takes someone who is not well-rounded and makes them well-rounded,” Melton said.
As the commander of her peers, Melton said one of her favorite parts of the position is seeing the young men and women in her squadron achieve their goals and move up through the ranks.
Civil Air Patrol members periodically visit events like a recent family expo to share about what they do, and she said she recently discovered another aspect of Civil Air Patrol girls might like.
Melton said a 9-year-old girl was asking questions about the organization, and she told the girl part of her duties involve “bossing guys around.”
“Her face just lit up,” Melton said. “I don’t think some girls know they can have leadership opportunities like that.”
Landrum said an important part of the program is helping youth of both genders realize their potential for leadership.
In addition, he said he has seen a difference in how some cadets approach other aspects of their lives — like schoolwork. Landrum said his own son succeeding well enough to earn scholarships to attend college was due in part to what he learned while in the Civil Air Patrol.
Leadership is a focus for the adult senior squadron as well. In addition to helping the cadets learn to lead, they also learn how to take charge in emergency situations and do what needs to be done.
“They help train the cadets, but they are learning, also,” Quiett explained.
Senior members receive aerospace-related learning opportunities and have the chance to participate in airplane and glider flights. Additional training is available for things like first aid and survival skills needed for rescue missions, and senior members also move through military-inspired ranks the same way the cadets do.
Those who join the Civil Air Patrol as adults come from many different walks of life, and no military experience is necessary.
However, some of the organization’s senior members are military veterans who decided they wanted to serve in a new way. Quiett and Landrum are both Army veterans.
Quiett was automatically given the rank of major in the Civil Air Patrol upon joining because that was the position she had held in the Army, and she said being part of the organization has allowed her to help young people grow up to become good leaders, whether they choose to pursue a military career or not.
Marshall Bellizzi, a cadet chief master sargeant who also a 15-year-old Cleveland High student, said his answer to what he wants to be when he grows up has always involved serving in the military.
When he joined, his expectation was to learn about the careers available to him.
However, he said the reality has “exceeded” his expectations.
“I’ve done so many neat things,” Bellizzi said. “I’ve had the opportunity to fly planes ... I’ve been to Fort Campbell (in Kentucky, in a CAP capacity) ... I didn’t know we could do that.”
The cadets who do choose to join the military can do so at a more advanced rank if they meet certain requirements. A new member of the military can join as a private first class instead of just a private.
“It’s been around a long time,” Quiett said. “People just don’t know that we exist. ... But it is a great opportunity.”
For more information, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com or call 423-827-9095.