By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The sinking sun hung low in the sky, as a group of eager young people in uniform were put through their paces on a recent late-summer evening at Vance Air Force Base.
They marched in tight formation, the leader calling out cadences and the group responding, their voices carrying in the humid air, reaching the ears of passing Vance airmen, who watched the action with curiosity as the marching troops passed by.
But the marchers were not Vance airmen. As young as the student pilots at Vance are, the members of this particular formation were even younger, all between 12 and 18.
They are members of the Enid Civil Air Patrol Composite Squadron. The local squadron is called “composite,” because it includes both cadets and adults, or senior members. There are some 20 cadets and about 10 senior members on the rolls.
Civil Air Patrol, established in late 1941 just a week prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is the official Air Force auxiliary, and is open to both adults and teens. Headquartered at Maxwell AFB, Ariz., CAP is under the auspices of Air Education and Training Command, as is Vance.
Air Force Lt. Col. David Woodley, whose day job is commander of Vance’s 71st Operations Support Squadron, is in charge of the cadet program for the local CAP squadron.
Woodley has been involved with CAP since he was 15, growing up in California. Before deciding to join, Woodley met with a CAP lieutenant colonel.
The CAP officer told Woodley he thought “It’s the world’s best-kept secret, because no one really knows what CAP is.”
CAP’s mission is three-fold — emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education.
CAP senior members fly more than 85 percent of all federal inland search-and-rescue missions, saving more than 100 people each year. CAP conducts disaster-relief operations and helps transport time-sensitive medical materials like blood and tissue. CAP owns the largest fleet of single-engine piston aircraft in the nation, primarily Cessnas.
In addition, CAP members conduct counterdrug operations and support the Air Force through light transport, communications support and low-altitude route surveys.
This stems from CAP’s contributions during World War II, when CAP pilots sank two enemy submarines off the East Coast and rescued hundreds of crash victims.
CAP teams with local schools offer aerospace education programs for both members and the general public. As part of this program, Woodley’s wife, Elizabeth, oversees a local Aerospace Connections in Education group, or ACE, for children as young as 3. ACE offers a curriculum centered around science and aviation.
The cadet program is the one Woodley oversees through the local CAP squadron. It puts young people through a 16-step program that includes aerospace education, leadership training, physical fitness, morals and ethics.
Woodley said working with the cadets enables him to be “Part of the future generation,” and “brings back the youthful enthusiasm we as adults tend to lose sometimes. It’s a great program to be part of.”
The CAP cadet program has a rank structure similar to that of the Air Force. Ranks range from cadet basic, the equivalent to an airman basic, to cadet colonel.
Cadets earning the rank of colonel receive the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, one of America’s first military pilots.
“The Spaatz Award is huge because that’s kind of equal to the Eagle Scout,” Woodley said. “In the program, if they are really motivated, they can actually do that in about two years.”
Cadets must take and pass tests in order to be promoted, similar to the military. They also must pass regular physical training tests, just like their military counterparts.
As they advance, they learn skills such as leadership and public speaking.
Learning to speak in public is one of the benefits of joining CAP, Woodley said.
“I think having to speak in public, being forced to do something like that, made me better,” he said.
A favorite activity is called “encampment,” which Woodley described as “Basically a week of boot camp.” Encampment is run by cadets, but observed by senior members.
“For a week they live boot camp,” Woodley said. “You’ll see 12-year-olds being yelled at just like a military member, but they can handle it just fine. It’s amazing how these young kids can go through that and learn those skills early, at a young age.”
CAP also offers cadets senior NCO academy and officer’s school, just like the military.
But Woodley is quick to point out that becoming a CAP cadet doesn’t mean a young person necessarily will go on to join the military.
“It’s not a requirement to join the military,” he said. “I think a lot of parents get nervous. There’s no commitment. When they join CAP they aren’t signing up for the military. I’ve had a lot of cadets go to civilian colleges and they stay civilian.”
When he was stationed in Korea, Woodley had a female cadet whose goal was to become a concert violinist, “But she liked CAP because it was a way for her to do something different.”
CAP doesn’t necessarily prepare a young man or woman for a military career, Woodley said, but for life.
“Yes, it (CAP) is geared toward the military, but the skills they learn, they don’t have to join, they can use those skills in the civilian sector,” he said. “And I think it pays dividends.”
Even if they go on to join the military, ex-CAP cadets don’t necessarily choose the Air Force.
“I had a couple that enlisted in the Marine Corps,” Woodley said. “Our cadet commander wants to go to West Point, he wants to be an Army officer.”
The Enid squadron meets weekly, with the cadets engaging in drills and physical training, as well in classes about leadership, ethics and morals and aerospace education.
“We tell them, grades are the first priority,” Woodley said.
Senior members serve primarily as advisers to the cadets, he said.
“We shouldn’t be running the show,” Woodley said. “We let the cadets run the show because that’s how they learn to lead, they run their own squadron.”
Some of the cadets in the Enid squadron have family ties to the armed forces, some don’t. When he was a cadet, Woodley knew he wanted to join the military.
“It gives you a sense of confidence,” he said. “After marching so much, you start marching down the hall in high school.”
Anyone interested in more information about CAP or the Enid Composite Squadron can email email@example.com, or call (580) 542-4114, or can go to www.cap members.com.