SHERIDAN — Whether your young one plans to enter the U.S. Air Force, wants to take to the skies for fun or to help people or just needs a little more leadership, he or she may find a jump-start to their dreams in the Civil Air Patrol.
CAP is a nonprofit organization that performs 90 percent of the nation’s inland search and rescue operations, saving approximately 75 lives each year, according to its website.
In the 1930s, more than 150,000 aviators petitioned for an organization to put their planes and flying skills to use in defense of their country.
As a result, the Civil Air Patrol was born one week prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Originally assigned to the War Department under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Corps, the Civil Air Patrol continued providing aid to both local and national agencies after World War II.
In 1946, President Harry Truman incorporated the Civil Air Patrol as a benevolent, nonprofit organization. In 1948, Congress passed a law permanently establishing Civil Air Patrol as the auxiliary of the new U.S. Air Force.
Today the group has about 60,000 members nationwide — including more than 250 in Wyoming — and has three primary mission areas: aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.
In Sheridan, the Cloud Peak Squadron meets weekly on Thursdays with cadets — the kids — and senior members learning, flying and working their way up the ranks.
Senior member and cadet parent Kristen Marcus said what really sets the program apart from other youth organizations in Sheridan is that this program is putting kids into a situation where they can help someone in an extreme situation.
Currently, cadets are being trained to be ground-level certified in search and rescue missions and hope to be certified in June.
Parents are encouraged to sign up either as a sponsor — who goes with on trips and helps out but doesn’t get any training — or as a senior member who receives training in any of 18 different positions.
“I signed up just to spend more time with my daughter and found out it was really cool and I want to stay in it,” Marcus said. “I think it’s pretty rigorous. For the three things I wanted to train for I had to complete 117 tasks and I’ve completed 37. And that’s just for the lower level of all of those; to be master rating it takes much more time.”
But the hard work could lead to big rewards.
If a cadet begins at age 12 and continues through age 18, they could leave the program with a full pilot’s license. Normally a very expensive process, the training they receive is fully covered by the CAP annual fee.
If a cadet has an interest in enlisting in the Air Force, they could enter the ranks a grade or two higher than a non-CAP enlistee, meaning higher pay and higher rank at a younger age.
Other interests that would benefit from participation are EMTs, life flight pilots, private or small aircraft pilots or even somebody who just wants to learn leadership skills, Marcus said.
Under the direction of Capt. Jeffrey Baum, a commercial airline pilot of 30 years, cadets get to take flight and even take the yoke during flight.
Some members of the community have expressed concerns regarding the cadets taking flight after an accident in 2007 killed CAP senior members from Sheridan.
Three members were out in a Cessna 182R aircraft searching for a teen who went missing while fishing, and were killed when their plane crashed in the Bighorn National Forest.
The plane went down on a Monday evening and on Tuesday, rescuers reached the remote crash site and recovered the bodies of the crew members, Lt. Col. James Henderson of Cowley and Senior Member James Meyer and Capt. Patricia Larson, both of Sheridan.
The missing teen, Keith Bellack of Gillette, was found alive.
“Since then, the community has had a foul taste in their mouths for us,” Marcus said. “It was horrible and it should not have ever happened. Accidents happen and we have worked to rectify the problem. The problem that caused the crash is that orders were not followed to the letter. We have a new wing commander who will not put up with any person not fulfilling any order no matter how inconsequential it may seem. If he gives an order and it is not followed then you will not fly.”
But to Marcus, it is all about the personal benefits both her and her daughter have received.
Marcus has seen a marked improvement in the attitude of her daughter, who she said is a typical pre-teen.
“She is 12 going on 13 and she has that attitude, but she’s learning a lot of restraint with the Civil Air Patrol because she has to follow orders,” Marcus said. “Everybody works as a team so everybody knows what is expected of them and when they are expected to do it.”
As a senior member, Marcus appreciates the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.
“I’ve always been in civil service; I’ve been a Girl Scout leader and things throughout my life,” she said.
“So to be a part of potentially making real changes, potentially churning out a cadet who could go out and save someone’s life is excellent,” she added. “I think it is an amazing opportunity for the youth and the adults to not only get involved in the community but also do something that has a much bigger picture.”