Civil Air Patrol enables early military success

Civil air patrol cadets at encampment during a week-long summer intensive salute as part of their stationary drills.

Laurel Wang | The Chronicle

High school students take an early flight to aerospace success through Civil Air Patrol (CAP).  

CAP is a civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. Established in 1941, CAP aims to provide emergency services, aerospace education, and cadet programs for members ages 12 through 21.

Through CAP, cadets have various opportunities to gain first-hand experience in the program’s core tenets of leadership, aerospace, fitness, and character. Weekly meetings focus on developing these components with activities ranging from physical training to learning the physics behind bottle rockets. Cadets also participate in volunteer service locally. Each year, CAP members secure wreath sponsors for Wreaths Across America to honor veterans buried at three Hamilton Township cemeteries. Outside of meetings, cadets also have the opportunity to participate in orientation flights, search and rescue training, and encampment, an intense week-long summer program. 

Participation in CAP does not mandate military service, but the program is designed to set cadets up for success. About 10% of the first-year class at the United States Air Force Academy are CAP alumni, and many others go on to pursue careers in aerospace. For Sophomore C/SSgt. Eddy Dimiziani, CAP provides a way to explore his interest in flying while still in high school. Dimiziani has flown on one out of the five orientation flights offered to cadets so far and hopes to promote through the CAP ranks to get a head-start on his future goals.

“My plan is that before I graduate high school, I want to get my second lieutenant rank so that I can get my private pilot’s license,” Dimiziani said. “If I go into the Air Force, afterward, I want to get my commercial pilot’s license and maybe go fly for an airline.”

CAP utilizes a rank structure to organize its cadets, who begin in Airman Basic and advance through a series of tests in physical ability, leadership skills, and aerospace knowledge. Each achievement unlocks new responsibilities and leadership positions. 

Reflecting on his time in CAP, Senior C/2d Lt. Nishanth Vari believes that the experience and soft skills he developed will serve him well in the future. 

“Five years ago when I started, I thought I wasn’t going to fit in because I never wanted to go into the military,” Vari said. “In each position that I got, from airman to sergeant or Aerospace Education Officer, I started feeling I was in the right place. I was able to do a job well, and because of that I was able to speak confidently, order confidently, [and] improve myself.”

Junior C/CMSgt. Israel Reyes echoed C/2d Lt. Vari’s sentiments. Since joining the program four years ago, C/CMSgt. As First Sergeant at the encampment, Reyes has gained firsthand leadership experience by commanding a squadron.

“[CAP] gives you a bunch of experience for your resume,” C/CMSgt. Reyes said. “I’ve had so many leadership opportunities so that if I apply for a job, I can say yeah, I can work in a fast-paced environment, I can lead.”

Aside from developing leadership skills, the experiences offered by CAP uniquely prepare cadets for various specialized fields. C/CMSgt. Reyes has gained the qualifications to help with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief efforts and participate in ground team search and rescue missions through exercises.

“On one [exercise], we worked with a canine team that could smell the bones and teeth we were given and track down a scent,” C/CMSgt. Reyes said. “We learned how to understand what the dog does and how to implement it into a real search mission.”

Like C/CMSgt. Reyes, Senior C/Maj. Kothnur found unique opportunities through CAP’s National Cadet Summer Programs. Last summer, C/Maj. Kothnur visited the Air Force Academy in Colorado and toured the base. Although C/Maj. Kothnur has decided to remain a civilian after her five years in CAP, she believes the program has benefited her greatly even into the future and hopes to stay involved.

“​​I’ll definitely come back,” said Kothnur. “There have been a lot of adults in CAP who have left a huge impact on me and inspired me as to what kind of person I want to be. I had really good mentors who helped show me, ‘Okay, this is the kind of person that I want to learn to be’ and give the same opportunity to others in the future.”

Photo contributed by Civil Air Patrol