SOC-inspired course hones teens' leadership skills

by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs

7/22/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.  -- One hundred and twenty Civil Air Patrol cadet officers flew in from all over to participate in Cadet Officer School last week. The school is patterned after the Air Force's Squadron Officer College and features an academically challenging curriculum and in-depth leadership training activities.

Cadet Officer School is the premier school for Civil Air Patrol, according to CAP Lt. Col. Margarita Mesones, the deputy chief of staff for the school.

"There is a selection process each student goes through in their home state. When they get here, they come to develop their leadership skills and their executive management skills," Mesones said. "They get to hear guest speakers on topics including leadership skills, followership skills and how to manage small groups. They take that information and discuss those in seminar. Then we have activities where they actually put those lessons into practice."

In addition to lectures, students are assigned papers, speeches and readings. At the end of the week, each student is tested on the material they have been assigned.
Cadet Maj. Christopher Weinzapfel of Evansville, Ind., said the course load would be tough without the help of his fellow cadets.

"The study material here is set up so that you have to study with others. You can't do it by yourself," Weinzapfel said. "There are writing assignments and speaking assignments. Just one of the books they gave us is 350 pages long, and they give you a big stack of books at the beginning of the week. There is a lot of reading you have to do, but everyone enjoys it."

The students also participate in Project X, a course that requires cadet officers to use leadership skills, teamwork and physical prowess to solve a series of puzzles and obstacles.

Cadet 1st Lt. Luisa Patino of Coral Springs, Fla., said the course was challenging but loads of fun.

"It's really rewarding when your team gets across or figures out the puzzle. It's a good feeling to see everyone make it through," she said.

Cadet Capt. Rachel Murphy of Elizabeth, Colo., agreed the course was a lot of fun and said it gave each cadet a chance to prove what they had learned.

"It's a chance to apply what we've been learning inside the classrooms and see how a team can work together to accomplish something," she said.

Despite the rigorous course load, Mesones said students performed very well and came together as a team to accomplish tough physical and mental challenges of Cadet Officer School.

"It's a great opportunity for these cadets to practice the skills that they are learning in a controlled atmosphere, where they are comfortable making mistakes or learning something new," Mesones said. "These cadets are from all over the country, and they are put in groups for ten days and no one knows each other. When they leave, they are family."

At week's end, each student receives a certificate and a coin for graduating. The students also receive credit for the school. Mesones hopes that each student will leave Cadet Officer School with fond memories and the knowledge to succeed in life.
"I want to make sure that these students have the team building and critical thinking skills to do anything they want to do," she said.

According to CAP National Headquarters, more than 26,000 young people currently participate in CAP cadet programs.